SA key to building an effective ASF

The European Union’s special advisor for African peacekeeping says the South African military is ideally placed to help train the African Union’s Standby Force (ASF).
General Pierre-Michel Joana says the SA National Defence Force can play an important role in helping the AU become self-sufficient in crisis management on the continent.
Joana says the structures and procedures underlying the ASF are in place in all five African regions at AU level. What is required now is training, which he believes Africa can do well.
“SA is probably the best Army, the best equipped forces in all Africa. They also have very important human resource in terms of beneficiation and capability of command,” he said at a recent Amani Africa training event.     
The latest edition of the authoritative London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies says in the just released 2009 edition of its flagship Military Balance publication that “African nations, both individually and collectively, lack military capacity to deal with many difficult and substantial problems on the ground.
The think-tank adds that for this reason, the United Nations` “heaviest involvement in peacekeeping and related efforts, comprising 10 out of 20 operations worldwide, has been in sub-Saharan Africa [including Sudan].
“Since its inception in 2002 to replace the moribund and ineffective Organisation of African Unity, the AU has ambitiously sought to rally African governments to increase continental military capacity. Such an increase would allow the AU to complement, and ideally supplant UN resources stretched thin by major-power commitments elsewhere (mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan). However, its efforts have been largely frustrated.” 
The IISS adds that “sub-Saharan Africa remain a low strategic priority for major powers, on account of their political-military preoccupations with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and transnational Islamist terrorism elsewhere”.
The IISS says this is changing “for numerous and geographically dispersed reasons”. It notes the ongoing humanitarian turmoil in Sudan and Chad, instability in the Niger Delta – and the threat that poses to Western access to Nigerian oil and China`s growing interest in African resources. Also mentioned is instability in Somalia and piracy of its shores, al-Qaeda activity in the Maghreb, human trafficking and drug smuggling. Regarding the latter it notes that a quarter of cocaine consumed in Europe now transits through west Africa.    
Discussing the ASF, the IISS says the force was established under a 2003 protocol and is to be utilised “as a last resort, when diplomacy has failed, and is designed to execute peacekeeping missions with both military and civilian support”, as well as conduct post-conflict disarmament and demobilisation of combatants tasks ass well as humanitarian assistance.
“Conceived as a force with continent-wide area of responsibility, and deployment within two weeks, the ASF [is] made up of five regional brigades of roughly 6500 soldiers each. The force is also intended to have an intelligence department and an early warning system to monitor security trends and developments.”
“The AU`s aspiration is for the ASF to be operational by 2010, although this goal may not be realistic. …the burgeoning need for military assistance in sub-Saharan Africa – particularly in Darfur, Somalia and the DRC – is likely to remain inadequately addressed until the AU develops the necessary capacity.
“Experience thus far appears to indicate that the AU is able to muster little beyond manpower, and even this in inadequate quantities. It also cannot provide logistical and armoured support for troops it is able to deploy. This must be furnished by external powers, and in places like Darfur, it has been slow in coming.
“While the mobilisation of the ASF may be gradually gathering momentum, the recapitalisation of African military forces is necessary to remedy current deficiencies, and it is an inherently slow process. Indeed, it is accepted that major-power help, such as ongoing train-and-equip programmes offered by the US and European governments, is required for the ASF to become effective.”
The Military Balance records that the G8 economic forum pledged at its 2005 meeting to train 25 000 peacekeepers. The US has planned to train 75 000 by 2010. The EU has funded AU peace and security efforts to the tune of €250 million between 2005 and 2007. “However, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon noted in September 2008 that this international assistance had been provided “on an unharmonised and ad hoc basis.”  
The ASF, which at conception was only scheduled to be fully operational by next year is still awaiting its maiden deployment. In the meantime, the Economic Community of West African States held an inaugural west African brigade exercise in June 2008, codenamed Jigui. This involved the establishment of a 2770-strong task force using troops from Mali, Senegal and Nigeria. Also participating were elements from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the east African brigade, the United Nations` Standby High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG) based in Denmark, as well as nongovernmental organisations and the media.          
The SADC will be holding its own brigade exercise in September.