18 February 2013

Liberia: 'AFL in Mali Reflects National Security Interests'

Defense Minister Brownie Samukai has strongly defended the logic behind Liberia sending troops to Mali, who he said is supported by Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and endorsed by both Houses of the national Legislature.

Addressing the regular press briefing of the Ministry of Information, Culture, Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) at the press Hall of the Information Ministry last Thursday, the defense minister reiterated that this is not the first time that Liberian troops have been embedded alongside their colleagues in the sub-region, citing as an example the Congo crisis in 1963.

"We were reciprocating the help that Mali rendered our country when Liberia was in civil crisis in 1990. Liberia's participation as part of the ECVOWAS peace keeping force is in Liberia's strategic military interests as Mali is only separated from Liberia by Guinea. The saying goes that when a neighbor's house in fire, it is good to help put it off," he said.

In an answer to a reporter's question later, Mr. Samukai explained that Liberia's troop contribution is not based on financial considerations, but in solidarity with the people of Mali who sent their sons and daughters to Liberia in the 1990s to help restore peace, adding that it is within that context that President Sirleaf decided on sending an infantry platoon sized AFL troops to Mali.

"When troops are deployed on a mission, their support cost is taken care of by the body that sent them, in this case the ECOWAS which is going to determine their feeding, and other needs such as vehicles and water which will stand at about US$1million for the Liberian unit. Nigeria, Guinea, Ivory Coast will send battalion while Sierra Leone will also contribute troops," he said.

Minister Samukai intimated to the press that Liberia is profoundly saddened over the death of eleven Guinean military officers that perished in a plane crash near the Roberts International Airport in the morning of the 56th Armed Forces Day, adding that under appropriate military honors the bodies of the deceased colleagues including the Chief of Staff of the Armed forces of Guinea have been escorted to Guinea.

Explaining the preparedness of the AFL in the event of the expected withdrawal of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the multi-national peace-keeping force that was deployed in the country in 2003 to restore peace and stability in war-ravaged Liberia, Defense minister Samukai expressed satisfaction over the AFL's robust capacity building efforts.

He said more training is going on to replace those that are leaving the army, adding that the Chinese government has provided over US$4.5 million to build the capacity of the AFL, with part of the amount donated as logistics and arms and ammunition, while the government has provided over a million U.S dollars to begin the rehabilitation of the John H. Tubman Todee military academy.

Brownie Samukai expressed profound gratitude to the government of the United States for living up to their pledge to play a lead partner role in rebuilding the AFL. "We grateful that AFL soldiers are beneficiaries of U.S scholarships for training in various academic and military disciplines in several US institutions," he said.

According to Defense Minister Samukai, it is an enduring relationship on the basis of the common understanding and interest to safeguard the security of our people. We have received the full support of the U.S government in AFRICOM, "28 scholarships ten of which are to upgrade the capacity of junior officers in various US universities. Some Liberians are training as pilots, and we are pleased to acknowledge the academic excellence of a female pilot Major Geraldine George," the Defense ministry boss noted.

He also mentioned the outstanding success of 'Operation Restore Hope', the code name for the deployment of troops in the En part of Liberia, which he said is now in its third deployment phase in conjunction with the Police and the Bureau of Immigration and naturalization (BIN). "We have no incident of casualty so far; and reports indicate good civilian-military relations around the border especially in the Gbeh River," he said.

"Many were doubtful of their performance in the South Eastern region. But they have demonstrated how ready they are to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this nation. They have made us proud and enabled us to defend our democracy," the Defense minister said.

The Defense Minister set the record straight over speculations that a Liberian female pilot and military officer undergoing training in the United States, Major Geraldine George is tipped to be the next AFL Chief of Staff. He thanked the current Nigerian AFL Chief of staff for a job well done and clarified that it is the prerogative of the Commander in Chief and the President to appoint the next Chief of Staff, adding that a Liberian Chief of Staff will be appointed in 2014.

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