The government yesterday announced that a confrontation with Forces for Democratic Liberation of Rwanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo was “inevitable”.
Four thousand FDLR soldiers, many of whom were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, terrorise the eastern DRC.
The looming fight comes after the FDLR ignored the UN’s January 2 disarmament deadline.
Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Clayson Monyela said: “The FDLR has failed to comply with the deadline. It renders a military option inevitable.”
South Africa has 1000 troops in the DRC as part of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade, which is tasked with “neutralising” threats to the region.
Last year, South African troops fought against M23 rebels in several fierce battles.
Military analyst Helmoed Heitman warned the latest task will not be easy.
“Defeating the M23 was luck. It helped that they were caught by surprise by South Africa’s attack helicopters.
“Like any other guerrilla force, they simply disappeared into the forests. They were not defeated.”
Heitman said FDLR, while not as organised as the M23, had been around longer and was battle-hardened.
“They will be difficult to fight. Although not as sophisticated [as the M23], they must be found to be defeated. Once found, an effective military presence must be maintained. Like any guerrilla war this will take nearly a decade.
“The FDLR won’t take on heavily armed South Africans. It will be guerrilla warfare, where, for counter-insurgency operations, 10 troops are needed for every one guerrilla. This is because of their terrain knowledge and blending in with civilians. [Our] troops need to protect both civilians and property while fighting.
“Stabilising an area requires 20 troops per 1000 population. With over 6.5million people in this area it requires 130000 troops.”