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What is The Commander-in-Chief Intent: An After Action Review

MASU FAHNBULLEH ~ (April 5th 2006)  

"...Liberia was estimated to have had some 60- thousands ex-combatants to include the 6- thousands former AFL soldiers who currently are without a job-the US $350-$550 disarmament /weapon- for- cash program –long time spent. The size of this job-less force can only be gauged by the turnout at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in hope of re-entering active military service. The appropriate Presidential Initiative to adequately address this issue all but seems lacking in the current administration-and- now is the time for an AFTER ACTION REVIEW...”

Masu Fahnbulleh


Liberia is poised to embark upon a new and dynamic undertaken: The Restructuring of its Armed Forces and Security Organizations.

The provisions of the Liberian Constitution, the 14-years of civil conflict that exerted untold human suffering and hastened the lives of over 200,000 of her citizens to their early graves, the ebbs and flows of the marathons of Peace Conferences around Africa in years past, the pages of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement of

2003 and the positioning of the 15-thousand strong UN Peacekeeping Force, will all bear witness to the fulfillment of this enormous task. This process has two distinct elements-The Mission and The Objective. These two premises tend to lay out the Commander-in-Chief Intent of Africa’s oldest republic and the way forward in the transformation of an Institution that for decades has been marked by a high degree of illiteracy, a murky Command-and-Control Structure, lack of adequate and standardized living conditions, inadequate medical, survivor and retirement benefits, and infestation of tribal patronage. THE COMMAND OF EXECUTION for the Restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) will seized upon this defining moment in history. The success of this Military Mission and or Operation depends on the priorities that will be set among the many Objectives and other important national interest based on an application of national strategy formulated by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her National Security Team in addressing the following imperatives:

  1. Scope and size of the Restructuring/Security Sector Reform
  2. Impact of the Restructuring/acknowledgment of the difficulties inherent in such an expansive enterprise
  3. The extraordinary diversity of Liberia’s culture and tradition/challenges that are both complex and difficult
  4. The framework of the Accra 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)/ what did the CPA outlined with regards to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the Security Sector Reform (SSR)  

And largely in part on how well the Commander-in-Chief communicates her intention to her National Security Team (Minister of National Defense, Director of National Security Agency, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, National Security Advisor and Minister of Finance…etc): a clear definition of the Mission and Objective and the tough questions to be ask of the President by these Advisors. Communication to these Advisors and a candid discussion with the President and her options requires precise- and- well thoughtful process whereby clarity is key. If the National Security Team do not fully understand the President’s directives/operational plans for the Mission –than the President could be ill-advised and those within the trenches will have to assume leadership positions-at times missed guided- so far, indecisiveness by the Johnson Sirleaf Administration on the Restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), has not produce the required results to achieve mission accomplishment. Perhaps, just perhaps clarity is needed, if a professional military organization is to come out of this Theatre.

