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Central African Republic Operation Vimbezela Protection Force The Battle of Bangui

Destroyed Seleka Technical at Begoua

General Background • Training and Asssitance Team deployed under a 2007 MoU at the request of CAR President Bozize, who wanted to lessen CAR’s dependence on France • Only the DoD followed through; other government departments failed to so so • Trained some 1 300 FACA personnel but various problems effectively stopped the training after 2010

Mission • Protect the SA Training Team in CAR. • Gain control of SA supplied equipment and munitions to prevent them falling into the hands of rebel forces. • Protect South Africans at risk. • Should it come to a fight: Attempt to stiffen the resistance of FACA.

Mission Trigger •

Rebellion broke out in December 2012 and most of CAR overrun by the end of the month.

29 December President Bozize asks South Africa for assistance.

30 December President Zuma briefed and decides South Africa will not “be seen to run away” and that “Africa cannot afford another series of coups and revolutions”.

31 December Defence Minister flies to Bangui to update and sign MoU

Why did we Bother? Economic Realpolitik • We are the major economic power of the SADC and need a stable region within which to grow our own economy. • Therefore, instability within or along the borders of the SADC is of concern to us. • The CAR forms most of the northern border of the DRC, a fellow member of the SADC and already unstable. • Chaos in the CAR will spill over into the DRC and will lead to renewed LRA and ADF attacks on Uganda, leading the Ugandan forces to strike inside the DRC, escalating the conflict there.

Why did we Bother? Areas of Influence and Interest • Area of Influence: The area in which a commander must be able to influence events to ensure successful conduct of his mission; and from which an enemy can affect his forces and the outcome of his mission. • Area of Interest: The area in which a commander must be able to monitor developments that could affect his forces or the outcome of his mission. • The CAR lies within what the SADC and South Africa must understand and treat as an Area of Influence; and events there will also impact in the Great Lakes region: We must be able to exert influence there in our long-term interest.

SADC: Areas of Influence (red) Areas of Interest (orange)

South Africa: Areas of Influence (red) Areas of Interest (orange)

The Rebel Advance: 19 Days from N’dele/Ouadda to Sibut

Deployment • Cannot afford large deployment: Both insufficient uncommitted troops and inadequate airlift. • Mission is not to defend Bozize but to protect SA interests (training team and equipment). • Therefore deploy force sufficiently strong for that purpose or to handle an evacuation of the training team if necessary. • Deployment of small contingent between 2 and 4 January, using chartered Il-76 and SAAF C-130 aircraft.

The Challenge of Distance: Strategic Bangui

Payload Radius is Critical: It may not be possible or practical To refuel at the delivery airfield: Il-76: 20 tons unrefuelled 40 tons maximum A400M: 20 tons unrefuelled 37 tons maximum C-130J-30: out of unrefuelled range 19 tons maximum

3 280 km

AFB Makhado

And remember the vital importance of: • The cargo box size: Payload means nothing if the vehicle does not fit! • The state of the runway: Good enough for a few landings is not good enough!

Force Composition (1) • Mission Command at JOPS • Small Force Headquarters to CAR • 1 Special Forces Group  2 x Hornet with 12.7 mm MG and 107 mm MRL  4 x Land Cruiser with 7.62 mm PKM MG  2 x 14.5 mm HMG • 1 Paratroop Company (rifles, LMGs, RPGs, 60 mm mortars) • 1 Mixed Paratroop Weapons Platoon  4 x 12.7 mm HMG  4 x 81 mm mortar

Force Composition (2) • Tactical Intelligence Team • Electronic Intelligence Team • Signals Detachment • Medical Team • Small Logistic element • Reinforced later with:  Special Forces Group with 6 Hornets (5 with 12.7 mm, 1 with 20 mm MG151)  Surgical Team

Actions on Deployment • Establish contact with CAR government, FACA, FOMAC and French force at Bangui airport. • Establish base in former police training centre and fortify as best possible. • Commence patrols within 15 km radius allowed; both reconnaissance and contact patrols. • Initiate regular liaison patrols to FACA and FOMAC forces at Damara. • Reconnoitre potential early warning, delaying and defensive positions should fighting break out. • Withdraw training team at Bouar.

