At ceremonies marking the 57th Anniversary of Armed Forces Day, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), commissioned the first post-conflict Liberian Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, and Brigade Commander.
Those commissioned to the leadership of the AFL were Brigadier General Daniel Dee Ziankhan, Chief of Staff, replacing Nigerian Major General Suraj Alao Abdurrahman, who served diligently as the Command Officer-in-Charge for the past seven years; Colonel Eric Wamu Dennis, Deputy Chief of Staff, replacing Colonel Daniel Moore, who was retired after serving the AFL for 35 years; and Colonel Prince C. Johnson, III, Commander of the 23rd Infantry Brigade.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the impressive, historic and colorful ceremony took place at the Barclay Training Center during programs marking Armed Forces Day on Tuesday, February 11. This year’s theme, “Enhancing the Capabilities of the AFL to Meet Contemporary Challenges,” underscored the need for the Armed Forces to be robustly trained, disciplined and equipped to carry on their mission.
The Commander-in-Chief challenged the newly commissioned senior officers to maintain the regimentation and discipline of a professional military. “Your leadership must exhibit commitment to duty and obedience to constituted authority. You must demonstrate that you are ready, willing and capable to lead. You must exhibit good leadership qualities and lead by example,” President Sirleaf said, further urging, “You cannot afford to fail yourselves, your compatriots, your mentors. Much has been sacrificed and invested in bringing you this far; I challenge you to perform your duty as leaders of our new military.”
The Liberian leader emphasized that the transition in the AFL was based on a credible vetting process and on the order of merit, and she was convinced that the Government has been able to appoint a cadre of well- trained, experienced, and disciplined Liberian Officers of the country’s Armed Forces. The Commander-in-Chief said she was confident that the training imparted into them will go a long way in guiding them in the discharge of their new responsibilities.
President Sirleaf praised the outgoing Command Officer-in-Charge, General Abdurrahman, for his leadership and commitment to the transformation of the AFL. She extolled him as a brilliant Officer with impeccable credentials and track record of excellence. “I want to personally thank General Abdurrahman for all that you have done for the AFL and our country,” the Commander-in-Chief said.
She extended thanks and appreciation to partners for their support in the rebuilding of the Armed Forces to what it is today. She praised the United States, Nigeria, Ghana, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, Rwanda, Benin, Sierra Leone, and the United Nations Mission in Liberia.
Speaking further, the AFL Commander-in-Chief announced the approval of National Defense Strategy, which focuses on Liberia’s national defense imperatives and regional peace and security. The Liberian leader said the security challenges the country faces require a clear assessment of the strategic environment and the resources necessary to construct a durable, flexible, and dynamic strategy that emphasizes human security.
She said Government looks forward to a National Military Strategy that can and will be supported with improvements in the country’s economic situation, and added, “I will consult with the leadership of the Legislature to review positively the annual budgetary appropriations to the Armed Forces of Liberia, to prepare them for their expanding missions and tasks.”
President Sirleaf said reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure for the AFL remain key challenges, but she was pleased to note that the AFL Engineering Company is demonstrating its preparedness to support national reconstruction, mentioning its rehabilitation of the recently dedicated Todee Military Barracks.
She thanked the U.S. Government for their continued support and generosity, especially the commitment of US$3.5 million worth of equipment to the AFL Engineering Company. She also applauded the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the donation of US$4 million worth of much needed engineering equipment, spare parts, and training experts to the AFL. “The donations and anticipated training by the Governments of the United States and People’s Republic of China will further strengthen the capability and capacity of the Engineering Company to support our reconstruction efforts,” President Sirleaf said.
The Commander-in-Chief said that with the AFL’s excellent performance in Mali, it has become necessary to build its capability to participate in future peace support operations. “We seek an enduring relationship with our bilateral partners towards an effective and efficient defense sector reform and the building of the AFL as a ‘Force for Good’”, she said, further thanking the U.S. and other bilateral partners for providing the required logistical support as Government anticipates increasing AFL’s contribution to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to a Company size. The intention has already been conveyed to UN Headquarters in New York.
