A Military of Infancy: Does Liberia Really Have An Army?
By Martin K. N. Kollie
Honoring Major General Suraj Alao Abdurrahman
History has taught us never to forget about our fallen heroes and heroines whose compassionate contribution to mankind is incredibly distinct. Whenever we fail to pay courtesy to deserving statesmen and outstanding global actors who are worthy of public admiration, we pierce our own consciences with sharp instruments of ingratitude and immodesty. We become no different from a vicious ingrate whose mentality is driven by pretense and pomposity. This is when we practically define who a coward is. In this frame of obscurity, our action proves worthless as a result of our madcap opinion and premature perception. Our minds only become revived and redeemed when we recollect our memories to salute great history-makers and pacesetters whose illuminating shadows and indelible imprints are inherent within every sphere of human existence.
With this daring courage which subdues public ingratitude and guilt, I cannot widen my thoughts on this subject without reverently acknowledging a self-sacrificing character whose name shall remain a glowing image in Liberia’s post-conflict Military history. Certainly, his duty to service yesterday was without price and his legacy today is a conspicuous demonstration of his loyalty and commitment to a country he was never a citizen off. The recent death news of Major General Suraj Alao Abdurrahman came as a big shock to our nation. As all of us including his family and AFL personnel mourn is demise, I am pondering over this question “How could our post-war military hero bid us farewell so soon especially when we are about to honor gallant men and women of our armed forces on this unique day?”
Nothing seems more important to me during this Armed Forces Day celebration other than remembering Major General Suraj Alao Abdurrahman who led our AFL from June 2007 to February 11, 2014. I am quite aware his tenure was very challenging, but he did not one day contradict his ethics of professionalism. It was not an easy journey building a new defense force after 15 years of civil turmoil. His task to command a juvenile military was huge, but nothing could easily twist his resilience and twirl his tenacity. Surely, this extraordinary son of Africa specifically Nigeria will always remain an illustrious symbol of African Solidarity as our nation consolidates its resources to rebuild a strong system of defense. Fallen General Suraj was a continental champion without border. His determination to increase Liberia post-war military strength was unwavering. Join me now as I pulse with deep regret to extend my utmost sympathy to Nigeria for this irreplaceable loss.
Looking at ‘Army’ from a realistic context
It makes me upset when State actors begin to ignorantly brag about our current military status even though we have not reached the level of having a Brigade, Division, or Corp. They pretend to forget that Liberia is still far from having an Army. The current category of our military is between Battalion and Brigade. Our country is three steps away from achieving an army status. Before any nation can boast about having an army, it military composition must be 50,000 plus soldiers along with modern equipments/technology which is in compliance with universal standards of militarization. As a means of justifying my view, these are lucid definitions about different units or segments under a chain of any military arrangement or organizational structure.
Squad - 9 to 10 soldiers. Typically commanded by a sergeant or staff sergeant, a squad or section is the smallest element in the Army structure, and its size is dependent on its function.
Platoon - 16 to 44 soldiers. A platoon is led by a lieutenant with an NCO as second in command, and consists of two to four squads or sections.
Company - 62 to 190 soldiers. Three to five platoons form a company, which is commanded by a captain with a first sergeant as the commander's principle NCO assistant. An artillery unit of equivalent size is called a battery, and a comparable armored or air cavalry unit is called a troop.
Battalion - 300 to 1,000 soldiers. Four to six companies make up a battalion, which is normally commanded by a lieutenant colonel with a command sergeant major as principle NCO assistant. A battalion is capable of independent operations of limited duration and scope. An armored or air cavalry unit of equivalent size is called a squadron.
Brigade - 3,000 to 5,000 solders. A brigade headquarter commands the tactical operation of two to five organic or attached combat battalions. Normally commanded by a colonel with a command sergeant major as senior NCO, brigades are employed on independent or semi-independent operations. Armored cavalry, ranger and Special Forces units of this size are categorized as regiments or groups.
