Accordingly, the UNSC endorsed the Secretary General’s recommendation in his update and authorized him to implement the third phase of the drawdown of UNMIL, to achieve a troop ceiling of 3,590 and police of 1,515 by September 2015. Furthermore, the UNSC reaffirms its expectations that the Government of Liberia will assume its complete security responsibilities from UNMIL no later than June 2016. Yet the Security Council also was clear that it intends to consider the reconfiguration of UNMIL beyond that date. The UNSC resolution affirms the resumption of phase III of the drawdown with the fourth phase to begin in September of 2015 and ending in June 2016.
UNMIL took over peacekeeping operations from the ECOWAS vanguard force, ECOWAS Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL), on October 1, 2003. Approximately 3,600 ECOMIL troops, comprising contingents from Nigeria, Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo were reassigned to UNMIL as United Nations peacekeepers. In December 2005, UNMIL troop’s strength stood at 14,824 personnel from 49 troop contributing countries. UNMIL started a draw down plan in August 2007 and as of 6 June 2014, UNMIL troop strength stood at 4722 personnel. In August of 2014, due to the effects of Ebola, the phased drawdown of UNMIL was discontinued.
Drawdown vs. Complete Withdrawal
Those who believe there will be no UNMIL presence in Liberia beyond 2016, are wrong. The language of the UNSC resolution is clear that Liberia still “constitutes a threat to international peace and security”. Therefore, resuming the third phase of the drawdown and placing full security responsibilities in the hands of Liberian authorities is not a full withdrawal. More work in the security sector has to be done, while the troop and police levels are gradually reduced.
The current process as envisioned by Resolution 2215 is only a phased drawdown of UNMIL troops and police officers with future configurations planned. There will be some UNMIL presence in Liberia beyond June 2016. The UNSC is keenly aware of the limitations and threats in Liberia, and therefore, there will be some troop configuration after June 2016. The Mano River Sub-region is still a very fragile region. Accordingly, the UNSC calls upon the governments of Liberia and La Cote d’Ivoire to reinforce their cooperation especially with respect to the border area and requests all UN agencies operating in both counties, including UNOCI and UNMIL, to support the Liberian and Ivorian authorities.
What is envisioned as the new mandate of UNMIL in the post 2016 era will be more observers than active participants in security operations. According to the revised mandate, United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) will monitor the security situation in the country, serving as eyes and ears of the UN system, reporting lapses in domestic security and determining the levels of external threats.
The Liberian Minister of Justice, Benedict Sannoh, recently informed the public during a regular Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs (MICAT) briefing that the UN has established a Regional Quick Reaction Force based in Ivory Coast to respond to threats within these two countries under a UN Intermission Cooperation Arrangement. He further indicated that this force can be deployed into Liberia within a relatively short period when the need arises. The Government of Liberia has signed on the relevant Status of Forces Agreement to facilitate the deployment of such a force in Liberia as required.
Counting the Costs to the GOL
The drawdown of UNMIL troops and police officers will definitely put a strain on Liberia’s fiscal budget as the country takes over full responsibility of security operations within the country. UNMIL’s drawdown also means not only a reduction in troop and police strength, but it changes the rules of engagement with more domestic security operations and their costs to be borne by the Liberian government. The structure of UNMIL, where large troop levels were maintained in all counties, and where UNMIL provided social infrastructure such as hospitals, and in some cases supported schools, will cease to exist and the Government of Liberia has to take charge.
UNMIL provided Level 2 plus hospitals in Monrovia, Gbarnga, and Zwedru, while a total of 11 Level-1 hospitals were integrated within various units from Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Ukraine and the Philippines. Many of these hospitals treated Liberian citizens and residents and the drawdown could affect the quality and access to medical facilities in many areas around the country.
UNMIL engineers also participated in maintaining roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects around the country. The drawdown has already started impacting the quality of roads in many parts of Liberia, especially in the Southeast and Northwest. The costs to be borne have to be quantified by Liberian authorities.
Additionally, according to the Minister of Justice, Benedict Sannoh, significant operational duties will be turned over to Liberian authorities during Part IV of the drawdown phase, leading up to 2016. He indicated that some of the tasks still being performed that will be handed over to the GOL in Phase Three by UNMIL are VIP protection, Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) – bomb disposal, prison security, management and monitoring the importation and use of fire arms, maritime security, border management and patrol, static guarding, and cash escorts.
In Resolution 2190 (2014), the UN Security Council called on the Liberian Government to assume complete security responsibilities from UNMIL no later than 30 June 2016, and requested the Government of Liberia to draft a “concrete plan”, with timelines and benchmarks, for building the security sector to assume these responsibilities. The Government of Liberia says it has developed a plan in line with the Agenda for Transformation and the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Liberia. The Government of Liberia has quantified the costs of assuming complete security responsibilities from UNMIL with its estimates at 104 million dollars.
Judging by how much has been budgeted and spent, it appears that major challenges remain in securing and deploying essential financial and human resources to support the drawdown. In the 2013-2014 budget of the Ministry of Justice, a line item of 1.6 million was budgeted for UNMIL drawdown with the outturn showing only 931,000 spent. In the 2014-2015 budget, which was largely impacted by Ebola, support to Security Sector Reform should have expended 261,000 but there was no amount deployed as per the fiscal outturn in 2013-2014. Meanwhile, for another line item for Security Sector Reform, an amount of USD175,000 was budgeted, but no sum was expended in the outturn.
The 2014-2015 budget contained an amount of 450,000 USD to train and equip 900 Liberia National Police officers. A total of USD112,000 was budgeted and spent to train 125 DEA agents, while an amount of 675,000 was budgeted for training and logistics of 422 Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) agents. There was no amount in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 budget for the important Foya BIN logistical support center. The amount of 500,000 USD was designated as available for transfer to the Zwedru Regional Hub in the 2014-2015 budget.
In reviewing the expenditure of other security sector agencies in the last fiscal period as deployed and executed fully, it does appear that the amount spent so far by the Government of Liberia is minimal compared to its overall projected needs, thus signifying that we must motivate significant donor support to help defray the costs. Training and equipping of a required number of officers within the security sector is not being met. During a briefing to the UNSC attended by Defense Minister Samukai last September, SRSG Kari Landgren said that the Liberian security forces have not been able to scale up its presence and operational effectiveness in order to assume the increased security responsibilities. Addressing the limited resources allocated to the police, she stressed that it was essential for the government of Liberia and its partners to redouble their efforts to develop capable and accountable justice and security.
The assumption of major security responsibilities by Liberian officials in the wake of the UNMIL drawdown should be sobering and it calls for a national will to meet the challenges. Unfortunately, the nature of Liberian institutions with their limited capacities and capabilities should be worrying. Numerous threat assessments on the quality of peace and fragility in Liberia do not provide a totally optimistic stability outlook for the future of the country. Even the Government’s own plan on its preparedness to take over as the drawdown proceeds notes “pervasive poverty, inadequacy of budgetary and logistical resources, and the institutional and operational weaknesses. Others include lack of human capacity, low professional standards, insufficient coordination, and over-centralization of justice and security assets in Monrovia, endemic corruption, and a culture of impunity and a lack of accountability”.
It is clear then that Liberians are not fully prepared for the drawdown. But we can ensure that there is a national will to generate the resources necessary to achieve the feat of being ready for the assumption of full security responsibilities in order to safeguard our own democracy and ultimately our destiny. Failing to do so would put future generations at risk. And so it goes.