The South African Ministry of Defence recently briefed a South African parliamentary committee on the SANDF’s operations and the ACIRC.
On March 11, 2016, the South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans briefed a parliamentary committee on South Africa’s internal and external deployments.
The internal deployments are mostly to deal with issues of border safety on South Africa’s borders and the external missions abroad in countries like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique, are to ensure the safety of the African continent. These missions include peacekeeping missions and counter-piracy efforts.
The second part of the presentation dealt with African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) and South Africa’s involvement. South Africa has recently stood in for Angola in her commitments to ACIRC and will do so until June 2016. The challenges relating to ACIRC and South Africa’s foreign deployment are numerous, yet it was emphasized that all countries experience problems with climate, terrain and a lack of infrastructure on these missions.
Members expressed concern about the implications of deploying extra troops for Angola, as well as the lack of preparedness for the different climate and terrain in those deployment areas. Members highlighted the problems associated with poor border security and in some places, a lack of borders at all as a risk for South Africa, as well as the vast number of private airports which could be a conduit of bringing things into the country. The co-chairperson, Mr. E. Motimele, asked that the committee hear about the recent casualties in Sudan and how that situation was going. The delegation addressed the questions posed by the committee and explained the unfortunate death of a soldier in Sudan, whilst reassuring the Committee that the South African National Defence Force could handle her international commitments. The Department of Defence admitted it needed help from other departments in creating the borders and roads around the borders.
Lieutenant General Dumisani Mdutyana, Chief Joint Operations: Ministry of Defence, indicated that the scope of the briefing would be about the external and internal deployments of the SANDF and on the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises. The briefings would address the SANDF’s current deployments, and the other missions undertaken.
Briefing by Ministry of Defence
Brigadier General Mlandeli Alfred Kula spoke on the issues of South Africa’s current deployment. Currently the military was involved with search and rescue missions, border safeguarding, human assistance and support to the South African Police Service (SAPS). The border safeguarding is a continuous action and there is an advanced team on the ground leading that operation, Operation Corona. Operation Chariot is conducted at a national level and is about giving assistance to veld fires. The borders in question are the borders with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho. Internally, these deployments look to ensure the safety of the borders.
The external deployments are Operation Copper, which is a counter-piracy operation in the Mozambique Channel that ensures the safety of the southern African waters. Operation Cordite is a peace support operation (PSO) in the Darfur region of Sudan. South African forces have been deployed there since 2008 but this is now coming to a close. Other operations like Mistral and DIB are situated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and these are PSO-related in both cases. The problems encountered with these external deployments are climate, terrain, security, remoteness and urban area challenges. The conditions are very different to South Africa and General Kula stressed the difficulty of engaging with rebel groups in areas such as the Eastern DRC where rebels are often clothed as civilians. The tropical areas are also very difficult to navigate yet as military personnel they try to circumvent these problems. Other such challenges are trying to navigate through areas where infrastructure is poor and bridges and roads cannot withstand the weight of tankers and vehicles.
General Kula concluded by saying that the SANDF attempts to fulfill the role of government with the resources they have.
The next presentation addressed ACIRC: its scope and goals. General Kula said that ACIRC is a mechanism of the African Union (AU), which allows for intervention in response to a crisis in the form of robust military services and troop contribution. There are 12 African countries contributing to ACIRC who are involved in robust forms of peacekeeping and the role is twofold. The role of ACIRC is to a) act as an immediate controller of violence and b) facilitate inter-cultural dialogue to promote durable peace and stability. As of 2015, the deployment schedule included South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sudan and Angola. However, as of January 2016, South Africa is standing in for Angola with these commitments until June 2016. The planned activities include a grand-total contribution of 2,411 people, 380 of which are from the air force.
The challenges associated with ACIRC are numerous. There are strategic movement challenges such as the fact that the force needs to be deployable in 14 days of the outbreak of conflict, roads and railways are problematic and issues of sealifts are very challenging for South Africa. South Africa has no medium or heavy air capacity, yet Kula stressed that the African Union has promised to aid in this capability. Moving forward, the SANDF will continue with its preparation and address the challenges and shortcomings whilst still ensuring the readiness for deployment on behalf of Angola.
Lieutenant General Mdutyana asked that the committee keep in mind that the support they need in terms of getting a comprehensive defense review and rejuvenating.
Mr. S. Esau (Democratic Alliance) questioned the challenges concerning terrain and climate in foreign deployments and asked if the other 12 nations also faced the same challenges and if there were nations who have the suitable equipment that South Africa does not have. He addressed the lack of sealift capability and asked if the SANDF would consider using the island off the coast of Durban again as a way of launching operations strategically like they used to in the past. He questioned whether or not South Africa is exploiting the opportunity for trade and investment externally through these operations. We are in economic hardship and perhaps creating revenue streams through alternative sources of revenue would help ease the economic burden.
