Congo: The Ever Victorious Army

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Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

November 3, 2008: Are the allegations of cross-border incursions by allies of Laurent Nkunda true? The government claims Nkunda is receiving aid from Rwanda, or at least from Rwandans. What this means is the government believes Nkunda and his predominantly-Tutsi militia are getting help from fellow Tutsis in Rwanda. And that is very likely. At least one faction in the government claims the Rwandan government wants to absorb Congo's North Kivu province and that Nkunda is a "front man" for Rwanda. That would create a lot of problems for Rwanda. But what the Rwandan Tutsis do want is the destruction of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), the Rwandan Hutu militia operating in Congo.

Some European nations have expressed a willingness to send troops to the Eastern Congo, for the express purpose of putting the hurt on Nkunda's force of poorly trained and armed gunmen. Nkundas forces are, however, superior to the motley force that passes for the Congolese Army. The UN peacekeeping force is stretched thin with the collapse of so many Congolese army units, and doesn't really want to get involved fighting Nkunda's forces.

November 1, 2008: The government now faces several tough choices in North Kivu province. The eastern half of the Congo ignited into war when the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko fell in 1997. When a series of peace agreements ended the Great Congo War in 2003 the fighting didn't stop in the east. Trouble continued along the Uganda border and North and South Kivu provinces remained in turmoil.

The toughest choice is how to deal with General Laurent Nkunda and his National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) militia force. Nkunda's offensive in North Kivu has been very successful at the operational level. Nkunda began with a series of skirmishes on August 28, followed by several local attacks that continued through September and early October. Nkunda has now moved his forces to the edge of the city of Goma (on the Rwanda border) and declared "a unilateral ceasefire" (on October 29). 

Nkunda is now in the process of trying to turn the operational success into a strategic political success. UN observers and Congolese sources reported that Nkunda has made a deft political move and is requesting a "neutral mediator" to facilitate negotiations between his forces and the Congo government. He is already playing to Congolese political uncertainties by demanding a renegotiation of the "infrastructure for mineral resources" agreement between China and Congo. Many Congolese fear that agreement is a new form of imperialism.

Negotiations make a lot of sense, at least from Nkunda's and the UN peacekeepers' points of view. The UN has peacekeeping forces in Goma, backed by armored vehicles. Nkunda does not want to tangle with international forces. Nkunda has also made his statement about the Congolese Army – it has fled as his militia advanced (though there are Congolese forces still in Goma, according to several sources). The UN peacekeepers, however, are in a difficult position. They are having to manage several refugee camps, protect refugees who have left their homes and cannot get to camps, and also watch Nkunda. The UN forces have air support and air supply links, and the UN armor can open roads.. A UN truck convoy arrived in Goma on October 31 with food, demonstrating that Nkunda does not have Goma surrounded, though there are press reports that Nkunda has Goma "encircled."  Feeding the refugees is a huge logistical problem . It's also a problem Nkunda does not want to take on.

October 31, 2008: The UN said that the ceasefire declared by Laurent Nkunda's forces in the area around Goma should continue. Otherwise "humanitarian problems" (ie, assisting refugees) would increase and a "humanitarian catastrophe" would result.

October 30, 2008: Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda demanded "direct talks" with the government in Kinshasha. By direct talks he means "talks between equals." Nkunda is in the process of expanding his war on Kinshasha, from that of a Tutsi tribe-based action to a general rebellion against the Kabila government.

The UN reported that "several" Congolese Army troops killed nine people and robbed businesses and homes in Goma. No doubt these are soldiers from the Congolese Army units that ran from Nkunda's forces. This is a sign of a completely broken military. This follows other stories that Congolese troops stole vehicles from civilians in order to flee Nkunda's advance.

October 29, 2008: General Laurent Nkunda's militia forces reached the outskirts of Goma (North Kivu province). A brief artillery bombardment (likely mortars and rockets) was reported to have hit part of Goma in the early morning hours. Goma is the capital of North Kivu. It is also the center of Congo's tin-mining and exporting industry.

The UN Security Council condemned the attack on Goma by General Laurent Nkunda and his militia forces.

The UN said its peacekeeping forces in Congo are now "stretched to the limit." The chief of MONUC said that a "temporary troop increase" was needed. The Congo government also requested peacekeeping reinforcements. Making the request is one thing, deploying troops is something else. The UN's capacity to surge forces is virtually non-existent. France and Great Britain could provide a "mini-surge" by sending paratroop and light infantry units. Who would insure their supply? It would take the United States Air Force and its C-17s to support a "mini-surge."

The government and a Congolese Army spokesman said that Rwanda soldiers had crossed the border into Congo. The Rwandan government immediately denied the accusation. The government reportedly asked Angola for help to "defend the territorial integrity" of Congo.

October 28, 2008 CNDP militia fighters advanced to the town of Kibumba, 25 kilometers north of Goma.

The Rwandan government accused Congolese government soldiers of firing unguided rockets rockets into Rwanda territory. The Rwandan government said that its diplomats were in communication with the Congolese government about the incident. Meanwhile, the Congolese government accused the Rwandan government of sending troops into North Kivu. The UN said that there was no evidence (at the moment) to support to the Congolese charge.

October 27, 2008: General Laurent Nkunda's CNDP militia reportedly defeated Congolese Army forces in the town of Rutshuru (70 kilometers north of Goma). Another major firefight occurred in the town of Kiwanja.

October 26, 2008: The UN accused CNDP militia fighters fired "several rockets" at two UN armored cars. "Several" peacekeepers were wounded in the attack. A CNDP spokesman denied the charge.

CNDP forces took control of a Congolese Army base at Rumangabo (north of Goma). The Congolese Army reportedly counter-attacked with tanks and artillery but the CNDP stopped the counter-attack.

MONUC's commanding officer, Lieutenant-General Vicente Diaz, has resigned from the UN mission. Diaz said his resignation was due to "personal reasons."

A group of CNDP fighters took control of the headquarters of Virunga National Park (north of Goma).

 

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