Lesotho defence force gets new chief

altThe Lesotho Defence Force has received a new commander, Major General Phatoli Lekanyane, succeeding Lieutenant General Thuso Motanyane, who retired after 38 years of service.

Lekanyane took over command during a handover ceremony on August 24 at the Ratjomose Barracks in Maseru.

Lekanyane said he would uphold the “high standards of professionalism” that his predecessor had instilled in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), reports Lesotho’s Public Eye Daily.

“We will keep the flame of what the Lesotho Defence Force stands for, burning and we will keep the high standards that Lieutenant General Thuso Motanyane introduced in the army,” Lekanyane said.

Motanyane said he found it “appropriate to mention that the success achieved to date, would not have been possible without the combined efforts of every member of the Defence Force. However, as the Commander, allow me also to bear responsibility for certain errors in judgement, which might have occurred along the way.”

One such incident was mentioned by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who is also the Minister of Defence and National Security, when he paid condolences to the family of a soldier killed during a shootout during a court martial in mid-August. It was concluded that better security during the court martial would have prevented the shootout from occurring.

Another low point during Motanyane’s tenure occurred on April 22, 2009, when 15 armed men entered Lesotho, attacked Makonyane Barracks and tried to assassinate Mosisili. An investigation into the incident revealed that the attackers may have been helped by soldiers, according to the Lesotho Times.

“Today marks yet another milestone in the Defence Force and Lesotho as a whole, as we witness the transfer of authority in a democratic manner. We thank the Lieutenant General for supporting this fledgling democracy we have here in Lesotho, today,” Mosisili said.

“We hope this change of command will not bring confusion to the LDF, but must be a change to excellence and maintaining peace in our country.”

Motanyane was in command of the Lesotho Defence Force for seven years. He said he would retire "leaving behind a command well-resourced to confront the challenges of the ever-changing security environment."

The Defence Force’s role is to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Lesotho and uphold the Constitution of Lesotho. However, it has limited capabilities to carry out this mandate. The Force also supports the police and is used for transport and VIP duties. One of its important functions is to combat drug smuggling and cattle rustling across the borders with the Eastern Cape and Free State.

After troops from South Africa and Botswana entered Lesotho in September 1998 to restore order after weeks of anti-government protests, the Lesotho Defence Force has retrained and restructured itself, receiving training from India and South Africa.

The Lesotho Defence Force is a relatively small force that encompasses both the Army and an Air Wing. The Force currently has a strength of approximately 2100, according to the 2011 IISS The Military Balance.

The army has a small amount of heavy equipment and operates two towed 105 mm artillery pieces and ten 81 mm mortars. It has six 106 mm rocket launchers and 22 armoured vehicles, including four Panhard AML 90 armoured cars, ten RAMTA RBY-1 armoured reconnaissance vehicles and eight Shorts S52 Shorland armoured patrol cars.

The Lesotho Air Wing was originally created in 1978 as an offshoot of the parliamentary police mobile unit and was incorporated into the Lesotho Defence Force in the mid-1980s. The Air Wing is equipped with four transport aircraft (three CASA 212 Aviocars and one Gippsland GA-8 Airvan) and half a dozen helicopters, including three MBB BO-105s and three Bell 412s.