U.S. Special Forces Train African Peacekeepers
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 1997 Civil war produces devastation and refugees. Drought produces famine and disease. When crises arise, grief-stricken faces appear on television news broadcasts, pleading for help.
U.S. special forces are now training African military forces to respond within 30 days when such regional humanitarian disasters strike. The goal of the African Crisis Response Initiative is to create effective, rapidly deployable units that can operate together in a humanitarian or peacekeeping operation, Ambassador Marshall F. McCallie said at a Pentagon press briefing, July 29.
McCallie is the State Department's special coordinator for the initiative. He stressed the program is a training initiative. "We are not trying to create an army in Africa," he said. To ensure no nation feels threatened, participating countries are encouraged to invite neighboring nations to observe the training.
The program began in Senegal and Uganda in late July with the arrival of about 120 U.S. troops of the 3rd Special Forces Group and XVIII Airborne Corps, both of Fort Bragg, N.C.; U.S. Army Europe; and U.S. Special Operations Command. The American teams started 60-day training programs Aug. 1 for about 750 host nation soldiers in each country. Later this year, U.S. teams are scheduled to train similar forces in Malawi, Ethiopia and Mali.
The U.S. training teams use peacekeeping doctrine based on international standards, according to Col. David E. McCracken, commander, 3rd Special Forces Group. Training each battalion will cost the United States about $3 million, including $1 million in mainly nonlethal U.S. equipment, primarily communications gear such as hand-held radios, he said. The United States is also providing mine detectors, ammunition for training exercises and water purification equipment.
U.S. officials conducted a pilot program to assess host nation troops' operational needs. In most of the countries, soldiers did not have individual support gear, McCracken said.
"They had uniforms. Their weapons were in pretty doggone good shape -- good soldier discipline, good maintenance, but they don't have canteens [or backpacks] because they operate inside their borders, and private citizens carry [food and] water to them," he said.
The plan calls for the peacekeeping battalions to be able to deploy and patrol, so the United States is providing each soldier with an extra uniform, complete with boots and headgear, as well as basic load-bearing equipment, including a canteen and a backpack, McCracken said.
Eye exams are the first step in the training process, McCracken said. In one instance, about 70 of 300 soldiers tested needed glasses. Glasses will be provided as part of the security systems package, he said. Being able to see well will help build soldiers' confidence during training and will contribute to unit discipline, McCracken said.
Along with teaching basic soldier skills, U.S. trainers are emphasizing force protection, human rights, care of refugees, and dealing with humanitarian organizations and civilian governments. A final exercise involves setting up a civil-military operations center that incorporates international organizations, nongovernmental and private volunteer groups, and the media.
McCracken said the program will prepare the battalions adequately for deployment -- U.S. forces preparing for Bosnia, for example, spent up to six weeks training in similar tasks, conditions and standards. "We really think that 60-day time frame is very effective, because these units are already existing organizations," he said.
U.S. officials are working with the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations as well as individual African nations, the State Department's McCallie said. They are also working closely with Great Britain and France to create a common peacekeeping training initiative, leading to opportunities for joint training and joint exercises, he said.
"We also recognize that many other countries can contribute constructively to this effort, so we are inviting a much broader level of participation," McCallie said. "We are asking other countries to join us in this initiative, both in Africa and outside of Africa." Each country that receives training retains the right to decide whether to respond to a regional call or a call from the Organization of African Unity or United Nations, he added.