News: Liberia’s president visits AFL’s deploying troops
Story by Master Sgt. Brian Bahret
MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberia’s president praised 46 Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers in a ceremony at Roberts International Airport June 20, 2013, before they deployed to Mali to conduct peacekeeping operations – something no Liberian unit has done in more than 50 years.
Liberia was one of the first independent African states to contribute military forces to the United Nations peacekeeping operations in Congo in 1960, according to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. However, after approximately 15 years of internal conflict which began in 1989, Liberia has focused on rebuilding its infrastructure as well as its military.
“For so long we have been the beneficiary of support from our (Economic Community of West Africa States) neighbors and friends from far and wide who came to our shores to help us restore the peace and rebuild a shattered nation,” said Sirleaf. “It is time for Liberia to give back in whatever small way that we can.”
With a military force ready to conduct operations, Liberia agreed to deploy a contingent to participate in the peacekeeping mission in Bamako, Mali.
Forty-six soldiers from the AFL’s 1st Platoon, 23rd Infantry Brigade, deployed to Bamako June 22 to support their regional partners.
Sirleaf thanked the soldiers for their service to the country and the region.
“We are proud for your selection to represent our nation in the African-led International Support Mission in Mali,” said Sirleaf. “We feel a deep sense of pride as we gaze among your young faces eager to get going and get the job done.”
The AFL has existed for approximately five years in its current form. With no deployment experience, U.S. service members deployed to Liberia with Operation ONWARD LIBERTY supported the AFL soldiers by assisting in a five-month pre-deployment course.
OOL is a U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa-led operation comprised of joint U.S. service members who mentor and advise the Armed Forces of Liberia in order to develop a national military that is responsible, operationally capable, and respectful of civilian authority and the rule of law. OOL’s goal is to assist the AFL in building a professional and capable military force that can effectively contribute to the overall security environment in Liberia.
While her praise focused on the AFL soldiers deploying, Sirleaf also thanked the U.S. men and women who helped prepare Liberia’s soldiers for the task.
“We thank the United States of America for the role of (U.S. Africa Command’s) Operation ONWARD LIBERTY which has been pivotal in restructuring our armed forces,” said Sirleaf. “This is a historic moment, not only for Liberia, but also for the United States as a shared commitment to building Liberia’s security sector has reached a point that our nation is not only stable within our borders, but willing and able to contribute to the shared security interests of our region.”
Training complete and ready to conduct operations, the AFL soldiers stood in a tight formation as Sirleaf returned her attention to them.
“We are proud of your service to the country,” she said. “We honor you for your invaluable service to our country. This is a proud day for all of us as Liberians and truly you are the pride of our nation.”