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Congo: All Fall Down
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Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

November 25, 2012: In mid-summer 2012, media and UN observers in the eastern Congo estimated that the M23 rebel group fielded 1,000 fighters, with 2,000 fighters being the highest estimate. There were, however, reports of new recruits showing up (perhaps from Rwanda) and a steady trickle of defectors from the Congolese Army (FARDC). Several of the defectors identified themselves as Congolese Tutsi tribesmen. Like the initial group of mutineers which formed M23, several defectors indicated that they had served in the CNDP (National Congress for Defense of the People) militia prior to joining the FARDC. The CNDP was a predominantly Congolese Tutsi militia. M23 never gave an official strength figure but its leaders always claimed the organization had more manpower than the Congolese government and international observers said it had. When M23 changed its name to the Congolese Revolutionary Army (CRA) its leaders asserted that the new name reflected the movement’s increasing strength. It also demonstrated that it had a national mission. The name change has not stuck and most media continue to refer to the organization as M23. However, it does indeed represent a major challenge to the Congolese government in Kinshasha. Within the past two weeks, a UN analyst said M23 fielded between 2,500 and 3,000 fighters. Other international observers estimate that M23 may have as many as 6,000 fighters. The UN’s 3,000 figure and the 6,000 figure are best guesses, but the bottom line is that the movement has indeed attracted more volunteers. Based on recent M23 operations, 6,000 is a very reasonable figure. The rebels took the city of Goma on November 20. For M23, seizing Goma is a major military and political victory. Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, has over a million residents and is the most important city in Congo’s vast eastern region. Taking Goma from the army (which had some assistance from UN peacekeeping forces) certainly demonstrated that the rebel group can field a strong offensive striking force while simultaneously holding its base camps in the border area it took in July and August. The rebels also have smaller columns operating to the west of Goma. When considering the distances and the area, 6,000 fighters might be on the low-side.

Taking Goma is also an information warfare boon for M23. For reporters Goma is much easier to reach than a jungle base camp. M23 commanders have been making public statements about political change in the Congo and international television crews have been recording the speeches and showing the crowds. Reporters in Goma have now had a chance to get a closer and longer look at the rebels and their weapons. The rebels have some first-rate equipment.  For example, the UN claimed that peacekeepers have seen M23 fighters using night-vision equipment. It also appears that M23 fighters have a lot of weapons that once belonged to the Congolese Army, though when and precisely how the weapons were acquired depends on who tells the story. There are numerous allegations of corrupt Congolese Army officers selling weapons and supplies to M23 although rebel commanders claim they took the weapons in battle and that they have also seized several FARDC ammunition caches. No doubt M23 fighters have picked up weapons on the battlefield. Goma was a FARDC supply base and a base for UN peacekeepers. However, this spoils of battle explanation also works as a cover story masking supply shipments from sources in Rwanda. The Congolese government and UN investigators have repeatedly accused Rwanda of supplying M23. (Austin Bay)

November 24, 2012: The leaders of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania urged the M23 rebel group to accept a cease fire and to quit threatening to topple the Congolese government. The four leaders met in Uganda for a special summit. The leaders also told the rebel group to withdraw from Goma (North Kivu province, on the Rwanda-Congo border). The group also proposed deploying a regional peacekeeping force supplied by neutral nations. The force would deploy as a joint force to Goma’s airport. The leaders of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, however, also asked the president of the Congo, Joseph Kabila (who attended the summit), to listen to the rebels’ grievances.

November 22, 2012: The government suspended General Gabriel Amisi, chief of staff of the Congolese Army. A UN investigation accused Amisi of selling weapons to criminals (poachers) and several rebel groups, particularly the Mai Mai Raia Mutomboki militia.

M23 rebel commanders rejected requests made by several international leaders that they withdraw their forces from the Congolese city of Goma. A senior rebel commander said that, on the contrary, the rebel army would seize more territory. Another said that the group would continue to hold Goma, pending negotiations with the Congolese government. Among the leaders asking M23 to withdraw were the presidents of neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Both nations have been accused of helping the rebel movement.

