GOMA, DRC —
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army has continued advancing in a fourth day of fighting against M23 rebels near the eastern city of Goma.
The scene is a government army position at mid-afternoon Wednesday, just after the M23 had started targeting some nearby tanks.
"You men get forward," the sergeant is shouting. "Where are you retreating for? Get in front of the tanks."
For a moment, there was a brief panic as mortar bombs started falling, causing some casualties in a commando platoon.
"Take that man and get him out of here," an officer shouts, pointing to a soldier who has just been hit.
But the incoming fire seemed to be heavily outweighed by the army’s outgoing fire with tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships that pounded the rebel positions.
After an hour or more of shelling on both sides, the commandos moved forward following the tanks.
An intelligence officer said the unit had advanced 300 meters by mid-afternoon. That rate of progress may speed up if, as United Nations sources report, the rebels are running low on ammunition.
The M23 is outmanned as well as outgunned, having only around 2,000 combatants, against an army that on paper numbers 100,000. Although the army faces many other armed groups, few of them support M23.
A civilian, Jules Akili, who traveled through the M23 zone on Wednesday before crossing over to the government side, told VOA he saw hardly any M23 soldiers.
He says he traveled from Rutshuru Centre a distance of about 40 kilometers, and saw only five M23 soldiers along the route, which was guarded by M23 police.
The Congolese army’s recent successes have prompted euphoric scenes in Goma, with civilians waving leafy branches staging victory runs on the outskirts of town.
Tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting who are living in camps around Goma are hoping the army can defeat all the rebels so they can return to their homes.
Women at a displaced peoples camp say they would be very happy to see their villages liberated from the rebels, and are hopeful the army can do it.
A Congolese journalist told VOA five government soldiers were badly wounded on Wednesday, and a local journalist also was hurt.
On Tuesday, the government said 120 rebels had been killed in the fighting since Sunday, a claim that could not be independently verified
A United Nations source Wednesday evening said the army had pushed back an M23 counter attack and was still advancing.
Nick Long sent this report from the front line, 12 kilometers north of Goma.