Congo (DRC) Country Profile – Military / Security

Last update on: 13 September 2020

From Cia Factbook (Page last updated on October 06, 2020)

Military and security forces: Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Forces d’Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo, FARDC): Land Forces, National Navy (La Marine Nationale), Congolese Air Force (Force Aerienne Congolaise, FAC); Republican Guard (responsible for presidential security) (2019).

Military expenditures:

  • 0.7% of GDP (2019)
  • 0.7% of GDP (2018)
  • 0.7% of GDP (2017)
  • 1.3% of GDP (2016)
  • 1.4% of GDP (2015)

Military and security service personnel strengths: size estimates for the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) vary widely because of inconsistent and unreliable data, as well as the ongoing integration of various non-state armed groups/militias; approximately 100,000 active troops (80,000 Army; 7,000 Navy; 2,000 Air Force; 10,000 Republican Guard) (2019 est.).

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions: the FARDC is equipped mostly with a mix of second-hand Russian and Soviet-era weapons acquired from Ukraine and other former Warsaw Pact nations, as well as some equipment provided by Brazil and France; most equipment was acquired between 1970 and 2000; since 2010, Ukraine is the largest supplier of arms to the FARDC (2019 est.).

Military service age and obligation: 18-45 years of age for voluntary and compulsory military service (2012).

Military – note: the modern FARDC was created out of the armed factions of the two Congo wars of 1996-1997 and 1998-2003; as part of the peace accords that ended the last war, the largest rebel groups were incorporated into the FARDC; many armed groups (at least 70 and by some recent estimates more than 100), however, continue to fight; as of September 2020, the FARDC is actively engaged in combat operations against numerous armed groups inside the country, particularly in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu, although violence also continues in Maniema, Kasai, Kasai Central, and Tanganyika provinces; the military is widely assessed as being unable to provide adequate security throughout the country due to insufficient training, poor morale and leadership, ill-discipline and corruption, low equipment readiness, a fractious ethnic makeup, and the sheer size of the country and diversity of armed rebel groups.

MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping and stabilization force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has operated in the central and eastern parts of the country since 1999; as of March 2020, MONUSCO comprised around 18,500 personnel, including nearly 14,000 military troops; in December 2019, the UN extended MONUSCO’s s mandate until 20 December 2020; MONUSCO includes a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB; 3 infantry battalions), the first ever UN peacekeeping force specifically tasked to carry out targeted offensive operations to neutralize and disarm groups considered a threat to state authority and civilian security (2020).

Other information on Congo (DRC) – Military / Security

The security situation in the DRC remains volatile. The main threats are rebel groups and criminal networks, although the number of armed community self-defense entities is increasing. Allegedly:

“…over 120 armed groups are active in eastern Congo. Many of these groups receive support from the Congolese government and security forces, while others have formed coalitions against the Kabila government. Yet the gravest threat to Congolese civilians comes from the security forces meant to protect them. According to the UN human rights office in Congo, some 1,180 people were extrajudicially [sic] executed by Congolese “state agents” in 2017, far more than those killed by any of the armed groups and a threefold increase over two years.”

MONUSCO has responded with aerial operations and taken immediate steps to strengthen the protection of civilians through increased joint police and military patrols and redeploying additional troops of its FIB. Serious tensions exist between communities, especially local ethnic groups, migrants and the internally displaced (IDPs), who increased from 50,000 to 500,000 in a three-year span (2011-14) and continues to grow. There are several influential players in the military/security arena:

​​​​​​​State Armed Groups

Estimated at 140K in strength, the FARDC was formed after the Second Congo War to integrate various armed groups and serve as a unified national armed force. By 2010, the international community funded over $14 billion in military professionalism initiatives, training, and education. Additionally, the FARDC has at least 14 bilateral technical assistance agreements. Despite these efforts, the FARDC appears to lack any commitment to neutralizing the other armed groups. In many cases, there is evidence of collusion between the FARDC and armed group “allies.” Coordination of operations between MONUSCO and the FARDC was suspended during a dispute over the professionalism of two Congolese generals. Attempts to renew the relationship have faltered over reports of the GoDRC’s forces participating in violent activity against civilians(particularly against opposition parties and demonstrators) either directly or indirectly (by allowing non-state armed groups to attack the population and communities in their stead). 

