MONUSCO mourns most deadly attack in recent peacekeeping history

Much of yesterday night’s event around MONUSCO’s military base near Semuliki river remain subject to a much deeper analysis that should be carried out quickly. However, the few things that we seem to know at this point paint a daunting picture of what is the most deadly attack on UN peacekeeping in the Congo. This attack comes at a point where the area northeast of Beni has known as series of assaults during the past weeks, two of them – unreported to date, targeting another nearby MONUSCO base. Local sources have also reported the killing of over 20 civilians in early November in a similar area.

According to local and UN sources, on the 7 December roughly around 6pm local time a MONUSCO COB (Company Operating Base) was raided by so far unidentified but heavily armed assailants. That base is located near a bridge over Semuliki river on the Mbau-Kamango road northeast of Beni town. Operated by the Tanzanian battalion of MONUSCO’s offensive combat segment – the Force Intervention Brigade – the base appears to have immediately lost radio contact to other MONUSCO positions in the area. In what appears to have been an intense battle during at least four hours, at least 12 (many sources say 14) Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed and a good 50 others wounded (some of them severely), official and other sources consistently report.

Several sources have also reported the killing of, initially, one , later 5 FARDC soldiers. FARDC sources and local media, however, initially reported that the Congolese army had not been involved into the fighting. By late afternoon on 8 December, MONUSCO was still busy evacuating the wounded for medical emergency care. MONUSCO, the largest UN peacekeeping force, took over in 2010 from an earlier U.N. mission. The force’s mission is to support peace and stability in the country, and to protect citizens from clashes with militias fighting for control of the North Kivu region.

While the scale and boldness of this attack certainly comes as a surprise, the “triangle of death” between Beni, Mbau and Kamango has — after a long lull — again seen a string of attacks in recent months. Many of the recent attacks in the Beni region were quickly ascribed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who were also blamed for most of the attacks in 2014 to 2015. The ADF an Ugandan-originating armed group that evolved out fierce opposition against the Ugandan government and later on morphed into an Tabligh-Islam-inspired armed group operating in Beni’s Rwenzori area.

ADF’s alleged links to al-Shabab or al-Qaeda have never been independently proved. But the group’s reputation as Islamist militants has for a long time blocked a deeper analysis of its approach, aims and involvement in larger eastern Congolese and cross-border conflict dynamics. The U.N. Group of Experts‘ 2015 report and independent think tanks, such as the Congo Research Group, have released research that suggests today’s ADF is a networked militia that has embedded itself into the Congolese conflict and set up ties with local ethnic militia as well as renegade FARDC units and remnants of the former RCD-K/ML rebellion.

Nonetheless, it is likely that the ADF is linked not only to the attack on the MONUSCO base but also the upsurge in violence since September 2017. After all, it has maintained a rather robust structure despite three years of MONUSCO-supported Sukola I operations of the FARDC and considered as a highly disciplined military outfit. Nonetheless, the sad effectiveness and strength of the attack begs the question if the ADF alone were able to stage such a massive operation. Observations pointing at an intense use of RPGs and grenades during the attack also contradict the ADF’s usually AK-47 framed modus operandi. Moreover, as the most recent mapping of armed groups in the Kivus illustrates, the ADF are by far not the only armed actor active in the larger Beni area.

With many things unclear and the Herculanean task of evacuating and handling the wounded still ongoing, the next challenge for MONUSCO and the UN at large will be to quickly understand who exactly carried out the killings, which may constitute a war crime, and how it could occur that a base run by one of the missions most robust contingent could be so defenceless in the face of a major threat. In short-term this will inevitable lead to a phase where MONUSCO is – understandably – more dealing with itself than with implementing its protection mandate. This might potentially lead to incentives for follow-up attacks or security voids in other parts of North Kivu.

An important question in the frame of the ensuing inquiries might be whether recent cuts in budget and troops ceilings might have exacerbated the pressure on the operating contingents and their logistic capacity – both to establish proper means of defence in cases of such attacks but also to readily deploy support in such events. The current US administration, given its recent stance towards peacekeeping, should closely monitor any such investigations. On the UN side, however, recent events have shown – the assassination of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan sadly is a telling example – that investigations into security incidents are often done halfheartedly. If Secretary-General Guterres and his leadership team do not show more political willingness in this case, it is highly unlikely that this attack will be fully investigated.



One Response to “MONUSCO mourns most deadly attack in recent peacekeeping history”

    Is there any link between this attack and on going meeting between DRC officials and Ug authorities in Mbarara…UPDF requested to enter DRC…..

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