Liberia was estimated to have had some 60- thousands ex-combatants to include the 6- thousands former AFL soldiers who currently are without a job-the US $350-$550 disarmament /weapon- for- cash program –long time spent. The size of this job-less force can only be gauged by the turnout at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in hope of re-entering active military service. The appropriate Presidential Initiative to adequately address this issue all but seems lacking in the current administration-and- now is the time for an AFTER ACTION REVIEW. This process will cover the SUCCESSES, FAILURES and RECOMMENDATIONS for the current MISSION. SUCCESSES certainly, have been achieved in this process: disarmament of combatants, ongoing recruitment to out fit the newly restructured AFL, partial payment of survivor benefits to widows of AFL soldiers killed in line of duty and the March 21, 2006 appointment of a Commission chaired by General Henry Dubar and with General John Hezekiah Bowen as a member to determine an eligibility criteria and to come up with a framework for constituting a Bureau of Veterans Affairs for the future force structure. This is a very important initiative on the part of your administration-and it is also consistent with the strategy of maintaining and providing a unique force multiplier for the restructured armed forces. To this Madam Commander-in –Chief, I must SALUTE you.
However, this MISSION has also been marked with FAILURES-these contingencies often have the character of “internal instabilities”, but their offshoots- the naming of a Nigerian General (Gen. Yusuf) in charge of the Restructuring of the AFL-aroused stiff resistance among not just the disbanded soldiers, but within many Liberian communities-the rigidity of this appointment placed a crack with surprising consequences-demands by former AFL soldiers on strike for pay arrears-an anthem in their struggle for reenlistment into the Uniform Service for their beloved country; the absence of a Liberian face [leadership] on the Restructuring efforts of the Armed Forces of Liberia, the elimination of a Standing Unit [Military Command Structure] on which this organization could have been built around-we certainly witnessed this miscalculation during the American led invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, when the entire Iraqi military and all of its security organizations were dismantled due to affiliation with the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein; even in our own time, the many and countless miscalculations-the assassination of President William Richard Tolbert, Jr. on the early morning hours of April 12, 1980, the removal of President Samuel Kanyon Doe from the compound of The Executive Mansion on that memorable September day of 1990 and  delivered to forces under the control of General Prince Yormie Johnson (current senior Senator-Nimba County) at the Freeport of Monrovia, and  how many Interim Governments-many of us have loss count; all of these measures did not produce the required results that the Liberian people have longed for; removal of the disbanded soldiers and their families from military barracks around the country, with absolutely no place to go and misguided steps in quickly identifying key leaders and to reach a negotiable settlement with the rank and file of the disbanded soldiers.

We may never know if from the divisive nature of how “marriage of convenience” the coming together of the Settlers of 1822 and the Native Inhabitants may have impacted the ongoing political dispensation-this issue has been debated in many quarters-as though one political class or the other owns a patent on this glorious land of Liberty-but the Liberian people are largely in agreement that we need to reaffirm and reinvigorate our country’s values. We want to reanchor our villages, towns and cities in the basic moral values that are not only at the core of our own Constitution but are drawn from an even deeper well of wisdom and history-culture, tradition and our respective religious beliefs over the years. For all of us, the interest in restoring these old values springs from a vague unease, a quiet sensation that Liberia used to be a better, sweeter and joyous place.
The truth is that we need a strong set of shared personal and societal values especially because our society is so diverse, broken and in a state of hopelessness and distrust, precisely because we have put our fate in the hands of the wrong people over the years. We need it to hold us together when competing interests and traditions threaten to pull us apart, and we need it to help us understand who we are as LIBERIANS. Because we as a nation reject the heavy hands of CORRUPTION and HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES, we all depend on one another’s sense of morality and decency and self-restraint in the struggle to restore HOPE, STABILITY and COMPASSION to this GLORIOUS LAND OF LIBERTY. 

STRATEGIC RECOMMENDATIONS: The National Security Strategy of Liberia coming out of these war ravaged years in the implementation of a Restructured Armed Forces and Security Sector Reform must serve in part to translate our core or vital interests (territorial integrity, commerce, economic well-being, protection of lives and property)  into establishing lasting peace and stability-the hallmark to attracting foreign investment. Relevant to this, our Security Strategy should emphasize preferment and address potential challenges to our core interest in their early stages, before they impinged critically on those interests.

Encourage a more consistent and mutual respect for the basic rights of former AFL soldiers, vigorously oppose gross and flagrant dismissal (massive) of employees at the Ministry of National Defense and other Security Organizations, and strengthen the institutional foundation for promoting and protecting these rights.

Understanding that military and security sector reforms requires balancing several distinct imperatives, especially for Liberia-high rate of illiteracy within the ranks, tribal allegiance, countless transitional governments, huge epidemic of corruption within government institutions and mistrust of the public towards politicians; and to do so in a way that must be consistent with Liberia’s rehabilitation: infrastructure, healthcare, education and other national objectives. These imperatives are but not limited to:

Restructure the Armed Forces of Liberia and other Security Organizations to efficiently and economically deal with those threats and challenges that are most likely to arise during and after the departure of the UN Peacekeeping Operation.

