14 October 1997
(Pentagon's Kern describes FTX to lawmakers) (1000) By Jim Fisher-Thompson USIA Staff Writer WASHINGTON -- A top Pentagon official October 8 told Congress that the recent successful completion of a joint training operation in Africa by military units from several sub-Saharan African nations validates the concept of an all-African peacekeeping force being promoted by the Clinton administration. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Vincent Kern II reported to the House Africa Subcommittee, holding hearings on the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), that 60-day training sessions in peacekeeping methods in Senegal and Uganda were recently capped by a joint operation called a Field Training Exercise (FTX). Kern described a high level of cooperation and expertise achieved among the African units as they practiced security and logistical support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to provide food and medical relief to people in a simulated crisis situation. According to the official, the FTX was a complete success and showed that "training in the field is achieving the goal of the ACRI, which is to enhance the peacekeeping capabilities of African nations so that they can participate in further international operations in Africa and elsewhere." ACRI was first proposed as a formal U.S.-African partnership to prevent or help resolve violent conflicts by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher during a visit to Africa last October. After almost a year of consulting with African nations and allies such as Britain, France, Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and Canada, the Clinton administration set aside $35 million to implement the partnership initiative from September 1996 to October 1998. Kern was quick to point out to the Africa Subcommittee that "ACRI is a training initiative." And he emphasized that "we do not intend to create a standing African force and we are not providing training to create elite forces for instability." Asked by Africa Subcommittee Chairman Ed Royce if "by upgrading African military efficiency," the ACRI was not creating potential coup makers for the future, Kern acknowledged that remote possibility but added, "We have been very careful" to ensure that the units are trained within the U.N. peacekeeping framework, emphasizing human rights. In addition, he added, "We have also been careful to pick countries where there is a firmly rooted sense of civilian control of the military." Noting that it is absolutely essential that "there be African ownership of the initiative," Kern told the lawmakers that the recent FTXs seemed to confirm that objective. Interoperability, or the integration of similar equipment, supplies, and methods, is the cornerstone to cooperation among foreign military units, Kern pointed out. He noted that the United States helped to ensure interoperability during the 60-day ACRI training period by providing equipment such as hand-held radios, water purification sets, uniforms, boots, mine detection gear, laptop computers, and generators. Kern explained that the "scenario" or hypothetical crisis established in the FTX was "for the battalions to be involved in a [U.N.] Chapter 6 operation conducted in a fictitious country torn by political and ethnic tensions." Chapter 6 of the U.N. Charter refers to the use of security units in facilitating humanitarian and peacemaking operations, whereas Chapter 7 involves the use of combined military forces to respond to and deter international aggression. The battalions' missions, he said, included "monitoring buffer zones between the factions and providing an environment for negotiations. In both cases we involved the local populace as role players and as recipients of actual medical and civil affairs assistance." In both the Senegalese and Ugandan FTXs, Kern said, "we sought and achieved transparency [openness]. The training was visited by congressional staff and was covered by journalists from Africa and elsewhere." Foreign military attaches were also encouraged to observe the FTX, the official added, which was particularly the case in Senegal, where Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Cote d'Ivoire, Niger, and Cape Verde all sent observers. Kern said that in Uganda the ACRI concept was summed up by a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporter, who said: "This is something positive for Africa." When he was informed that the overall price tag for the initiative was $15 million, Kern said, the reporter seemed surprised and asked: "How much does Bosnia cost?" One departure from traditional FTXs, Kern pointed out, was the inclusion of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the process, which made the training in peacekeeping much more realistic. "In both nations, civil/military operations centers were set up" in the countryside, where they practiced relief and security functions with NGOs and local authorities. The World Food Program (WFP) representative in Uganda admitted that she and her colleagues had some reservations regarding their participation in the FTX," Kern said. But later "she said she was pleasantly surprised" at the good working relations they had with the African ACRI detachment commander who guarded their food relief convoy -- a part of the exercise -- and "his eagerness to include them in every facet of the FTX." In Senegal there was also successful NGO participation in the ACRI FTX, the official said, where the local Red Cross offered 25 of their volunteers as role players in managing a make-believe displaced persons camp established for the exercise. Kern said that in a conversation with a member of his staff, a Ugandan lieutenant put the ACRI in perspective when he said: "Africans need the capabilities to solve their own problems. We shouldn't have to rely on the Europeans and Americans to come in [and save us in crises]." According to Kern, the Ugandan soldier said the most valuable lesson he learned during the ACRI training was "the proportional application of force." Characterizing the Ugandan soldier as "always having to be tough and aggressive when confronted," Kern said the ACRI training showed that "one must adjust the reaction to the level of confrontation," which is a key to any successful peacekeeping operation, he concluded.