The challenges and limitations faced by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) have been highlighted during recent efforts to respond to the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Aid workers are unable to enter some areas outside of Mangina, a community located approximately 30km of the town of Beni, one of the epicentres of the outbreak. These areas are considered “red-zones”, corresponding to level four on the scale employed by the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). This means that health-care personnel cannot enter in order to monitor the spread, or offer treatment to anyone who has contracted the deadly disease.
Despite the presence of MONUSCO forces, North Kivu remains host to what from the outside may appear to be a bewildering array of rebel groups and militias. These groups, according to their own statements and declarations, have varied ideologies and causes that they allegedly seek to represent. These ideologies fall across a wide range. On one end are the ethno-nationalists claiming to represent ethnic/tribal interests. On the other end are Islamists such as the Allied Democratic Forces trying to create an Islamic state. The latter have been accused of ties to al-Qaeda and its affiliate al-Shabaab, but these allegations remain unverified.
Still other groups appear to serve as little more than vehicles for the ambitions of their leaders, or an excuse to engage in banditry under the cover of representing tribal or local interests. The names used (or given by outside observers) for these groups also vary from the grandiose which results in impressive acronyms such as ADF, APCLS, FDC, FLDR-FOCA, FLDR-CNRD, NDC-R to the more informal for local militias (mai mai) such as ‘Simba, ‘Charles’ and ‘Mazembe’. These groups are frequently accused of murder, rape, abduction and other abuses against civilian populations. They have been known to fund their activities by occupying mining sites and operating roadblocks across the province.
Side note: in October 2017, a two-minute-long video was shared by several pro-Islamic State channels showing a small group of fighters who claimed to be in the DRC. They called themselves “The City of Monotheism and Monotheists.” No further information regarding this group or its activities has emerged since the release of this video despite initial interest from both the media and online community of Islamic State supporters.
These groups are unlike the rebels of the March 23 Movement (aka M23) who were defeated in 2014 by the Congolese Army (FARDC), with the independent support of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). Rather, these rebel forces offer a much smaller and elusive target. This is despite often operating from known bases and fielding forces that number from hundreds up to several thousand fighters.
These smaller groups do not engage in the type of large-scale military offensives or attempts to seize major cities like Goma attempted by M23. Instead, these groups launch hit-and-run attacks and then retreat into the bush or disperse and blend into civilian populations. They do not engage in prolonged head-on battles over towns and territory. The effectiveness of these tactics was demonstrated in the evening of 07 December 2017, when 14 MONUSCO peacekeepers were killed and 53 were wounded in an attack on their base at Semuliki located in Beni Territory, North Kivu. The attackers were fighters belonging to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group. A further five FARDC soldiers were also killed in the attack.
Restructuring the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade
Despite having some 15,533 troops, United Nations peace-keepers have struggled to defeat these rebel forces and militias as its forces are dispersed across North Kivu and across other regions in the eastern DRC. The FIB, was critical to the defeat of the M23 rebellion and the later targeting that same year of bases belonging to rebels of the ADF. However, they have proven less successful than hoped in more recent efforts to target other rebel groups and militias. This recent lack of progress prompted a July 2018 report by the United Nations which recommended a reconfiguration of the force to make it “more flexible, agile and able to conduct both offensive and protection of civilians operations across North Kivu”. This reconfiguration, expected to be completed by 30 September, includes replacing an infantry battalion with a Special Forces company, strengthening the intelligence unit and introducing a new utility/attack helicopter unit.
This plan is currently opposed by the Government of South Africa, which fears a reduction in the size of the FIB may result in its forces (as well as those of other troop contributing countries, like Malawi and Tanzania) suffering greater casualties. Nevertheless, it remains unclear how a more ‘flexible and agile’ FIB will help MONSUCO achieve greater success. Even at its current size, this force has proven inadequate to provide security across this vast territory, while the FARDC and other government forces deployed in the region remain unreliable partners. A worsening of the latest round of Hema-Lendu fighting in Ituri Province, which has already seen mass killings and the displacement of more than 350,000 persons, or eruption of other conflicts, would only place a further strain on UN peacekeeping resources.
Due to the current scale of the challenge faced by MONSUCO, it is unlikely that this reconfiguration of the FIB will be enough to meet the threat posed by the rebel and militia forces currently terrorising the eastern regions of the DRC. Even with greater mobility and a larger contingent of Special Forces, the FIB will still be left in a position akin to ‘swatting at flies’. The sheer number and highly mobile nature of potential targets threatens to overstretch these resources.
There is no question that the FIB under its current force structure, even with the infantry battalion which is to be replaced, has already suffered from this problem. That healthcare workers have not been able to access areas near Beni, where the UN also has a Nepalese infantry battalion and am Formed Police Unit (Indian), has only served to draw attention to this fact. The notion that a force restructure is seen as necessary is understandable.
It will now be the responsibility of all governments that provide troops and support to the MONSUCO mission to ensure that the future performance of the FIB be closely monitored and that any shortfalls or lessons learned receive a quick and full response. A failure to do so may lead to a further deterioration in the security situation in the eastern regions of the DRC and further inhibit the ability of the UN and other actors to respond to the current Ebola outbreak.
