African army gears for in­ter­ven­tion

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — From Jan­uary 2016, the African Standby Force (ASF) will be able to in­ter­vene in cases of war crimes, geno­cide or crimes against hu­man­ity if an African Union (AU) mem­ber state re­quests as­sis­tance or if the AU it­self con­sid­ers the sit­u­a­tion se­ri­ous enough.

It will also be able to pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and un­der­take peace­keep­ing and ob­server mis­sions, al­though any de­ploy­ment would be sub­ject to donor fund­ing.

This mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary force will be made up of five brigades — each with po­lice, mil­i­tary and civil­ian com­po­nents that could be de­ployed within 14 days in their own re­gions.

The Cameroo­nian city of Douala will host the lo­gis­tics base, where equip­ment will be stored, but the ul­ti­mate power re­mains in Ad­dis Ababa, at the AU head­quar­ters in the Ethiopian cap­i­tal.

The force was ini­tially ex­pected to be ready by 2008, but AU mem­bers have dragged their feet over its cre­ation.

It was part of Muam­mar Gaddafi’s vi­sion for his United States of Africa.

Re­gard­less of the late Libyan leader’s in­ten­tions, it was clear that the con­ti­nent needed an im­proved re­sponse to its con­tin­u­ous con­flicts.

At the mo­ment, 5000 troops from around the con­ti­nent are tak­ing part in an ASF field train­ing ex­er­cise in South Africa to help eval­u­ate how ready the force is to de­ploy.

The num­ber of per­son­nel is ex­pected to rise to 25000 by the time the force is op­er­a­tional in Jan­uary.

But Africa does have ex­pe­ri­ence in mount­ing spe­cial re­sponse op­er­a­tions, and has al­ready be­gun tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for its own peace­keep­ing, even pro­vid­ing most of the troops in the UN mis­sions on the con­ti­nent — more than 8,000 troops from Ethiopia alone.

Un­der the AU’S own aus­pices, South African troops were de­ployed to Bu­rundi in 2001 to over­see a peace process, while in 2008 Tan­za­nian-led forces quelled a rebel up­ris­ing in the Co­moros.

“There’s been a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of Af- ri­can con­tri­bu­tions to keep­ing peace on the con­ti­nent,” says Pe­ter Pham, di­rec­tor of the Africa Cen­tre of the At­lantic Coun­cil.

Fight­ing Is­lamist mil­i­tancy The na­ture of con­flict has evolved from be­ing pri­mar­ily armed in­tra-state con­flicts — mostly rebel groups fight­ing for con­trol of nat­u­ral resources or to top­ple gov­ern­ments — to the in­creas­ing threat of Is­lamist mil­i­tants.

It means that the role of the in­ter­ven­tion forces has also changed from tra­di­tional peace­keep­ing to en­gag­ing in ac­tive com­bat like the AU troops fight­ing al-qaeda-linked mil­i­tants in So­ma­lia.

The force which has grown from ini­tial de- ploy­ment of 8000 troops in 2007 to more than 22000 has man­aged to re­cap­ture all ma­jor towns and ci­ties from al-shabab.

This change strength­ens the cause of the ASF, says Ben Pay­ton from the risk anal­y­sis firm Verisk Maple­croft.

“The rise of cross-bor­der ter­ror­ist cam­paigns in Africa po­ten­tially in­creases the use­ful­ness of the standby force, since African gov­ern­ments will be more will­ing to use the force to counter what is seen as a com­mon threat.”

The 2012 cri­sis in Mali pre­sented a good ex­am­ple of where the ASF could have in­ter­vened but the ini­tial poor re­sponse by African na­tions meant France stepped in to drive away the Is­lamist mil­i­tants.

With the es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence by the Boko Haram group in ar­eas bor­der­ing north-east­ern Nige­ria — the in­sur­gents’ base — yet an­other Au-backed multi­na­tional force was cre­ated.

This one took seven months to be­come op­er­a­tional — and is still not fully funded.the ex­is­tence of the ASF would elim­i­nate the need to set up a fresh force for ev­ery con­flict.

While the troops should be in place, the force still faces sev­eral is­sues.

The big­gest one is fund­ing — the AU says it still needs $1bn to prop­erly fi­nance the force.

With­out donor sup­port it will be dif­fi­cult for a mis­sion to ac­tu­ally be de­ployed.

Home-grown fi­nanc­ing could prove a prob­lem, es­pe­cially as coun­tries with larger bud­gets might pre­fer to in­vest in coun­ter­ing their own do­mes­tic threats rather than con­tribut­ing to a force they have lit­tle con­trol over.

Mil­i­tar­ily there are weak­nesses too — air power and solid in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing are poor across the con­ti­nent.

“The con­cept of spe­cial­i­sa­tion has largely not oc­curred in Africa,” says Mr Pham.

“For ex­am­ple, it’s harder to co-or­di­nate in­fantry brigades from five dif­fer­ent coun­tries that are trained to do the same thing, than hav­ing five dif­fer­ent units that do five dif­fer­ent tasks that learn to op­er­ate to­gether and com­ple­ment each other.

“The lat­ter is more ef­fi­cient in terms of resources and op­er­a­tion.”

Some of the con­tribut­ing na­tions also have armed forces that lack train­ing, equip­ment and dis­ci­pline.

An­other ma­jor chal­lenge is that of po­lit­i­cal will - get­ting a timely re­ac­tion from AU mem­ber states when a cri­sis erupts.

An ASF in­ter­ven­tion also has to come with the ap­proval of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which could fur­ther de­lay the re­sponse.

De­spite th­ese hur­dles, come Jan­uary, the AU mem­ber states do not have much hold­ing them back should troops need to be de­ployed to trou­ble spots speed­ily.


The asf will be op­er­a­tional in Jan­uary 2016.

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