Finally — Africa’s Rapid Response Force Begins Training
The African Union’s long discussed and delayed rapid-response force is slowly taking shape. The African Standby Force, which the A.U. wants to deploy around the continent, began training in South Africa on Oct. 20.
Previous African Union operations have often stalled in their planning phases as officials struggled to get troops from member states. The new, multi-national ASF will react to crisis situations as they arise with relative haste, if everything goes according to plan.
The BBC reports:
The training begins at the South African Army Combat Training Centre in Lohatla with an opening ceremony on Monday.
On Tuesday, 5,000 officers from the military and police officer will be in the field where the ASF will have to intervene in a fictitious country.
The African Union has already shown a greater willingness to deploy its troops around the continent. A.U. forces intervened in the Central African Republic preceding the U.N. peacekeeping force currently in place. A.U. troops are fighting Al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in West Africa.
Once operational, the ASF will have roughly 25,000 troops. It’s unclear which countries will contribute to the ASF, but the BBC reported that the force would have five brigades hailing from Africa’s “economic blocs.”
But even the ASF’s scope has changed since the A.U. first envisioned the force more than a decade ago. Like the A.U.’s peacekeepers, the ASF will almost certainly find itself facing different kinds of threats than originally anticipated, according to Walter Lotze of the Institute for Security Studies:
Realities on the ground required alternative solutions from what had originally been conceived. Apart from deployments models, mandates also change. The early [A.U.] deployments to Burundi (support for the implementation of a peace agreement), Darfur (support for the implementation of a humanitarian ceasefire agreement) and Somalia (support for the establishment of a transitional government) largely adhered to the deployment scenarios and the original doctrine.
This has changed rapidly in recent years. Currently, A.U. peace support operations engage in offensive operations against armed actors, undertake counter-terrorism actions, operate in contexts characterized by the use of asymmetric tactics, are charged with stabilization roles, undertake security sector reform and serve as bridging operations. The realities of current A.U. operations are very different from what was anticipated a decade ago, and for what the ASF has been built for.
Further, it’s going to take a lot of money to get the ASF operational, with some estimates as high as $1 billion. As a result, China pledged $100 million to the ASF last month at a U.N. peacekeeping summit that American officials coordinated.
But even with funding, it may be awhile before the force in truly functional. Lotze noted:
Over the last decade, the A.U. has proven that it can operate effectively despite resource constraints, and make do with the capacities available. It already achieves many of the objectives of the ASF, including ensuring a collective response by African countries to conflict on the continent. The ideal of attaining full operational capability for all deployment scenarios is still a long way off, and conducting a costly AMANI II exercise — to be held in South Africa from 17 October to 7 November — will contribute relatively little, if anything, towards the ASF’s Full Operational Capability.