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The Gambia Armed Forces - History

During World War II, Gambian troops fought with the Allies in Burma. The Gambia's capital city served as an air stop for the U.S. Army Air Corps and a port of call for Allied naval convoys. The Gambia became independent from the United Kingdom in 1965. President Yayah Jammeh took power in a military coup detat in 1994, and remained in office until 2016.

In 1901 a detachment of the 3rd West India Regiment was stationed at Bathurst, but in view of its early withdrawal to Sierra Leone it was decided to raise a Gambia company of the West African Frontier Force. With this object in view, three European officers of the Imperial Forces, accompanied by two non-commissioned officers and a medical officer, arrived in the Colony in December and commenced the work of recruiting. The necessary number of men was easily obtained, and, notwithstanding the short time they had been under drill, they showed promise of becoming a smart, soldier-like force. The force was composed of 120 men, 40 taken from tribes in the Gambia, and 80 men taken from the tribes around Sierra Leone.

Before 1961 there was the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) formed in 1900 by the British colonial government of which The Gambia had a section, called the Gambia Company. This was later changed to the Gambia Auxiliary Force and subsequently the Field Force. The Gambia Field Force was established in 1961, three years before independence.

The Field Force was disbanded in 1981, following the failed coup of that year. A new law was passed in 1984 called the Armed Act which established the armed forces, consisting of Gambia Army and the Gendarmerie, with the British Army Training Team (BATT) and the Senegalese Gendarmerie training the two arms of the service, respectively.

The GNA existed alongside the Gendarmerie, until 1994 when the two institutions were merged under one command structure. In addition to the merger, further re-organisation and restructuring of the GNA was undertaken in 1986 which resulted in its expansion, and the establishment of the three services under the Gambia Armed Forces: the National Army, Guard and Navy. Each of these military services is overseen by a Commander, with the Chief-of-Defense-Staff and Chief-of-Staff at the top under the President who is also the Commander-in-Chief.

In July 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) seized power in a military coup d'etat, deposing the government of Sir Dawda Jawara. 26-year Lieutenant Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state.

In March 2006, the government thwarted a reported military-led coup attempt. The alleged coup attempt was put down without violence. The plot was haphazardly planned by the ringleader, former Chief of Defense Staff Lt Col Ndure Cham, that active involvement was limited to a small minority of the Gambian military's officer corps along with a handful of civilians. Cham's plot involved a dozen or so officers seizing various key sites -- e.g. presidential offices, radio and television stations, etc. -- the evening of March 21. When word of the plot leaked to other senior officers several hours in advance of the plot's implementation, Cham simply abandoned the plot and fled.

Attending a military graduation ceremony March 31, President Jammeh alluded to the failed overthrow attempt in his address, stating, "there is no place in The Gambia for an alienated and self-seeking military and spoke of a "small, bleak cloud" that would quickly vanish. Around 50 people were detained for their alleged roles in the coup plot; many detainees were released, with the remainder convicted and sentenced to life terms.

In 2013 the Special Criminal Court convicted and sentenced Alieu Lowe to 20 years imprisonment for concealment of treason and perjury. The court acquitted and discharged his codefendant, Abdoulie Njie. Officials arrested Lowe and Njie following disclosure of the abortive 2006 coup plot and detained the men for over five years before formally charging them. Officials released Lowe, a nephew of fugitive coup leader Ndure Cham, on July 23 as part of a prisoner pardon announced by the president. The trial of a third detainee, Hamadi Sowe, also charged with concealment of treason relating to the 2006 coup plot, continued at the end of 2015.

On December 30, 2014, a group of foreign-based dissidents launched an attack on State House (the presidential palace) in an apparent attempt to overthrow the government. In the ensuing fighting, three of the attackers were killed: U.S. army reservist Captain Njaga Jagne (a dual national), former Gambian Presidential Guard Commander; Lieutenant Colonel Lamin Sanneh, who was resident in the US; and former Gambian gendarmerie officer Alhagie Nyass, who was based in the United Kingdom. At least six other Gambian army officers were arrested. On April 2, 2015, a military press release reported that six individuals who were brought before a court martial received life imprisonment and death sentences.

The Indemnity Act, which allows the president to grant amnesty to any person, including security force members accused of misconduct during unauthorized gatherings, continued to deter victims from seeking redress for torture committed during the countrys 1994-96 military rule. The army requires victims to file formal complaints with the courts regarding alleged torture that occurred at other times. During the year 2015 there were no known prosecutions in civil or military courts of security force members accused of mistreating individuals.

In November 2014 the Supreme Court unanimously agreed to commute the death sentences imposed on seven of eight men convicted of plotting to overthrow the government in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. On July 23, authorities released the seven men from prison under a prisoner pardon announced by President Jammeh. The eighth man, Yusuf Ezziden, did not appear in court; authorities reportedly allowed him to leave the country.

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