U.S. and Democratic Republic of Congo representatives gathered February 17, 2010, at a military base outside of Kisangani in north-central DRC to mark the establishment of a light infantry battalion intended to be a model unit for the future of the Congolese military.

KISANGANI, Democratic Republic of Congo - Congolese soldiers stand in formation during a ceremony marking the formation of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) Light Infantry Battalion's establishment, February 17, 2010. The battalionnâ€s soldiers will soon undergo 6-8 months of training as part of a U.S. government partnership with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo by Nicole Dalrymple, U.S. Africa Command)

The train-and-equip mission, part of a long-term, multi-lateral U.S.-DRC partnership to promote security sector reform in the country, will assist the DRC government in its ongoing efforts to transform the Armed Forces of the DRC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, widely known as FARDC).

The training is intended to increase the ability of the Congolese army to conduct effective internal security operations as part of the FARDC’s rapid reaction plan, help preserve the territorial integrity of the DRC, and develop an army that is accountable to the Congolese people. This initiative also represents one aspect of a long-term, multiagency, international approach to promote a sustainable peace through the creation of a model unit in the FARDC.

Brigadier General Jean-Claude Kifwa, commander of FARDC’s 9th Region, spoke at the ceremony, saying he thought it was a sign of progress that a quick reaction force was being established in his region.

“I’d like to thank the authorities of my country for choosing Kisangani to be the center of quick reaction forces,” Kifwa said. “I think this is progress in the reform of our new army.” He said that the battalion’s main mission would be to protect the territorial borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congolese people and their goods.

KISANGANI, Democratic Republic of Congo - Congolese Color Guard members take part in a ceremony marking the establishment of a Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) Light Infantry Battalion, February 17, 2010, in Kisangani. The battalion will be trained via a U.S. government partnership with the DRC. (Photo by Nicole Dalrymple, U.S. Africa Command)

Members of the newly formed light infantry battalion will undergo a 6-8 month training program at the Base Camp in Kisangani. The training will cover small unit tactics, food preparation, maintenance, medical care and first aid, logistics support, HIV/AIDS prevention and communications. Human rights considerations and the respect for human rights in military operations will be incorporated in each aspect of the training.

“The commanders, staff officers and noncommissioned officers who will lead this battalion began their training last year in Kinshasa,” Garvelink explained. He added that the battalion’s soldiers were all carefully selected by the FARDC to “ensure the highest caliber of trainees possible.”

U.S. Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM), via its Special Operations Command component, is providing on-the-ground oversight of the training program, which will be taught by U.S. military personnel and Department of State-hired contractors.

When asked about any possible hidden policy agenda of the United States in the Congo, Ambassador Garvelink answered, “The interest of the United States in the Congo is to see a democratic, representative government that takes care of its people and is at peace with its neighbors. That’s what our objective is.” (from africom.mil)

In February 2008 the US and UN organized a special training: U.S. Military Legal Experts Train DR Congo Military in Preventing, Prosecuting Sex Crimes. So far I have not heard of any significant successes resulting from this training.

Regarding the reasons for training an infantry battalion and the interest of the United States, Rick Rozoff points us to some timely information:

Earlier this month the Kenyan newspaper The East African divulged that “American legislators are pushing for a law that will see another phase of military action to apprehend Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.”

The news source added that the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Bill adopted by the U.S. Congress last year “requires the US government to develop a new multifaceted strategy” and as such the new bill under consideration “will not be the first time the US government is providing support to the Uganda army in fighting the LRA.

“The US has been backing the UPDF [Uganda People’s Defence Force] with logistics and training to fight the rebel group.” [12]

Last month it was announced that the U.S. Africa Command has dispatched special forces to train 1,000 Congolese troops in the north and east of their nation, where Congo borders Uganda.

Former U.S. diplomat Daniel Simpson was quoted above as to what in part is Washington’s motive in pursuing a new war in and around Somalia: To test out AFRICOM ground and air forces in Djibouti for direct military action on the continent.

A United Press International report of March 10, placed under energy news, offered another explanation. In a feature titled “East Africa is next hot oil zone,” the news agency disclosed that “East Africa is emerging as the next oil boom following a big strike in Uganda’s Lake Albert Basin. Other oil and natural gas reserves have been found in Tanzania and Mozambique and exploration is under way in Ethiopia and even war-torn Somalia.”

The article added: “The discovery at Lake Albert, in the center of Africa between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is estimated to contain the equivalent of several billion barrels of oil. It is likely to be the biggest onshore field found south of the Sahara Desert in two decades.”

I wrote about oil and the LRA earlier in If Uganda Has Oil It Must Need The Pentagon’s Democracy. The comments include the Response of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) to the ” Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009″courtesy of Africa Focus. They conclude:

… we applaud the commitment of the bill to bring about stability and development in the region. However, we as the Acholi religious leaders whose primary concern is the preservation of human life, advocate for dialogue and other non-violent strategies to be employed so that long term sustainable peace may be realized. Let us learn from the past experiences where we have seen that violence only breeds more violence.

Given current US finances, it seems unlikely that the US is investing in training the Congo soldiers out of a selfless desire to see a democratic, representative government that takes care of its people and is at peace with its neighbors. That certainly has never been the case before in the DRC. And considering the role of US Africa Command protege Paul Kagame of Rwanda, the proxy army the US is training and arming in Rwanda, and Rwanda’s involvement in resource exploitation and political terrorism in Congo, US motives are at best unclear.

In 2008 Refugees International reported in U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement: Lessons from the Operational Level in Africa that the US:

… only plans to spend $5.5 million in 2009 [in Congo, compared to 49.65 million budgeted for Liberia] to help reform a 164,000-strong army in the DR Congo, a country with 65 million people where Africa’s “first world war” claimed the lives of over five million people.

… intelligence, judiciary, and prison agencies are sadly neglected. In the DR Congo, the State Department has played a very active role in facilitating dialogue among belligerents and is concerned about the humanitarian situation in the east, but the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities.

It would be nice if the Congolese Army protected rather than preyed on the civilians they are supposed to protect. But I doubt the brief and limited training will make a significant difference, even if Human rights considerations and the respect for human rights in military operations will be incorporated in each aspect of the training. And I suspect human rights are more an afterthought than a goal.