The M23 rebel group on January 17th announced the deaths of two of their commanders in an assassination carried out by the “Kinshasa regime”, meaning the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) military. The two commanders were reportedly killed by a drone strike carried out upon the town of Kitshanga, in the DRC’s North Kivu province, on January 16th. No other casualties have been reported in the attack.
Le M23 a bien compris le message lui adressé par le régime de Kinshasa et y répondra de manière adéquate.
COMMUNIQUÉ OFFICIEL DU MOUVEMENT DU 23 MARS DU 17 JANVIER 2024 ?? pic.twitter.com/l4EtZISnvU
— Lawrence KANYUKA (@LawrenceKanyuka) January 17, 2024
While the M23’s announcement does not explicitly state which commanders were killed in the strike, sources from within the M23 have stated that the M23’s Intelligence Chief ‘Colonel’ Mberabagabo, and a strategy advisor, Eraston Bahati.
The assassination happened the same day that Lieutenant General Fall Sikabwe, coordinator of military operations for the DRC, announced the beginning of military operations with the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The SADC’s joint operations with the DRC is seeking to pacify the over 100 armed groups which operate within the DRC’s east, with the M23 being the primary target as one of the largest and most significant groups.
An End to an Uneasy Peace
The strike is likely to put an end to a ceasefire which had been mediated by the US which has been in place since December 2023. A series of ceasefires have been established over the course of the years long conflict between the M23 and the DRC, all of which have thus far been broken.
While ceasefires have been established, the DRC government has maintained its position that the M23 is a terrorist group, which it refuses to negotiate with.
The M23 in their statement said that “the M23 has understood the message sent to it by the Kinshasa regime and will respond accordingly”. While their statement does not explicitly say they will resume combat against the DRC, it is certainly heavily implied.
Local sources reported significant clashes around Masisi on the 16th, the same day as the strike. Smaller clashes were reported on the 17th as well around Nyiragongo, where residents reported sighting military planes operating.
The joint military operations between the SADC and the DRC are a distinctly more aggressive approach to the problem of the DRC’s instability. Presently, the UN is preparing to leave the country after both the government and populace have accused them of failing to solve the DRC’s instability. While the UN has participated in combat operations alongside the DRC against the M23 in the past, those times are long since gone and the UN has largely taken a peacekeeping role.
Similarly, the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) left the country in December after one year of deployment within the DRC, after the DRC’s government accused them of colluding with rebel groups rather than participating in combat against them. As such, the EACRF’s mandate was not renewed.
Most international partners, including those who have deployed troops, have prioritized peaceful avenues toward ending the conflict.
The DRC sought out the SADC as a new partner in its attempt to once and for all pacify the North and South Kivu provinces, as well as Ituri, the three primary provinces where the DRC’s armed groups operate.
When the SADC was deploying, they stated they would be actively combatting the M23 with the DRC. It appears thus far that they intend to keep their word.
However, doubts have been raised as to the ability of the SADC’s deployment, headed by South Africa but also having troops from Tanzania and Malawi, to effectively combat the M23. The UN has stated that any successful and meaningful push against the M23 will require a significant amount of air power, of which South Africa is lacking.
With the SADC’s combat operations against the M23 having seemingly begun, the next few weeks will determine their effectiveness, and if they are able to do what no other force has successfully been able to do thus far.