CAR attack should worry SA - minister

2013-04-04 22:45
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (Picture: AFP)

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (Picture: AFP)

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Cape Town - Questions remained on why South African troops were singled out, apparently by rebels, in the Central African Republic, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Thursday.

Briefing Parliament's standing committee on defence, she conceded South African troops were not prepared to deal with an attack in CAR, which left 13 SA National Defence Force soldiers dead.

Both the minister and a SANDF lieutenant general hinted at a third force at play during the clash on 23 March.

"We were not equipped in a way that will be able to repel that kind of battle. We never deployed to the CAR to wage a battle.

"We never anticipated [a battle]," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The minister said the troops had been well aware of rebels outside the CAR capital Bangui who wanted to take over power in that country.

However, there were still many unanswered questions.

"I'm still wondering how we lost it there, what happened."

The SANDF troops were equipped and had the necessary armoury to deal with the rebels they expected to encounter. But rebels were armed with mortars and heavy-calibre weapons.

"I think that is what we did not anticipate, that the kind of rebel you would end up protecting yourself from is the kind of rebel which will come in heavy vehicles and will have high-calibre machinery," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

She could not respond to opposition party MP's concerns on why military intelligence had provided the wrong information to troops.

The minister said there was a "phenomenon" they could not identify which was playing itself out in Africa.

"If you anticipate a rebel army of about 400 to 500 and suddenly on the day you are confronted by this rebel grouping, you suddenly find thousands of people who can't even speak the language of the local community there, that should worry us."

Mapisa-Nqakula said the same "phenomenon" had been present during fighting in other countries, such as Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo, meaning there was cause for alarm.

"As South Africans, because of where CAR is, the strategic nature of its location, it's something that should worry us."

The minister's claim of a third force was backed up by Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi, who told MPs SANDF analysis had showed the level of training of rebels and the equipment at their disposal. But, what soldiers were confronted with were groups not part of the Seleka rebels.

He went as far as insinuating the attackers were not even from the CAR.

"You look at the uniforms, you look at the boots, you look at the level of equipment they have and you look at the speed at which they move, you realise who you are confronted with."

Mgwebi would not identify where the opposing troops came from, but indicated he knew.

"The type of uniform... can give one an indication which areas within that region they are coming from," he said.

As soon as soldiers were ambushed the SANDF was forced to increase its level of readiness and reconfigure its troops.

"If we didn't, we could have probably been in a worse situation than we were."

Mgwebi said of the 27 wounded in battle, 18 had already been discharged from hospital. Of those still in hospital, one was in a critical condition.

Mapisa-Nqakula later denied troops were deployed to protect assets of individuals and companies connected to the African National Congress.

"The story doing the rounds, that's in the Mail and Guardian, about assets of individuals which really have nothing to do with what the defence force was doing in the CAR."

She insisted troops were protecting military assets, which included 27 vehicles sent to the CAR in December last year.

Mapisa-Nqakula sprang to the defence of SANDF soldiers who reportedly shot dead child soldiers. She said this was not inhumane, as SANDF troops were forced to defend themselves against armed children.

"We are not expecting our soldiers to blow kisses at them."

Some of the troops in the CAR had already returned home. Mapisa-Nqakula refused to divulge details about when other troops would arrive home, insisting it was an operational matter.

On Wednesday, President Jacob Zuma announced South Africa would withdraw its troops from the country.

Earlier this week, ousted CAR president Francois Bozize accused Chadian special forces of helping remove him from office, also indicating they were responsible for the attack on South African troops.

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