In 2013, FARDC members trained by U.S. Special Operations“joined with other Congolese soldiers to rape 97 women and 33 girls as they fled a rebel advance in eastern Congo in November,” according to the United Nations. The training program was called Operation Olympic Chase, and was led by the State Department and the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees U.S. military operations on the continent.
Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, said the U.S. government underestimated what it would take to reform the Congolese armed forces:“The state of the army in itself is a disaster, so you train people and you send them back to a dysfunctional army,” he said. “You are trained, but you still have a very low wage, no logistics, a very poor command system, and no sense of belonging and cohesion because the Congolese army is still a patchwork of very different groups. Even if you’re trained, at the end of the day, you’re still a hungry and unpaid soldier.” Whitlock, Craig. Washington Post 13 May 2013

The violence extends to the UN and other humanitarian workers, as demonstrated by the kidnapping and deaths of two UN human rights monitors in early March 2017. The kidnapping was allegedly committed by unknown parties, yet some sources indicate the DRC military found the bodies within a day of the disappearance but did not share that information with UN authorities until several days later, implying some complicity in their initial loss. 

Seven DRC military officers were arrested and chargedwith war crimes by a DRC investigative authority, stemming from allegations by several international organizations and other nations accusing them of “summary executions”among other atrocities, based on a video of the same. The United States, France, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) each called for an investigation into a video that purports to show soldiers casually killing several unarmed civilians along a roadway. Initially, the DRC’s information minister claimed the video was filmed in another African country, and that it was produced by nongovernmental organizations “to destroy the image of the D.R.C.”
  • Garde Républicaine. The Republican Guard was previously known as the Special Presidential Security Group. It is estimated to be a division-strength unit that is much “better trained, equipped, and paid than the FARDC.”
  • Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR). The 12,000-strong ANR is the DRC’s national intelligence agency. Despite constitutional limitations, the ANR “routinely carries out surveillance of political opponents and is deployed in anti-riot roles alongside the police and military. It has also been accused of widespread human rights violations, including beatings, torture, disappearances, and extra-judicial killings.”
  • The Congolese National Police. The European Union (EU) supported a decade-long comprehensive multiyear police training program that ended in 2016. “Despite these initiatives, the PNC largely remains in the mold of a partisan force that…has been…part of an array of security institutions over which the presidency has direct control.” In June 2016, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Kinshasa police chief, known as esprit de morts” or “spirit of death”.
  • Youth Recruits. According to Human Rights Watch:

In the days leading up to the February 25 (2018) protests, ruling party officials and senior security officers paid at least several hundred youth recruits – including many from the ruling party’s youth league – and gave them instructions to infiltrate churches, arrest priests when they attempted to march after the services, beat those who resisted, and provoke violence and disorder to prevent the marchers from going forward and to “justify” a brutal response from the security forces.

Non-State Armed Groups (AGs)

Over seventy armed groups operate in the DRC, particularly in the eastern part. Many armed groups are remnants from the various wars or spill-over from neighboring country wars. Several are part of local self-defense groups. Many of the AGs are considered Mai Mai (MM) groups that fight against larger groups to protect their resources, territorial, and ethnic interests (USMOG SUSMO Outbrief October 2018). Some of the armed groups are part of a political party. Only a few armed groups are any part of any regional or global terrorism movement, although alliances of convenience do exist. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) campaign is in its third phase, initiated in late 2015. While the programs appear successful, the participants have been known to be “recycled” frequently. According to the Council on Foreign Relations Conflict Tracker, the largest and/or most significant of the non-state armed groups appear to be (in alphabetical order):

  • Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)The ADF is a Ugandan-led Islamist rebel group and is one of the oldest in the DRC, operating in the mountains of eastern DR Congo. Members want to establish Shari’a law in Uganda. The ADF was formed around 1998 from discontented sectors of Ugandan society after the overthrow of Idi Amin. In June 2010, the FARDC launched an attack called “Operation Ruwenzori” against the ADF. The ADF currently number approximately 500 combatants but the high level of secrecy in the organization and its compartmentalized structure make it difficult to ascertain its overall strength. Despite two years of operations against it, the ADF remains able to coordinate simultaneous attacks on the FARDC and MONUSCO, with several hundred civilians killed since 2014, and tens of thousands of others displaced. They are suspected in the December 2017 attack that killed fifteen Tanzanian peacekeepers as well as the earlier September and October 2017 attacks that killed another three peacekeepers. 

However, some observers note that the ADF may not be as strong as the GoDRC purports and that, in fact, the ADF may serve as a “scapegoat” for the FARDC’s own actions or inactions. In addition: “The group, which is largely composed of converts, is not thought to have any significant links to other Islamist extremist organizations [sic] in Africa or the Middle East, though a video recently surfaced showing fighters apparently in DRC claiming allegiance to Islamic State.”

  • Bakata Katanga: The Bakata Katanga  (“Cut off Katanga” in Swahili) is based on Katangan identity issues and claims to defend the region against exploitation by Kinshasa and reportedly has ties with secessionist organizations. The Bakata Katanga are allegedly connected to politicians with national prominence.
  • The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR):  The FDLR is the largest illegal foreign armed group operating in DR Congo and often considered the most abusive. While there is currently a growing number of Congolese among their ranks, the group is primarily formed from Hutu members of the Rwandan government and army ousted in 1994 as well as Rwandan refugees. Its public purpose is to use military pressure to open “inter-Rwandan dialogue” with the current Rwandan government, but its covert purpose appears to be to overthrow the Rwandan government. The FDLR currently operates in eastern DR Congo and Katanga province. Its current strength is estimated to be 2000 combatants.
  • Enyelle and Independent Movement of Liberation and Allies (MILIA):  MILIA conducted targeted killings against the Boba before moving south.
  • Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI): FRPI is an active armed militia and cattle thieves, attempting to evolve into a political party in DRC’s north-eastern region of Ituri. Meanwhile, some estimate the FRPI account for almost 25% of human rights violations in DRC. 
  • Kamwina (Kamuina) Nsapu Militia. DRC soldiers allegedly killed over 100 civilians of the regionally dominant Luba ethnic group, to include almost 40 women in February 2017, and thousands were displaced. The militia group—many of whom were children–apparently sought “to avenge the death of their leader, Jean-Pierre Mpandi, whom the tribe had named their “Kamwina Nsapu”. The DRC called it an inter-tribal conflict that they forcefully resolved. However, in March 2017 the militia group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two UN workers (including one American) and the beheading of 42 police officers
Jean-Pierre Mpandi was the son of a deceased clan chief but was not officially recognized by the provincial governor as his father’s replacement. His home was raided by government authorities, and he responded by inciting his tribe to attack “any and all representatives of the state”. He was subsequently killed in August 2016 in a fight with security forces. 
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA): The LRA is a Ugandan rebel group currently operating along with the northern border areas of Congo as well as in the eastern Central African Republic. In 1988, Joseph Kony created the LRA with the claim of restoring the honor of his ethnic Acholi people. It was based in a spiritual rebel movement “Holy Spirit Movement.” In September 2005, the LRA moved to the DRC and began a violent expansion campaign. The LRA includes “recruits” forcefully abducted from the DRC, South Sudan and the Central African Republic to use as sex slaves and child soldiers. LRA soldiers quickly gained a reputation for murder, torture, rape, and mutilations. In May 2010, the U.S. Congress passed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act,” which follows the U.S. State Department inclusion of the LRA on the Terrorist Exclusion List in 2001 and designation of Joseph Kony as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13324 in 2008. In October 2011, 100 U.S. soldiers assumed advisory roles in support of regional militaries. In 2013, the U.S. military launched Operation Observant Compass, increasing the number of soldiers and military aircraft. By March 2017, the U.S. announced it is removing its military and high-technological equipment from the operations. While the LRA appears significantly reduced in size and number of attacks on civilians per year, it is not eliminated yet. 
  • Maï ShekaA group formed in 2009 by mineral resource businessmen, it believes that the land should belong to the original, indigenous inhabitants. Sometimes referred to as a “self-defense militia” it is primarily “composed of members of DRC’s Nande, Hunde and Kobo communities…in opposition to rivals from the Nyaturu group, which also represents ethnic Hutus.”  They gained attention due to their aggressive sexual violence campaign in 2010. In conjunction with the FDLR, they mass-raped more than 240 civilians and, afterward, looted their homes and shops. A MONUSCO base was within miles of the sexual attack but was not notified until days later, and therefore was unable to protect the citizens. Mai-Mai groups are the most prolific recruiters of child soldiers and perpetrators of human rights abuses, including a recent attack on 25 Hutus, who were hacked to death and beheaded.
  • March 23 Movement (M23):  M23 was made up primarily of ethnic Tutsis allegedly supported by the Rwandan government, rebelling against the GoDRC for supposedly reneging on the 2009 peace deal which included issues of land and mineral resource control. By 2013, it was defeated by the FARDC and MONUSCO’s FIB. The DRC conducted an amnesty program with some measure of success and the M23 allegedly converted to a strictly political movement. However, there are continuing reports of M23 (or ex-M23) members still operating as armed members, although the political movement leadership denies these claims. In particular, in February 2017, Uganda announced its authorities detained tens of M23 members trying to return into the DRC from Ugandan camps “into the general public.” It is not clear if those members intended to continue opposition activities, or if the current M23 leader, Sultani Makenga, remained in the custody of Ugandan authorities. (Makenga is the subject of U.S. and EU sanctions.)
  • National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP): CNDP became a political party in 2009 and a few thousand of its fighters joined the Congolese army.
  • The National Liberation Forces (FNL): The FNL is a Burundian rebel group originally formed in 1985 as the military wing of a Hutu-led rebel group called the PALIPEHUTU. Both the PALIPEHUTU and the FNL signed a peace agreement in September 2006 and became simply FNL. Many FNL integrated into the national Burundian army in 2010, and the remnants restarted rebel activities to fight the Burundian armed forces. The FNL currently appears to be in an alliance with Mai Yakutumba and FDLR.
  • Nyatura Rebels: Nyatura Rebels, a Congolese Hutu militia, collaborated with FDLR rebels and the Congolese army to defeat M23.
  • Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC): FPLC is involved in human rights violations including ethnic killings, torture, rape, and mutilation.
  • Raia Mutomboki: Raia Mutomboki started operating in 2011 for self-defense against attacks perpetrated by the FDLR.
  • Organized Criminal Elements (Domestic and Transnational): Organized crime in the DRC exists at all levels of society. Local collaborators include a complex and dynamic mix of legitimate business people; Islamist extremists, terrorists, and kidnappers; police and army officers; militia groups; and local politicians. Crime exists in many forms, the most prevalent being corruptionlooting of mineral resources, drug and human trafficking, kidnapping, and poaching.

Other International Actors. In 2015, the DRC made it very clear to its international partners that it would no longer tolerate what it sees as interference with its sovereign prerogatives, the sharpest anti-international-partner rhetoric since 2011. The DRC singled out MONUSCO for additional criticism, declaring the head of MONUSCO’s human rights division as persona non grata for supposed anti-DRC government bias. This perspective appears unchanged.

​​​​​​​Regional Neighbors: Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Burundi shares a border with the DRC as well as significant concerns about Rwanda and alleged Rwandan actions that contribute to the instability in both countries. Burundi believes Rwanda is recruiting refugees to oust its government. At the same time, the DRC suggests that Rwanda is recruiting and arming Burundian refugees, providing them Congolese ballot cards, then sending them into the DRC “to cause trouble.” Uganda allegedly supports many of the rebel armed groups, including the M23, although Uganda denies this claim. Compounding the DRC’s relationship with Uganda is the issue of the 40,000 DRC refugees in Uganda.

Other Countries.

  • ChinaChina’s ongoing interest in Congo’s minerals, which includes the purchase of mines and mining rights, has geopolitical ramifications despite the global economic slowdown.China is a TCC for MINUSCO and other African peace missions. It also pledged the African Union with USD$100 million in military assistance for its peacekeeping operations. China certainly has significant—and increasing—business interests in Africa. Some observe that: in essence, China deploys peacekeeping troops because it needs to protect its multi-billion investments and numerous assets, enterprises, and citizens abroad. Through its peacekeepers, Beijing can also elevate its status as a responsible stakeholder and security provider in the international community and improve the operational capabilities of the Chinese military and police forces.
  • Russia. It is unclear what bilateral formal relationships—other than diplomatic—may exist between Russia and the DRC. However, in September 2017 a Russian plane carrying military cargo crashed in the DRC, killing all aboard. Allegedly, the plane was chartered from Russia in support of the FADRC. 

International Organizations. There are many other international agencies operating in DRC, beyond the UN. Some examples are: 

  • The African Union (AU) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (IGCLR). The AU is engaged in many activities to reduce or mitigate instability in the DRC. On 6 April 2016, the AU formally named former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo to facilitate a dialogue to address the electoral processes for the planned—but not conducted—November presidential elections. However, most major opposition parties refused to participate and doubted the AU’s impartiality. Regardless, the AU and IGCLR endorsed the October agreement, which contributed to Kabila motivation to remain in power. The AU may be losing patience with Kabila, however, as indicated in the March 2018 meeting of its Peace and Security Council (PSC) where it “…reaffirmed its commitment to the independence and sovereignty of the DRC, in conformity with the relevant instruments of the AU…[and]…the need for the full implementation of the Political Agreement of 31 December 2016…” 
  • The European Union (EU). The EU deployed a short term mission to DRC in 2007, to assist the UN mission then known as MONUC. By 2010, the EU spent $14 billion to support rebuilding efforts, including security sector reform, and in 2014 committed to another $1 billion to fund these initiatives through 2020. The EU also designated DRC officials for the first time in 2016.​​​​​​​
  • The Southern African Development Community (SADC). The SADC has “decades of security engagement and regional diplomacy” in the DRC, intervening twice by force: 1) 1998, with intervention by Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to beat back a Rwandan and Ugandan invasion; and 2) 2003, leaving a force to assist the DRC’s security sector after the war. MONUSCO’s FIB, deployed in 2013, is essentially a SADC force. However, the SADC involvement in the DRC’s failed 2016 peace negotiations may have weakened its reputation as an impartial and highly influential actor

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