Renovate some of the abandoned military barracks around the country and turn them into Housing Projects for those men and women and their families who can no longer enter active military service-at a low cost monthly payment.

Create a pioneering emphasis of the Armed Forces of Liberia on “quality over quantity”- quality of personnel, doctrine, equipment and organization. Improve the idea of regional cooperation, Liberia needs armed forces that are built and trained to cooperate closely with those within the ECOWAS sub-region.

Although the current environment presents an opportunity to fashion a country in which the Armed Forces plays a significantly reduced role, that notion does not exist today and will not be easily or certainly attained. Liberia’s armed forces and security organizations will be key to meeting the continuing cross-border insurgencies and threats to the country’s core interests and key to guarding against the possibility of new threats in the future.    

Liberia’s past experience can be classified as encompassing three broad categories: poverty, illiteracy and corruption-and with respect to the Armed Forces of Liberia, it has been marked with a high degree of illiteracy and tribal patronage. Each of these categories presented and confronted successive administrations (Tubman -Taylor) with different social problems and left varying legacies- domestic servant-hood, carnage, turmoil and blood bath. These legacies varied both within and between administrations, and the extent to which atrocity levied and intruded upon our country and changed our lives is both complex and widely contested by many Liberians. Moreover, the character of the security sector challenges that face our country will changed dramatically and Liberia’s restructured security organizations must adapt accordingly. And the need to invest more heavily in cultivating the fundamental long-term training program of the men and women who have come to this honorable enterprise must be continued after the 11-13 weeks of Basic Training.

Finally, Liberia’s efforts to establishing a professional armed forces and stable strategic environments should include regional military exercises, bilateral security training, the implementation of Confidence-and Security-Building Measures in remote areas, and efforts to minimize crossed borders insurrections. By no means are the SUCCESSES that have been attained can guarantee our efforts to fostering and consolidating a more peaceful domestic environment. In light of these strategic uncertainties, the Armed Forces of Liberia new Doctrine must include a variety of steps that will guard against a resurgence of major Rebel threats and especially those against the possible re-emergence of  ill-directed social slogans like those of the 70s and 80s aired by some of the very people currently in the Johnson Sirleaf government. 

Issues of Concern to Liberia-first, to implement the Security Sector Reform (SSR) and to secure the competitiveness of our armed forces as a viable partner in fostering regional stability, we must invest in the men and women who volunteered to serve-through education at our universities, technical schools and encourage them to achieve high school equivalency, while at the same time boosting the average skill level of our workforce.

Secondly, to ensure high-levels of professionalism and social stability, we must as a country avoid the increased marginalization and stratification of the armed forces-and take the necessary steps to better address the restructuring and domestic “quality of life” issues (such as crime, education, healthcare and urban decay).
The failures by past administrations to meet and address these challenges undermined important sources of national strength, reducing the nation’s long-term strategic flexibility. There are various, alternative ways to confront these imperatives, but all of them will put a premium on how we as a nation and people can use our abundant resources in helping to develop a well trained -professional armed forces. The restructuring of our fledging armed forces do merit strengthening. Linkages between an educated –and- well-trained military structure and civil society in Liberia need cultivation in order to sustained this fragile peace and indeed this democratic enterprise that we as a people have embarked upon.

Moreover, restoring the dignity of a country that was once the vanguard and champion for democracy and freedom in Africa-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf can still find  distinguished Liberians for the restructuring dimensions of The Liberian Armed Forces  to serve-the Commander-in-Chief can use what is refer to as a ‘Presidential Initiative Recall’ (PIR). This provision enables the President to use one of many Executive Powers to bring back qualified and capable Liberians for whom the country has made enormous investment into public service. Additionally, among other things, this Presidential Initiative Recall will draw out the distinction implicit in our society between moral, patriotic and ethical values as they apply to the relationship between The Commander-in –Chief, Subordinate Commanders, Enlistees and Civil society. Together, they will help to establish what has  long been overlooked-a professional armed forces-the formation, implementation and realization of these requisites will become the tenets upon which the existence and well-being of our country will anchor-and- will inextricably be connected notwithstanding their institutional distinctness.

