The Ministry of National Defense has announced that it is to send a platoon-size contingent of soldiers of the Armed forces of Liberia(AFL),to join the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan. The decision was made in response to a request from the UN Department of Peacekeeping according to Defense authorities.,
The numerical strength of the AFL is yet however, to reach its desired strength of 5,000 since its restructuring exercise began in 2006. The soldiers are being professionally trained by various mentors, including those from China and the United States of America and they are professionally capable of handling any assigned tasks, according to AFL Chief of Staff Major/General Prince C. Johnson II.
Under the terms of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the country’s 14-year civil conflict, all armed parties to the conflict were to be disarmed and disbanded. National state security apparatuses including the military and paramilitary were to be reorganized and restructured as part of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) process with support from the United Nations Military Mission to Liberia (UNMIL).
According to reports, the restructuring and re-composition of the AFL has since been hampered by high attrition rates resulting mainly from poor conditions of service. As a result, the AFL has not yet reached its desired projected strength of 5,000. Notwithstanding the many challenges, the satisfactory performance of AFL soldiers in the Mali Peacekeeping operations have won high marks.
It can be recalled that the history of the AFL’s involvement in Peacekeeping activities dates as far back as the 1960s when the Government of Liberia dispatched a contingent of 250 troops to participate in Peacekeeping operations in the then newly independent Congo Republic where it made its mark of excellence. Altogether, a total of 500 Liberian troops served in the Congo. Some veterans of that operation in the Congo included the late Colonel Arthur Bedell, and distinguished Liberian airman and navigator, Prince Page.
In 2013, 10 years after the end of the civil war, the newly restructured AFL deployed a platoon as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, marking the first time that the AFL had operated abroad since the United Nations Operation in the Congo in the early 1960s. Initially under Nigerian command, the AFL platoon came under Togo Contingent Command when Nigeria withdrew from the mission.
Despite some initial logistical problems, the platoon performed admirably, performing patrols and Very Important Person escort duties. Since their deployment in Mali in 2013, one soldier has been killed and another wounded from armed attack on their positions by jihadist forces.The national deployment has now seen a number of rotations: Platoon 1 (Captain Nathaniel Waka)–45 persons; June 23, 2013 to June 26, 2014; Platoon 2 (Capt. Ernest A. Appleton) – June 26, 2014 to June 25, 2015; Platoon 3 (Capt. Stephen T. Powo) – June 25, 2015 to September 2, 2016; Platoon 4 (Capt. Forkpah Tarnue) – September 2, 2016 to.
From February 2017 the Mali deployment was increased to a 75 strong “company.”
Against the backdrop of these developments, the Liberian government through the Ministry of National Defense yesterday announced plans to send some of the AFL soldiers to South Sudan, to serve as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in that troubled East African country.
Deputy Defense Minister for Administration Olandius Dickson informed journalists over the weekend that the decision to send Liberian armed forces personnel to South Sudan stems from the current positive impact being felt in Mali by the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission from AFL, who he said are performing their duties diligently.
Dickson said as part of the Liberian military reform process, the Ministry of Defense will also send a military attaché to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, reminding Liberians of another military attaché that is currently posted at the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Mr. Dickson then assured Liberians that the AFL will remain professional in the discharge of her duties both locally and on the international scene.
It can be recalled that Liberia, during the regime of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, sent at least 45 AFL soldiers to Mali to serve as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in that troubled West African country.
An attack on an African Union based there killed a Liberian soldier and wounded several others in 2017.