Inadequate bulletproof jackets and helmets for Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan
The United Nations has red-flagged an alarming lack of life protecting equipment available with Indian peacekeepers, informing India that the ability of troops to undertake operations has been impacted in South Sudan.
Officials familiar with the issue told ET that UN officially informed India in October that its troops stationed there had “inadequate” life-protecting equipment such as bulletproof helmets and jackets. India has about 2,200 troops in South Sudan.
“The situation in South Sudan has been deteriorating. The UN Secretary-General recently went on record that the country is headed for mass genocide. Still, two months later, the situation with our troops remains the same,” an official, who did not wish to be identified, told ET. As a result, this has apparently affected the number of operations the deployed troops can undertake.
Even before this, the UN had over the last nine months informed India repeatedly that the serviceability of Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan is barely 60% due to the shortages. This against other peacekeepers deployed in the same area that are much better equipped.
China, which has recently increased its contributions to the UN, has an availability rate of 120%, according to the information shared.
Neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh also have a better record. “This is undoubtedly making a serious dent to our reputation as a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations,” said an official.
However, two months after the matter was brought up it still remains unresolved despite several rounds of consultations between the Defence Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs, with officials saying the safety and reputation of Indian peacekeepers are at stake.
While comments were unavailable from the Defence Ministry, sources said Indian deployment in South Sudan was performing strongly under extreme conditions as compared to other troops, pointing to a recent UN special investigation that blamed Chinese and Nepalese troops for abandoning posts and failing to help aid workers under attack.
“We must recognise that Indian forces are performing well operationally. There have been no complaints on that front,” said a South Block official.
India has been requested to provide adequate equipment to the blue berets at the earliest, in what would be one of the first challenges that General Bipin Rawat, who takes over as Army Chief on December 31, will have to face. The officer has an appreciation of the challenges faced in UN peacekeeping missions, having commanded troops as a Brigadier in Congo in 2008. The UN Mission in South Sudan is one of its largest peacekeeping missions with India as the main contributor.
The Indian Army has also been facing shortages of life-saving bulletproof jackets and helmets at home as well, with orders placed for 50,000 jackets only in March this year — a seven year gap when the requirement was first raised in 2009. Even now the jackets ordered are against the full requirement of 1,86,138 that were needed by the Army till 2017