MONUSCO on March 28th, 2013 established the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). It consisted of armed forces from three member states, South Africa, Malawi, and Tanzania. The FIB had the unprecedented mandate to actively “neutralize and disarm” the group. These were a threat to state sovereignty and human security:
- The FIB originally helped the DRC in operations against the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels, FDLR. Since 2014, the FIB has targeted the APCLS, and more notably the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
- In the DRC, there are more than 70 armed groups operating. These highly likely influenced the mandate to create an offensive combat force, focusing on peace enforcement rather than peacekeeping.
- There are opposite views regarding the ethical and effective consequences of the force. Nonetheless there is a realistic probability the UN Security Council will apply a similar model to Mali and CAR. This is based on the ongoing threat from armed groups and the mandate given to UN missions in both countries.
This Grey Dynamics African Intelligence article analyses the FIB approach. It speculates the trends in Mali and CAR to support a potential model for the application.
Force Intervention Brigade: DRC Approach
Previous mandates only permitted self-defense. This led to heavy criticism of the UN. Killings, rapes, and looting in Icari, Eastern Congo 2003, and in 2010 when M23 rebels captured Goma North Kivu followed. This criticism was key in creating a robust mandate. For the first time, it would allow an offensive UN combat force. Operations focused mainly in the North and South Kivu Provinces. These were close to the Rwandan border which had been a source for armed rebel groups against the DRC.
The FIB, in concert with DRC forces, has been highly effective against the M23 rebels. These lost all strongholds in a series of operations in 2013. This would have likely not been possible without an offensive mandate. Since 2014, a new engagement with the ADF is ongoing despite the group suffering heavy losses. With around 3000 combat troops, air drones, attack helicopters the FIB success is still limited. It only targets 4 out of 70 armed groups. It is an expensive model, with mixed success. Nonetheless, it serves as an immediate response to direct state sovereignty threats. It can help to neutralize groups that would be detrimental to human security.
The UN extended the mandate for the Force Intervention Brigade to at the very least December 2020 by UN Resolution 2502. The mandate has also created a troop ceiling of 14,000 military personnel, 660 military observers, and 591 police personnel. This force is mainly Zeerust-based 2 South African Infantry Battalion and Brigadier General Patrick Dube leads it. It is in turn supported by air reconnaissance, surveillance, and aerial bombing, with authorization for ground support operations.
The FIB relies heavily on Congolese intelligence. It works closely with the state as part of the mandate for neutralizing armed groups. The ADF has lost its last stronghold in Beni, North Kivu Province. However, there are criticisms that the FIB does not hold captured territory. These in turn witness ADF return to the lost ground. Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states make up the FIB which supports the cooperation with Congolese forces.
This is vital to success and would likely be an effective approach. The UN considers applying a similar model to Mali and CAR. The solutions to instability are not solely military. A robust military force working with the respective host nation is highly likely to influence success against armed groups.
Applying the Model
In the West Sahel region, as well as the CAR, armed group activity is ongoing. This happens despite assistance from the US and French military forces. A previous Grey Dynamics article addressed the success of Mauritania against terrorism. This highlighted that Mali is subject to terror attacks. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is a peacekeeping, rather than peace enforcing mission. Since 2016, violence has increased. This has raised the prospects of the UN applying a similar model, for example, a JF-G5 force like the FIB.
This was originally a wish by the ECOWAS but would likely require the ongoing support of French forces. The region lacks a robust military force as seen in South Africa in the Force Intervention Brigade case. The UN Security Council in 2016 called for MINUSMA to engage in direct operations against asymmetric threats. Later on, a 2018 renewal called for joint operations and intelligence cooperation with Mali.
In 2017, Lieutenant General Balla Keita quoted Operation Bekpa as breaking rules of engagement to ensure mission success. It is not clear how far the UN will apply the FIB model. Nonetheless, it is a realistic probability that the UN will take a more offensive approach going forward.
This article was originally published in May 2020.