UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Back to the Table of Contents

Organization and Strength

In 1984 the organization of the armed forces differed little from what it had been during the last years of True Whig rule, although personnel changes had changed its character considerably. Doe, as head of state, was considered to be the commander in chief of the AFL, and the Ministry of National Defense, head quartered in downtown Monrovia, exercised direct authority over the establishment. The minister of national defense in 1984 was Major General Gray T. Allison, whom Doe had appointed in late 1982. A staff officer at the time of the 1980 coup, Allison became the third minister of national defense appointed by the PRC. Two deputy ministers-one for operations, one for administration-served under the ministers of national defense, as did assistant ministers for the coast guard, civil works, and public affairs. During the Tubman and Tolbert regimes, the top officials in the Ministry of National Defense usually were civilians, but during the PRC era the ministry staff was composed mainly of military officers.

The General Staff and the Special Staff of the AFL comprised the top echelon of the armed forces. The chief of staff in 1984 was Lieutenant General Henry S. Dubar (who had a higher rank than the minister of national defense). Like Allison, he had been an officer before the coup. The chief of staff was assisted by a deputy chief of staff, a director of staff, assistant chiefs of staff for the coast guard and the Aviation Unit, and a comptroller. The AFL's Special Staff was made up of an adjutant general, an inspector general, a judge advocate general, and a provost marshal (see fig. 12).

From the General Staff in Monrovia, the chain of command extended downward to the commanding general of the AFL. Held in 1984 by Brigadier General Morris T. Zaza, the position of AFL commander was established after the coup and was filled for three and one-half years by Brigadier General Quiwonkpa. Be fore the coup the incumbent was known as the commanding general of the LNG Brigade, which more accurately described his function. Although his title indicated that he controlled all elements of the military, including the coast guard, the AFL commander was primarily responsible only for the LNG Brigade. When Quiwonkpa was AFL commander, the billet was considered to be the most powerful in the AFL, and Quiwonkpa was referred to by the press as the "strongman of the revolution."

The National Guard Brigade

The LNG Brigade usually referred to as the army or the AFL Brigade was the heart of the ground forces. Headquartered at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in Monrovia, the brigade was composed of six infantry battalions, an engineer battalion, a field artillery battalion, and a support battalion. Three of the infantry units-the First Infantry Battalion, stationed at Camp Schieffelin 35 miles east of Monrovia, the Second Infantry Battalion at Camp Todee in northern Montserrado County, and the Sixth Infantry Battalion at Bomi Hills -were tactical elements designed to operate against hostile forces. Soldiers attached to the other infantry units the Third Infantry Battalion based at the BTC, the Fourth Infantry Battalion at Zwedru in Grand Gedeh County, and the Fifth Infantry Battalion at Gbarnga in Bong County-served mostly as auxiliary personnel. Soldiers in these units have been used extensively as policemen, customs and immigration officials, and tax collectors. In addition, many Third Infantry Battalion soldiers were used in the Monrovia area to guard installations or to serve as cooks, drivers, or aides to officers and other officials. The Support Battalion, also based at the BTC, was composed of the Medical Company, the LNG Brigade Band, the Brigade Special Unit (a parade formation), and the Military Police. In 1984 most of the LNG battalions were commanded by colonels. Exceptions existed in the Second Sixth Infantry Battalions, which were headed by lieutenant colonels, and in the small First Field Artillery Battalion, which was led by a captain.

The infantry battalions varied considerably in size and strength. The Sixth Infantry Battalion and the Second Infantry Battalion-considered by most observers to be the best fighting units in the army-each operated with 200 to 300 men. In contract, over 1, 000 personnel were attached to the more loosely organized Third Infantry Battalion. In 1984 plans had been drawn up to standardize the tactical units. It was proposed that the First, Second, and Sixth Infantry battalions would all operate at a uniform strength of 580 men (39 officers, two warrant officers, and 539 enlisted men). These units were to be equipped with trucks to facilitate their mobility, and each was to be organically equipped with weapons and other materiel to enable it to conduct sustained operations as a mechanized infantry force. By 1984 all weapons were becoming standardized in the tactical units. The Colt M?16 rifle was expected to be the basic rifle of the LNG, although the AK-47 (believed to have been delivered by Libya and Cuba shortly after the 1980 coup) and older M-1 rifles were still in use.

