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Indo-Pak jugalbandi in Congo

An IAF contingent that flew off to DR Congo will give air cover to Pakistani troops, writes Sutirtho Patranobis.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2006 08:34 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis

When this contingent of the Indian Air Force spots an advancing Pakistani troop, it has orders to open fire. Nothing unusual in that, except that they will not be firing at their traditional enemies but rather shielding them from a common foe.

Believe it or not, an IAF contingent flew off to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday with its task cut out: to give air cover to Pakistani ground troops stationed at Bukavu, one of the areas worst hit by the civil war in Congo. Both the Pakistani and Indian troops are part of a UN peacekeeping force.

Currently, there are more than 17,000 UN troops in Congo, of which one Pakistani brigade is stationed in Bukavu, located in eastern Congo on the banks of Lake Kivu. An Indian brigade is stationed on the other side of the lake at a place called Goma. “The situation in the area is still volatile. The main task of the IAF contingent will be to protect the Pakistani soldiers when they step out of their camps for action. Moreover, Indian and Pakistani soldiers will be sharing the same camp and eating at the same mess,” said an IAF officer.

The IAF contingent — called Indian Aviation Contingent (IAC) II — comprises 285 personnel, including 40 pilots. They will be flying nine helicopters — five MI-17 and four MI-35 attack helicopters. Group Captain Rajan Kapur, with more than 5,000 hours of flying experience, heads the team. Air Marshal Ajit Bhavnani, vice-chief of air staff, flagged off the contingent on Wednesday.

“While the IAC II will act as a deterrent to any attack on Pakistani soldiers, it will also provide mobility to ground troops,” the officer said. Besides pilots, technical experts, medical, support and administration staff are also part of the team.

The contingent’s job becomes more important as the first ever elections are scheduled to be held in the African republic later this year.

The IAF at present has three operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Besides Bukavu, it has the IAC I stationed at Goma. The IAF also maintains an airfield for UN aircrafts — under the Air Field Services (AFS) contingent — at Kindoo. Besides these, it runs a primary school for local children in Bukavu.

First Published: Feb 23, 2006 01:46 IST