Washington — The United States is committed to helping African countries develop effective peacekeeping capability.
"We strongly believe that the only way to achieve sustainable, long-term stability on the continent is to provide our African partners with the tools needed to bring about that stability themselves," Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said in congressional testimony.
Speaking to the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa September 13, Carson said that if the United States falters in its commitment to developing peacekeeping capacity in Africa, the burden will fall on the international community, "whether through the deployment of more U.N. 'blue-helmet' operations, or even direct military intervention."
The assistant secretary said the centerpiece of the U.S. effort is the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program, which involves 16 countries and has trained more than 229,000 peacekeepers since 2005.
"More importantly, ACOTA conducts a 'train-the-trainer' program, building a cadre of host-nation trainers/instructors who are taking a leading role in conducting pre-deployment training for their own contingents," Carson said.
Carson said the U.S. military's Africa Command is making a significant contribution through its military-to-military channels, by providing military mentors and trainers for ACOTA events and by conducting specialized logistics training activities through programs such as the Africa Deployment Assistance Partnership Team.
Through ACOTA, the U.S. government has contributed more than $355 million to support the African Union mission in Somalia, which has played a decisive role in driving the al-Shabaab terrorist group out of the capital, Mogadishu, and surrounding towns in the past year.
"The AU mission in Somalia now is in the process of deploying to additional regions in southwestern Somalia, and the recent incorporation of Kenyan forces into the mission has further extended the mission's reach," Carson said.
The ACOTA operation for Somalia covers topics such as protection of civilians, human rights, countering improvised explosive devices, maritime security and mechanized infantry operations, Carson said.
The U.S. Defense Department contributes specialized counterterrorism training and equipment, including combat engineering, unmanned aerial vehicles and secure communications, he added.
In nearby Djibouti, ACOTA offers staff officer training for member states that make up the East African Standby Brigade, one of the regional peacekeeping units organized by the African Union.
"The military units of the African member states that receive U.S. training and equipment participate in ongoing operations. These units have the greatest positive impact on African peacekeeping," Carson said.