This moth, the 193-member United Nations General Assembly unanimously appointed former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the ninth secretary-general of the would body for a five-year term that will begin on 1 January 2017.
Guterres, 57, will replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea. Ban will step down at the end of 2016 after having served two five-year terms. Guterres was Portugal’s prime minister from 1995 until 2002 and UN High Commissioner for Refuges from 2005 until 2015. On 13 October, he pledged to act as an “honest broker” and stated that he would take a humble approach in trying to deal with global issues, in which human dignity will be at the core of his work. Speaking to the General Assembly, Guterres stated, “diversity can bring us together, not drive us apart…We must make sure that we are able to break this alliance between all those terrorist groups or violent extremists on one side and the expressions of populism and xenophobia on the other side,” adding, “these two reinforce each other, and we must be able to fight both of them with determination.”
At the start of this month, the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously recommended that the General Assembly appoint Guterres, who beat our twelve other candidates, seven of whom were women, amidst a push for the first woman to be elected.
Diplomats are now watching to see who Guterres will appoint to senior UN positions, amidst speculation by diplomats and UN officials that China would like one its nationals to head peacekeeping and that Russia is keen to lead political affairs. Currently, a French man runs peacekeeping, an American man leads political affairs and a British man is in charge of humanitarian affairs.
On 9 September, the United Nations announced that at least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean, seeking refuge in Europe this year and next. In its announcement, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, called for more cohesive asylum policies in order to deal with the growing numbers.
In a newly released document, the refugee agency reported that “in 2015, UNHCR anticipates that approximately 400,000 new arrivals will seek international protection in Europe via the Mediterranean. In 2016, this number could reach 450,000 or more.” It noted that many of the refugees are Syrians, who have been driven to make the dangerous voyage by intensified fighting there, coupled with worsening conditions for refugees in surrounding countries, which has been due to funding shortfalls in aid programmes. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler has noted that the prediction for this year is already close to being fulfilled as 366,000 have already made the voyage. He disclosed that the total will depend on whether migrants stop attempting the journey as the weather becomes colder and the seas more dangerous. Currently however the numbers do not appear to have slowed down, and are not likely to given Germany’s announcement that it will ease the rules for Syrians seeking refuge who first reach the European Union (EU) through other countries. The UNHCR has reported that a single-day record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on 7 September, while 30,000 are on Greek Islands, most of them on Lesbos.
Germany has told its European partners that they must take in more refugees as it handles record numbers of asylum seekers. Other countries, including the US and wealthy Gulf States must also take on their responsibilities. Last week, the White House announced that it was considering steps to ease the crisis.
9 March – In the latest series of “tit-for-tat” strikes, warplanes from Libya’s internationally recognized government (based in Tobruk) attacked the last functioning airport in Tripoli, which is held by the rival administration. The two opposing governments have been battling for control of the nation and its vast oil resources, causing spiralling violence in the north of the country.
“Warplanes conducted air strikes this morning on Mitiga airport but there was no damage,” airport spokesman Abdulsalam Buamoud said. “Flights were suspended for only an hour … but now the airport is working normally.”
Spokesman for the Tobruk-led military, Mohamed al-Hejazi, the airport was targeted because it is “outside state legitimacy”, adding that weapons and fighters which were heading to western Libya come through the Tripoli airport. Western Libya has become a sort of base for Islamist militants who have exploited the chaos between the governments.
Haftar Sworn In:
The attack coincided with the swearing-in of Khalifa Haftar as army commander for the recognized government. Haftar has been vocally opposed to the Tripoli based government since February 2014 and attempted to seize the parliament building and halt their activities. The Tripoli government called his actions an attempt at a coup. Shortly thereafter, Haftar began “Operation Dignity”, a self-declared war against Islamist militants in Benghazi which gained great support from military forces and civil society. However Haftar has also been met with opposition from those who criticise his attacks on civilian air and sea ports. Today, Libya’s internationally recognised President Abdullah al-Thani and his parliament have formally allied with Haftar. The Tripoli-based rival government has denounced Haftar as “war criminal.”
Haftar’s appointment as army commander will complicate mediation efforts by the United Nations which began last week in Morocco. The UN has been trying to persuade both sides to form a national government and said on Saturday that progress had been made at talks in Morocco. Delegates will return this week for more negotiations after consultations at home, but both factions face internal divisions over the negotiations.
ISIS attacks oil fields:
Meanwhile, in the midst of the government battles, the Tobruk government’s military spokesman, Ahmed al-Mesmari, says that militants affiliated with the terrorist group Islamic State affiliate beheaded eight guards after an assault on al-Ghani oil field last week, during which nine foreigners were abducted. Al-Mesmari did not elaborate on how the army knows about the beheadings but the force serving as oil guards is closely allied to the Tobruk military. Authorities in the Philippines and Austria confirmed that nine of their citizens were abducted during the attack, however the beheadings have not been confirmed.