Bangui SA Base

Routine Patrols within 15 Km: Land Cruisers; Hornets

Routine Patrols within 15 Km of Base: Geckos

Location of SA Training Teams

360 km

The Road to Bouar

Bouar; 1 900 m gravel runway Bosembele Baoro Bossembélé







Road through the forest, Boanell and Bozinga N

Road through the forest, Yakengue and Dobéré N


Bouar: Vulnerability Radios – 107 mm Rockets

Maximum range of 107 mm M Centred on the airfield buildin

Libreville Agreements • Some Chad troops deploy to support government; some doubt as to real motives. • French reinforce contingent in Bangui to 650, but only to protect French interests and the airport. • Rebels stop short of Damara on 26 December and agree to negotiate. • Central African troops deploy in January (740, some north of Damara (‘Red Line’); additional Chad troops. • South African force deploys from 2 - 4 January. • Ceasefire on 11 January and agreement on government of national unity; 17 January Bozize appoints opposition PM and ministers, including some from Seleka.

Rebels Resume Offensive • 23 January cease-fire broken. • Several minor clashes. • 12 March Seleka resumes offensive – possibly as a probe to gauge reaction – and takes Gambo and Bangassou in the south. • 18 March the Seleka members of the cabinet go to Sibut and do not return. • 18 March Seleka claims government not keeping to terms of agreement; give 72 hours deadline.

Rebels Resume Offensive: Take Gambo and Bangassou First real rebel attacks since cease-fire. Perhaps intended to gauge reaction of the FOMAC force.

Gambo and Bangassou Captured 12 March

The CAR: Strategic Relevance

General Situation Map Sibut: Main Seleka HQ


95 km


120 km

60 km

Close Situation Map Damara: FOMAC/FACA

Boali: Main Power Station for Bangui

Bafinli: Mpoko River Bridge: FACA

Bangui and Environs To Damara To Bossembele


SA Base

The CAR Army was a very mixed force

The Central African Force: FOMAC

FOMAC Commander, General Jean-Felix Akaga of Gabon, undertook to hold the “Red Line at Damara, mainly with Chadian (above right) and Congolese trooops .

Chad’s contingent the strongest; others from Cameroon and Gabon

France Protected French Interests and the Airport: Reinforced to 650 then reduced to 250 by March

Other Forces in the CAR Chad and Sudan Army Elements

Ugandan, South Sudan and DRC forces opeating against the LRA. HQ at Obo.

Obo: DRC/Ugandan/South Sudan HQ

Ugandan Troops on Patrol in CAR

Ugandan Troops on Patrol in CAR

Seleka in December 2012 – 1 000 to 1 200 Poorly Armed and Led

Seleka in December 2012

Seleka in December 2012

Seleka in January 2013

Seleka in Late January 2013

Seleka in March 2013

Seleka after the battle

Seleka after the battle

Colonel Ali Abubaker (centre) led the Seleka advance from Damara, and had General Issa Issaka (right) was the Seleka his ‘technical’ shot out from under him; Chief of General Staff and in command of all other 14 men in the vehicle dying. the offensive until wounded. General Arda Hakouma (left) was Chief of Operations, and led the Seleka force from Bossembele to Bangui and then took over from General Issaka. General Hassan Achmat (on right) led the 558-strong Brigade Rouge, with 19 ‘technicals’, from Bossangoa to Bangui, and was later responsible for security in Bangui.

Sibut: Main Seleka Base in Janaury 2013

Sibut; Captured 29/12/12 Main Seleka Force Concentration

95 km

Some Forward Seleka Elements Damara

FOMAC Battalion FACA Battalion

FACA and FOMAC Positions at Damara

Approximate Position of FOMAC force 8 000 m

FACA force in Damara environs

FOMAC Force north of Damara Direction of Seleka Advance

3 500 m

General Area of FOMAC Deployment

FACA Force at Damara Direction of Seleka Advance

4 900 m

General Area of FACA Deployment

The Seleka Offensive of March 2013

Bossangoa Captured 22 March 140 km

Bossembele Captured 22 March

Attack 22 March 120 km

Sibut Damara Captured 22 March Attack 22 March

Bangui and Environs SA OP Mpoko River Bridge

Seleka Attacks

SA Defensive Position Blue Line to Mpoko Bridge - 9 500 m

Y- Junction SA Base



Ambush SF Reconnaissance Patrol 4 x Land Cruiser with PKMs 2 x Hornet with 12.7 mm


