Last Friday I noted that nine UN peacekeepers were killed in an ambush in the Congo by rogue militia elements. After more than ten years of running from fights, I wrote that the UN would have to start fighting back if it wanted to retain any credibility. Apparently, someone at the UN has reached the same conclusion:
United Nations peacekeepers have gone on the offensive against a militia group in Congo, deploying helicopters and killing nearly 60 people in the biggest battle fought by the world body in more than a decade.
But criticism of the operation was mounting yesterday when it emerged that up to a third of the dead could have been civilians used as human shields by the group that was the attackers’ intended target.
The latest hostilities began when a battalion of Pakistani soldiers advanced on the militia base in the Ituri district, the scene of some of the worst atrocities in the country, where more than three million people have died since war erupted in 1998.
In this latest skirmish, the UN has explained that the UN peacekeepers reacted to incoming fire from one of the militia groups in the area. Instead of their normal retreat, the UN fought back in force and killed 60 people, although some of the casualties may have been human shields employed by the militias. The rebels, from the FNI, bear the responsibility for the deaths of any civilians they employ as shields, however, and critics of the UN for defending themselves are wrong. In fact, they’re part of the reason why the UN never takes action to defend themselves or anyone else when they come under fire, a policy that has led to the massacres of thousands of civilians.
The UN Security Council wasted little time in endorsing the actions of the peacekeepers, approving a resolution that encouraged “continued robust action in pursuit of its mandate.” Perhaps the UNSC has also had a sea change thanks to the developments in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. The wave of democratization that has accompanied the steel will of George Bush to enforce the terms of the cease-fire and UNSC resolutions involving Saddam has changed the demeanor of the tinpot dictators of Southwest Asia; it may have inflamed the ire of the Europeans in the short term, but it put a lot of credibility into American warnings.
The UN has lost that credibility after a decade of fleeing at the first shot, and if they want to regain any ability to actually keep peace, they need more examples of this kind of reaction to provocation. This is a good start.