Support: Replacing Thugs With Professionals In Africa


December 26, 2013:   In early December 2013 an EU (European Union) training team graduated its third battalion of combat troops in Mali. Another battalion will finish its training in May and the EU appears willing to renew the training agreement for another year and train four more battalions. Ideally the EU would like to maintain a small but permanent group of military trainers in Mali. This is something the U.S. Army began preaching over a decade ago. The Americans sought to change its program to train African peacekeeping troops from courses that took a specific amount of time to a mix of fixed-period training courses and a long-term relationship to ensure that the training stuck. The American idea was to maintain a more or less permanent presence in the countries participating in this program. In addition each year the participating nation would send some officers and sergeants to U.S. Army schools for advanced training. The U.S. Army would tailor a specific program for each country that offered to make troops available for peacekeeping, rather than the more traditional one-program-fits-all approach. The U.S. Army would send small teams of twenty officers and sergeants to each country participating in the program to monitor training programs, provide advice on how to improve the training and conduct courses for new trainers who would be part of a growing force of officers and sergeants capable conducting courses to show troops how to achieve higher performance standards and how to maintain those standards.

This approach has been a hard sell in Africa, where joining the military is seen as an economic opportunity, not as a profession requiring a lot of skills, hard work and clean (no corruption or thuggish behavior) living. African rulers are uncomfortable with troops who are too well trained and disciplined because the foreign trainers can’t guarantee that these more effective troops will remain loyal to the government they are supposed to be serving. Westerners tend to forget that they live in countries that recently (the last few centuries) had similar problems with troop loyalty. The Western advisors reason that troop loyalty is more a matter of local politics than military training and that it is simply better to have more competent troops around rather than uniformed thugs who are unpredictable and dangerous for everyone.

The EU training program in Mali is an example of that. The training is tailored to what Mali has got and what it needs. Thus each of the trained battalions (called GTIAs or Combined Arms Tactical Groups) is a miniature army with mostly infantry but also platoons of armor, artillery, engineer, supply, maintenance, intelligence and special operations troops. The ten week training course is heavy on infantry subjects with over a month of specialized training for the support troops. Each GTIA also as a dozen air force personnel trained and equipped to communicate with warplanes or helicopters overhead and call in air strikes, medical evacuation or supply missions. 


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