Division - 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Usually consisting of three brigade-sized elements and commanded by a major general, divisions are numbered and assigned missions based on their structures. The division performs major tactical operations for the corps and can conduct sustained battles and engagements.
Corps - 20,000 to 45,000 soldiers. Two to five divisions constitute a corps, which is typically commanded by a lieutenant general. As the deployable level of command required to synchronize and sustain combat operations, the corps provides the framework for multi-national operations.
Army - 50,000 plus soldiers. Typically commanded by a lieutenant general or higher, an army combines two or more corps. The commander in chief may order formation of a field army to direct operations of assigned corps and divisions.
Considering these contemporary descriptions of various groups within any modern military hierarchy, anyone can easily agree with me that Liberia does not have an ARMY. Disappointingly, our country military sector lacks adequate funding, training, logistics/equipments, and technology. The strength of our Navy is very weak to an extent our country does not even have a gun-boat. Up-to-date, Liberia does not even have an Air Force. A military without an Air Force is incomplete.
Even though our military is 107 years old, but it is the least defense force in West Africa in terms of quantity and quality. It is unthinkable to know that our new AFL does not even have a single helicopter or jumbo jet to carryout air operations. This tells anyone how feeble our defense system is. The need for a rigorous security sector reform is critical to national development and growth. Sometimes, I wonder how many of our soldiers are well-knowledgeable about map reading, military technology, intelligence, covert tactics, artillery strategy and other technical disciplines. I thought we should spend more time and resources in order to advance our new AFL, since its current numerical strength is infinitesimal (less than 2,500 men).
From LFF to AFL
The cornerstone of what is today known as the Armed Forces of Liberia was laid in 1908 when our territorial integrity was under frequent attacks as a result of porous borders and foreign encroachment of our land. The recruitment and inauguration of the first 500-strong men on February 06, 1908 into the Liberian Frontier Force was a milestone in our history. A sturdy caveat was sent to Great Britain and France to dislodge their territorial ambitions.
After 48 years of existence, the Liberian Frontier Force (LFF) metamorphosized into the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) under the Amended National Defense Law of 1956. The New National Defense Act of 2008 was approved on August 21, 2008. It repeals the National Defense Act of 1956, the Coast Guard Act of 1959, and the Liberian Navy Act of 1986. Our National Defense Force is far from achieving its full strength due to insufficient support.
Spotlighting the New AFL
The security of Liberia seems not to be a priority to this regime simply because UNMIL soldiers are still present in huge quantity. The quantity of UNMIL military personnel surpasses our current AFL. This exposes our government’s weakness in defending its citizenry especially against external aggression and potential insecurity. The most recent population statistics of Liberia is more than 4 million. The total population of Liberia is 2,000 times higher than its military composition. This means one AFL soldier is under statutory mandate to provide security for 2,000 citizens at a time. The gap is too wide and this could lead to continuous military fatigue and failure.
The challenge we have as a nation to build a qualitative and quantitative security sector is too huge and we must begin to mitigate them now in order to protect our democratic sovereignty and domestic civility, and liberty. It is time for our leaders to invest more in security, because societal stability depends on security. The United States of America is great today because of its military might. It is unarguably evident that insecurity leads to instability and anarchy. The office of President Sirleaf cannot be using over US$40 million in 12 months while AFL has an annual budget of US$12.9 million (0.74% of GDP). This is a serious contradict on the part of our Commander-In-Chief (President Sirleaf) even though she has made big public commitments to prioritize national security. AFL soldiers are among the least paid military personnel in Africa and the World.
Liberians can only become proud of a vibrant ARMY tomorrow if State actors implement timely and unique policy measures to upgrade our current AFL. The load we have to carry as a nation is burdensome and it takes collectivism and commitment to regain our real rank in Africa. We cannot boast of being Africa’s first Independent Nation when we have the least military force. We cannot claim to have ushered countries like Guinea, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Gabon, and Cape Verde into a self-governing status when we are crawling behind these countries in almost every aspect of development. This is an irony!
