The Malian army that took over the government in the March 2012 coup was led by a US trained officer, Captain Sanogo. The Malian military continues to exert great influence in the political process in Mali and as they try to expel insurgents that have taken over the northern part of Mali. The Malian army, however, is also accused of human rights abuses that took place during the purge of Sanogo opponents, as well as with enemy combatants. Besides training the leader of the coup, the US military also trained the Malian military for years through the African Contingency Operations Training Assistance program (ACOTA), its predecessor the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), and other programs.
On 24 January 2013, the US AFRICOM Commander, General Ham, acknowledged the role the US military played in training Malian forces and found the outcome worrying. He said that the focus of US efforts was tactical training but “We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos.”
The US has trained many African militaries on the continent; notably with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) following the UN brokered Liberian peace deal that sent Charles Taylor to exile in Nigeria in 2003. After dismissing the former Liberian military, the US vetted and recruited a new force and drew up a comprehensive training plan in 2005 that included intensive human rights, rule of law, ethics and values training. However, in 2007, after the first class of new Liberian soldiers graduated, US trainers cut out the bulk of these training blocks due to time and cost constraints. US trainers promised to incorporate the training at a later date but were unable to do so.
The only test for the AFL so far was the Fall 2012 deployment under “Operation Restore Hope” to patrol the porous borders with Cote d’Ivoire. Desertion remains a concern as over ten percent of the AFL has quit the force. Frequent stories of AFL soldiers committing crimes are featured in the local Monrovian news, causing concern about the ethics and values of the new Liberian troops.
Another example of a US trained soldier gone bad is President Jammeh in the Gambia, who took power in a 1994 military coup. This has also taken place in Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, and Bolivia. African leaders are rightfully afraid that US training can lead to regime change.
The values and ethics training incorporated in ACOTA training has not prevented abuses by African militaries either. Of the 25 current ACOTA partners, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Ugandan, and Nigerian troops have been accused of atrocities.
Upcoming budget cuts and sequestration will put greater restraints on US military spending and our capabilities in training African forces. If the primary intent of US training is to increase the tactical capabilities in US partners on the continent it is likely that human rights, values, and ethics training will also fall by the wayside in the rapidly approaching lean years. US leaders need to ensure that these essential training modules are reinforced in all US funded training.