South Africa’s foreign relations supremo this week pledged the country’s continued support for the nascent African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) and its successor, the African Standby Force (ASF).
International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told a briefing in Pretoria South Africa would “encourage” more countries to volunteer resources for ACIRC so it could “evolve into a critical element that helps us stabilise and keep the peace on the continent”.
To date South Africa is the only African Union (AU) member that has committed troops, equipment and funding to the fledgling force that is supposed to do the job until such time as the long-awaited ASF becomes operational. While no firm indications have been forthcoming from the Department of Defence or the Presidency it would appear President Jacob Zuma’s commitment to at least initially making ACIRC workable is costing in the region of R4 billion of an already stretched defence budget.
Seasoned military observer Darren Olivier maintains ACIRC is “folly”.
“It is not heavy enough to be a true intervention force like the one France sent to Mali, nor is it specialised enough to fulfil the light rapid reaction intervention role.”
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has committed 9 SA Infantry Battalion, a composite armoured car squadron, a light artillery battery, an air-mobile anti-aircraft battery, a composite signal squadron and sub-unit from 2 Field engineer Regiment and 1 Tactical Intelligence Unit to ACIRC as the SA Army’s contribution. The airborne component is said to include at least two each of Gripen, Rooivalk, Oryx, Agusta A109 and C-130BZ with the Navy supplying Maritime Reaction Squadron elements and support.
Olivier and other defence watchers point out the Achilles heel of ACIRC is the lack of airlift.
This is one of the prime objectives to be scrutinised during the AU Amani Africa field training exercise at the SA Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) from October 19 to November 7.
Around 4 000 troops from all over Africa and representing regional groupings are expected to take part in the exercise which has eight set objectives germane to operationalising the ASF by year-end. Strategic air lift capability is one with Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence and Surveillance (C3IS), mission management and mission sustainability among the others.
Nkoana-Mashabane told this week’s briefing the Amani Africa II field training exercise would be held in conjunction with ACIRC.