MSNBC reports that:
"French Mirage jets hummed over remote eastern Congo on Sunday, as French troops move in to try and stop fighting between rival tribal militias who have ransacked the town of Bunia and killed hundreds of people."
The jets, on a reconnaissance mission from French bases at Ndjamena in Chad and Libreville in Gabon, will provide close air support for the French-led force on the ground.
The French Air Force is demonstrating that it possesses boldness, if nothing else. Their bases in Ndjamena and Libreville are 2,100 and 1,800 kilometers distance from Bunia respectively. To put this operating distance in perspective, the distance from the Indian Ocean and Herat, Afghanistan is a little over 1,000 kilometers. US naval aircraft operating in support of operations against the Taliban in 1991 had to use extensive aerial refueling in order to maintain reasonable tactical air support for the 600 Special Forces troops deployed there during Operaton Enduring Freedom. That, in addition to intercontinental B1s, B2s and B52s, of which the French have no equivalent.
As the Belmont Club has noted in the past, the primary operational obstacle facing United Nations peacekeepers in the Congo is their vast distance from any operational base that is firmly in Western hands. The French cannot provide continuous air support over Bunia from Chad or Gabon, period. This is probably the underlying reason for the reluctance of the French special forces in Bunia to take a more aggressive stance against the militias. The French aerial mission, described as a reconnaissance, is probably intended to assess just how extensive the threat facing the UN outpost in Bunia is.
The Belmont Club is beginning to suspect that the actual purpose of the UN mission is to safely extract the Uruguayans and other UN staff in the face of a numerically overwhelming force. To that end, they have been allotted a battalion plus force of 1,400 men drawn from a half-dozen countries. It must have been obvious that flying this Babel into Bunia holus-bolus risked adding to the numbers of men trapped in Bunia. Hence, the French and British have taken the sensible precaution of risking only a small, highly capable elite force, whose mission is probably to assess the danger and finalize the operational deployment plan of the main force. And what can the main force do?
Given its restriction to the environs of Bunia and 3-month mandate, it can be none other than to help the Uruguayans haul ass, and not to "kill the killers" or to restore peace in the Congo. That's a crock and it is shameful to watch good troops like the French special forces used for this cynical charade. As the Belmont Club has long argued, establishing peace or "killing the killers" requires a serious EU commitment to establishing logistical bases and deploying a real battle force of at least 2 brigades in an offensive posture.