On behalf of the President of the Republic of Liberia and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia, I warmly welcome you to the 37th ECOWAS Chiefs of Defense Staff meeting here in Monrovia Liberia. Before I go on, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the ECOWAS Commission and the ECOWAS Secretariat for the tireless effort towards the planning of this all important meeting. As it marks the end of my tenure as the Chairman of the Committee of Chiefs of Defense Staff, I feel highly honoured that this meeting has successfully taken off and is expected to, with the contribution and effort of the secretariat and all gathered here, continue smoothly till a memorable completion come Friday. I hope your stay has so far been welcoming and warm enough, within the provisions of our hospitality and resource constraints.
The security situation in our sub region has been relatively stable. Threats to security which had the potential to disrupt the peace have been contained and being monitored with troops on the grounds to prevent further escalation and restore normalcy to the affected areas. The situation in Gambia as we are all aware necessitated the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments to intervene and subsequently deploy ECOMIG to forestall a degeneration of the peace. The Force Commander will brief us further on the Concept of Operations of his force. Similarly, the ECOMIB Force Commander would also brief us on the current operations in his Area of Operation with emphasis on his withdrawal strategy at the expiration of the extended mandate from 1 July to 30 September 2017.
The security situation in the region is however constantly threatened by the terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. In Mali, terrorist groups continue to conduct many attacks against MINURSMA and the Malian Defense and Security Forces, causing casualties to civilians and peacekeepers alike. In Burkina Faso, a recent attack on Ouagadougou indicates the threat is still imminent thus requiring our continued effort and attention to contain its spread. The G5 Sahel is in the process of deploying an intervention force with the support of some partners. In Nigeria, the efforts of the Multi National Joint Task Force and the Nigerian Armed Forces continue to battle the Boko Haram Terrorists who are still attacking soft targets.
Now on the home front, the peace loving people of Liberia will soon be going to the polls to elect a new President and other legislators. The withdrawal of UNMIL has created a sense of insecure anxiety in the minds of our people about our ability to conduct a safe election. Having come from a destructive war, we do not expect a relapse into that situation as civil society seems poised to see this country move forward. In this light and in support of civil authority, the Armed Forces of Liberia in conjunction with other security agencies are ready to secure the democratic future of our beloved Liberia.
Our deliberations for this meeting have been excellently couched to tackle these current security issues. Lessons learnt from our deployment in Mali and Guinea Bissau called for a review of the ECOWAS Standby Force’ doctrine to face the emerging threats in the sub region. The major challenges to be tackled are the operability of jointness of the military, police and civilian components, the structure of the standby force, pledge of units and proposed types of rotation of member states. Owing to the above, the proposed structure of the ECOWAS Standby Force would be deliberated upon and expected to be approved.
To enhance security and safety in the Gulf of Guinea and the maritime exclusive economic zones, the ECOWAS Commission has stepped up security activities in order to surpass the activities of pirates and other related threats to our marine and maritime integrity. The implementation of the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy being put in place by the ECOWAS Commission to fight maritime crimes is thus going to be deliberated upon. As you are all aware, our maritime domain has been subdivided into Zones E, F and G for effective monitoring and preventive action. I am aware that the Regional Maritime Centre for West Africa (CRESMAO) is operational in Abidjan, awaiting troop contributions from member states for full operations.
After a successful Field Training Exercise conducted in South Africa by the African Union from 19th October to 7th November 2015, the African Standby Force was declared to have attained its full operational capability. To maintain our readiness as part of the force, the ECOWAS Commission through the Peace Support and Operations Division is organizing a Command Post Exercise codenamed Exercise JIGUI IV in 2018. Our senior colleague, the former Ivorian Chief of Defense Staff would share his experience with us on the situation in Mali and Guinea Bissau.
Permit me to render my sincerest thanks and appreciation to General AG Olonisakin, Chief of Defense Staff of the Nigeria, General Chiekh Gueye, Chief of Defense Staff of the Senegal and Lieutenant General Obed Akwa, Chief of Defense Staff of the Ghanaian Armed Forces for their contributions and counsel during the period I chaired this Committee and especially towards the deployment of ECOMIG.
Finally, l wish to state categorically that I have enjoyed working with all of you, my esteemed colleagues. This period would be one that is indelibly inscribed in my memory and in my heart and will remain a high point in my professional career as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia. As I hope to successfully end my tour of duty and hand over the mantle of leadership to my friend and colleague, Brigadier General TA Mohammed of the Togolese Armed Forces, it is my earnest desire that we will continue to coordinate and work towards sustaining the peace and improving upon the security situation in our sub region.
As part of the Liberian hospitality and to leave a lasting memory in your minds, I am inviting you all to a cultural night to be held tomorrow Thursday from 1900 hours, at the Monrovia City Hall after the day’s business. I intend to showcase our rich culture and by so doing, provide an avenue for us to unwind after our deliberations and also to entertain ourselves, the ECOWAS way.
Thank you very much and let’s have a productive meeting.