MONROVIA, Liberia – U.S. Africa Command senior enlisted advisor, Chief Master Sgt. Ramon “CZ” Colon-Lopez, met with the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia during a visit to the U.S. Embassy there, April 2, 2018.
The engagement was a part of a 3-day-visit to Liberia to meet with Liberia’s military leadership in order to foster partnership between AFRICOM and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), following the close of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), after nearly 15 years in operation.
“With the recent departure of the UN mission in Liberia, we want to reassure our Liberian partners of our commitment and that we will help and advise in any way possible to continue their growth and development as an effective force,” said Colon-Lopez.
Following the Second Liberian Civil War, which lasted from 1999-2003, UNMIL had disarmed over 100,000 militant fighters in Liberia upon the approval of the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the war. The agreement called for better screening processes for future recruits for the AFL and called for the force to be absent of political bias.
The visit began with Colon-Lopez meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Christine Elder,
“My engagement with the ambassador was to ensure transparency between the diplomatic and defense sectors. Our tasks must match her plans and priorities, which are developed in close coordination with the key decision makers of the country,” Colon-Lopez said. “As the defense entity, we are in concert with the diplomacy and development pieces of the United States’ '3-D' approach in Liberia.”
With assistance from the U.S., Liberia has been working to rebuild since the war, which experienced conflicts since the First Liberian Civil War in 1989. This effort follows Liberia’s National Security Strategy 2008, which gives the AFL the mission of defending Liberian borders and assist in response to crises.
“We don’t need a peacekeeping operation to keep stability in their country,” Elder said, “but it’s all on the programs of the security forces and they are ready for that, with continued guidance and assistance.”
During the visit, Elder, Colon-Lopez, and Lt. Col. Marc Saphir, U.S. Senior Defense Official/Defense Attaché, led a panel discussion, which included talks about enhancing Liberian military capacity through noncommissioned officer development, state partnership programs and defense priorities.
“The Armed Forces of Liberia are one of our partners in Africa that has progressed very well,” said Colon-Lopez. “They (AFL) have the support of the government, their senior noncommissioned officers have the support of the senior officers, and the NCOs are included in the decision making process.”
It’s important that the AFL is obedient to the rule of law, that its willing and able to protect their citizens and their borders, and that their service members are willing to answer the call when their nations calls upon them, according to Colon-Lopez.
Demonstrating the AFL’s progress, in 2013, Liberia sent more than 70 troops as a part of a 13,000-strong force participating in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali “to support the transitional authorities of Mali in the stabilization of the country and implementation of the transitional roadmap,” according to the U.N. website.
In 2017, the AFL suffered its first causalities in the peacekeeping effort known as MINUSMA, with one KIA and five WIA. Despite these losses, the AFL increased its commitment and now has 110 personnel serving in MINUSMA.
“We will continue to support programs that enable Liberia to grow and the AFL to develop professionally,” said Elder. “Liberia’s democracy, while strengthened, is still evolving, but the progress that the AFL has made since the end of hostilities in 2003, such as being on the front lines of peacekeeping, is something that shows remarkable progress.” said Elder.