Text: Christian De Brabanter & Pictures: Gérald Daguin  © sbap 2013

Mister De Crem handed over an elite battalion drilled by Belgian soldiers to his Congolese homologue

On November 28, the Belgian Minister of Defence Pieter De Crem symbolically transferred to his Congolese homologue Alexandre Luba Ntambo an elite battalion (the third of this kind) drilled by Belgian instructors during the past eight months. This unit regarded as an elite by international observers will help Kinshasa to re-establish its authority over the large territory of the République Démocratique du Congo (RDC) - Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The ceremony, with drop of paratroopers and low flight passes of Belgian Air Force C-130H, was held at Kindu, county-seat of the Maniema province (eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo), where some hundred Belgians, mostly of the 3rd Battalion paratroopers from Tielen (3 PARA- near Turnhout), flanked the drill of the 323rd Battalion Commando of the Rapid Reaction Forces of the Congolese Armed Forces.

Two other battalions were already drilled by Belgium, the 321st and 322nd, respectively on horse between 2008 and 2009 and October 2011 and March 2012, within the frame of the Belgian-Congolese Programme de Partenariat militaire (PPM) - Military Partnership Program.

They showed their professionalism during operations in Equateur and recently in northern Kivu against the rebellion of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), defeated in the beginning of November by the FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo - Democratic Republic of Congo armed forces), with the help of the UNO blue helmets. This was emphasized by mister Luba in presence of Mister De Crem, his delegation and half a dozen defence attachés of partnering countries of the DRC accredited by Kinshasa.

This is the beginning of a new chapter of the PPM, started in 2003 and re-oriented to the formation of these three battalions in 2007, declared mister De Crem on the last day of his visit to DRC. He assured that Belgium would take other responsibilities, in this the formation of brigade staff-headquarters (the 31st) entrusted to manage the three battalions and for the 'responsabilisation of the Congolese' which now have to recondition their troops.

The final exercise was pepped by sending a company of 150 men, from the same unit (3 PARA) which played a major part and also advised the new Congolese commandos, acclimatizing themselves to the tropical conditions, a never ending obsession of the Belgian military hierarchy.

Lieutenant-colonel Luc Leclercq, detachment commander and also head of the 3 Battalion Paratroopers stated that the mission of the Belgian instructors, wich, with this parade, ended formally on November 28, consisted in the erigation of a light battalion, easily put into action during short term operation.

Mister Luba Ntambo confirmed that they would be put into action shortly in a location which the head of state (President Joseph Kabila - also head of the FARDC) will decide on. "The Congolese nation is awaiting an exemplary behavior from you" he added, citing the motto of the new battalion "Ne jamais trahir le Congo - To never betray Congo".

The visit of Mister De Crem was less than a month after the victory of the governmental troops on the rebels of the Mouvement du 23 mars, in the northern Kivu province, with the aid of the Mission des Nations Unies en RDC - Mission of the United Nations in DRC (MONUSCO). The two Belgian trained battalions also contributed to this victory. The Belgian army got on to flank the formation of a brigade staff-headquarter which will have to manage the three battalions.

Belgian Defence provided also support for the renovation of the camp at Kindu, a project baptized FAMIKI which benefited from financial means from the Affaires Etrangères (Foreign Affairs) and the Coopération au Développement Belges under the term "3D" - Defence - Diplomacy and Development.

The manpower for this renovation works came from military from the Congolese Genie, trained by Belgium, during precedent years at Kananga (western Kasaï). Here Mister De Crem handed over the symbolic key of 196 accommodations with water supply but also a health center and a school.

Transit at N'djili (Kinshasa), impossible to land the A330 at Kindu The Embraer...destination Kindu
Above the bush and military installations Many activities on Kindu apron
Arrival at Kindu airport
The parade and aerial C-130H pass

The 3 PARA from Tielen comes back from an eight month mission in DRC.

About 500 Belgian military lived an unparalleled experience, being deployed in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where they alternately, during almost eight months, contributed to the formation of a Congolese elite battalion. "It was a very positive experience" summarized the detachment commander Lieutenant-colonel Luc Leclercq to the Belga-agency at Kindu, county-seat of the Maniema province. This mission allowed us to train individually and then collectively 677 Congolese commandos out of 1.300 candidates, which actually form the 323rd battalion of the Unités de Réaction Rapide - Rapid Reaction Forces (URR) of the armed forces of DRC

The remittance of 'cordelettes' and certificates to the men of this elite unit took place on November 28 at Kindu in presence of the Congolese and Belgian ministers of Defence. Lieutenant-colonel Luc Leclercq stated that for 95% of these men, this will be the only certificate they will receive in their career, emphasizing this was also a unique fact for the Congolese military to obtain this certificate through their Belgian instructors, concluding more than seven months of demanding courses and tests, without however accomplishing the level imposed to the Belgian para-commandos.

The courses, in three stages included the basic individual training, followed by collective training with petty officers and officers and at last a global training concluded by a final synthesis exercise: 115 km on foot through the jungle of eastern Congo combining raids, attacks of targets, infiltrations and extractions in daylight as well as during the night, defence of zones (airfield of Kindu) and navigation on the Congo-river.

Lieutenant-colonel Luc Leclercq affirmed that after this cohesion exercise, the 323rd Battalion was combat-ready. For the Belgian army, this deployment to Kindu also permitted to train through various rotations, almost the totality of the 3rd battalion paratroopers (474 men) to operate under tropical conditions. The stay in Maniema a neighboring province from the two Kivu, but with calmer minds, also permitted to advantage the contact with the population and to (re)discover this kind of terrain, to live under the African sun and torrential rains.
On December 02, the last men and crews of this formation and big dimension exercise returned to Belgium.

Kindu apron activities with a majority of Belgian aircraft C130H & Embraer
Arrival of the CH-01 wearing the UN titles
The CH-01 for Monusco operations CH-01 and CH-12 in operation
Ready to left Kindu

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