Archive: AU Standby Force takes shape


By the end of this decade Africa should have a six brigade UN-style force ready to police the continent’s trouble spot. In terms of a plan drafted by a “panel of experts”, the force will consist of five regionally-based brigades in addition to a sixth, continental, formation based at the African Union’s (AU) headquarters at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The African Standby Force takes shape
July 2003
By the end of this decade Africa should have a six brigade UN-style force ready to police the continent’s trouble spot. In terms of a plan drafted by a “panel of experts”, the force will consist of five regionally-based brigades in addition to a sixth, continental, formation based at the African Union’s (AU) headquarters at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The document, adopted by an African Chiefs of Staff meeting in the Ethiopian capital in May, contains detailed proposals on the establishment of the force, to be known as the African Standby Force (ASF). But the plan contains some loose threads that threaten to undo the entire tapestry.
The formation of the ASF is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a manifestation of the ability, long desired, for Africa to police its own trouble-spots. The development is as long overdue as it has been long called for. Politics sank all previous attempts and the perseverance of those driving the process should be commended. Secondly, and from a “Northern” perspective, the ASF at last provides a rationale in terms of which the defence industry can engage Africa. Selling arms to Africa is almost an abomination in many circles. It is indeed difficult to do because of the poor financial record and solvency of many states and restrictions on defence exports for human rights and other policy reasons. But with the ASF, the AU Peace and Security Council’s (PSC) “action force” selling arms to Africa becomes morally right, if not imperative.
As the African Renaissance unfolds many are arguing that the need for armed forces will fall away and with it the need for arms. So, is there no market for defence products? Quite the contrary! As is plain for all to see, progress towards the often-talked-about African Renaissance will often be halting and there will be reverses. It is in such circumstances that the more democratically advanced African states may well have to militarily intervene or dispatch peacekeepers and peacemakers to restore order or to create the conditions for a new beginning. Providing defence products to these leading states and their militaries is therefor not only ethically correct but also morally proper, the argument goes.
In this regard Ghana is a salient example. It has in recent years done all it can to woo foreign investment and grow its economy — but to little avail. Perhaps its track record is too short or maybe its neighbourhood is too rough. The net result is the same: too little state revenue to fund legitimate defence acquisitions. A number of ways to overcome this problem, by no means unique to Africa, exist. Among them are pooling national funds at sub-regional and regional (AU) level or establishing an acquisition agency at Addis Ababa to purchase equipment for the ASF — or even individual states — using allocated member contributions, donor funding and other finance.
The ASF in more detail
The ASF is to be established in two phases. The first, ending June 30, 2005, will see the AU “develop and maintain the full time capacity to manage Scenario 1 and 2 missions, and establish a standby reinforcement system to manage Scenario 3 missions. Under the proposal the scenarios referred to are explained as follows:
n      Scenario 1 — AU/Regional military advice to a political mission.
n      Scenario 2 — AU/Regional observer mission co-deployed with a UN mission.
n      Scenario 3 — Stand alone AU/Regional observer mission.
n      Scenario 4 — AU/Regional peacekeeping force (PKF) for Chapter VI and preventive deployment missions.
n      Scenario 5 — AU PKF for complex multidimensional PK mission with low-level spoilers (a feature of many current conflicts).
n      Scenario 6 — AU intervention – e.g. genocide situations where international community does not act promptly.
Meanwhile, the regions “should within capacity develop/evolve their standby brigades within this phase. Where they can develop standby brigade groups, regions should by the end of this phase also develop the capacity to use a standby reinforcement system to manage Scenario 4 missions.
During Phase 2, the period up to June 30, 2010, the AU must develop the capacity to manage up to Scenario 5 missions. Regions, at the same time, “should try to develop a standby brigade in this period, and those with existing brigades should increase their rapid deployment capability.”