Making remarks earlier, the outgoing Nigerian Command Officer-in-Charge, Major General Abdurrahman, congratulated the new AFL leadership and expressed confidence in their ability to perform. “I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that under the leadership of General Ziankhan, the airplane we have been flying will continue to fly,” he said, amidst applause.
General Abdurrahman said the appointment and commissioning of a new leadership of the AFL marks the end of a long and illustrious military career spanning 40 years. He admitted that the journey up to this point had not been easy.
He reflected on the rebuilding of the new AFL which commenced about seven years ago, where many did not believe that they would have made it this far. General Abdurrahman said that although there’s need for improvement, he was quite satisfied so far with the AFL over the years. “In essence, with the exception of air-related mission tasks, the AFL has successfully demonstrated its ability to conduct its constitutional duties expected of it,” he said, adding, “Our journey has been challenging, eventful and worthwhile. Together we have overcome numerous obstacles and we have successfully forged forward.” He said he had noticed and admired the way the troops perform their duties with willingness and enthusiasm, despite the huge administrative and logistical challenges.
The outgoing Command Officer-in-Charge called on the new Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Ziankhan, to continue to improve the standard of the men he inherited, and stressed the need for more training. He cautioned him to seek the best for his men, and underscored the need to always listen to them. Likewise, General Abdurrahman called on the AFL soldiers to extend similar courtesies they had provided him during his tenure to his successor.
He lauded the AFL Commander-in-Chief, President Sirleaf, and former and current Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the confidence reposed in him to serve the Liberian Army. He also expressed gratitude to Defense Minister Brownie Samukai for the support afforded him during his stay with the AFL.
Before his farewell statement, President Sirleaf admitted Major General Abdurrahman into the Humane Order of African Redemption with the Grade of “Knight Commander.”
Delivering the Armed Forces 57th Anniversary Keynote Address, Dr. Amos Sawyer, former President of the Interim Government of National Unity and current Chairman of the Governance Commission, said Liberia’s security sector should be organized with the objective of protecting and promoting human security. He categorized human security as the political, economic, social and cultural rights and empowerment of all citizens and inhabitants within the country.
Dr. Sawyer said that as we build post-war Liberia, our military’s role should promote unity and reflect Liberian values. It is important, he continued, that the military takes this role because Liberia’s needs are acute and its resources scarce. “Our military’s role should transcend the standard and conventional role. It must promote our unity, reflect the values we subscribe to, the vision we have focused and national reconciliation we are forging. Our military must be a servant and remain a servant of the people and partners of other institutions of governance in accelerating the implementation of our national development programs,” he said, stressing that security rests with the people themselves, so empowering them is the best strategy for strengthening security.
The former Interim Government President stressed that national development should not be carried out without a focus on developing the Liberian military. “This is why there should be no contradiction between what we call military expenditure and development expenditure. Just as we construct the developmental state, we must construct the developmental military.”
The astute political scientist described the new AFL as rich in competence and potential. “Our military today is the most educated that we have ever had. It is the best capable of being shaped, trained, and equipped to become a developmental military,” Dr. Sawyer stressed.
The Governance Commission Chairman said the military can become a partner with other state institutions in advancing developmental needs, including agriculture, engineering and construction, literacy work and health care, among others.
For his part, the Minister of National Defense, Brownie Samukai, Jr., who has spearheaded the AFL rebuilding process over the last eight years, informed the Commander-in-Chief that the new military is ready to perform its statutory mandate. “Eight years ago, Madam President, as our nation turned its back to the days of mayhem and embarked on the path of recovery, reconciliation and reconstruction, you gave us the mandate to ensure that the new Armed Forces of Liberia becomes a “Force for Good”. After eight years of grueling, mental, physical, and enduring training, I am proud to report that our new military is ready to carry out its mission.”
