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The Battle in Bangui _ South African Troops

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The Battle in Bangui
The untold inside story.
Helmoed Heitman

What if everything you thought you knew about the Battle of Bangui was wrong? What if there were good reasons for the SANDF to be in the Central African Republic? What if they acquitted themselves well, with valour and resourcefulness?

Based on interviews with a number of the officers involved in the mission, both from HQ in Pretoria and on the ground in Bangui, South Africa’s leading military writer and a long-time correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, Helmoed Heitman describes what happened in Bangui, why President Zuma sent the troops, and what lessons South Africa needs to take out of the events in the CAR. In The Battle in Bangui, Heitman tells the inside story of one of the hardest fought and deadliest operations of the SANDF’s post-apartheid history.

rom just after 16:00 on Friday 22 March until about 21:00 on Sunday 24 March, about 200 South African soldiers fought a series of running battles outside Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) against a well-armed Seleka force of several thousand, that has since been estimated at between 4 000 and 7 000. And they did so while the CAR Army (Forces armées centraficaines or FACA) evaporated around them and the peacekeeping forces of Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC) disappeared from the scene.

In the process the soldiers fired off more than 12 000 rounds of 12.7 mm machinegun ammunition 1, more than 60 rockets from 107 mm rocket launchers 2 and 200 bombs from 81 mm mortars 3, and thousands of rounds from 7.62 mm machineguns and 5.56 mm rifles.

In all, they would appear to have used some ten tons of assorted munitions. In all, the fight cost 13 killed and 27 wounded. But the force retained its cohesion throughout and was able to fall back from two separate engagement areas to its base and to hold it until their attackers gave up trying to overrun them, offering, instead, a ceasefire and disengagement. By then they had suffered as many as 800 killed, according to the estimates of officers with considerable operational experience and by some NGOs in the country. Later reports say several hundred more may have died of wounds due to a lack of medical support.

It helps to put those figures in perspective: the British Army’s 3rd Parachute Battalion regards its deployment in Afghanistan’s Helmand province for six months in 2006 as a hard fought deployment. Over that time, its battle group of 1 200 soldiers, lost 15 killed and 46 wounded, and fired 479 000 rounds of ammunition, all the while supported by light tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, Hercules gunships and fighters.

This was one of the hardest-fought actions that the South African military have ever experienced, and the soldiers fought well, even outstandingly. That is not only reflected in the fact that this small force retained cohesion to the end of the action, but also in the casualties that it inflicted on its opponents. Their valour was underlined by the French force at Bangui airport when it held a formal parade to bid farewell to those who had fallen.


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Interesting, and without doubt it was a hard battle fought by very brave soldiers. But I don't get the comparison with Helmund province. Am I missing something?

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