U.S. Military Training Program Benefits African Peacekeepers
20 March 2007
State Department official cites success of 10-year, 19-nation partnerships
Washington – Africans make the best peacekeepers for Africa, and the United States has made a strong commitment to helping them hone their peacekeeping skills, says the coordinator for a U.S.-managed military training program.
"Our job is to help African countries enhance their capabilities to effectively take part in peacekeeping operations. And so far, the 19 African nations we've partnered with over the past 10 years tell us we've done a good job," says Chip Beck, who heads the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program (ACOTA) at the U.S. State Department.
ACOTA is unique, Beck said in a March 15 interview with USINFO, because it is a "true partnership, it trains trainers who in turn keep training their own troops in peacekeeping skills. Our job is really to work ourselves out of a [training] job."
The ultimate goal is to help the African Union (AU) create an effective standby peacekeeping force of 25,000 troops by 2010 that would replenish itself, he said. Troops from African nations currently account for one-third of the total 100,000 peacekeepers deployed worldwide.
ACOTA partners include: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Following their ACOTA training they became involved in peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan/Darfur, Somalia and Lebanon.
South African Ambassador Barbara Masekela alluded to ACOTA's value in a speech at Northwestern University in Illinois in October 2006 when she said, "I would like to recognize the support of the U.S. administration in our collective [AU] efforts to promote peace in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire and other parts of Africa."
Congress agrees that ACOTA is effective, and has consistently approved its budget since it first was established in 1997 to help African nations ensure stability after cease-fires and negotiations that led to peace.
"Our mission is one of positive engagement with African militaries to support the peacekeeping goals of the African Union," Beck said. "ACOTA has already increased the skill and professionalism of 92,000 African troops and we are shooting for a total of 228,000 troops benefiting from ACOTA-learned skills by 2010."
Operating in close collaboration with the Defense Department's International Security Affairs Africa bureau, ACOTA contractors -- usually retired U.S. military personnel -- work with select groups of troops chosen by the host country, Beck explained.
The generally two-month training includes convoy escort, checkpoint and disarmament operations, weapons handling, management of refugees, negotiations and small-unit command skills. Command and staff training -- as well as exercises for battalion, brigade and multinational force headquarters personnel -- also are included.
ACOTA also furnishes nonweapons equipment, including uniforms, boots, generators, mine detectors, field medical equipment and water purification devices. HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention training also are stressed, Beck said.
"We pride ourselves on the fact that the ACOTA training is tailored to match an individual partner's needs and capabilities. There is no 'one fits all' template that we try to force on our partner militaries," he said.
In 2006, the $40 million for training troops under ACOTA was adequate, Beck said. But now, with more African peacekeepers being called for duty in Sudan and Somalia, ACOTA has asked for $71 million for 2007.
"I think we have a very good shot at the target," the retired naval officer said. "We've got the support of Congress, the Africans and a good working collaboration between [the Department of Defense] and [the U.S. Department of] State -- a winning combination."
In January 2006, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer touched on the importance of the military partnership as she told a National Defense University forum on security in Africa, "The U.S. believes strongly in the ACOTA program."
She added, "Africans have demonstrated true dedication and resolve … and it is vitally important that the United States continues … to strengthen the capacity of Africans to carry out peace support operations."
ACOTA is an important part of President Bush's Global Peace Operations Initiative, which plans to use $660 million to train and equip a force of 75,000 peacekeepers for duty around the world by 2010. (See related article.)
For more information on U.S. policy, see Peace and Security.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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