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AFRICOM Updated on Military Assistance Progress in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone&#39;s minister of defense thanked U.S. Africa Command for its continued support to this West African nation&#39;s efforts to reform its military. <br /> <br />"We face challenges as a nation just coming out of war," Minister Alfred
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - Sierra Leone's Minister of Defense Alfred Conteh (right) explains his vision for the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces to a U.S. Africa Command delegation led by Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes (left), AFRICOM's deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, October 29, 2010. The AFRICOM team spent two days in Sierra Leone to see the progress of assistance activities AFRICOM provides and to look for potential opportunities for more.  Holmes was accompanied by James Hart, AFRICOM's deputy director for programs, directorate of Strategy, Plans and Programs. (U.S. Africa Command photo by Kenneth Fidler)
1 photo: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 1 of 1: FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - Sierra Leone's Minister of Defense Alfred Conteh (right) explains his vision for the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces to a U.S. Africa Command delegation led by Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes (left), AFRICOM's deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, October 29, 2010. The AFRICOM team spent two days in Sierra Leone to see the progress of assistance activities AFRICOM provides and to look for potential opportunities for more. Holmes was accompanied by James Hart, AFRICOM's deputy director for programs, directorate of Strategy, Plans and Programs. (U.S. Africa Command photo by Kenneth Fidler) Download full-resolution version
Sierra Leone's minister of defense thanked U.S. Africa Command for its continued support to this West African nation's efforts to reform its military.

"We face challenges as a nation just coming out of war," Minister Alfred Conteh said October 28, 2010, during consultations with a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) delegation. "The support we are receiving from the United States and the United Kingdom and other European countries … we are hopeful that we are on the right track."

The meeting with Conteh was part of a two-day visit to Sierra Leone -- a country whose economy was nearly destroyed during an 11-year civil war that ended in 2002 -- to see the progress of assistance activities AFRICOM provides and to look for potential opportunities for more. Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, led the visit, along with James Hart, deputy director for programs.

The visit included discussions with Chief of Defense Staff Major General Robert Koroma and his senior officers, the U.S. Embassy Country Team, UN Secretary General Special Representative Michael von der Schulenberg, and the British-led International Military Assistance Training Team (IMATT).

They also visited the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) Maritime Wing, Sierra Leone's Trans-National Organized Crime Unit, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Logistic Training Depot center of excellence.

AFRICOM has provided military assistance to Sierra Leone since 2009, primarily focused on supporting counternarcotics activities and developing the Maritime Wing, which has about 300 officers and sailors. U.S. military mobile training teams have traveled to Sierra Leone to conduct courses in basic maritime skills, ship maintenance, leadership, resource management, international legal studies, and civil-military relations.

Sierra Leone participates in maritime law enforcement operations through the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership, or AMLEP. Under this AFRICOM program, a Sierra Leonean boarding team operates with a U.S. Coast Guard team onboard a Coast Guard or Navy vessel patrolling in the nation's territorial waters. Under this program in 2009, Sierra Leonean teams seized five vessels for violating national fishing laws.

Separately, the Maritime Wing has arrested more than 50 illegally operating vessels since 2009, and has saved more than 1,200 people through search and rescue operations, said Lieutenant Commander P.J. Juana, the Maritime Wing's operations, training and plans officer.

"The progress of the Maritime Wing is well known," Holmes said during a tour of the Maritime Wing's facilities. "We salute you, we congratulate you for this progress, and we urge you to redouble your efforts and continue to expand, to use the training you've received to develop your own plans for the future."

He emphasized AFRICOM's aim is to support its partners with meeting their goals. He reaffirmed the command's support to complement work being done by IMATT, the United Nations, and other donors.

"We are determined to continue to support you in this way," Holmes added. "We need you to tell us what your priorities are, to explain your vision to us. This is not about our agenda and our priorities; it's about your agenda and your priorities."

Sierra Leone's recent history has parallels to that of its neighbor, Liberia. Civil war from 1991-2002 left the nation devastated. The UN established a mission in 1999. At the end of the war, the UN disarmed and demobilized more than 70,000 ex-rebels, including child soldiers. The UN mission drew down from a peacekeeping focus and transitioned to a peacebuilding mandate, now called the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone.

In 2000, the British military had an intervention force in Sierra Leone, and it transitioned into an advisory capacity at the end of the war. IMATT has been the main effort to assist Sierra Leone military reform since 2002, mentoring and advising the MOD and RSLAF on building its institution in such areas as policy and doctrine, organization, resource management, logistics, budgeting, and personnel matters, along with participating in field maneuvers. It's more than 40 mostly British military advisors includes about a dozen from Canada, the U.S., Jamaica and Nigeria.

UN and IMATT officials consider the progress made in Sierra Leone to be successful. The RSLAF, a force of 8,500, is now participating in African-led peacekeeping operations.

Sierra Leone has contributed two companies, about 150 soldiers each, to peacekeeping missions in Darfur this year, and a third is undergoing training, RSLAF commanders told Holmes. Peacekeeper training programs conducted by IMATT and the U.S. State Department-led ACOTA (Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance) helped prepare the RSLAF companies for deployment, along with providing deployment equipment.

Conteh said his nation is "proud" because of the way it has brought itself out of civil war. "If you take our recent history only 8 to 10 years ago, Sierra Leone was almost becoming a Somalia, a failed state. We have been able to have peace and stability, to … conduct peace support operations, and helping others who are in trouble," Conteh said.

Holmes told Conteh Sierra Leone's support to peacekeeping has earned the country a positive reputation and there has been "considerable notice made to the first-rate performance of your company in Darfur."

"This is a partnership we are pleased to be in," Holmes said.
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