Seleka Advance

Black Line: SA Early Warning Force – Special Forces Group Green Line: SA Delaying Force – One Para Platoon/MG Sec Bafinli Bridge FACA Battalion SA Base – Police College

Blue Line: SA Defensive Position – Para Company/Mor Gp/ MG Gp 2000 FACA Troops in City

Black Line: Early Warning Position (Looking NNW) Seleka Advance

Black Line: SA Early Warning Force Monitor bridge; Delay; Disengage; River refuses left flank. Tactical HQ (1 Land Cruiser; Casspir Ambulance) SF Group 2 x Hornet with 12.7 mm, 107 mm MRL 4 x Land Cruiser with PKM

Black Line: Early Warning Position (Looking NW) 3 200 m; crest of road 2 000 m

Black Line: Screening Position (Looking NW) Seleka Advance 600 m

350 m

Green Line – Looking North: Delaying Position

3 600 m

Green Line – Looking NW 3 600 m

Seleka Advance

900 m

Green Line: SA Delaying Force Task: Monitor and Delay; River Refuses Left Flank Tactical HQ (1 Land Cruiser, Casspir Ambulance) 1 x Paratroop Platoon, 12.7 mm MG Section Special Forces Group as Mobile Reserve

Seleka Attacks to clear Hill

Blue Line: SA Defensive Position Seleka Advance

Two Para Platoons 2 x 60 mm mortars

4 x 81 mm mortars

- One Para Platoon - 4 x 12.7 mm MGs - 1 x 60 mm mortar

Tactical HQ Special Forces Group as Mobile Reserve

Blue Line Looking North

1 000 m

400 m Two Para Platoons 2 x 60 mm mortars

4 x 81 mm mortars 81 mm coverage

2 100 m One Para Platoon 1 x 60 mm mortar 4 x 12.7 mm machineguns

Blue Line Looking North

The four 12.7 mm MGs must have caused immense damage from here

Blue Line Looking East

One Para Platoon 1 x 60 mm Mortar 4 x 12.7 mm MGs 1 500 m

2 Para Platoons with 2 x 60 mm Mortars; this position lost and recaptured more than once

4 x 81 mm Mortars

Blue Line Looking North/North-East

View from 1 and 2 Platoons towards 3 Platoon

One Para Platoon 1 x 60 mm Mortar 4 x 12.7 mm MG

7 400 m

1 200 m

SA Tactical Intelligence Team Observation Post

The Bridge over the Mpoko River at Bafinli

SA Tactical Intelligence Team Observation Post

The Bridge over the Mpoko River at Bafinli

SA Tactical Intelligence Team Observation Post

First Clash south of the Bridge SA Observation Post Seleka Attack First Clash on Bafinli Road

Tactical HQ Special Forces Group Stalled Seleka Attack

Para Company Holding Blue Line Positions

Fighting on Two Fronts Seleka Attack

Mpoko River Bridge

+/- 6 000 m

Running Battle; SF Repeatedly Outflanked or Enveloped

Stalled Seleka Attack

Blue Line Position Para Company The Y-Junction

The SA Base

Seleka Advance

Para Company Withdrawal Route

The Y-Junction

+/- 2 000 m along road

The SA Base

The Road from Y-Junction looking towards Bafinli

The Fight at the Y-Junction

The Y-Junction From the Blue Line

From Bafinli

From Bossembele

The Y-Junction

NW along the Road to Bossembele

Seleka Advance

Para Company Withdrawal Route

The Y-Junction Fight Paras fight clear; move to the base in groups

The SA Base

Looking south from the Y-junction

The former Police College – An Indefensible Position that was defended

Looking North/North-East from the Base

The Road South from the Y-Junction Towards the Base

Looking East from the Base

Buildings next to the northern corner of the base

Route to Airport: 5 km of Potential Street Fig SA Base

Yellow Line

The Route to the Airport - Final Leg

The Abandoned Vimbezela Base

R4 taken from Vimbezela base

The Intended Response: Counter-Strike from DRC and Uganda

SAAF Gripens at Ndola, Zambia, en route to Kinshasa

Rooivalk and Oryx to Gemena and Paratroops to Entebbe

The Intended Response Bangui

Gemena Entebbe

Kinshasa Strategic Distances: Makhado – Ndola: Ndola – Kinshasa: Waterkloof – Entebbe: Bloemspruit – Gemena: AFB Makhado AFB Bloemspruit

