The first batch of 48-man Infantry Platoon of the Armed Forces of Liberia or AFL finally left the country Thursday for a peacekeeping mission in Mali. The servicemen were selected to represent the country in its first post war peacekeeping mission as part of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA).
In bidding the soldiers farewell Thursday, President Sirleaf described them as "the pride of our nation." "We feel a deep sense of pride, as we gaze upon your young faces, eager to get going and to get the job done," she said.
"We honor you for your invaluable service to our country," President Sirleaf said, adding, "This is a proud day for all of us, as Liberians, and, truly, you are the pride of our nation!" Added president Silreaf.
The Commander-in-Chief spoke shortly before the 48-man Infantry Platoon departed the Roberts International Airport (RIA) to begin a peacekeeping mission to Mali; the first time in 52 years.
Liberia, in 1961, provided troops to the United Nations Congo Operation, a UN peacekeeping force established under UN Security Council Resolution 143 of July 14, 1960, to respond to the Congo crisis. For that mission, Liberia sent forces on two occasions, and everyone returned home safely.
President Sirleaf said that for over a decade Liberia has been the beneficiary of support from its sub-regional neighbors and international partners, who came to the country to help restore peace and reconstruct a shattered nation. As such, she said, "It's time for Liberia to give back, in whatever small way that we can," and that the AFL Infantry Platoon is "the chosen one" to represent the country as Liberia contributes to ensuring the restoration of peace and return to democratic rule in Mali.
She thanked the AFL for their discipline, dedication to duty, and patriotism. "We are proud of your service to country and proud of your sacrifice," she said, admonishing them to discharge their duties with valor unpretending as they deploy to Mali.
The Liberian leader expressed indebtedness to individuals, organizations and bilateral partners that have made possible the dispatch of the AFL Infantry Platoon to Mali. "To all of them we express our profound gratitude and thanks," the President said.
She expressed special thanks to ECOWAS for establishing AFISMA, to restore democratic rule in Mali and to protect its territorial integrity; she also thanked the African Union, for its steadfast support of the regional position on Mali; and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, under whose military command the Liberian contingent will be embedded.
President Sirleaf most profoundly thanked the United States of America for the role of AFRICOM, under "Operation Onward Liberty," which has been pivotal in restructuring the AFL.
"This is a historic moment, not only for Liberia, but also for the United States as a shared commitment to building Liberia's security sector that has reached the point that our nation is not only stable within our borders, but willing and able to contribute to the shared security interests of our region," the AFL Commander-in-Chief noted.
The Liberian leader recognized and thanked other partners who helped in shaping the AFL into a professional outfit through rigorous training, mentoring and other strategic contributions, thereby giving the country a professionally trained Army capable of taking part in a peacekeeping mission. She named the People's Republic of China, the United Kingdom, Rwanda, Ghana, Sierra Leone, among others.
She also thanked the United Nations, who beginning July 1, will replace AFISMA with a peacekeeping force to be known as the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA).
She also thanked the UN, represented at the program by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, for the enormous contribution of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in maintaining the peace and security of the country, while concurrently helping with the skilled advancement of the military.
Following her statement, the Commander-in-Chief made a Special Presentation to the troops, through Platoon Commander, First Lieutenant Nathaniel Waka - a flag of Liberia to which was added, in the three remaining corners, the emblems of the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS.
The President later shook hands with each of the 48 soldiers, offered them words of encouragement and wished them well as they embarked to their mission to Mali.
Under the guidance of ECOWAS and other advisors and mentors, the soldiers underwent intensive pre-deployment training at the Armed Forces Training Command (AFTC) at Camp Sande Ware, in Careysburg, beginning in early February, and over the next four months were adequately trained in four phases presumed peculiar to the military situation in Mali.
The phases included studies in International Humanitarian Law, Geo-politics of Mali, Introduction to Patrol, Individual Soldier Tasks, Map Reading and First Aid, AK-47 Marksmanship, Ethics, Human Rights, Enemy Prisoner of War, Sight Expectation, Introduction to Peacekeeping, Peacekeeping Code of Conduct, Military Communication, RPG Weapons, among others.
Providing the background of the Mission, Major Prince C. Johnson informed the Commander-in-Chief that, based on the assessment of the United States Marine Forces-AFRICOM on the Platoon's combat readiness for deployment, the report certified that "the Platoon is proficient, fit and capable to be deployed."