Defence minister: We weren't prepared

2013-04-04 16:09
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. (File, Sapa)

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. (File, Sapa)

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Cape Town - Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Thursday conceded South African troops were not prepared to deal with an attack in the Central African Republic.

"We were not equipped in a way that will be able to repel that kind of battle," she told Parliament's defence standing committee.

Thirteen soldiers were killed and 27 wounded in the clash with Seleka rebel fighters in Bangui on 23 March.

Mapisa-Nqakula hinted there were questions about the military intelligence provided to soldiers on the front-line.

"We never deployed to the CAR to wage a battle. We never anticipated [a battle]."

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 questions unanswered.

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

The SA National Defence Force 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.

"I think that's what happened here."

The minister 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, which was new, and boots they were wearing, and the attire they were wearing, 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.

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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