AFB Waterkloof

1 140 km 1 745 km 2 890 km 3 645 km

The Intended Response

Operational Distances: Kinshasa – Bangui: 1 010 km Gemena – Bangui: 185 km Entebbe – Bangui: 1 612 km

Operational/Tactical Airlift Bangui to: Bambari Bria Ouadda N’dele Birao


280 km 450 km 590 km 505 km 795 km

Unrefuelled Radius: C-27J: 925 km with 10 tons C-295: 725 km with 9.5 tons

CAR: Roads – Mostly less than Perfect

CAR: Airfields – Mostly a little Basic

Bambari Airstrip

N’dele Airstrip

Birao Airstrip

SA/SANDF Shortcomings The key failings and capability gaps included: • Utterly inadequate intelligence. • No on-site political/diplomatic support. • Lack of linguists. • Inadequate airlift capacity to:  Allow quick reinforcement  Deploy armour or helicopters. • Lack of tanker aircraft to facilitate a quick fighter deployment.

SANDF Shortcomings • Inadequate reconnaissance capability. • Inadequate surveillance capability. • Ineffective tactical communications. • Lack of combat vehicles. • Lack of protected logistic vehicles. • Inadequate firepower. • Lack of precision weapons. • Lack of weapons for urban combat.

Reconnaissance/Surveillance Systems in Service

Tactical Reconnaissance/Surveillance In Service

Locally Developed

Shortcomings: Light Armoured Vehicles The Deployed Force Lacked: • Mobile, protected direct fire support capability. • Protected mobility for its infantry. • Mobile, protected close indirect fire support capability. • Protected logistic vehicles.

Not followed Through or not Taken up

Offered but ‘too expensive’

Question: Deployable Medium Armour?

Example: French Forces in Mali

Example: French Forces in Mali

Example: French Forces in Mali

Example: French Forces in Mali

Looking Forward: Badger • Badger and Rooikat will be deployed in future operations – by road, rail, sea or air – because opposing forces will be more dangerous in the future. • Should we not have a proper fire-support variant as well as mobile long-range 105 mm artillery?

The Potential Impact of Artillery 155 mm G5 Black Line 127 mm Bate Green Line 105 mm G7 Mpoko River Bridge 127 mm Visarend

The Potential Impact of Artillery • Artillery with the reach to support both fronts from a single position would have been invaluable, allowing an instant switch of combat power to where it was most needed. • The G6 may be impractical, but the G5 fits into a C-130 and the Bateleur into the chartered Il-76.

Artillery: The ones that got away?

Artillery: Time for Precision Fires?

Infantry: Time for Precision Fires?

Infantry: Close-Quarters Weapons • Assault rifles are not ideal for fighting in rural villages or urban squatter settlements: Over-penetration and bullet carry hold a real risk of causing civilian casualties. • The infantry needs to look at combat shotguns and also at submachineguns – as well as handguns

Do not forget the humble pistol!

Infantry: Close Fire Support

Infantry: Close Fire Support Direct fire is one thing; mortars and artillery another but are likely to cause more damage than desired. Even the 60 mm patrol mortar is quite big and its bomb over-destructive. Perhaps time to go back to the original “grenade thrower?

Infantry: Breaching and Bunker-Busting

Infantry: Direct Fire Support Weapons

And for those who enjoy police movies‌

The Challenge of Distance Bangui

Payload Radius is Critical: It may not be possible or practical To refuel at the delivery airfield: Il-76: 20 tons unrefuelled 40 tons maximum A400M: 20 tons unrefuelled 37 tons maximum C-130J-30: out of unrefuelled range 19 tons maximum

3 280 km

AFB Makhado

And remember the vital importance of: • The cargo box size: Payload means nothing if the vehicle does not fit! • The state of the runway – good enough for a few landings is not good enough!