Esau next addressed the issue of border security. He suggested that the SANDF use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on the border to monitor movements there more effectively. He expressed concern over the use of Gripens and said that it is problematic that South African pilots are not getting enough training and the standards are slipping. He suggested that the SANDF look into ways of easing the burden of travel in poorly resourced areas through looking at partners to invest in road and rail to ensure proper conduits of transport. Lastly, Esau addressed an issue that came up in the last report and said that the Department of Defence indicated that in foreign deployments, South Africa has less than 50 percent of its available medical stock. This is concerning because he questioned how well taken care of the troops can be if there are not adequate or sufficient medical supplies.
Ms. L. Dlamini welcomed the presentation and commented on the success of the SANDF’s military day in Port Elizabeth. She addressed the deployment along the borders. In a recent visit to the Lebombo border it was very busy yet there was no border demarcation at all and she suggested that perhaps other departments also get on board with creating roads and borders. She asked how the SANDF deals with the number of private airports along the border because virtually anything could come through any of these 200 private airports and pose a security threat. She asked what the implications of standing in for Angola in their ACIRC commitments would be given that South Africa had not prepared for that.
Mr. S. Marais (Democratic Alliance) questioned the strategic challenges faced by the SANDF. The lack of strategic lift capability could translate into serious lack of readiness and adherence to procedure as well as mobility challenges given the lack of ammunition, resources and commodities. He expressed concern about exposing troops to these conditions and given the strategic challenges, it creates a very dangerous situation for the troops. In terms of offering equipment, service or logistical support, a strategic balance would have to be made because South Africa would not be able to fulfil all of those roles. He was concerned about the disciplinary issues of South African troops in Africa and commented that a number of troops were suspended and sent back. He asked what had been done to deal with that and what preventative measures were in place to ensure it would not happen again.
Co-chairperson Mlambo asked about the deployment in Sudan and said it had been reported that there had been some casualties there recently and asked to be informed of the on goings.
Lieutenant General Mdutyana responded to Mlambo’s question. Two days before the meeting (9 March 2016), South African troops went to an exchange point in Sudan to collect meals and fuel, yet 10 kilometers from the exchange point, the troops were ambushed by rebels. In the exchange of fire, one soldier was left with a flesh wound but he is well and in a stable condition. The second soldier unfortunately died in battle when he took cover from gunfire and it is thought he fractured his skull. His corpse was in the United Nations (UN) morgue and the post-mortem will tell what happened. The soldiers fought back and brought in reinforcements, but remained at the ambush point and called on the Sudanese government to help, however, they were unwilling to do so.
Lieutenant General Mdutyana then addressed the adaptability to the terrain, and said that other nations in ACIRC also experienced problems with the terrain, as it is tropical so it affects most nations. Wooden bridges cannot take the weight of the vehicles as a result of the infrastructure, particularly in the Congo. However, bridges are being built in these areas but still troops get stopped in swampy areas and as such, troops have to disembark and do the job on foot, which compromises the security of the troops. The problem is that the rebels are well acquainted with the terrain so they can move quickly afoot, yet these problems affect all the countries and they need to mitigate these problems. On the issue of the island as a strategic launch pad, the SANDF is looking at it as an operational base but he stressed the military still needs to get as close to deployment targets as possible. Gains through trade and investment are possible but in cases such as Burundi and the DRC, money went in and did not make it back to the government. Lieutenant General Mdutyana emphasized that it is important to secure South Africa’s national interests above all else.
Using UAVs is an expensive endeavor but they will look into using them to protect borders. There definitely is an interest in increasing road and rail infrastructure in those areas as previously it cost the SANDF as much as R3 million to move a battalion to the DRC. Medical supplies are not yet a critical stage yet there is a need to get more funds into medical supplies so that everything is fully stocked up for the troops. Lieutenant General Mdutyana said that at Lebombo, there is no border demarcation at all and the DOD does not have the capacity to put up a border. It should fall under the Department of Public Works and even the Department of Agriculture to ensure that there is a proper border there. The DOD does not have the capacity to build roads as the engineers employed by the DOD do not have that type of expertise so they need help in that respect.
Lieutenant General Mdutyana said the 200 private airports are problematic but the air force is doing everything to monitor it yet, where are the gaps they need help from the South African Revenue Services, customs and SAPS. The financial implications of standing in for Angola are not great as the troops are on standby and they are only activated when they need to intervene. Angola and Algeria will assist with the strategic lift capability to make South Africa’s job easier. He admitted there are challenges with pilots because the pilots trained within the SANDF are often bought out by commercial companies or they leave the country so there is a lack of skilled pilots. On the issue of disciplinary challenges, the SANDF has indeed recalled troops but reminded the committee that South Africa is the only country that sends out lawyers and judges to those countries to undertake disciplinary action where it happened.