Minister Samukai informed the Commander-in-Chief that as at now, the AFL is comprised of two Infantry Battalions, a Service Support Company and a Military Police Company. There’s also a Logistics Command, and an Engineering Company that is being positioned to grow into a full-fledged Engineering Battalion over the next three to five years. There is also a small but highly trained Liberian Coast Guard.
He said the AFL has its own Training Command based in Camp Todee, capable of carrying out basic and other tactical training; while the Armed Forces Training Command is presently conducting basic infantry training for 140 new recruits in Camp Todee. The AFL has a Joint Staff at the Headquarters of the AFL at the Barclay Training Center, reflecting the growth potential of the AFL.
Providing a synopsis of the AFL activities over the last two years, Minister Samukai informed President Sirleaf of how the AFL successfully executed a mission to the northeast and southeastern regions of Liberia under Operation Restore Hope I, II, and III to protect the country’s borders against armed aggression, restore the confidence of the residents in the area, and reassure Côte d’Ivoire that the borders are safe and secure.
He said the success of that AFL mission along the border area became a tangible litmus test of the quality of training that the AFL mentors have imparted in the new Armed Forces and their preparedness to execute. “It brought out the realistic challenges of planning, supporting, coordinating and executing mission under very difficult circumstances, involving multiple agencies as well as local administration,” Minister Samukai said.
Reporting on the AFL Platoon deployed as part of the African-led Peacekeeping Mission to Mali (AFISMA), rehatted on July 1, 2013, to join the MINUSMA, the Defense Minister said the AFL platoon is now operating alongside a Togolese Battalion, deployed 410 kilometers north of Bamako, in the desert area of Diabili, joining in the international fight against terrorists and gangs of marauding extremists.
He said reports from MINUSMA Headquarters in Bamako say the troops are focused and performing very well under the circumstances. Minister Samukai said to the Commander-in-Chief: “The presence of Liberian troops in peacekeeping epitomizes the great leap forward that our country has achieved under your inspiring leadership,” adding, “Ten years ago today, the thought of Liberian military in a UN peacekeeping mission would have been unthinkable. But now it is a reality and it shows how far we have come.”
Other highlights of the day’s activities at the Barclay Training Center included awarding Distinguished Service Order Decorations to six outstanding personalities for their dedication to duty and excellent services rendered to the Government of Liberia and Africa. Those so honored were: the former President of the erstwhile Interim Government of National Unity and Chairman of the Governance Commission, Dr. Amos Sawyer; former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (Retired), Major General Jehu Brandy; Officer-in-Charge of Operation Onward Liberty in Liberia, Colonel David M. Thompson; Military Assistant to the Command Officer-in-Charge of the AFL, Colonel Abdulsalam Abubakar; former Brigade Commander of the 23rd Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Colonel Adams Guni Audu; and United Kingdom Military and Security Sector Reform Advisor to Liberia, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Joynson.
During the program, a colorful change of command (a traditional event that is replete with military symbolism and heritage) took place. The Armed Forces of Liberia colors (flag), which not only represents the heritage and history of the AFL, the unity and loyalty of its soldiers, but also the Commander’s symbol of authority and his responsibility to the AFL, was lowered and folded by senior non-commissioned officers of the AFL and presented, through the chain, to General Abdurrahman as a gift from the Government of Liberia and the AFL. The outgoing Command Officer-in-Charge is expected to use this flag in his office at all times to remember his service to the people of Liberia and how they appreciate him.
In turn, Major General Abdurrahman presented a new flag to the new Chief of Staff, Brigadier Ziankhan, as a way of relinquishing his authority and responsibility over the AFL. Brigadier Ziankhan, in turn, presented the new flag to the incoming Sergeant Major and his staff which was posted, representing the new Chief of Staff’s symbol of authority and signaling a new day in the history of the AFL.
Other activities included a Pass in Review of the various military and para-military organizations on display, including companies from the Liberian Coast Guard, the Liberia National Police, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, the National Fire Service, the Liberia Seaport Police, among others. A parade followed through the principal streets of Monrovia, led by the AFL Marching Band.