The Bad Side of Liberia’s Post-conflict AFL
According to the New National Defense Act of 2008 Section 2.3(a): The primary mission of the AFL shall be to defend the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Liberia, including land, air and maritime territory, against external aggressions, insurgency, terrorism and encroachment. In addition thereto the AFL shall respond to natural disasters and engage in other civic works as may be required or directed. Have men and women in arms been abiding by sections 2.3 and 2.5 of our New National Defense Act?
As Liberians celebrate another Armed Forces Day, it is crucial to recount some of those unethical behaviors of our new defense force which contravene democratic values. Some AFL soldiers have been orchestrating acts of torture, intimidation, harassment, extortion, abuse, and other inhumane treatments since 2010. This is a brief profile of allegations against military personnel in Liberia according to USA State Department Report:
1. In April 2010, three AFL soldiers were accused of killing two civilians.
2. On July 5, 2011 Harris Williams, an Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldier, allegedly killed Henry Freeman, a Liberia National Police (LNP) officer during a personal dispute.
3 In July 2011, five AFL soldiers were relieved of their positions in Gbarnga for misconduct following allegations of assault against local residents.
4. In 2012, an AFL disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military security forces. Criminal cases were transferred to the LNP and MOJ for prosecution due to the lack of a military justice system.
5. he military clampdown on West Point during the Ebola crisis in 2014 further exposed our new AFL’s inability to properly manage tension by complying with modern-day security ethics. The death of a teenager, Shaki Kamara, beating of armless civilians, and severe wounding of two young citizens by AFL personnel were acts of cruelty and unprofessionalism. I hope Shaki and others will have Justice in this matter!
In December 2014, 30 soldiers of the AFL were dismissed for ‘abandoning’ their respective duty-station at the Edward Binyan Kesselly Barracks on the Roberts International Airport Highway. The continuous dismissal of military men is disturbing and this could put the security of the State at risk. We cannot continue to dismiss security officers without according them due process especially through a system of military justice (UCMJ).
However, Liberia cannot build a ‘force for good’ when indiscipline is gradually creeping into our military. The misconduct of some soldiers is not surprising to me because intensive vetting and evaluation was not done during recruitment exercises. Today, our evolving AFL is not free from ex-combatants and renegades who were notably infamous for committing heinous atrocities and human rights abuses.
Furthermore, some of these misbehaviors have been emanating from personal dissatisfactions and insufficient support from central government. From reliable sources, few of our barracks are experiencing reduction in manpower due to poor working relationship between Minister Brownie Samukai and the Soldiers. Lack of adequate funding, disposable income, incentive, and other support to men and women in arms is a major challenge to Liberia’s security sector as abandonment of post takes precedence.
Comparing AFL with Foreign Military Forces
I am yet to find a military force in West Africa to compare our new AFL to because this will further expose how weak our defense system is, judging from prevailing conditions. The Military of neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast is advanced than ours both in quantity and quality. The military of these three countries have more men, budgetary allocations, and modern equipments than Liberia. They have a stronger navy and air force to defend their territorial security and national interest. For example, Ivory Coast has a military budget of over US$541 million which is almost totaling Liberia’s annual budget.
The United States, Russia, China, India, United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea, Italy, and Brazil have great armies today because of their willingness to invest more resources in security. No nation can remain or become powerful without advancing its security interest. The United States is great today because it has a defense budget of over US$689,591,000,000 with 1,477,896 active military personnel, 15,293 aircrafts, and 153,600,000 Labor Force.
Egypt, Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Angola, and Libya are proud to become Africa’s military superpowers in this 21st century because they have gone beyond understanding what it means to protect their territories from internal instability and external insecurity. In spite of its internal struggles, Egypt ranks number 13 in the World and number 1 in Africa in terms of military might. This North African Country has a defense budget of over US$4,400,000,000 with 468,500 active military personnel, 1,100 aircrafts, 4767 war tanks, and 27,000,000 labor force.
