General News of Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Source: GNA

US helping with ECOWAS Standby Force

Accra, Dec. 12, GNA - United States is keen on helping the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to put in place an effective standby peace support force that would help to maintain stability in the Sub-Region.

US would also work to strengthen America's social and economic interests, including its global fight against terrorism, a U.S Military Trainer Joe Sokol told Ghana News Agency in Accra.

In June 2004, the 15-member ECOWAS Authority adopted a component of its defence and security mechanism and set itself 2010 as a deadline by which it should have in place a 6,500 strong force for any wider peace support operations based on the standards of the UN and the Africa Union.

Although the specifics of its mandate are yet to be outlined, the ECOWAS Standby Force is expected to be readily available for deployment in conflict situations and to effect stability as part of a series of measures to enhance its image by reversing the unfavourable story of the Sub-Region as a community revelling in political conflict and corruption leading to underdevelopment.

Currently, some 20 U.S Military Experts are training some 150 West African troops that would form its headquarters and the various command posts, at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra.

The US Government has provided five million dollars funding for the training under its African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA).

Prof Sokol, who is the Accra Training Exercise Director, said the U.S involvement was strategic. The Continent of Africa presents the U.S with a great opportunity for expanded contact, including increased trade and economic investment, he added.

More importantly, he said, stable democratic and peaceful regions provided a natural deterrent to instability and terrorism. The Accra training is the first ever multinational exercise to be sanctioned by the U.S President in Africa and also the first by ACOTA that focused on a single regional bloc's security structure. Prof Sokol said after the Command Post Training Exercise, which was also being simulated through communication link simultaneously in five other West African countries, the U.S would equip the Force with communication gadgets, operational vehicles and other logistics necessary for its efficient deployment when necessary.

Major General Charles Okae, ECOWAS Director of Defence and Security, who is also the simulated Force Commander for the Accra Command Post Exercise, is upbeat about the U.S involvement in the process of building a powerful and efficient Standby Force to support peace in the Sub-Region, saying they have the experience and capacity to do so.

=93Of course, they (U.S) have their interest too - both political and economic - which they have always made known consistently,=94 he said, citing America's oil interests along the Gulf of Guinea and its search for partners to hunt down terrorism. Maj. Gen. Okae said he was hopeful the Force would be in place by the 2010 deadline, as one of the strongest peace support mechanism in Africa and internationally.

Early this year, ECOWAS named Nigeria's Brigadier General Hassan Lai as Chief of Staff of the Force, with the Operational Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. A substantive Force Commander, which may be rotational, is yet to be appointed, Maj. Gen. Okae said. 12 Dec. 06