President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) say the national army has reached a critical stage in its development - one faced with challenges beyond the country's borders but whose consequences could have enormous impact on Liberia, especially its peace and security.
"It is a stage of uncertainties, unfolding realities that we must be prepared to face on a daily basis," she disclosed, but noted that Liberia's economic reality, and the potential for growth expansion, creates a unique dimension that could positively impact the level of financial reinforcement needed to sustain the AFL as they continue to develop.
According to the Executive Mansion, President Sirleaf made the assertion during programs marking the 56th Armed Forces Day at the Barclay Training Center under the theme: "The Armed Forces of Liberia Is Ready, Willing and Capable."
The Liberian leader noted that although there are competing priorities for limited resources, it is Government's intention to stay the course in building the tactical and technical capabilities of the AFL as a potential source of economic growth.
She said that a National Defense Strategy will be released shortly, which will outline the strategic imperatives for the AFL. According to President Sirleaf, this Strategy document will consider basic principles of human security, an environment of openness, quality of growth, regional and international peace and security, and an Armed Forces that is subject and accountable to civilian authority. "Upon completion of our National Defense Strategy, work on the National Military Strategy is expected to commence shortly as the architectural design for the Military Table and Organizational and Equipment for the AFL," the Commander-in-Chief disclosed.
President Sirleaf also announced that in a year, the AFL will be fully operational and a Liberian will be named as Chief of Staff. She disclosed that, in the coming months, she will announce the appointment of a cadre of Officers, indicating her intention and preparedness for a Liberian leadership in the AFL. Already, the process of vetting, training and mentoring personnel is ongoing.
The Liberian leader used the occasion to thank the lead partner in restructuring the AFL, the United States of America, for their commitment through financial, technical and logistical resources.
She also thanked the People's Republic of China for their support to the AFL. The Chinese Government recently confirmed the shipment of an assortment of construction equipment, worth nearly US$4.5 million, for the AFL Engineering Company.
President Sirleaf further thanked Nigeria, Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers from other ECOWAS countries, Great Britain, Rwanda, Ghana and Sierra Leone for partnering with Liberia in providing mentorship and training opportunities for the AFL.
Delivering the Keynote Address earlier, Ambassador George W. Wallace, Jr., a career diplomat, lawyer and administrator, recommended that the troops' strength be increased from the current 2,000 to a minimum of 7,500 personnel. "An increased strength will face the increasing new wave of threat engendered by terrorism, trade in drugs and illicit substances, human and trade in small arms and light weapons and the activities of non-state actors," he noted.
He also recommended that Government considers creating a Navy and an Air Force to defend the country's long coastline and air space, respectively. "An Air Force will serve as a deterrent, while the Navy will protect our coastline against illegal encroachments on our territorial waters. The Navy will also effectively protect oil and gas facilities off the coast of Liberia," he warned.
A former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Wallace recommended that the Engineering Company be upgraded to participate and undertake civil works in support of the Agenda for Transformation; that the Agriculture Battalion be reactivated to engage in agricultural activities in order to guarantee food security for the nation; and that legislation for compulsory military training for able-bodied citizens, ages 16 to 45 years, for a one-year period in designated military camps, be enacted, among other recommendations.
During the ceremony, Ambassador Wallace, who is Advisor to the President on Foreign Affairs; Colonel Samuel Kofi Adorkor, Inspector General of the Armed Forces of Ghana; and Colonel Waidi Shaibu, Outgoing Military Assistant to the Command Officer-in-Charge were honored with Distinguished Service Order Awards.
Meanwhile, President Sirleaf has declared Tuesday, February 12, a National Holiday, in solidarity with the Government and people of Guinea after the plane bringing a military delegation to attend the 56th anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), crashed near Charlesville, Margibi County, killing all 11 occupants on board, including the Guinean Army Chief-of-Staff, General Soulaymane Kelefa Diallo.
During the Armed Forces Day ceremony, President Sirleaf lamented the gallant Guinean officers. She requested Guinean Ambassador Abdoulaye Dore, who was at the program, to convey to her brother and colleague, Guinean President Alpha Condé, Liberia's profound sadness for the loss.
The Liberian leader later visited the crash site along with the Guinean Ambassador Dore, who is also the Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps, and other high-ranking government officials and diplomats. The remains of the crash victims were expected to be taken to Conakry on Tuesday, February 12, escorted by Liberia's Minister of National Defense, Hon. Brownie Samukai, at the head of a 14-person high-level delegation.