African Countries Hasten Plans for Home-Grown Reaction Force
Security analysts here have welcomed the formation of the East African Standby Brigade (EASBRIG), which held its first mock command post exercise recently in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
It is one of five brigades that will form the Africa Standby Force, which is due to be fully deployable by 2010. Brigades for Southern and West Africa have reached readiness status, but progress remains slow for the Central and North Africa brigades.
The force, an initiative of the African Union (A.U.), will include civilian and police officers to handle political issues in situations of conflict while the army handles the armed conflict side.
EASBRIG Commander Brig.-Gen. Osman Nour Soubagale said it was likely the force would be ready for deployment in 2010 in troubled Somali waters, where pirates have confronted more than 100 vessels since January and seized half of them.
Alex Riungu, an analyst with the Indian Ocean Consulting Group, said while the readiness of the brigade is welcome, the efficiency of its deployments will determine how well it achieves its overall mission.
“It presents an opportunity for the A.U. to redeem its image as a slow mover in making decisions that border on human security in the continent,” he said.
Lt. Col Jaw Kitiku (ret.) of the Nairobi-based Security Research Information Center, has spoken out about the “shame” of having to invite foreign forces to tackle crimes in Africa. The continent has the capacity to do the job itself if it combines its security forces, he said.
Kitiku said Africa needs to invest more in naval and airpower.
The A.U. has regularly issued statements calling for assistance from the international community in tackling the piracy problem.
But the foreign navies confronting the Somali pirates have cautioned that they cannot end the problem by themselves. Warships from the United States, other NATO countries, Russia and India have been patrolling the affected areas – the Indian Ocean off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
The head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. William Ward said in Kenya last week that African and foreign countries needed to work together to face challenges like piracy.
“This is a problem that needs a coordinated approach,” he told reporters here. “For that kind of approach to be found, there must be a framework developed to deal with it. It is the framework that is being worked on.”
EASBRIG will have a minimum of 8,000 officers, 6,000 of them drawn from armies and the rest police officers and civilians.
The West African brigade, which benefited from an already existing regional military organization, has recorded the biggest achievements so far, with peacekeeping stints in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.
The Southern African brigade has also made progress and has a functioning regional conflict early warning system. Regional governments are now discussing whether to send the brigade for peacekeeping n the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The Central African brigade is being hampered because it involves conflict-prone members including the DRC and Chad, while the North African brigade is reportedly facing delays because of competition between Libya and Egypt.
Once the force is fully ready, the A.U. hopes it will have the capability to handle peacekeeping missions, post-conflict disarmament, demobilization and humanitarian assistance. Funding will come from increased contributions from member states.
For normal missions, regional units are supposed to be deployable within 30 days of approval by the A.U. peace and security commission. For more complex missions, deployment will be within to 90 days.
The force will have an intelligence arm and an early warning system to monitor security dynamics and advise commanders on preemptive or otherwise appropriate measures, according to A.U. protocols.
The project is supported by the Global Peace Operations Initiative, a multilateral, five-year program led by the United States to train and equip 75,000 peacekeeping troops, most of them African, by 2010.
It also benefits from the African Contingency Training Assistance (ACOTA) program, a State Department initiative to trains senior military officials of America’s African allies.