The brigades will be based on the UN’s multinational Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), headquartered near Copenhagen, Denmark. The brigade, a consequence of the UN’s twin humiliations in Rwanda and Srebrenica (Bosnia), musters between 4,000 and 5,000 troops when fully deployed. In its current form it consists of a multinational headquarters and headquarters staff (based on a permanent planning staff of 13 officers supported by 10 Danish staff), and a number of national units and sub-units. These include a spread of infantry battalions, a reconnaissance company, a field engineer battalion, a transport company, a helicopter squadron, a military police company, a field hospital and a “brigade logistic operations centre” to co-ordinate the resupply of national units from home depots.
The planning staff are assigned to SHIRBRIG for a period of two to three years and rotation is meant to take place in a manner that maintains a high degree of continuity. The commander and the chief of staff positions rotate by nation every two years. During a deployment the staff would grow to about 90 officers and NCOs supported by a fully equipped, 150-strong HQ company.
SHIRBRIG is designed to deploy for up to six months. The intention is that afterwards the mission will either be terminated or the brigade will be replaced by other forces. Reaction time is mandated at 15 to 30 days following the decision of the participating nations to make allocated units available for deployment. These units must inherently be capable of extended self-defence and, should the occasion arise, be able to extricate elements from untenable situations. Units are required to be logistically self-sufficient for 60 days. Participating countries are allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to participate in any given mission so that national decision making procedures (and thereby national sovereignty) is not affected by participation in SHIRBRIG. To compensate, SHIRBRIG maintains a pool of units. This pool also allows SHIRBRIG to deploy in different configurations.
South African defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota last month told his country’s Parliament that agreement had been reached on issues including “doctrine and posture, shifts in the nature of peacekeeping operations, interoperability of forces, common standards of training, equipment and logistics, standard procurement regimes for commonly identified appropriate equipment needs, the establishment of command structures and so on.” He added that there was also agreement and consensus on:
n      a requirement to examine participation in “non-traditional type peace missions like the one in Burundi,”
n      the need for the interoperability of forces. This includes the ability to use each other’s equipment which presupposes personnel having appropriate training and “a similar understanding of military procedures,
n      the need to emphasise and adhere to international humanitarian law,
n      the establishment of regional training facilities/centres of excellence,
n      standardised training “according to UN specifications and African requirements”,
n      all members and officials to be trained according to UN standards,
n      the establishment of a training and advisory team which will include evaluation and standardisation,
n      the rotation on a three year period of all representatives/officers/officials,
n      sensitising on language and related language training requirements,
n      a direct link between the AU mission commander and AU chairperson,
n      the establishment of an AU procurement system applicable to African Union requirements for peace missions,
n      the need to examine the feasibility of centrally logistics bases per region for peace mission,
n      the formalisation of procedures for the better co-ordination of the AU Peace Fund, and
n      the creation of five permanent regional headquarters.
“Work is already in progress around all these issues and we expect a detailed report when the African Chiefs of Staff meet again in 2004. The SANDF will have to align itself more coherently with these new developments,” he told MPs.
No reinventing of the wheel
The document is generally sound and avoids the obvious pitfall of reinventing the wheel. Where acceptable doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures (DTTP) already exist, they are to be evaluated and modified as may be necessary before adoption. A worry, however, is what is deemed as acceptable. UN DTTP is throughout accepted uncritically.
