Sunday, June 08, 2003

And then the cry went up: 'Where are the French?'

That question, "asked by one blue-helmeted Uruguayan" came one day after 100 French special forces arrived to prepare the way for a European peacekeeping force.  Guardian reporter James Astill reports that a pitched battle broke out between the rival Lendu and Hema factions struggling for control of Bunia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, just hours after the townspeople had prematurely celebrated their deliverance.

In a virtual re-run of the battle for Bunia last month - when 700 UN peacekeepers stood by as hundreds of civilians were massacred, and 25,000 fled - the French troops remained at their airport barracks, without orders or capacity to intervene.

As the Belmont Club earlier pointed out, this mission has all the potential makings of a catastrophe. While the French special forces soldiers are probably as brave as any individually, they will be crippled by two important factors:

  • the absence of a clear strategic framework within which to apply military force; and
  • the lack of an adequate logistical and combat support base.

Over the next two weeks, a hodge-podge battalion-plus (1,400 men) force size drawn from Sweden, Norway, Germany, Britain and France are scheduled to be deployed only to the town of Bunia for a duration of 3 months. Despite all the brave talk within the UN about "killing the killers", a mission this restrictive is a voluntary renunciation of any significant battlefield intervention. No wonder the French commander Col Daniel Vollot said: 'Our mandate has not changed. We are trying to impede the fighting through negotiations.'

And does he have any choice? He can expect little help from other UN peacekeepers. Adrian Blomfield of the Daily Telegraph reported that:

"12 of the 700 Uruguayan peacekeepers in Bunia have been evacuated after suffering nervous breakdowns. One told his psychologist, according to colleagues, that goats were talking to him saying: 'Help me, help me.'"

But the more fundamental problem for the UN mission is that their logistical bases are located within the territories of the masterminds of this conflict. The Hema and Lendu tribal milities are mere proxies for the Rwandan and Ugandan governments who are vying for control of the mineral-rice northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and it is through these countries that the UN lifeline goes.

Indeed, without the cooperation of Rwanda and Uganda, it would be doubtful if the European UN force could supply it's airhead in Bunia at all, given that the town is 800 miles from the nearest coastline. The militias have demonstrated the possession of mortars, and it would go ill with the Uruguayans and the EU force if they were to attempt to clear the militias, with their airhead vulnerable to bombardment and the support airfields in Rwandan or Ugandan territory.

Yet if the UN and the European Union were to take the bull by the horns, it might be possible to rout the cannibal militias. For the supply lines of the militias lead east and south, too, back to Rwanda and Uganda, across the Great Rift Valley across difficult terrain obstructed by the great lakes Edward and Albert on the other side of the Blue Mountains watershed.

The first step, would of course be to create an alternative line of supply through territory that is not compromised by the squabble over the control of the disintegrating Democratic Republic of the Congo. If the UN were willing, the Europeans could seize or negotiate forward airbases in Kenya or the southern Sudan and simply overfly Uganda whether the Ugandans agreed or not.

The second step would be to deploy an airmobile battalion, possibly based in Bunia, to conduct deep attacks on the lines of communication of the Hema and Lendu and raid their leadership centers. In order to prevent another repetition of the "Blackhaw Down" incident in Somalia, the Europeans must ensure the availability of heavy close air support, possibly with the cooperation of the United States. AC-130s would be ideal for this fire support mission. This would give the UN enough leverage force the Rwandans and Ugandans to compel the disarmament of the militias, as part of restoring peace in the region.

Unfortunately, the UN and the EU have opted for a public relations exercise aimed at deflecting the accusation that they are leaving hundreds of thousands of Africans to their deaths, which is precisely what they are actually doing. By perpetrating this charade, they are not only abetting genocide, they are doing so with deception and malice aforethought.