The AFL also included the Aviation Unit, but it could not in any sense be considered an air force. It operated three fixed-wing aircraft from Spriggs-Payne Airfield in Monrovia on reconnaissance duties and for transporting light cargo and VIPs. In emergencies the AFL could enhance its capabilities by using the aircraft operated by Air Liberia. This was pointed out in November 1983, at the time of the raid on Yekepa that was linked to Quiwonkpa's alleged plot, when Air Liberia reportedly transported 200 soldiers from Monrovia to upper Nimbi County within six hours in order to squelch the possibility of a coup. The Liberian government and the high command were reportedly interested in building up the capabilities of the Aviation Unit, but it was thought that funding difficulties would preclude a significant expansion.

The national guard in 1984 was seen by most observers to be improving from the nadir it reached after the coup. Numerous problems remained, however; some had stemmed from the upheavals at the time of the coup, and some had always affected the AFL. Military discipline was an early casualty of the coup. The revolt had been an enlisted men's affair, and one of the first instructions broadcast over the radio had ordered soldiers not to obey their officers. Over four years later, according to observers, the reluctance of most officers to impose discipline had combined with the unwillingness of more than a few enlisted men to accept it. The influx of poorly educated, former enlisted men into the officer corps had exacerbated the problem.

Military effectiveness was undercut by the fact that, since the coup, the AFL had operated almost exclusively on the basis of directives, rather than written regulations that codify standard methods of operation. The body of regulations in use at the time of the coup was generally ignored by the new officers because, depending on circumstances, the regulations were either inappropriate to new situations, they were not understood by poorly educated officers, or the officers did not know they existed. The process of making even the smallest military decisions on an ad hoc basis not only led to inconsistent policymaking but also often caused delays as minor decisions were frequently referred to superiors. In 1984 AFL officers had begun an effort to draft a new set of regulations to improve the situation.

The performance of the AFL was also handicapped because it lacked certain equipment and because much of the available materiel did not work. A chronic lack of funding (despite significant assistance from the United States) limited the purchase of new materiel and spare parts. In addition, poor maintenance combined with the region's high humidity to limit the serviceability of weapons and transport. It was reported that only five of eight 75mm howitzers attached to the artillery battalion were operational (and these had not been fired since 1979). Similarly, vehicle operational readiness was reported to be extremely low, and the tactical battalions were considered to be practically immobile.

Some of the AFL's transport shortcomings were offset by a demonstrated ability to improvise. In addition to the airlift operation to Yekepa that used Air Liberia equipment, the AFL was able to move an entire battalion to the border within 24 hours during the crisis with Sierra Leone in February 1983 by using public transport and taxis. Despite the AFL's limitations, Libeian enlisted men had a professional appearance, maintained their personal weapons well and, when effectively led, performed adequately in small unit exercises.

The Coast Guard

The Liberian National Coast Guard, the military establishment's seaborne element, began operations in 1959 after the de livery of two 40-foot patrol boats from the United States. According to the act of the legislature that created the coast guard, it was responsible for protecting lives and property at sea, preventing smuggling, aiding navigation, and enforcing pollution standards within the 200-nautical-mile limit of Liberia's territorial waters. The coast guard had law enforcement jurisdiction in Liberian territorial waters and was empowered to prevent any persons from entering the country "when it was believed that the presence of such persons would endanger the security of the state."

The assistant minister for coast guard affairs in the Ministry of National Defense oversaw the force. In 1984 this position was held by Captain S. Weaka Peters, a former commandant of the coast guard. Patrick D. Wallace, the commandant in 1984, led a force consisting of six patrol craft and some 450 officers and ratings, who were organized into three major commands: the Coast Guard Base Unit, the Task Force Unit, and the Port Security/ Search and Rescue Unit. In addition, since 1977 the coast guard has also been responsible for operating the nation's network of coastal lighthouses. The Task Force Unit included three 50?ton, Swedish-built coastal patrol craft that were delivered in 1980 as well as three smaller American-built patrol craft delivered in 1976. The relatively small size of the Liberian vessels limited their use to coastal waters. The craft were usually based at Elijah Johnson Coast Guard Base at Freeport in Monrovia, but they could operate from coast guard bases at Buchanan, Greenville, and Cape Palmas.

In 1984 the coast guard was considered to be the best trained and most professional component of the AFL. It was handicapped, however, by a lack of funding to maintain all vessels in the inventory. The serviceability of the fleet was also hampered by a reluctance on the part of the Swedish government to provide spare parts for the craft it had supplied. Thus, only one of the Swedish patrol craft was operational, and the other two had been immobilized by the lack of spare parts.

Back to the Table of Contents

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list