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Benin - Military Personnel

The Armed Forces of Benin is a small force relative to the size of the populatin. The beninese army is maintained in a low state of readiness, and there are no reserve forces. Belgium has emerged as the primary external source of training and restructuring programs.

The Armed Forces of Benin numbered about 00 as of 1980. The Army included 3,000 soldiers, while the air force had 50 personnel and the Navy had about 75 personnel. By 2011 the Armed Forces of Benin numbered about 7,700 troops. The Army included 6,800 soldiers, while the air force had 400 personnel and the Navy had 500 personnel. Manning levels had been relatively stable through the end of the 20th Century, but there were significant increases thereafter to support Benin's international peacekeeping operations.

The training of women as soldiers was the most singular pre-colonial Dahomeyan institution. In the 19th century about one-fourth of the whole female population were said to be "married to the fetish," many even before their birth, and the remainder were entirely at the disposal of the king. The most favored were selected as his own wives or enlisted into the regiments of Amazons, and then the chief men were liberally supplied.

Of the female captives the most promising were drafted into the ranks as soldiers, and the rest became Amazonian camp followers and slaves in the royal households. These female levies formed the flower of the Dahomeyan army. They were marshalled in regiments, each with its distinctive uniform and badges, and they took the post of honour in all battles. Their number has been variously stated. Sir R. F. Burton, in 1862, who saw the army marching out of Kana on an expedition, computed the whole force of female troops at 2500, of whom one-third were unarmed or only half-armed. Their weapons were blunderbusses, flint muskets, and bows and arrows. A later writer estimated the number of Amazons at 1000, and the male soldiers at 10,000.

The Amazons were carefully trained, and the king was in the habit of holding "autumn manoeuvres" for the benefit of foreigners. Many Europeans witnessed a mimic assault, and agreed in ascribing a marvellous power of endurance to the women. Lines of thorny acacia were piled up one behind the other to represent defenses, and at a given signal the Amazons, barefooted and without any special protection, charged and disappeared from sight. Presently they emerged within the lines torn and bleeding, but apparently insensible to pain, and the parade closed with a march past, each warrior leading a pretended captive bound with a rope.

Until 1972 the 120-man Ouidah-based Commando Parachute Battalion was the army's elite unit, that seemed always poised to overthrow civilian government. The largely Fon unit was a threat to President Mathieu Kerekou, a northerner , who proved unable to disband it. In 1975 Captain Janvier Assogba's coup attempt was based in this unit. By the mid-1970s Kerekou had establishe dthe overwhelmingly Fulani [northern] Battallon de la Garde Persidentielle [BGP].

Selective conscription includes an 18 month term of service. Each year several hundred outgoing conscripts are recruited to fill the ranks, and improve operational capabilities.

The legislature of Benin passed the Law on Public Interest Military Service on September 20, 2007, thereby enabling the government to put into effect its plan for the national mobilization of youth for the country's development. The Law prescribes that every Beninese youth between the ages of 18 and 35 is subject to military service "in the national interest." The first step in this process is obligatory registration of the young people in the communes. [Benin is administratively divided into 12 departments that are subdivided into 77 communes.] From among them, certain registrants will be chosen to serve and will be expected to undergo military training. They will then be called upon for duty in the national interest in all areas, with the exception of keeping order in the context of elections.

In Benin, the U.S. Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Emergency Plan/PEPFAR) supports a military-to-military partnership with the Benin Defense Force to fight HIV/AIDS. The program, which began in 2002, sets out a battle plan for addressing HIV/AIDS in the Defense Force and in the larger community. The goals include coordinating efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS by creating a focal unit and 47 decentralized units to disseminate life-saving prevention information to members of the Defense Force. Additionally, the partnership seeks to develop a strategic plan for drafting vital documents that address HIV/AIDS, including a curriculum for recruit training in the Defense Force and procedure manuals regarding prevention of HIV for peacekeeping operations.

With support from the Emergency Plan, the Benin Defense Force has made great strides in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Over 250 military peer educators in the decentralized units were trained to teach their peers about HIV prevention. In September 2005, the Defense Force held a conference where decentralized units shared best practices and lessons learned, helping to improve HIV prevention efforts. In 2005, the Defense Force conducted the first behavioral and serological survey of military personnel, assessing the impact of HIV prevention efforts.

With support from the military-to-military partnership, the Benin Defense Force rapidly scaled up its counseling and testing capacity. The first functional counseling and testing center is in place in Coutonou, serving over 1,000 people per year. Approximately 120 military personnel have been trained in the provision of HIV counseling and testing. With the increased counseling and testing capacity, 4,000 military members preparing for peacekeeping operations have been tested for HIV and received their results. Since 2003, all military recruits have been routinely tested for HIV.





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