New Delhi, Feb. 22: Adding more Indian muscle to UN forces in Africa’s little wars, an Indian Air Force contingent with helicopter gunships was today sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the second time in two years on peace enforcement duties.
The mission of the Indian forces is now more complicated because they will be supporting an election process the UN is overseeing but one that is opposed by local militias.
The vice-chief of air staff, Air Marshal Ajit Bhavnani, who flagged off the contingent, said the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo was changing because of the air element in the UN peace enforcement mission of 17,500 troops from many countries.
More than 3,500 Indian Army troops and IAF warriors are in Congo and defence headquarters in India are earmarking more troops for UN duties in Africa and elsewhere. The deployments are under the UN Chapter VII mandate that authorises “peace enforcement” and is distinct from “peacekeeping”.
Air force sources said the contingent has been tasked with two objectives: to transport UN staff and forces and to deter “belligerent groups who may try to destabilise the peace process”.
In June last year, an Indian soldier, Lance Naik Vishnu Bhagwan Shinde, was killed and two more injured in a crossfire in Congo’s North Kivu province. Earlier in the year, Indian Air Force attack helicopters were fired upon as they gave close air support to Pakistani and South African troops in a raid on a village held by a rebel group.
The IAF contingent that was flagged off today is replacing one that was sent earlier. The latest contingent ' called IAC II ' is led by Group Captain Rajan Kapur, a helicopter pilot with more than 5,000 hours of flying experience. The team comprises logistics staff, technicians, medical and administrative support teams. Five Mi-17 and four Mi-35 (attack) helicopters are being sent.
Yesterday, an Indian Army infantry battalion of the 1/5 Gorkha Rifles Frontier Force was inducted into the operational zones of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). This was the second infantry battalion from India for Sudan. The UNMIS force commander is also an Indian, Lt Gen. J.S. Lidder.
Army sources said the Gorkha battalion ' for the first time in the history of UN missions ' has been earmarked as the Force Reserve Air Mobile Battalion.