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Getting Logistics Right: An Imperative for Peace Operations

Much of the task of building a sustainable peacekeeping capability comes down to prioritizing logistical capacity as a component of a national policy.

Amani Africa II (Photo: GCIS)

The Amani Africa II field training exercise, held in November 2015 in South Africa, tested the AU’s rapid deployment capability and involved some 6,000 military personnel, civilians, and police representing more than 30 African countries. (Photo: GCIS)

“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” The sentiment is commonly held among security operations specialists, who know that a mission can quickly collapse without effective deployment and management of the processes and resources needed to support it. This theme and the priorities for strengthening the logistical capacity of the security sector in Africa were the focus of a recently completed Africa Logistics Forum hosted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Accra, Ghana, for 100 African security sector professionals representing 40 countries.

Nowhere are the benefits of strong logistics and the shortcomings of weak logistics seen more starkly than in African peace operations. African nations frequently deploy forces into “the most operationally and logistically challenging conditions in the world,” says Colonel (Ret.) Daniel Hampton, professor of practice in security studies at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Without a strong logistics system, their complex, shifting, and expansive mandates cannot be delivered effectively. Troops earmarked for deployment must be transported to the mission area in a rapid and timely manner. Once in mission, they must be fed, supplied, transported, and supported to sustain their operations.

Logistics systems, furthermore, must be able to adapt to different operational scenarios. “There is no such thing as a typical mission,” says Gerard de Groot, a history professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “An observer mission might require nothing more complex than some satellite phones, a few vehicles and some laptop computers. A large-scale pacification mission, on the other hand, needs food, clothing, weaponry, armored cars, ammunition, medical supplies, helicopters, and transport planes.” A system that incorporates these elements enables troops to accomplish their objective, whether it is relocating vulnerable and affected groups, protecting civilians, neutralizing threats, or implementing sustained efforts to ensure stability.

The complexity of peace mission environments is a major constraining factor in building that logistical capacity, De Groot observes. “In war, the army mobilizes, engages the enemy, wins, and then departs.” This contrasts, he argues, with the far more varied and unconventional requirements of peace missions, which include “subduing belligerents, protecting civilians, supervising ceasefires, destroying weapons, assisting refugees, delivering humanitarian assistance, and helping reconstruct political order.” Each of these duties raises logistical problems for which conventional militaries are frequently unprepared.

Another challenge is the sheer cost of keeping forces supplied in the mission area—an immense financial burden that very few African countries are able to shoulder in the long term. But while financial support is undoubtedly a constraining factor, some of it can be mitigated through better planning and prioritization, notes Paul Williams, an associate professor of international affairs at The George Washington University. “Many African countries have sustained multiyear deployments in external military conflicts, suggesting that the lack of logistical capacity might, in some instances, be a function of particular political choices and alternative priorities, even corruption.” This pattern can be observed, for instance, when governments invest in expensive systems that do not adequately reflect security realities. Such expenditures might instead be used to acquire less costly capabilities that enhance logistics and reflect the country’s commitment to participating in peace missions.

Much of this comes down to recognizing logistical capacity is a component of a national policy and prioritization framework. “Since most peace operations occur on the African continent, it is in African states’ regional security interests to resolve conflicts and lead stabilization efforts,” notes Hampton. South Africa’s 2014 White Paper on National Defense ranks peacekeeping second in priority only to territorial defense. Says retired South African Brigadier General George Kruys, his country’s ability to support its force deployments in Africa, despite a host of logistical, resource, and operational constraints, is due in no small measure to its systems and a strong culture of logistics and planning developed over time within the Ministry of Defense.

Regional and international coordination is also critical. However, Hampton cautions that “capabilities provided by external partners are perishable.” He notes, “If equipment is provided that is not part of a nation’s materiel acquisition strategy or not compatible or interoperable with other equipment in the defense inventory, it will not be of much use.” This also applies to training, which “if not adapted within a defense force logistics system and supported by overarching doctrine, will not be retained.” External support also needs to be properly leveraged. “It should not strain the institutional capacity of the local partner,” says Hampton. “If it does, then priority must be given to strengthening institutions either as a prerequisite or simultaneously.”

In January 2016, African Union (AU) leaders announced that the much-anticipated African Standby Force—a, multidisciplinary, African peacekeeping force to be deployed to emergencies on the continent—was nearing full operational capacity. There was cause for optimism as the AU, in November 2015, mounted its largest field training exercise yet, Amani Africa II, at the South African Army Combat Training Center in Lohatla in the Northern Cape. The site is one of only ten facilities of its kind in the world designed for training in land warfare and peace support operations. The three-week exercise tested the AU’s rapid deployment capability and involved some 6,000 military personnel, civilians, and police representing more than 30 African countries drawn from the five regional standby forces.

Cedric De Coning, who helped coordinate the civilian dimensions of the first multinational exercise, “Blue Crane,” in 1997, says the African Standby Force “is part of an ongoing effort to develop a common vision and action plan for the development of peacekeeping capacity on the continent.” The idea was still in its embryonic stages when Blue Crane was conducted, he noted, and Amani Africa II exhibited how much progress has been made in two decades. Taking this progress to the next level depends greatly on the ability to maintain high standards and a clear vision of the logistical support required to respond effectively to crises.

Africa Center Expert

  • Daniel Hampton, Professor of Practice, Security Studies, Africa Center for Strategic Studies

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