Drones in DRC ‘major game-changer’

dronedrcThe United Nations officials see the launch of the much-anticipated deployment of unmanned surveillance drones in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a major game-changer.

The primary role of the Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will be to gather intelligence on armed groups in the region and better assist the peacekeeping force Monusco in its primary responsibility of protecting civilians. It is the UN’s new eyes in the sky.

The vast mineral rich region is at the heart of a conflict zone where millions have died over the past two decades.

Speaking from the launch site in Goma in the eastern DRC, UN’s head of peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous says. “The United Nations has entered the 21st century from the technological point of view. This is something we never had but this is now in use in many armies around the world and many organizations. I think we had to get it to allow our people to do a better job in the fulfilment of the mandate.”

The Monusco mission will start with two UAVs but up to five could be in operation after trials are completed. Council President Ambassador Gerard Araud of France hinted that the drones could become more widespread.

“There are other missions who are saying already we will need drones that will considerably improve protection of the soldiers to see if threats are out there and also to ensure protection of civilians, clearly imagine South Sudan – where there are few roads, maybe 100km throughout the country of paved roads so drones would make it possible to much better know what the threats are and to better ensure protection of civilians,” says Araud.

Specific to the eastern DRC and weeks after the defeat of the M23, the UAVs will play a critical role in the targeting of several other armed groups in the region. While, with more eyes in the sky for the UN globally, peacekeeping could see major changes in the years ahead.

“On December 19, the Pakistani mission is organizing a day of thinking, brainstorming on peacekeeping and among the subjects the Ambassador of Pakistan wants to raise there will be the new technologies. Let us be clear, our battalions are still back in 1945, they patrol like they did in 1945. So there are many things that have changed from a technological stand point and that would make it possible to be more effective but also make it possible to use fewer soldiers, so clearly France and other countries are saying that the UN should modernize its actions naturally,” adds Araud.

Drones are by no means new to the theatre of conflict. Armed and surveillance drones are familiar tools having been used in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with often deadly consequences.

The UN’s deployment of these vehicles could prove catalytic by fundamentally shifting the advantage in their favour in the various volatile arena it finds itself in globally. – SABC