Central African Republic: ‘Men died for lack of ammunition’

A South African soldier who survived a battle in the Central ­African Republic (CAR) two weeks ago said that prior to the battle the South Africans had been requesting ammunition for more than a month because they knew the Seleka rebels were advancing on Bangui.

But no ammunition was sent to them, the soldier who asked not to be identified, told the Mail & Guardian.

The soldier was part of the special forces sent to the CAR to train its soldiers.

"The rebels shot at us, but we were left in a very poor situation because they did not send us ammunition and we couldn't protect ourselves," he said.

"Those at higher levels knew the rebels were coming because we told them about it and we asked them for more ammunition. We had weapons, because we had been training CAR soldiers, but we had very little ammunition.

"Those at higher levels told us on the ground that it was just politics and the rebels would not come. When they came, they shot at us. There were a few of us and we did not have enough ammunition. That is why 13 guys died."

Running short of ammunition
The soldier claimed the French had eventually assisted and given them protection from the rebels. If they had received ammunition, he said, they would have been able to stand their ground, as the rebels were no match for the South African soldiers.

"It was very bad. All of us are very sad," said the soldier. "There is much unhappiness because they did not give us ammunition."

South African National Defence Force spokesperson Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said he had heard nothing about soldiers running short of ammunition.

Mabanga said he believed the soldier's story was implausible, despite other soldiers reportedly having complained of a shortage of ­ammunition in the CAR.

"If they ran out of ammunition, how did they get to be protected by the French soldiers, who were there as peacekeepers?" asked Mabanga. "Why weren't they all killed?"

Soldiers have complained that they ran out of rockets, which had been used effectively by one deployed unit to beat back advancing rebels and which had also been used to defend the primary South African base in Bangui.

Returned soldiers and people with close knowledge of events in Bangui said any one of several types of equipment manufactured in South Africa and in use by the defence force could have saved lives.

According to military sources, one commander said that a single, fully armed Rooivalk helicopter could have saved the lives of the 13 soldiers.

Returned soldiers said armoured vehicles or air support would have saved lives, and would have meant the South African contingent would not have been dependent on the help of local soldiers and their vehicles to transport wounded soldiers to the Bangui airport.

Based on the accounts of the various battles in Bangui, a former military commander said the use of two unmanned aerial vehicles or drone aircraft, similar to one deployed in the Kruger National Park to combat rhino poaching, could have ­prevented the battles altogether.

Phillip De Wet
Guest Author
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