Since 1997, when U.S.-backed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was toppled by a rebellion, Congo has been gripped by conflict and political tensions. The mineral-rich country, once known as Zaire, has plunged into the deadliest conflict in African history; more than 5 million people have lost their lives. The war officially ended in 2003, but violence and insecurity have continued to plague eastern Congo, despite the presence of the world’s largestUnited Nations peacekeeping operation. Various rebel groups have sought to gain power and control over the nation’s vast mineral wealth, which includes gold, diamonds and copper.

Today, violence is again escalating in Congo. Clashes continue between government forces and myriad rebel groups, including the M23 movement, which briefly seized the eastern city of Goma last year. Civilians have been raped and killed near U.N. peacekeeping bases. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese have fled their homes, many of them now languishing in refugee camps. The United States has accused neighboring Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels, which Rwanda denies.

Now, for the first time, the United Nations has created a rapid-reaction offensive combat force in an attempt to neutralize Congo’s rebel groups and protect civilians. The 3,000-strong force is to be made up of soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.

Sudarsan Raghavan