'Military Coups No Longer Fashionable'

2010-05-04
THISDAY Newspaper

The two day meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS) was preceded by a one-week multilateral and multidisciplinary major Field Training Exercise aimed at validating the Eastern Battalion of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Standby Force (ESF) ended in Ketou, Benin Republic. And, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff and chairman of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike declared the exercise “a huge success.”


He explained that the aim of the exercise was to build the ESF “into a robust, rapid-response outfit that can effectively support regional peace initiatives”. It was also aimed at ensuring that the ECOWAS Standby Force maximises the opportunity of the exercise to address some of its logistics and operational challenges. Another objective was to ensure that the exposure helps to fine-tune the military readiness, especially in the areas of standardisation of training and equipment, of the various constituents of the ESF at the end of which the outcome is expected to impact positively on the collective efforts to improve security in the region.
Code-named ‘EXERCISE COHESION Benin 2010’, the exercise was geared towards evaluating the operational and logistics readiness of the Eastern Battalion of the ECOWAS Stand-by Force spearheaded by Nigeria. It was also part of the overall preparation for the ‘operationalisation’ of the African Standby force by December 2010.


Countries which contributed troops to the exercise include Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo and Sierra Leone. There were also elements of the Mission Planning Management Cell (MPMC) and the ESF headquarters staff. The exercise was articulated around two battle groups of infantry, light cavalry, engineers, Air Force units, naval forces, police and gendarmes units.
Its specific objectives included testing the ESF concept and Standing Operational Procedure (SOP); evaluating the deployment of the Eastern Battalion Task Force in the field; testing communication and information system resources; improving the interoperability and intra-operability between the subunits and within the various staff cells; and identifying areas of shortfall for necessary improvement.


To ensure its huge success, Nigeria contributed about 530 officers and men to the exercise. The country’s contributions also included heavy haulage trucks, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), Hilux trucks, buses, petrol and water tankers, ambulances and other operational vehicles.
Dike, in a chat with newsmen said, “The exercise was a huge success as it met the objectives. The aim was to build the ESF into a robust, rapid-response outfit that can effectively support regional peace initiatives. We hope that the ECOWAS Standby Force will maximise the opportunity of this exercise to address some of its logistics and operational challenges. Furthermore, the exposure should fine-tune our readiness especially in the areas of standardisation of training and equipment for the various constituents of the ESF. Hopefully, the outcome will impact positively on our collective efforts to improve security in the region.”


But the Nigerian Defence Chief asserted that for the Standby Force to have the teeth needed, “there must be clear rules of engagement for future operations. Also, each Contingent should be able to bring their own equipment. And English speaking West Africans must learn to speak French. The French speaking West Africans are better at learning English than we are at learning French. This has to change. We need to work together to have elements of communication in place.”
Altogether, the ECOWAS Standby Force consists of a Task Force and a Main Force. The Task Force, composed of 2,773 personnel from the predetermined units, including 200 police personnel, consists of a Headquarters, two Infantry Battalions (West and East) and a Logistics battalion.


On order, the Task Force is to deploy within 30 days and be self sustained for 90 days. The West ESF Battalion, led by Senegal, with membership of Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Conakry and Gambia, was evaluated during the joint Senegal/France field training exercise held in December 2007. On the other hand, the Logistics battalion, led by Mali and Nigeria as second-in-command, with additional membership of Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal, was validated in Burkina Faso in June 2009. The Eastern Battalion, led by Nigeria, with additional membership from Benin Republic, Niger, Sierra Leone and Togo, is being validated with the just concluded exercise.


The Main Force of the ESF, when fully operational, will consist of 3,783 troops and would be prepared to deploy within 90 days and be self sustaining for 90 days. In effect, it will complement the ESF Task Force, which is a rapid deployment capability outfit.
The President of ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Victor Gbehu, who watched the closing ceremony along with the Minister of Interior and Security Affairs of Benin Republic, Mr. Armand Zinzindohoue, noted that all the officers and soldiers involved in the exercise displayed “the highest form of professionalism.”


