Interview with Foreign Military Expert on MONUC

The following is a Q & A with a military analyst who has extensive experience in the DR Congo. For professional reasons, he couldn’t give his name.

Q: Is MONUC’s mandate adequate for the challenges they face?

A: There is nothing wrong with MONUC’s mandate. MONUC has a clear mandate in Resolution 1856, along with robust rules of engagement and the necessary equipment to efficiently implement it.

There are too many tasks for the amount of troops available but there is a clear priority on the Protection of Civilians. However, troop contributing countries are reluctant or commanders show unwillingness when necessary to use force to implement the mandate. Rules and regulations remain a challenge, as well: in particular with air operations using civilians rules, which makes it difficult to carry out quick operations. There is also insufficient knowledge among peacekeepers and commanders about the rules of engagement and the authorized use of force. Commanders have to be pushed all the time to implement the mandate.

I want to underline that a lot has been accomplished in the East. Since October 1st, 2004 the center of gravity has been in the eastern DRC , with the bulk of troops (87 per cent) being deployed there. We have seen that you can make a difference militarily by being as mobile as possible, operating by day but in particular also by night, using force when needed, reaching out and engaging the local population as much as possible.

However, the counterinsurgency operations have often failed because the Congolese army does not hold ground that was taken and the reconstruction efforts in the areas previously controlled by the insurgency have been too slow.

Lastly, it is important to note that there are no purely military solutions to the main problems of the East. The FDLR and LRA must be addressed politically; military pressure is a tool in a larger political strategy.

Q: What should the future structure and direction of MONUC be? What do you think about recommendations that MONUC move its headquarters to the East?

A: For the mission to be successful there must be a clear chain of command, with the structure as simple as possible.

In terms of command and control, the SRSG [head of MONUC] and the Force Commander [MONUC’s military commander] should work together hand in glove. Never split them up geographically, that’s a golden rule. In 2003/4 in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire such a split created a lot of problems. Keep the political/military interface where it belongs: in Kinshasa, where the government is based. The military center of gravity can be in the East but its political center has to remain in Kinshasa. Don’t take the risk of having the SRSG based in Goma – what will he do there? Talk to the governor? Acting on a provincial level instead of on the countrywide level?

Q: How to you support the Congolese army, as MONUC is mandated to do, given its abuses? How can you condition support to the army?

A: This is a dilemma. The Congolese army is the single greatest threat in the Congo and will probably remain so for the near future. What can be done is limited joint operations. The Security Council has mandated MONUC to support the army, but it is up to MONUC to determine the terms of this collaboration – UN terms, not Congolese terms. Only provide support if you can be involved in the planning of operations and when they are carried out responsibly. Train the Congolese units, either through MONUC or bilateral teams.

For now, I think we need to stop supporting Kimia II. These operations do more harm than good. Consolidate the current positions and hold ground. The Congolese army is in no position to win a war against the FDLR or the LRA. With hundreds of thousands of IDPs, the results of the operations have been disastrous.

Q: There is a lot of talk about benchmarking so that MONUC can draw down its forces. What do you think are the benchmarks that need to be met for this happen?

A: Above all, there needs to be security sector reform. We need to convince the Congolese government to accept advice and support of this reform that should include rebuilding infrastructure, but also training of the police and military. Secondly, there can be no peace with impunity – on this note we need to invest much more in strengthening the judicial system.

In terms of drawing down, I think MONUC can hand over security in the West of the country to the Congolese government if the situation there remains stable.

But we need to plan for contingencies – we need to be prepared for a rapid deterioration of the security situation. This means establishing a strategic reserve force now, in line with plans made by the UN in 2004. One or two troop contributing countries can keep a standby battle group ready for deployment in their home country and agree for them to be airlifted to the Congo if necessary. Don’t rely on the EU or NATO – you need a firm commitment from individual countries.