Unfortunately for those massacred in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1992, the UN’s record at peacekeeping is an almost total failure. One shining exception was the UN taking action under Chapter VIII to protect the sovereignty of South Korea in 1950. The US 8th Army, made up of American and allied troops, was tasked with the responsibility – one it still upholds. When examining other, at face value, “successful” peacekeeping missions, such as UNTAC in Cambodia, UNTAG in Namibia and ONUMOZ in Mozambique, it can well be argued that they were superfluous to the outcome of events. Would the transitions in Cambodia, Namibia and Mozambique have shipwrecked without the local UN baron having a limp-wristed military “force” at his disposal? In all three cases all the relevant parties were keen for the transition to go ahead. In Namibia’s case, when the process did hit a “wobble” when the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) crossed the border in violation of agreements signed by their political principals, UNTAG hid behind its sandbags while South African military and police units dealt with the incursions. Equally irrelevant to events is UNIFIL in Lebanon. UNPROPFOR in Bosnia was a disgrace to arms for more than the events at Srebrenica while a questionable understanding of UNAMIR’s Rules of Engagement was the cause of ten Belgian paratroopers being hacked to death by a Hutu mob in Rwanda. Even the famous “Brahimi Report,” the result of a UN panel investigating this litany of failure, has not arrested the trend. Since its publication in August 2000, an ill-prepared UNAMSIL contingent has been taken prisoner in Sierra Leone by the very rebels they were meant to police. It took British troops, acting outside the UN chain-of-command, using real-world rules of engagement, to set them free and make the rebels live up to their agreements. Contrary to the findings of Algerian ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi’s experts, the fault lies not with a lack of funding or member countries failing to commit promised resources. The fault lies with the UN’s very approach.
The ASF Panel of Experts claim to have studied various NATO and AU models but stated that they were inappropriate “for various reasons.” This is an old civil service dodge. It creates the impression that there was a proper study and that valid reasons exist. The 48-page report is supported by a great many annexes, explaining aspects of the UN system in great detail. If the alleged studies took place it would have been little trouble to attach the findings. Yet neither the main document nor the annexes throw any further light on the matter.
Unlike UNPROPFOR, it is a matter of record that NATO and the EU’s IFOR and SFOR missions in Bosnia and KFOR in Kosovo have been, in comparison, remarkable successes. Bosnia today is a developing democracy. She and her neighbours have now been at peace since 1995. Divided communities have reintegrated. War criminals, Bosnian, Serb and Croat are on trial. NATO and the EU also have a developed peacekeeping DTTP. Surely it is better to copy a successful system than a failed approach?
Cause for concern
Other than the concerns already raised, which may see the ASF swamped with good intentions and impractical ideas, the force will likely also be:
n      diluted to the lowest common denominator in an effort to include “everybody”, and
n      tripped up during deployment by long time lines and political indecision.
Further, regional forces intervening in their own areas, while cutting down on deployment time and lines-of- communication, could suffer from a lack of credibility and accusations of “hidden agendas”.
The problem of the lowest common denominator, often the result of the unthinking application of the doctrine of sovereign equality, has long been the bane of Africa. It has already seriously undermined the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) by weakening its peer review mechanism. It is unlikely the ASF will escape this fate in its current form.
Secondly, no deployment schedule survives contact with political dithering. By no means an African problem, it will, however make nonsense of AU plans to intervene speedily anywhere. The ASF document expects to deploy a force for Scenario 1 to 4 missions within 30 days, “provided pre-mandate actions have been taken). A Scenario 5 force should be fully deployed within 90 days and a robust Scenario 6 force within 14 days. Although ambitious, it can be done. What could undo it is political indecision on what to deploy — and when. Courage is not a vice many politicians suffer, as the continuing (at the time of writing) indecision regarding deploying an US, UN or ECOWAS peacekeeping mission in Liberia demonstrates. The necessary political will has to be found if the ASF is to work.
Although egalitarian, the cost of five regional brigades may be more than the AU can carry. Is there really a need for one brigade per region? Why? What for? The ASF document does not say. A related question is ownership. If the ASF is to be an AU — as opposed to a SADC or ECOWAS creature, would two or three brigades not be more appropriate and affordable? At present it seems to be both a servant of the region and the AU. Serving two masters is notoriously difficult.   
