THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) has deferred the deployment of a 1 200-strong standby force to Lesotho by up to two weeks, amid indications the bloc intends to reduce its size.
Security chiefs from the SADC region are once again deliberating on the standby force's size in Gaborone, Botswana in a two-day meeting that began yesterday. The meeting is also expected to come up with a new date for the much-anticipated deployment which had been initially scheduled for yesterday.
SADC had initially agreed to the deployment of 1 200-strong regional standby force comprising of 1 099 troops, 30 civilians, 34 police officers, one pathologist, four scuba divers and a police mobile unit.
The force's mandate is to assist the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in managing the security crisis in the country in the aftermath of the 5 September 2017 assassination of commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
The standby force is also expected to help in the implementation of security sector reforms recommended by the regional body. The government of Namibia was the first to commit to contributing 250 soldiers as part of the standby force last month.
However, the region's security chiefs had argued that the agreed number of troops were too much and recommended a third security assessment mission to Lesotho.
Maseru refused to allow the third mission to come to the country -- whose visit had been scheduled for 18 October. Lesotho's Foreign Affairs Minister, Lesego Makgothi, visited his Angolan counterpart, Manuel Augusto in Luanda and SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Tax in Botswana to remonstrate over the defence chiefs' recommendation.
The Lesotho government had argued that the defence chiefs could not overturn a decision made a 15 September 2017 Double Troika Summit held in Pretoria, South Africa.
However, well-placed sources at the SADC headquarters told the Lesotho Times that the defence chiefs' concerns on the size of the force were holding sway despite Maseru's protestations.
The sources said the defence chiefs could have been influenced by some officials in Lesotho's security sector who were of the view that there was no need for a contingent force.
"Those sentiments by some of the securocrats could have swayed the Defence Sub Committee into sending another assessment team," the sources said.
The reported cost of US$$6.7 million (about M95.3 million) for the mission, which would be borne by the region, was another consideration during the talks, they said.
The sources said it would likely take up to two weeks before the diminished regional force arrived in Lesotho.
"It is likely that they will amend the numbers because the general feeling was that 1 200 is too large a number for a standby force for Lesotho," the sources said.
Defence and National Security Minister, Sentje Lebona, yesterday confirmed that the regional standby force would no longer arrive in Lesotho yesterday as expected.
Mr Lebona said that the defence chiefs' meeting in Botswana would decide on a new date.
"The 1 November 2017 date was initially set at the Double Troika meeting (on 15 September 2017) but things have since changed now due to logistics and other important issues," Mr Lebona said.
"As we speak, SADC defence chiefs, intelligence personnel and the police convened a two-day meeting ending today to deliberate on the new date."
Mr Lebona said the standby force's deployment would be guided by the outcomes of the Botswana meeting.
For his part, Defence and National Security Principal Secretary Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae said the standby force's deployment was work in progress that needed to be handled with caution.
"Where it concerns military deployment into another country, there are a lot of security logistics that must be followed and soldiers from other countries don't just cross the border, there is a whole lot of a process including the issuing of licences for their ammunition," Rtd Col Mothae said.