KINSHASA (Reuters) - The U.S. military command for Africa (Africom) has started training 1,000 Congolese troops in the north of conflict-riven Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S. ambassador to the central African country said on Monday.
The troops undergoing training in the eastern town of Kisangani by U.S. special forces among others, will learn tactics, maintenance and medical care, William Garvelink told reporters.
“We are working together to build a professional military that protects Congolese citizens and their human rights and protects the territorial integrity of the Congo,” he said.
Last year, a Congolese army operation backed by U.N. troops drew criticism for wide-ranging human rights abuses and both sides say they want to improve army discipline.
U.S. military officials said obeying the chain of command would be at the forefront of their efforts in the $30-40 million, eight month training programme.
Garvelink said training had been delayed by two years due to American special forces’ commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Human rights observers have questioned whether training an army containing so many former insurgents would only make them more professional rebels.
“Are we going to make them better at killing or are we going to give them disciplined skills to obey the officers...so that they demonstrate restraint?” asked Col. Thomas Crowder, Africom-commissioned director for the office of security cooperation at the U.S embassy in Kinshasa.
“That’s what we’re striving to achieve,” he said.