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DR Congo Navy

The former Belgian Congo gained its independence on June 30, 1960. Over the next four years, as the Republic of the Congo installed a series of prime ministers, the United States repeatedly attempted to create a stable, pro-Western regime.

The Special Group (later the 303 Committee), the high-level interdepartmental group set up to approve and supervise US covert operations, on August 13, 1964 approved a proposal to provide covert financial aid and other support to be used periodically as needed for assuring tribal support of pro-Western Congolese leaders in critical areas and also to supplement the pay of white military technicians working for the Congolese Government. In early 1965, a capability was established to interdict supplies going to the Congolese rebels via Lake Albert and Lake Tanganyika, creating a “pocket navy” comprised of eight craft belonging to the Congolese Government and five U.S.-owned craft on Lake Tanganyika, which would be under general U.S. control.

Anticipating the cost of the programs for FY 1966, additional funds were requested to finance a greatly expanded maritime operation based in Albertville, to support selected tribal elements in the Northeast Congo, and to provide a contingency fund for use in preserving the existing political balance. On September 23, 1965, the 303 Committee approved the purchase and manning of six additional boats. The 303 Committee approved a proposal, presented in a status report on the Lake Tanganyika maritime interdiction program, dated 21 September 1965, to add two armed, radar-equipped, 50-foot high-speed boats (Swifts) and up to five smaller boats (Seacrafts) to the existing limited maritime capability at Albertville. The Committee also approved the initial manning of these boats, with the understanding that they would be replaced by other third-country nationals as soon as qualified personnel became available.

On October 7, 1965, the 303 Committee approved a reduced contingency fund, but on November 26 it approved a request for an expanded program. The emergence of Mobutu as head of a new regime was not deemed to eliminate the need for the program.

By February 1966 the maritime program consisted of the two Swifts (which have been in operation on Lake Tanganyika since the first week of November), six Seacraft, and the Ermens, a 75-foot diesel-powered trawler requisitioned locally by the Congolese authorities.

The boats had been used extensively in interdiction patrols to prevent supplies and men from reaching rebels fighting on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika and to prevent rebels from escaping across the lake to Tanzania. Although direct contact with the enemy on the lake had not been frequent, it is known that two Soviet-supplied 35-foot armed launches had been on the lake since September 1965. As a result of the Congolese maritime force, most of the traffic between Tanzania and the rebels had to move by night.

In November 1965, the Congolese force engaged five rebel craft after dark, apparently proceeding from Tanzania to the Congo. Throughout the military campaign against the last centers of organized rebel resistence in the eastern Congo, the boats carried out reconnaissance patrols; escorted other boats transporting personnel, supplies of food, ammunition and arms; and evacuated wounded. The presence of the boats on the lake continued to have a salutary effect on the morale of the local population, both African and European.

On February 5, 1966, the 303 Committee was requested to approve continued covert maritime operations in the Congo, as well as covert political funding. The last covert payment to Mobutu under this program was made in September 1966, and 303 Committee authority to make such payments expired on December 31, 1966. In compliance with a 303 Committee decision on November 4, 1966, to phase out U.S. Government participation in the maritime program, control of the boats was transferred to the Congolese on January 7, 1967. The project was terminated effective December 31, 1967. The Special Group/303 Committee-approved aggregate budget for covert action in the Congo for the years 1960–1968 totaled approximately $11,702,000 (Political Action, $5,842,000; Air Program, $3,285,000; and Maritime Program, $2,575,000).

Zaire's 1,300-member navy in the early 1990s included 600 marines and operates a small ocean-going force with larger river and lake flotillas. Because Zaire's Atlantic Coast is only about forty kilometers long, Lake Tanganyika is the largest body of water that the navy patrols, so the navy's primary mission is to control illegal entry into the country and to conduct antismuggling patrols as well. The navy has bases at Banana on the coast; at Boma, Matadi, and Kinshasa on the lower Congo; and at Kalemie, on Lake Tanganyika. A dry dock at Boma is used to repair the navy's patrol craft.

The service reportedly had only a few vessels that can operate for short periods in the ocean. Its inventory includes small numbers of Chinese-made fast patrol craft (inshore) as well as three ex-North Korean torpedo boats, without torpedo tubes, which are normally only marginally operational. In addition, two United States-made coastal patrol craft, along with as many as eighteen French-built patrol craft, patrol the lakes and rivers (although their operational status is uncertain). Naval personnel receive basic training at the Banana Naval Base but in the past generally went to the United States, France, or Belgium for intermediate and advanced training.

On 17 November 2008, President Kabila named Didier Etumba Longila as the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, replacing Dieudonne Kayembe. Concurrently, Etumba was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. Although an army officer, Etumba had been serving as Navy Chief of Staff, as well as Deputy Coordinator of the Amani Program and Co-President of the Joint Technical Commission for Peace and Security in the Amani Program. In June 2007 he was promoted to Major General (Rear Admiral), Navy Chief of Staff.

Kabila's choice of Etumba to become the nation's senior military officer surprised many observers, some of whom had predicted he would be fired or relegated to a lesser position because of the FARDC's collapse on 29 October 2008. But the choice may not be that surprising. It was not clear to what extent Etumba was responsible for the October 29 debacle during the CNDP's near-capture of Goma. As a Kinshasa-based military advisor, not a commander in the field, he escaped blame. It the end Kabila clearly opted for someone he believed he can trust. The fact that Etumba is not from Katanga, from where almost all of the President's closest advisors are, made this point in a powerful way.

Mai Mai Yakutumba is a predominantly ethnic Bembe armed group, led by “General” William Amuri, also known as Yakutumba, which enjoys some popular and political support for its nationalism and its hostility towards populations perceived as originating in Rwanda. The centrepiece of Mai Mai Yakutumba’s military activities in 2014 was the re-emergence of a naval force under Ekanda’s command. At its height, Ekanda’s navy consisted of approximately 70 men and seven motorized pirogues. According to a Mai Mai Yakutumba intelligence officer, a close associate of Ekanda and Congolese naval officers, Ekanda’s boats were equipped with at least three 12.7 mm machine guns. This force operated in a wide area on Lake Tanganyika, south of Uvira.

On 25 August and on 4 and 5 September, the Congolese army conducted operations against Ekanda’s naval force, killing several combatants and destroying some boats. On 25 August the Congolese naval sailors sank several of Ekanda’s boats, two of which had been armed with 12.7 mm machine guns. Ekanda was seriously injured during those encounters and, as of late November, there were conflicting reports about whether he had succumbed to his injuries.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2015 19:58:25 ZULU