“I don’t perceive any altercation in the wake of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) drawdown prior to the holding of 2017 presidential and legislative elections,” Defense Minister J. Brownie Samukai has said. “I know there will be challenges in the national security sector due to budgetary constraints, but there is no tangible reason to keep UNMIL perpetually as the country’s security forces are now to fill in the gap.”
Minister Samukai gave the assurance on Friday when he appeared on the ELBC Super Morning Show, where he discussed a number of wide range national issues highlighting the country’s security concern.
He however said the presence of UNMIL couldn’t stop anything negative happening with internal threats. “Get away from the age-old dependency syndrome with UNMIL presence; let us train and have confidence in our own security forces by directing our priority instead of depending on UNMIL to do all for us,” Samukai warned.
According to him, Liberia security is not 100 percent prepared, but adequately prepared to take over responsibility for the nation’s security after UNMIL’s mandate ends by June this year.
“Even with the full presence of UNMIL here, there were deaths of people under mysterious circumstances, there were thefts, and all sort of crimes committed, but thanks to the quick response from officers of the Liberian National Police (LNP), who have equally been trained in the wake of rising tide of Al-Qaeda that poses threats because of the proximity to our country from where they now operate in the sub-region,” Samukai declared.
It may be recalled that unidentified gunmen recently killed at least 21 people at a beach resort in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. Grand Bassam is 25 miles east of the Ivorian capital, Abidjan; less than 50 miles from the country’s coastal border with Ghana; and over 250 miles from the Liberian border on the other side.
Ivory Coast was seen as a model of stability in West Africa until a civil war erupted in 2002, which pitted the mainly Muslim north against the largely Christian south. Since then, peace deals have alternated with renewed violence.
With that latest development in neighboring La Cote d’Ivoire, Minister Samukai said, “Liberia needs to take her security to the next level with appropriate budgetary support,” and that, “our military is ready to take over responsibility.”
He said the more than 2,000 strong military personnel have been undergoing various types of trainings including counter-insurgence, anti-terrorism, among others, in preparation for the UNMIL drawdown.
“From our side, we believe that the roles and responsibilities that we have are easily executable because we have been doing the preparedness a little over a year and a half,” Samukai said.
“We are at the point where all of our forces, all of the 2,000-plus personnel of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) have been going through different kinds of training, operations, different kinds of scenarios exercises, including our participation in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). So, we are very confident in the competence of the AFL,” he assured.
Samukai said the military graduated about 154 additional personnel recently after they completed their advanced individual training (AIT) to prepare the army for the different roles and responsibilities they would play as a result of the drawdown of UNMIL.
“With our military capabilities, we recently deployed just a platoon of our soldiers along the Liberia/Ivorian border in the Southeast, particularly in the forest of Grand Gedeh, who arrested 10 Ivoirians and 11 Burkinabes that illegally entered Liberian soil and planted cash crops, which our soldiers have uprooted,” Minister Samukai disclosed.
Those arrested, according to Samukai, had extended their journey into the country by 5km and had planted Cocoa on the Liberian soil, which could last them for the next generations to come.
“Though the situation has been brought under control, we turned those arrested to authorities of the Bureau of Immigration for Naturalization (BIN) which is expected, along with the locals, to do proper vetting and investigation of those reportedly involved.
Samukai denied that the trust factor in the presence of the international community implies that the Liberian military is incapable of maintaining the nation’s security on its own.
Though Minister Samukai made an open declaration to support the presidential bid of Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, he said, “The military has no influential part to play in the electoral process, adding, “The military simply has unique capabilities in terms of logistics and transportation and the facilitation of individuals from one point to the other.
“The military cannot and will not be able to influence the outcome or the process of the elections that will be held in 2017. So, the preparedness of the military is simply to suggest its capacity to manage the security situation, come 2017 along the border and the frontiers of our country.”
In that respect, the defense minister said the military is already playing a more positive role through its contribution to the reconstruction of the country where its engineering company is now involved with civil works such as reconditioning of roads and bridges.
It has been suggested that about US$100 million would be needed to get the Liberian security sector ready to take over from UNMIL, which has been in the country since September 2003, to monitor a cease-fire agreement between belligerent forces. This followed the resignation of President Charles Taylor and the conclusion of the second Liberian civil war.