Kenya has lined up some of the country’s best-trained elite soldiers for deployment to one of the most dangerous parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The rapid intervention force, which is all set to be dispatched to tackle armed groups in the east of the DR Congo, has been secretly preparing for about a year to join a conflict that has come to be termed Africa’s First World War.
This will be the first time the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) will be deploying its specialised units to a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
The Kenyan soldiers are expected to enable peacekeeping troops to patrol remote violence-rocked villages and deter further hostilities in eastern DR Congo.
“Kenya has accepted a request by the United Nations Security Council vide Resolution 2556 (2020) to deploy a military contingent to be integrated into the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo (Monusco) in support of international peace efforts,” KDF Spokesperson, Col Zipporah Kioko, told the Saturday Nation.
The Saturday Nation has learnt that other than the Monusco arrangement, more Kenyan soldiers will be deployed through the recently signed Defence Cooperation Agreement between Kenya and the DR Congo.
The Kenyan soldiers’ period of service will range from a few months to four years, depending whether they are under Monusco or the Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two countries.
The Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his DR Congo counterpart Felix Tshisekedi on April 21 at the Palais de la Nation, Kinshasa, the official residence of DR Congo’s President.
“The United Nations appeal is predicated on Kenya’s track record in peace support missions in the region and other parts of the world,” Col Kioko said.
“The envisaged troop deployment will be in addition to individual military officers and observers already serving in Monusco.”
Part of the training for the mission was conducted in the KDF Kangaita Camp in Mt Kenya and in the DR Congo.
This week, Kenya Army Commander Lt Gen Walter Koipaton visited the KDF Quick Reaction Force troops at Kangaita Camp to prepare them for their deployment.
The walking weapons
The troops to be deployed to the epicentre of the deadliest conflict since World War II – according to some experts – include Kenya Defence Forces commandos, who are said to be so well-trained that they are “walking weapons”.
The Special Forces include some of the soldiers who carried out a daring raid in the Somalia town of Jilib, then the only remaining bastion of al-Shabaab militants, where they neutralised a top al-Shabaab commander in 2018.
Those privy to the matter said KDF will send a contingent of troops drawn from 20th Parachute Battalion, the country’s oldest commando unit, and the 5th Battalion Kenya Rifles (5KR), the first battalion to be deployed to the North Eastern Province in the 1960s to counter the aggressive territorial expansionist campaign by the then newly independent Somalia.
The 20th Parachute Battalion was formed on March 17, 1983, taking over from the First Parachute Company, an airborne force that was conceived as Kenya approached independence.
5KR is also the home of the 30th Special Forces (30SF), the KDF special operators equipped and trained by the British using the training protocols of the Special Air Service (SAS), a Special Forces unit of the British Army.
The first tour will see about 1,600 soldiers drawn from 20th Para and 5KR plus other uncountables work with intelligence officers and DR Congo troops.
The uncountables to be sent to the eastern DR Congo include the mysterious Long Range Surveillance (LRS) unit, which is classified by the military and government circles as “above top secret”.
The LRS, which is run by the Department of Military Intelligence (DMI), is permanently forward-deployed to track enemy movements.
Members of the unit do not wear uniform and don’t keep the official military look as their job is to blend in and work unnoticed.
In the follow-up tours, the 20th Para and 30SF will be replaced with other members of the Kenya Special Operations Regiment, notably the American-trained 40 Rangers Strike Force (40RSF), the Special Boat unit of the Kenya Navy and the Clearance Diving Unit.
The newly formed Marine Commandos, who are also ranger-qualified, are also in line for deployment to the DR Congo.
Security experts told the Saturday Nation that the deployment will be the real battle for Kenya and KDF as the preparation and training for such a mission are said to have been prompted 10 years ago with Operation Linda Nchi when Kenya for the first time in history made an incursion in the territory of another country.
The planned deployment of Kenya’s highly trained soldiers highlights the seriousness with which both countries are taking the security situation in the eastern DR Congo.
At a joint press conference in Kinshasa, President Tshisekedi said Kenya has “volunteered” to support Congolese forces, FARDC, to fight armed groups in the country.
“Kenya will voluntarily be part of the Rapid Intervention Brigade to come and support the FARDC in order to eradicate insecurity in the east of our country,” President Tshisekedi said.
The Kenyan contingent is expected to replace South African troops in Monusco and will be working alongside soldiers from Nepal.
Apart from Nepal and South Africa, other troop contributors to Monusco are Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Malawi, Ghana, Uruguay and Morocco.
According to the programme, the KDF contingent is expected to be deployed in the provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu.
The Saturday Nation has learnt that Kenya also hopes to build stronger political and economic ties with the DR Congo.
It is noteworthy that Mr Kenyatta was the only African head of state, out of the 17 invited, who attended President Tshisekedi’s swearing-in event in January 2019.
The eastern DR Congo is where 70 per cent of goods imported from Kenya or through the port of Mombasa end up.
Of the Sh1.8 billion volume of trade between Kenya and the DR Congo last year, Mombasa handled less than 10 per cent.
After possible stabilisation of the region, insiders say Kenya is planning to follow up with massive infrastructure projects, including a road, a pipeline extension from Uganda to Beni-Kisangani and construction of a standard gauge railway link so as to facilitate easier flow of goods and services from Kenya to eastern DR Congo.
The Beni-Kisangani road is part of a proposed linkage to neighbouring Uganda.
In the Vision 2030 blueprint, Kenya was expected to partner with the government of Uganda and Tamoil East Africa Limited for the extension of a 352-kilometre oil pipeline from Eldoret to Kampala, which is expected to eventually make its way to the DR Congo.
“The DR Congo is (technically) landlocked and depends on foreign ports for trade: Mombasa, Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, Durban in South Africa and Beira in Mozambique,” Mr George Masafu, Kenya’s ambassador to the DR Congo, said.
“Mombasa handles less than five per cent of the total business to the DR Congo, though it is ideally positioned to serve the eastern region of North and South Kivu and Oriental provinces almost exclusively.”
A majority of the Kenyan soldiers will be part of Monusco, the UN mission which is expected to have a drawdown by June 30.
Monusco is the sixth most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the history of such UN operations after Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), Unamid (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur), Onuc (United Nations Operation in the Congo), Minusma (The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali) and Unprofor (The United Nations Protection Force).
As at March 31, Monusco had recorded 211 fatalities.
[email protected] , Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo