For a period of about 2 weeks, the rebel M23s occupied the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The government forces didn’t fight back, instead choosing to flee the city for secure government compounds. The U.N. forces concentrated themselves there, leaving the city to be plundered by the rebel forces. This isn’t a surprise as most of the Army officers had already been bought off by the rebels. Any political supporters of the government in the city could then be killed on a whim by the rebel forces. After the 2 weeks, M23 pulled out before international resistance could be formed. Both the US and UK pulled their aid from bordering Rwanda, who were likely supporting the rebels so that they could destabilize the Congo government, making it easier to gain access to the mineral rich area.
In other words, the rebels pulled out on their own terms after they had taken everything worth taking. As is standard operating procedure, many rebels simply took of their uniform and stayed behind to disrupt government infrastructure and programs, thereby further reducing the support and legitimacy of the government. The lesson is fairly simple, pay very close attention to the loyalties and self interest of everyone in a conflict region if you want to understand how it will develop. Look at the extended social networks, friends of friends.
“The soldiers we see here are the ones that took over this city? Is that it?” the 78-year-old said. “I think they are still here in hiding.”
Many residents are convinced that M23 soldiers swapped their military fatigues for civilian clothing and will remain in the city as “infiltrators”.
“Look, I am a Congolese. I am from this place. I can tell the difference between a civilian and a soldier. And, for sure, they are here,” 33-year-old mechanic Thierry Bisimwa told Al Jazeera. “Taking off their uniform and putting on civilian dress is a strategy.”
“We have a situation where army officials, in the middle of a war, were selling weapons to the M23 … what is going on?”
He was referring to General Gabriel Amisi, the DRC’s chief of land forces, who was suspended on November 23 when the UN alleged he had been “smuggling arms” to multiple rebel groups in the region.
According to people here, he was not the only military official playing both sides.
“We have an army with high-level officers selling arms and information to the other side. This is why they are so incompetent,” Bisimwa said.
There is a smouldering disdain for the United Nations here, as well as rage directed towards neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda for their roles in the crisis.