For several decades, United Nations peacekeeping has evolved significantly in its complexity. The spectrum of multi-dimensional United Nations peacekeeping operations include challenging tasks such as restoring state authority, protecting civilians, and disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants. Consequently, the capabilities required for successful peacekeeping missions demand greater flexibility and interoperability.
To meet these complex peacekeeping challenges, aviation components often play a pivotal role in maintaining safety, security and stability towards successful achievement of the mission’s mandate.
History of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), also known as Congo-Kinshasa, or simply the Congo, is a country located in Central Africa. It is the second-largest country in Africa by area and eleventh largest in the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the North; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. With a population of over 80 million, the DRC is the most populated francophone country, the fourth most populated nation in Africa and the eighteenth most populated country in the world. Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country of dense forests traversed by the powerful Congo River.
Rich in natural resources, DRC is nonetheless economically stunted due to decades of misrule in the second half of 20th Century under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The region was first united as the Congo Free State, a colony created by Belgian King, Leopold II, in the late 19th Century. The colony was called the Belgian Congo from 1908 until 1960 when it gained independence as the Republic of the Congo.
Its name was changed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1964 and then to Zaire in 1971. Mobutu seized control of the country in 1965. During his 32 years long rule, he grew wealthier as the economy stagnated. After he was overthrown in 1997, the country’s name was changed back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since Mobutu’s overthrow, DRC has endured years of civil war in which more than 3 million people died.
Deployment of United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Operation des Nations unies au Congo (ONUC) was the United Nation’s first peacekeeping mission with muscle, dispatched to the Belgian Congo after the United Nations Security Council Resolution 143 of July 14, 1960. On July 12, 1960, the President and Prime Minister asked for help from the United Nations. The first troops reached Congo on July 15, 1960, many airlifted in by the United States Air Force. The United Nations Force stayed in the Congo between 1960 and 1964.
The second United Nations Force came to the DRC in 2004 in the South Kivu Province as part of the South Kivu Brigade. Their mission was to implement the mission mandate of the United Nations in the region and to be prepared for deployment in varying regions of the DRC on the directions of the Force Commander. The third deployment for ONUC was in 2011. The tasks mandated to the forces was to not only stabilize the security situation of DRC but to also provide air support along with timely deployment of other contingents. The peacekeeping force was to also prevent human rights violation in the region and manage refugee inflow from Burundi.
The initial United Nations’ presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before the passing of Resolution 1291, was a force of military observers to observe and report on the compliance of factions with the Peace Accords. As of July 31, 2021, the total strength of United Nations peacekeeping personnel in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is 17,456. More than fifty nations have contributed military and police personnel for the peacekeeping efforts.
History of Pakistan Aviation Unit (Puma) in the United Nations Missions
The squadron of Puma Helicopters has a long history of contribution in UNPKO which includes:
Pakistan Aviation Unit (PAU) in DRC
Pakistan Aviation Unit (Puma) was deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under MONUSCO in 2011. Since then, Puma squadron is serving the humanity by accomplishing the United Nations peacekeeping mandate and has kept the flag of Pakistan high in the multinational deployment.
Area of Operation
The squadron’s main area of operation (AOR) is the Southern Sector but as mission asset, the unit can be tasked all over in the DRC. The AOR is quite demanding, consisting of jungles, high altitudes, marshes and scarcely populated areas. Congo has limited emergency landing areas along with limited road infrastructure.
The Puma Squadron is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel. A total of 12 pilots (including the Commanding Officer) form part of the flying strength of the squadron.
3 Puma SA330L Helicopters
The main task of Pakistan Aviation Unit in MONUSCO is to provide air support as per the Letter of Assist – terms of employment agreed between government of Pakistan and United Nations. Till now 13809.58 flight hours have been flown by Pakistan Aviation Units which, keeping in view the challenging terrain of Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a testimony of extraordinary professionalism of pilots/technicians.
The squadron actively participated in several military operations planned by the Force Headquarters towards achieving the goal of peacekeeping. Some of the military operations supported by Pakistan Aviation Unit include:
▪ Operation PACIFIC
▪ Operation RESOLVE
▪ Operation GARUDA
Due to limited road infrastructure, emergency medical evacuations are restricted to aerial means. Pakistan Aviation Unit has always been actively participating in medical evacuations of all kinds of patients including military personnel and civilians. The squadron always managed to get airborne within 30 minutes after receiving orders and has saved several lives through timely takeoffs, earning respect in the Air Operations branch of the United Nations. Uptil now 146 medical evacuations missions have been carried out which includes active COVID-19 patients and more than 200 precious lives have been saved.
Pakistan has lost 156 personnel and 24 officers during their efforts to restore peace and stability in the most troubled regions of the world. At present, 10th Pakistan Aviation Unit is representing the Pakistani flag in United Nations (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Despite fierce and unfavorable weather, Pakistan Aviation Unit is fully committed to its role and task and has earned great respect amongst the troops of contributing countries in UN.
Pakistan, in upkeeping global peace regardless of her internal and external challenges, has undeniably proven one datum that “Pakistan, as a responsible nation, upholds peace and detests war and, therefore, it has the capacity of establishing itself as a global peacekeeping and peace building architect.”
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