US soldiers training Liberian troops

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The United States has sent a detachment of troops to train the Liberian military as it recovers from 14 years of civil war. 21 Michigan Army National Guard soldiers departed for Liberia on Friday.

The soldiers are being deployed as part of Operation Observant Liberty, which will “train Liberian forces on how to be an army,” according to Michigan National Guard Colonel Pablo Estrada, who heads the detachment. “The training will cover everything from basic infantry tactics to drill and ceremony.”

The decision to send troops to Liberia was first announced in early November. The soldiers are expected to return to the United States in January next year.

Liberia has been working to rebuild after civil wars from 1989-2003 left the country devastated with no functioning public services, according to the UN. 300 000 people died and a million were displaced during fighting. The nation is still in a fragile state – the UN Security Council in September last year voted to extend its peacekeeping mission there for another year.

Under the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Liberia completely disbanded its military. Its National Security Strategy signed in 2008 gives the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) the mission to defend its territorial borders and assist in response to natural disasters.

The United States committed to helping Liberia rebuild. Through a US$285 million Department of State program, it began in 2006 with the recruiting and vetting of an entirely new force of some 2 000 soldiers. The programme also constructed or renovated training facilities at three bases. The AFL was officially re-established in 2007, and State Department trainers provided basic and unit training, with a focus on “train-the-trainer” until the program transitioned to the US military’s Africa Command (Africom) in 2010. Africom’s programme is a five-year initiative focused on mentoring and advising the AFL as it continues to develop the ability to build and maintain a professional military, according to Africom officials.

Under the mentoring programme, nearly 50 US military personnel are assigned for up to one-year tours to advise and guide the AFL.

At sea, the US helped reactivate the Liberian Coast Guard (LCG) in February 2010. Personnel from the US Coast Guard and Navy provided training and technical assistance and sent Liberian sailors on training courses to the US. From 2010 through to 2012 the US government is providing US$5 million worth of training, equipment and infrastructure to the new coast guard, according to the US Ambassador to Liberia.