East African nations pledge 5 000 troops for regional stand-by force

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Ten East African nations have pledged to contribute three motorized battalions, one mechanised battalion, one light infantry battalion and three squadrons/companies of 850 men each towards the setting up of the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) which is set to become operational by December under the auspices of the African Union (AU).

A resolution providing for the establishment of the long-delayed regional rapid reaction force was adopted by regional heads of state, defence ministers and military chiefs at a meeting held in the Rwandan capital Kigali last week. Rwanda currently chairs the Council of Ministers of Defence and Security of Eastern Africa and the Committee of Eastern Africa of Chiefs of Defence Staff.

Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) spokesman General Joseph Nzabamwita told the Rwandan daily New Times that member countries have already pledged significant troop and material contributions to make the force a reality.
“The East African standby force heads of state decided that due to the insecurity that is prevailing in the East African region the member countries need to take urgent steps. Burundi has pledged to contribute one battalion of light infantry and we are also getting three motorised battalions – one each from Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda – and one mechanised battalion from Kenya.
“Comoros, Djibouti and Somalia are each contributing a squadron or company. All these battalions have their integral equipment and they have a strength of at least 850 servicemen each. Other than these five countries that contributed fully equipped military battalions, we also have others which made significant logistical and material contributions,” Nzabamwita said.

The regional defence, intelligence and security services chiefs from Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda who met in Kigali also agreed that each country would contribute four special police units of between 140 and 170 officers each to support the civilian peacekeeping component during active deployments. Other combat support services pledged include two hospitals, combat engineers and special forces.
“From the pledges made, we got all the troops and the police officers we needed to put at the disposal of the force to enable it to do rapid deployments, at any time,” Nzambamwita said.

The EASF will not be based in one particular country as every country will host and sustain its own contingent and deploy it when required.

The force will become the regional African Union crisis response force with powers to intervene in regional conflicts to protect civilians, prevent loss of life and contain a myriad of regional armed insurgencies.

Addressing the regional military commanders in Kigali, Rwandan defence minister General James Kabarebe said the region should not wait for donors but quickly fund the initiative because it is lagging far behind the rest of Africa in terms of meeting the AU security council goal of having a peacekeeping force of 5 000 per regional bloc by December this year.
“Once we have the funding, then we are assured of sustainability. The most important thing is that the leaders are planning is to ensure that member states contribute and that applies to donors too. So we can only hope that we will get all the diplomatic support and funding to get this force ready as soon as possible,” Nzambamwita said.

In terms of the EASF protocol, all member states are required to contribute to a fund which will be used to set up and equip a regional force with the capacity to deploy to conflict and crisis areas within 14 days.

The Eastern Africa Standby Force has challenging tasks ahead with ongoing conflict in Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. It will also be faced with the trans-regional threat of militias and rebel groups which pose significant security threats to the key member nations of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda from sanctuaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The DRC is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc. Its national army has over the years failed to defeat or expel the Rwandan Hutu militias, the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and a number of Burundian rebel groups deemed to be security threats to its neighbours, from bases in its territory.

The concept of a regional force to promote peace and security emerged in 2004 and was originally planned to be operational in December 2015 but countries in the region pushed this forward in light of the numerous security challenges at present.