I wish Liberia could become one of West Africa’s military superpowers in the not too distance future. This target is only achievable if those who are currently leading our country provide adequate support to men and women in arms. I challenge this sitting regime to considerably increase our military budget this coming fiscal year and lobby with foreign countries for logistical assistance and defense aids. I hope by 2017, Liberians will be able to point to an aircraft, gun-boat, war tank, helicopter, plane, and other modern military equipments. The need to build a strong Navy and Air Force is very vital to sustaining national security and consolidating genuine peace.
Saluting Former and Fallen AFL Personnel
Before this present government could embark on this journey of reforming the AFL since 2006, there were men and women of great valor who stood the test of time to ensure national security and territorial integrity. Their firm dedication to service has brought Liberia this far and we must not ignore those meaningful sacrifices they made to safeguard our State from dangers and disorders. We remain ever grateful to all of them who actively served our military with honesty and bravery from 1908 to 2003.
The footprints of those former and fallen patriots portray an excellent emblem of loyalty and devotion to nation building. As we proceed towards developing an energetic military force, I hope our new soldiers will begin to emulate the good examples of those veterans. There is delight in saluting statesmen whose commitment to protecting public interest yesteryear is replete and I reserve no regret to flower ex-AFL soldiers with endless gratitude.
They have played their part and we must do ours now in order to sustain what was started long before our arrival. Some of them are living with us today struggling to survive even though they spent their life and time serving a country that careless about them now. Others are dead, but their widows and children ramble in shackles everyday to overcome diversity of adversities. I thought this government should be providing decent retirement packages and benefits for widows and widowers of ex-Soldiers. Sadly, AFL widows are compelled to naked themselves and agitate in demand of their husbands’ just benefits. The government of President Sirleaf needs to do more in finding a long-lasting remedy to this dilemma.
Appreciation to America
The contribution of the United States of America to Liberia is worth commending. The collaboration between these two countries has come a long way and any attempt to sequentially narrate the benevolent assistance of America to Liberia will only render the pages of this article infinite. The good gesture of our longstanding partner (USA) is countless and priceless. I want to extend my earnest appreciation to all taxpaying citizens of America for supporting us during this epoch of restructuring a vibrant military force.
Since Liberia began transforming its Military, the US government has made a commitment of US$95 million to train over 2,000 soldiers. This donation which comes from the combination of International Disaster and Famine Assistance, Regional Peacekeeping, and Foreign Military Assistance funds has upgraded the new AFL. We also appreciate DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE) for coordinating with US military personnel to help transform our defense sector.
We are grateful to the UN and other generous nations as well for their never-ending support to Liberia’s Security Sector Reform (SSR) agenda. The security needs of our country are too enormous and we cannot reach to the point of protecting ourselves without genuine global corporation and mutual alliance. We have recognized that less than 2500 military men are too small to ensure external and internal security. This figure does not commensurate with our current population. As UNMIL drawdown proceeds, we are pleading with the International Community to provide more assistance to our evolving AFL.
Happy Armed Forces Day
As it stands, Liberia does not have an army as a result of its tiny manpower, lack of military logistics, modern equipments, and technology, limited funding and labor force. It is a shame for our country to not even have an Air Force. I maintain that the current standing of Liberia’s military is between Battalion and Brigade. We are yet too far from achieving an army-status, but it is not impossible to get there as a nation. Our military can only graduate from a stage of infancy to maturity if the mindset of pubic trustees is driven by irreversible principles of transparency, accountability, patriotism, integrity, and selflessness.
As our AFL clocks 58 years today, I humbly extend my sincere greetings and best wishes to the government and peace loving people of Liberia, men and women in arms, military civilians, ex-AFL soldiers, widows and widowers of fallen soldiers, family members, and friends. The surety of everlasting peace, inclusive development, and national integration cannot become a reality of this century in Liberia if security is not prioritized.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth activist, student leader, an emerging economist, and a young writer. He is currently a student at the University of Liberiareading Economics and a member of the Student Unification Party (SUP). His passion is to ensure a new Liberia of socio-economic equality and justice for all. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org