A serious debate is going on in Ghana over whether or not Ghana should participate in an ECOWAS military invasion of the Ivory Coast to dislodge Laurent Gbagbo. Here is a flavour of the debate as gleaned from Internet discussion forums:
So silent tactitians on the Board.., what really are West African armies good for? It seems to me that with all the troop numbers, years of military rule in the region not to mention a track record of sorts in peacekeeping operations, Ecomog etc. etc, armies still don’t have the requsite level of military intelligence resorces and capability??? And why does Ecowas keep threatening to intervene if really they don’t have the wherewithall? (Kwe…..ma yi bo eii!! tendencies)
B: I wish I could answer your question satisfactorily, but one loses currency very quickly when [one] drops the uniform. Here’s what I do know and think: Most of the military forces of West Africa have not changed substantially in composition from their colonial heritage. They are small, infantry heavy, only peripherally motorised/mobile and lack strategic and tactical airlift.
Nigeria might be the only exception only in some ways to these characterizations. They are good – for want of a better word – at relatively static operations, mostly positional defence where they dig in to deny incursions into specified territory from hostile forces. They are also useful for small scale offensive operations and internal operations in support of the police and civilian authority.
If one of our neighbours with territorial ambitions were to attack us, I am sure we would acquit ourselves quite> creditably. In my view our strength is in the so-called conventional operations. Our relative success in peacekeeping operations is largely because our presence in peacekeeping areas is based on the central principle of peacekeeping; the consent of the parties to the conflict and generously logistically supported by the UN Mission.
In these missions, the actual combat operations are limited to relatively small skirmishes of short duration. Even our combat experiences in ECOMOG could be seen as such when viewed from the perspective of the number of forces deployed and geographical areas over which combat was conducted. The success which came after several years was achieved in part by military superiority of ECOMOG forces in numbers, weaponry and tactics but also through concurrent political and other pressures exerted by the international community. Not to take anything away from ECOMOG successes, but I think the novelty of our undertakings in Liberia and Sierra Leone are partly responsible for the praise it received. It was quite unprecedented for a sub-regional economic organisation to take on the task of conflict resolution on its own terms.
The Gbagbo situation and military option, IMHO presents some real challenges. I haven’t really bothered to think these through in any structured way, but several thoughts come to mind: What targets do
> military forces need to seize in the initial assault(s) (centre[s] of
> gravity)? How will forces infiltrate the country to arrive at the
> target areas unopposed? What special skills and capabilities do these
> forces need to have? Do they have them and how long do they need to
> be trained in these skills? How long do initial forces need to hold on
> the targets before reinforcements can arrive? How will the
> reinforcements arrive and what size of forces are needed? What are the capabilities and loyalties of the 18,000 force Gbagbo is supposed to have at his disposal? How will his civilian supporters respond to such a military operation and what contingency plans need to be made for negative fallout from the civilian population? How can civilian casualties and collateral damage be kept to a minimum and what limitations will that consideration place on the use of fire power?
How can the detailed planning and preparations for such a multinational military undertaking be kept secure? Are there any ‘political/diplomatic considerations that will limit the best courses of military action?
Do political leaders in West Africa have the political will to commit forces to what could turn out to be a costly (in casualties/ resources at least) adventure? Who’s going to pay for all this?
Of course there is a standard military planning and decision making process to go through all these points properly. As I’ve said several times, the military option may be viable; it’s just not simple. Have to get back back to work now but let’s keep this alive. B
I think the elephant in the ‘strategic planning room’ you have overlooked is France. If ECOWAS asked France to help in military planning and logistics support, the French military bases in Dakar and Gabon would come in very handy.
ECOWAS, I also assume, would only go in with the full support o the UN and the US, in which case ECOWAS would be supplied on demand with info gathered by satellites as well as human intelligence on the ground. After all, ‘war is only a continuation of politics by other means’? And the politics has been very loud and open?
I am sure that if Gbagbo became aware that a serious and credible military threat existed, based on some of the factors I have outlined, the deterrent effect it would have on him would be considerable — though one cannot discount the possibility that he might be bent on suicide! He in fact reminds me eerily of Saddam!
C: B, this is sound reasoning to my civilian mind, I’ll wager. It probably isn’t very wise (strategic?) for the West African community of nations to undertake any military action right now. We’ve already talked about the safety of several other West Africans in CI and the implications for their safety. We cannot discount them being used as human shields or slaughtered to strike fear, shock and awe into the hearts of invaders. The rest of the region certainly cannot manage the chaos associated with refugees, damage to the land and environment, disease, etc.
More to the point, why are we tryin’ to go that way in these perilous times?……The powers that be are figuring out how to extricate themselves from the Middle Eastern flashpoints and we fools could be rushing in where angels fear to tread. The impact that a war across our borders will have on our embryonic oil industry/facilities doesn’t bear thinking. Maybe we should just keep talking for now.