Another aspect the ASF report glosses over, is that although the Dutch, the Danes and the Canadians are indeed major UN donors and troop contributors as well as the major movers behind SHIRBRIG, the cohesion seen in Copenhagen is more the result of 54 years of familiarity and integrated decision-making within NATO than 10 years of tinkering with UN procedure. In this regard one would have expected more output from
Botswana, Kenya and Egypt — all countries with reputable, disciplined, armed forces — and Balkan NATO/EU peacekeeping experience. Perhaps their voices were muted by the curious disdain in which they are held by the South Africans who are driving the ASF process, a disdain driven in part by a silly, superficial anti-Americanism at home. All three have strong links with the US military, something immediately evident from the
national pride and professionalism found in those armed forces.      
An alternative model
The ASF fits in well with Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi’s brigade design published in the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Journal late last year and reprinted in this Journal in March. Qadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, suggested a joint, combined force answering to the PSC through the MSC, an “AU Rapid Reaction Force Headquarters and a Joint Force
Deployment Headquarters. Answering to this — and here he goes further than the ASF planners’ UN-template — would be land, sea and air elements.
Qadhafi proposed a land element of three light brigades and one mechanised brigade. The light brigades would consist of three 500-strong light infantry battalions, a 120mm mortar battery, an engineer battalion, a light helicopter squadron, a medical battalion, a maintenance company, a logistics/supply battalion, a military police company and a US-style civil affairs group. The mechanised brigade included a tank and three mechanised infantry battalions in addition to a 105mm artillery battery.
The sea element, Qadhafi, argued, could include two command vessels, two frigates, two amphibious vessels and one hospital ship, a marine battalion and various support ships. His air element would include three fighter/bomber squadrons, three C130 squadrons and an aerial refuelling, an attack helicopter and two utility helicopter squadrons along with
support elements. In addition to these air and sea elements, which neither the UN nor the ASF in its current form caters for, Qadhafi foresaw the need for a special forces battalion, an independent communications battalion, an independent combat service support battalion as well as a field hospital in addition to further logistics, support and civil affairs elements.
“The whole point of this force is its ability to deploy quickly and attempt to defuse a situation before it becomes a major security problem. Air assets and especially troop lift aircraft will have to be almost immediately available. The key to the deployment of the ARRF would be its capability to quickly move troops and equipment to crisis areas. The
tactical heavy lift squadrons would be one of the key elements of the entire force,” Qadhafi wrote. “The whole land element would have to be at ten days notice to move, but inside the land element, other units would have to be at a much higher readiness states. Possibly one infantry company group at six hours notice to move, a complete battalion group at 24 hours and the lead brigade (with its complete headquarters) at 72 hours.”
“Long-term stability in Africa depends on Africans. We cannot expect the rich countries of the world to continue to police Africa indefinitely and we do not want a future where our regional stability is at the mercy of the foreign policy aspirations of nations from outside the region. The recent intervention by both the French and the Americans in Cote d’Ivoire underlines the magnitude of our problem. At the very beginning of the crisis, it should have been a properly mandated African Union force that stepped in between the warring parties… What we have now is a long wait as a regional force is assembled and dispatched to the country. In the meantime, France and the United States are doing their best to ensure a certain amount of stability. But the understandable priority of both
these countries is to protect their nationals, guard their assets and leave as soon as is decently possible. Only an African Union force with a proper mandate, a sound chain of command and properly trained forces will have the motivation (and legitimacy) to stay for the long term and achieving the lasting solution that will ensure real peace and security.”
Qadhafi’s model, while subject to the same political ditherings as the ASF, presents a far more balanced force than the SHIRBRIG example. It is also in line with modern developments that tress the need for integrated, joint, task forces and deployments.
Some conclusions
As stated up-front, the time for an ASF has come. But the format adopted is unlikely to work because of an over-reliance on a discredited UN model. Qadhafi Jr’s model and the examples provided by the EU and NATO stand a greater chance of success in the real world. Sadly, the situation in conflict zones such as Liberia more often resembles Lord of the Flies than the ideal world the UN and, now apparently, the AU, want to police.