Operational/Tactical Airlift Bangui to: Bambari Bria Ouadda N’dele Birao


280 km 450 km 590 km 505 km 795 km

Unrefuelled Radius: C-27J: 925 km with 10 tons C-295: 725 km with 9.5 tons

CAR: Roads – Mostly less than Perfect

CAR: Airfields – Mostly a little Basic

Bambari Airstrip

N’dele Airstrip

Birao Airstrip

Initial Lessons Learned

Some Initial Lessons Learned (1) “One does not begin a war – or, sensibly, one should not begin a war – without first being clear what one wishes to achieve by the war, and to what purpose…” General Carl von Clausewitz, strategist (1780-1831)

Government did have a clear aim but…

Some Initial Lessons Learned (2) • Do not believe your own advertising: • South Africa believed that the ECCAS forces (FOMAC) would hold the ‘Red Line’ and prevent Seleka simply driving into Bangui; • South Africa believed the AU and the ECCAS would show some backbone, would not accept a coup d’etat and would use force to restore the situation

• Understand and accept that supposed allies may: • Be less than honest or at least hedging their bets; • Change their minds; or • Be less effective than expected.

This is critical at all levels for future operations.

Some Initial Lessons Learned (3) • Do not under-estimate the enemy; intelligence is often over-optimistic: eg Op Savannah, Op Boleas and now in the CAR. • The enemy forces can change; in composition, strength, weapons and leadership. • The enemy’s thinking and intentions can change. “No matter now enmeshed a commander becomes in the elaboration of his own thoughts, it is sometimes necessary to take the enemy into account” Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

The force commander did, hence the early warning line and the OP at Bafinli – just in case.

Some Initial Lessons Learned (4) “Success in war is determined by the political advantage gained, not by victorious battles” Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

• A tactical victory, even an outstanding tactical victory as at Bangui, will achieve nothing without follow-through. • The follow-through was implemented but not executed; we need to advertise it to drive home the point that: “our strategy is one of preventing war by making it selfevident to our enemies that they’re going to get their clocks cleaned if they start one” General John W. Vessey Jr. US Army

We have the capability, but we must advertise it!

Some Initial Lessons Learned (5) “a goal without a plan is just a wish” Larry Elder, author

“First, you have to have a plan” General George S. Patton (1885-1945)

“No plan survives the first contact with the enemy” Helmuth von Moltke

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable” General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969)

The force commander understood all of this, and that saved our bacon.

Some Initial Lessons Learned (5) “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” “Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

What were the Results?

What were the Results? • The Primary Mission was accomplished! • The Secondary Mission was largely accomplished! • The subsidiary missions fell away. • The force commander retained control throughout, and the force at no stage lost cohesion. • The force accomplished the mission with the minimum of casualties. • The force did so despite being grossly outnumbered and out-gunned. • Strategic command and control functioned as it should – on the ‘mission command’ principle.

What were the Results? The successful execution of this mission and the way in which our troops conducted themselves presented a strategically important message that South Africa has competent combat forces: • That will enhance South Africa’s ability to head off crises in the future. • That will reduce the risk faced by South African troops in future operations.

What did we do Wrong?

What did we do wrong? • As already indicated:  We did not check and follow-up intelligence.  We believed our own advertising.  We under-estimated the enemy.

• We did not ensure unity of command in the theatre; the training team should have been under command. • We did not heed the warning of the attacks of 12 March. At that point we should have reinforced or withdrawn. • We deployed an ad hoc force instead of one that has built cohesion over time. We got away with it again… • We did not exploit asymmetry: Why did we not exploit the edge offered by the SAAF, UAVs, armour, artillery?

Looking Forward

Looking Forward Most military operations are, in their essence, ‘come as you are parties’. The enemy will not often give time to think, plan and prepare. That is why continuous thinking and contingency planning are critical to future success. Remember Eisenhower: “planning is indispensable”

It is the planning process that opens the officer’s mind to alternatives; and that gives him the mental agility and flexibility to exploit opportunities and recover from setbacks.