He commended Nigeria's role in the training of the troops even as he noted that the success of the exercise “assures me that there is cohesion and a great deal of hope for a secure and prosperous ECOWAS sub-region. The military in ECOWAS member States have achieved a high level of professionalism and have excelled in all assignments given to them. Therefore, we must promote investment in security since peace is a sine-qua-non for a prosperous future.”
He further commended Nigeria for the lead role it played in the exercise including the airlifting of 128 troops of the Sierra Leonean Army, “which enabled them to participate.”


The final activities of the military exercise were witnessed by ECOWAS Defence Chiefs, Commanders of United Nations operations in Liberia (UN Mission in Liberia – UNMIL) and Cote de’Ivoire (UN Operations in Cote de-Ivoire and the Commander of French Forces in Dakar, Senegal and Cape Vert.
While the EXERCISE COHESION Benin 2010 was the main event, the 27th ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS) also held and some interesting pronouncements as regards the preservation of democracy in the region were made.
Dike, who is also the Chairman of the CCDS, said that the protection of all democratic values should be the fundamental objectives of all militaries in the region as a way of instilling the culture of their non-interference in the politics of member-States.


Dike told the regional Defence Chiefs at the opening of the two-day meeting that they all have to know that “the concept of unconstitutional change of government has become outdated and unacceptable in the new world order. While this disturbing trend persists (in some countries of the sub-region) with attendant negative consequences for peace and security, the prospect of socio-economic and political development would remain elusive. It is therefore incumbent on all of us saddled with overseeing the defence and security architecture within the region, to constantly appraise our capabilities for anticipating, preventing and, where necessary, mitigating the impact of the crisis within the region, while protecting democratic values.”
He noted that despite all the efforts of regional leaders and individual nations to ensure collective and individual security, the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) has become a major security challenge in the region, hampering the efforts to bring peace.


According to him, “it is critical to stress that our individual and collective security initiatives may not achieve the desired objectives unless we effectively tackle the increasing menace of Small Arms and Light Weapons, which continues to frustrate our efforts to consolidate peace and security within the region. It is common knowledge that smuggling of Small Arms and Light Weapons has become a major security challenge within our region. There is disturbing preponderance of these illegal weapons which criminals and other undesirable elements employ to exacerbate internal communal crisis and penetrate criminal activities including cross-border banditry within the region. These are matters of great concern that require concerted and drastic measures.”


At the end of its meeting, the ECOWAS Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS) declared “enough is enough with regards to military intervention in the politic of member nations.” It therefore said that “any further disrespect for political authority must be condemned in the strongest terms. Military government is no longer in vogue and we must move ahead with the times.”
Towards giving teeth to the resolution, the ECOWAS Defence Chiefs decided to send the Chiefs of Defence Staff of Ghana, Liberia, Togo and Cape Verde to Guinea Bissau, which has been having continuing disruption of democratic governance by its military, “to express our unhappiness and misgivings at the consistent military interventions in the country.”
In addition, Dike announced to newsmen that the next quarterly meeting of the body would hold in Guinea Bissau “to make collective strong representation to the military so that they fall in line as other militaries in the region.”


He said the body resolved that “pro-active steps will be taken to counter the activities of extreme religious groups prevalent in the Sahel region of West Africa.” It therefore tasked the Chiefs of Defence Staff of Mali and Niger to study the problem of religious extremism and ways to tackle it and report to the next meeting of the body.
In the same vein, the body tasked the Chiefs of Defence Staff of Nigeria and Ghana to study the problems of maritime security and the ways to handle them effectively and report to the next meeting. The ECOWAS Defence Chiefs were also briefed and reviewed situations in Nigeria (Niger Delta), Niger, Mali, Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and Guinea-Conakry.


The Defence Chiefs decided on the issue of proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) that, “henceforth, there will be greater vigilance in search of Small Arms and Light Weapons while border agents will exhibit zero tolerance for such Small Arms and Light Weapons. Also, increased information sharing will be in place for all Forces in the region.”


 

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