The attack was part of a string of militant strikes targeting oil fields in the nation. Libya declared a force majeure related to 11 oil fields in the centre of country after a string of attacks against the facilities by ISIS. In a statement posted on its website, state-owned National Oil Company (NOC) said it was no longer able to ensure security in the 11 fields. By declaring force majeure, the nation can guarantee legal protections from claims against any future disruptions. Libya is pumping about 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day, three times less than its peak output. The Dahra oil field, about 310 miles southeast of Tripoli, was attacked late on Tuesday, hours after two other oil facilities were targeted by the militants. Colonel Hakim Maazab, a commander of the oil guards in the area said his men had regained control of the field late on Wednesday. Mabruk and Bahi oil fields in central Libya that were stormed for a second time by unknown gunmen on Monday and Tuesday, after experiencing similar attacks in February. Mabruk once produced 30,000 to 40,000 barrels a day and is operated by a Libyan joint venture with French oil firm Total SA. It was occupied again overnight on Tuesday by the militants, who claim to represent Islamic State and killed nine guards there last month. Bahi and Dahra are operated by a partnership with U.S. oil companies Marathon Oil Corp., Hess Corp. and ConocoPhillips. Colonel Maazab said on Wednesday that the gunmen had withdrawn from Mabruk after inflicting heavy damage on the facilities, destroying oil tanks and the control room. “Daesh (Arabic slur for ISIS) blew up a lot of equipment,” he said.
29 January- Militants have attacked a hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli, killing at least nine people including five foreigners, officials say. The Corinthia Hotel is often used by foreign diplomats, government officials and foreign companies. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has hosted several workshops at the hotel. Several gunmen stormed the Corinthia Hotel and opened fire in the reception area; a car bomb also exploded nearby. Unconfirmed reports say some of the assailants have blown themselves up. The officials say the dead include one US and one French citizen. The US state department has confirmed the death of a US citizen, US Marine Corp veteran David Berry. The French national is reported to have been working for Libya’s Buraq Air. There are conflicting reports as to the total number of attackers.
A Twitter account linked to ISIS said the group had carried out the attack in revenge for the death of Abu Anas al-Liby, a Libyan fighter who was suspected of involvement in the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998. As chaos erupts in Libya, officials in Geneva are rushing to put together a peace plan before ISIS can gain a foothold in the country. The attack on the hotel is the latest sign of ISIS flexing its muscles in a country that has become a failed state, and which could reach levels of chaos currently seen in Syria.
Libya has seen continual fighting since the death of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Beginning as small, localised skirmishes, the fighting turned into civil war last summer after national elections ushered in a moderate government, the House of Representatives, which heavily defeated Islamist parties and replaced the Islamist leaning General National Convention. Islamists and their allies, particularly tribal militias, reacted to the defeat by declaring parliament void, forming the Libya Dawn militia alliance and seizing Tripoli. The newly elected parliament fled and moved its administrative seat to Tobruk, in eastern Libya. The two sides, based at opposite ends of the country, have been at war ever since, resulting in thousands of deaths, towns wrecked and more than 400,000 of Libya’s six million population displaced.
In the midst of the chaos, ISIS has taken advantage and formed units across all three of Libya’s provinces. They have declared the eastern coastal town of Derna an Islamic caliphate, with parades of fighters waving black flags and ritual beheadings. ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of 14 soldiers killed as they slept near the south-western town of Sebha, and earlier this month for the execution of two kidnapped Tunisian journalists, which is as yet unconfirmed. Earlier this month ISIS units attacked the living quarters of Egyptian guest workers in Sirte, separating Christians from Muslims and then taking the Christians away. ISIS later posted pictures of the kidnapped men on social media.
There are fears that the foothold in ISIS presence a threat to Europe, particularly in light of Libya’s proximity. At the Geneva talks, UN special envoy Bernardino Leon is warning that the window to agree a peace deal is closing. “Libya’s running out of time. How much time will Libya have, it’s difficult to say but the general impression is that the country is very close to total chaos.”
The UN is struggling to develop a deal, in large part because only one of the warring parties has turned up for the peace talks. Libya Dawn is refusing to take part. The group pulled out of the discussions after forces loyal to the Tobruk-based government seized the Benghazi branch of the central bank last week. Tobruk in turn said that, as the internationally recognised government, it is entitled to control its own central bank, further poisoning relations between the two sides. Because the Tobruk-based government is internationally recognised, it ostensibly controls oil revenues, and is reluctant to agree to a ceasefire while its expanding army is making gains on the battlefield.
In Benghazi, army units have bottled up Ansar al Sharia, a militant group, in the port area. Meanwhile the air force, loyal to Tobruk, last month repulsed a Libya Dawn offensive aimed at capturing Es Sider, the largest oil port.
Libya is quickly running out of money. The central bank, a neutral institution, pays soldiers on both sides of the conflict, and its reserves are running low, unable to be replenished as oil production has slowed considerably due to the fighting. The population is almost wholly dependent on cash from foreign reserves, and these are starting to run dry.
In the absence of a peace agreement and with depletion of resources, ISIS may become the beneficiary of the anarchy in the failed state, unless at least temporary terms between the two governments can be reached in haste.