Policy, Strategy, Operations, Tactics • Policy provides the basis for national strategies that set the future course of the country. • The military must play a role at the policy level: • Policy is what drives strategy; • Ill-informed policy-makers can formulate policies and national strategies that place the country at risk; • It is the military’s responsibility to ensure that policy makers are accurately informed regarding current and future military capabilities, threats and risks. • Strategy, Operations and Tactics are not rank dependent; they are concepts and actions that can be relevant at all levels of command, depending on the situation.

Strategy, Operations, Tactics: The Example of the CAR Deployment • The decision to deploy a protection force to the CAR was a strategic decision based on national policy. • Thus, that company group, small though it was, was in its purpose a strategic force. • Therefore its commander had strategic responsibilities, including liaison with the CAR President and the French embassy. • The nature of the deployment and of the theatre, meant that its commander had to act, mainly, as an operational level commander, manoeuvring, not fighting his forces. • The nature of the battle as it developed, however, also required him to take tactical decisions.

Some Closing Thoughts

Do we learn from our successes or failures - or from those of our opponents?

Moral Courage “the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men� Patton

Wishful Thinking is no Substitute for Thinking and Planning


The Secret of Success: FOCUS • Focus on the mission and the intended outcome. • Optimise your force, your plan and your support. • Control the execution of the operation. • Understand the actual outcome. • Seize any opportunities that may arise.

Focus on the Purpose of the Mission • The mission was to protect or extract the training team; anything else was secondary. • The force commander focussed on his mission, using the indefensible base as a focal point for manoeuvre and for concentration to enable him to achieve his objective. • He did not allow that base nor other factors to divert his thinking from the primary mission.

Despite unexpected developments - the failure of FOMAC and FACA - he accomplished his mission.

Optimise your Force, Plan and Support The force commander analysed his situation and chose his course of action within the resources available to him. He: • Reconnoitred and analysed the area around him. • Made effective use of his de facto alter ego. • Established regular patrols, including contact patrols. • Established and maintained contact with other forces. • Reconnoitred defensive positions, rehearsed moving into them, and kept an eye on the open flank. • Developed a fall-back plan. • Confirmed the use of the airport facilities. • Attempted to obtain additional resources.

He did the best he could with what he had.

Control the Execution of the Plan The force commander: • Formed:  A small, mobile tactical HQ centred on himself.  A mobile back-up HQ centred on his chief of staff.  A small mobile reserve for contingencies. • Placed an OP to monitor the open flank. • Divided is force into two coherent elements each able to operate independently. • Ensured he had competent people handling support. • Ensured that he was present at the critical place at the critical time.

These measures enabled him to retain control.

Understand the Actual Outcome The force commander: • Once warned of the disappearance of the FACA battalion at Bafinli, understood that this was the critical point. • Once he had taken the measure of the situation on the Bafinli Road, understood that his mission required him to fall back on the base and then the airport. • When overtaken by circumstances, he understood that a negotiated ceasefire was the best means to enable him to complete his primary mission successfully.

He did not allow either initial tactical victory or the later impossible situation to cloud his thinking.

Understand the Actual Outcome The mission commander: • Monitored the situation as it developed. • Understood the likely outcome at each stage. • Took the necessary steps to:  Provide what additional forces and support he could.  Extract the casualties.  Withdraw the force, completing the primary mission. The top command level: • Understood the situation as it developed; • Understood that the strategic situation had changed; and • Prepared for a counter-strike to restore the situation.

All three levels understood the actual outcome at each stage.

Seize any Opportunities that Arise The Force commander was presented with no opportunities to change to operational situation other than the fact that the opposing commander proposed a cease-fire. He saw in that the best opportunity to complete his primary mission, and seized that opportunity. He also put aside any anger and distrust at FOMAC’s failure, and accepted the offer of a FOMAC company commander to provide transport for the wounded and then for equipment to the airport. The top command structure saw in the chaos in Bangui that there was an opportunity for swift action to restore the situation, and took steps to do so.

And always remember that little enemies may have bigger friends‌

Battle for bangui v 2  

SANDF Para Ops in CAR

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