Such a challenge do require acquisition of national asset primarily Liberians to lead this effort-I am still of the conviction that there are qualified Liberians who can lead this undertaken, so as to diminish our reliance on a foreign national (who lacks the full understanding of the culture of this institution) and the temptation to have the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) succumb to tribal patronage and allegiance. The extensive attention devoted to this discussion, or second, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ‘s February 11th, 2006 appointment of Nigerian General Luka Nyah Yusuf as Commanding Officer –in-Charge of the AFL restructuring; particularly the President’s interview on BBC in which she mentioned, “we do not have qualified Liberians to lead this effort”. In my February 2006 article: Liberia: The Commander-in-Chief and The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) carried by Frontpageafrica, LiberianForum, The Perspective, Daily Observer and other news outlets, I offered the names of four distinguished Liberian Generals to lead the restructuring efforts. The increased recognition and implication of  The Commander-in-Chief pronouncement created distrust towards Liberians-a people that just elected her in November 2005 over a bitter campaign season. At a minimum, this suggest a deep disdain for Liberians and further tears at the fabric of a society that is wounded, broken, weakened and with fractured political institutions that calls into question both the viability of our country and the health of our fragile democracy.

Lessons Learned- on the occasion of the Town Hall style meeting hosted by the United State Institute for Peace held in Washington, DC on Tuesday, 21 March 2006, the President addressed herself to the lingering question of the appointment of the Nigerian General to lead the Restructuring of the AFL, to which she made clarification of his (Yusuf) role as an Advisor in the process similar to that of the US Military Attaché. This is a significant shift from previous understanding that this was clearly a violation of the Liberian Constitution. I strongly commend President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for such a bold and courageous move having understood the implication that such a decision could have deepened tremendous disloyalty among the ranks-and –file of the new recruits.

Similarly today, we find a fledging democracy such as Iraq that draws a parallel to Liberia in their efforts to restructure its security apparatus and military forces. Like Iraq, Liberians are apprehensive and  faced with tremendous challenges and distrust of having foreign nationals lead the restructuring of their national security institutions. Liberians can still recalled the vivid images of the 1990s Peacekeeping Operations by ECOWAS, when their personal belongings, household goods and vehicles were been loaded unto Nigerian Vessels bound for ports around Lagos, while Nigerian Commanders watched in pageantry-no disciplinary actions were ever taken nor were these items ever returned to their rightful owners. Both Iraq and Liberia have had their national security institutions dismantled and disbanded- with no existing framework to build around-heavily rooted in tribal patronage and allegiance to their respective Commander-in –Chiefs, instead of defending and safe guarding the national interest of their respective countries. Unlike Liberia, it took the American led invasion many, many months to come to the realization that disbandment of  Iraqi Security Forces and military were counter productive to the success of its mission. In short these phenomena threaten not only the security sectors but also political institutions, economic and social infrastructures upon which both the health of these two countries and the viability of their respective democracy rest.   

Over the past three months we have been at this Mission-Security Sector Reform (SSR), particularly the Restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia. As noted, Liberia can employ the unique assets and lessons learned from the missed-steps of the Tubman, Doe and Taylor Administrations, when shortsightedness and greed led to the creation or lack thereof in the formation of National Asset-a professional armed forces. As a nation, our cooperation with regional partners in addressing military security problems must be an important National Agenda. We must utilize the most pragmatic path to success, highlighting a share distribution of security burdens and responsibilities equally among the countries that borders us.     


About the author:

Masu Fahnbulleh served in numerous Combat and Contingency Operations in the US Army as a Paratrooper. He is a war Veteran of over 11 years of military service. He recently served as a Logistics Coordinator for KBR-a Halliburton Company in support of US Military and Coalition Forces Operations in Iraq. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from The University of North Carolina @ Charlotte. He can be contacted at

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