November 21, 2012: A column of M23 rebels took the town of Sake, 27 kilometers west of Goma. Meanwhile, an M23 commander in Goma said M23 would advance on Kinshasha and overthrow the Congolese government. An advance on Kinshasha from the eastern Congo would be quite an undertaking, essentially marching through the heart of the Congolese jungle. The threat, however, serves a political purpose. It is another signal that M23 wants everyone to think it has national ambitions. Perhaps it does. The threat also establishes a negotiating position. The threats take on more meaning now that Vital Kamehre, the opposition politician who finished third in last year’s presidential election, has urged the government to negotiate with M23.

November 20, 2012: The rebel group M23 entered the city of Goma after scattering several Congolese Army units. M23 fighters controlled the airport and occupied the city’s central district. The Congolese government claimed that it still had forces in the city but by the end of the day, international observers confirmed that M23 had taken control of the city. Goma is the capital of North Kivu province.

November 19, 2012: Several mortar rounds struck the city of Goma and killed four people. The mortar shells may have been fired from Rwandan territory. UN peacekeepers had engaged M23 rebel fighters on November 18, as the main rebel force advanced toward the city of Goma. Helicopter gunships and artillery supported the UN peacekeepers. The UN forces appear to be fighting a delaying action. The UN Security Council has condemned M23’s advance on Goma. Interestingly enough, the M23 advance on Goma is strikingly similar to the CNDP’s advance on Goma in 2008. However, the CNDP did not attack the city.

Meanwhile, M23 said that it had positioned a large force on the outskirts of Goma. M23 has a checkpoint about 100 meters from a Congolese Army checkpoint just outside of Goma. M23 issued an ultimatum to the effect that if the government refused to start negotiations it would continue its operations in the Goma area. An M23 spokesman demanded that Congolese Army units withdraw from Goma. The government refused to begin face to face negotiations to discuss M23’s grievances and said that the Congolese Army would defend the city of Goma.

November 18, 2012: M23 rebels struck a village on the outskirts of Goma. The rebel force hit the village with mortar and machine gun fire.

November 17, 2012: M23 rebels took the town of Kibumba. The town is 30 kilometers north of Goma. A rebel column continued moving south towards Goma.

UN peacekeepers were informed that M23 rebels have access to very good military equipment. M23 fighters have night vision devices and know how to use them in night time combat operations.

November 15, 2012: Some 700 M23 rebels engaged a Congolese Army unit near Rugari (30 kilometers north of Goma) at around 5 in the morning. Army commanders claimed to have killed 44 M23 fighters. The Rugari battle definitely breaks what had been a tentative ceasefire in the area. M23 claimed that Congolese Army units attacked its position at Kitagoma on November 9, a charge the government vehemently denied.

November 14, 2012: The UN has been investigating a series of massacres in the eastern Congo, allegedly committed by the Raia Mutomboki and Nyatura Mai-Mai militia groups. Both groups have used the Congolese Army’s focus on M23 to expand their areas of control. UN investigators have found evidence that since late April 2012, the militias have murdered 264 in the eastern Congo.

November 9, 2012: M23 rebels accused the Congolese Army of attacking its position near Kitagoma (Uganda-Congo border). The alleged attack left ten civilians dead. The rebels claimed that government forces had broken the ceasefire in the area and called the attack a provocation. The Congolese government denied that its forces had attacked Kitagoma and said that the town is under the complete control of the rebel movement. The government said that Kitagoma is deep in rebel territory and that its troops could not possibly have launched an attack on the town.

November 5, 2012: Rwanda accused a group of Congolese Army soldiers of intentionally violating the Congo-Rwanda border. The incident occurred near the town of Kibumba (13 kilometers north of the Congolese border city of Goma). Rwanda claimed that the Congolese soldiers crossed the border on a reconnaissance mission. A Rwandan military spokesman called the border crossing a provocation. The term provocation indicates the Rwandans believe the incident was intentional. After the Congolese crossed the border, a firefight erupted between the Congolese soldiers and a detachment of Rwandan soldiers, leaving one Congolese soldier dead and a Rwandan soldier wounded. Both the Rwandan and Congolese governments regard the incident as serious. It is the first confirmed firefight between Congolese and Rwandan military units since 2001.

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