One of the smallest (27,925 square miles) and poorest of the West African countries, Sierra Leone gained independence from Britain peacefully in April 1961. The first Prime Minister was Sir Milton Margai (a Mende) whose party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), and its allies, won the most seats (28 out of 62) at elections for the House of Representatives held in 1962. Sir Milton died in 1964 and was succeeded as Prime Minister by his brother, Dr (later Sir) Albert Margai.
Further elections were held in March 1967, when his SLPP was defeated by Siaka Stevens All Peoples Congress (APC); but before Stevens was sworn in, State House was surrounded and Brigadier David Lansana, the (Mende) army chief, staged a coup d¾ tat in an attempt to maintain Mende supremacy. Within days, Lansana was in turn overthrown by non-Mende military subordinates and Lt.-Colonel Andrew Juxon-Smith (from the Krio community in Freetown, the capital) took office. In April 1968, the junta was ousted by junior officers and NCOs who handed government office to Stevens, thereby restoring civilian rule.1
Sierra Leone became a republic in 1971; but after losing seats in the 1977 general elections, President Stevens introduced a one-party state in 1978, with his APC as the sole legal party. The absence of constitutional checks on his authority engendered widespread political and corporate corruption - a legacy inherited by Stevens chosen successor, General Joseph Momoh, who became President in 1985. Against the backdrop of a bankrupt economy and deteriorating public confidence in the administrations ability to maintain the rule of law, Momoh was toppled in yet another military coup in April 1992. The military revolt was engineered by junior officers, led by Captain Valentine Strasser (who became military head of state), frustrated by the armys failure to halt a civil war which had broken out in March 1991.2 This began when a small force of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters, established by Mende-speaking Sierra Leonean dissidents, headed by former army corporal Foday Sankoh, crossed from Liberia into Sierra Leone.3
In the countrys fourth coup d¾ tat in January 1996, Strasser (a Krio) was overthrown by Mende colleagues led by Brigadier Julius Bio who succeeded in arranging a cease-fire with Sankohs RUF. Multiparty elections took place in February 1996 - a poll won by Ahmed Tejan Kabbahs SLPP, the party that had taken office after independence. President Kabbahs democratically-elected government was overthrown in May 1997 when Major Johnny Paul Koromah seized control of the government and immediately offered to share power with the rebel RUF, whose forces entered Freetown the same month. Koromahs Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) government included Sankoh. In response to these upheavals, the AFRC was ousted in February 1998 after an assault on the capital by Nigerian-led troops from a peacekeeping force organised by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However the return of Kabbah from exile in March failed to stem fierce resistance from rebel fighters in the war-ravaged countryside or to improve Sierra Leones grave economic crisis. Indeed, the countrys condition was so dire by then that it was ranked last in the UNs 1998 Human Development Index, which measures prosperity on the basis of income, literacy and life expectancy etc.4
Fighting between ECOWAS forces and rebels continued through 1998 and into 1999. Indeed the civil war escalated in January 1999, when anti-government forces including both RUF fighters and other militia loyal to the former AFRC regime nearly succeeded in capturing Freetown. During the attack, RUF forces and their AFRC allies killed several thousand civilians before being forced into the surrounding countryside by ECOWAS troops. A July 1999 cease-fire, providing for RUF representation and a general amnesty from prosecution for war crimes, collapsed in May 2000 when RUF units kidnapped hundreds of UN peacekeepers and again attacked Freetown. The renewal of hostilities led to the arrival of a beefed-up UN presence, together with British troops (see International community involvement, below), a critical development that turned the tide of battle and eventually resulted in the peace agreement of May 2001.5
On 15 May 2001, a deal was signed in Freetown between the government and Sierra Leones RUF rebels agreeing to an immediate cessation of hostilities and the deployment of UNAMSIL peacekeepers into former RUF territory as a prelude to a disarmament programme. The RUF were essentially forced into the deal as a result of the British presence and also because its forces were being squeezed by the Guinean army - one of the RUFs key opponents since South Africas Executive Outcomes retook the Kono diamond fields from the RUF in 1996. By September 2001, some 14,000 former combatants had been disarmed under the 14 August 2001 UN-administered Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process (almost 6,000 from the RUF and around 8,000 from the pro-government CDF6), prompting Western diplomats and security analysts to speak of a turning point in the countrys decade-long civil war.
According to Dr Francis Kai-Kai, Executive Secretary of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), at the end of October 2001, 24,079 ex-combatants had handed in their weapons nation-wide since the disarmament process resumed in mid-May 2001. The numbers included 8,518 RUF, 15,100 CDF and several hundred others.7 By the end of 2001, the UN had moved into RUF strongholds in the east and north, including valuable diamond fields previously under rebel control.
One other security concern relates to piracy, which is a growing problem off the West African coast, including Sierra Leone. For instance in October 2001, a eight-man gang of Kalashnikov-wielding pirates attacked the 5,200-tonne fuel carrier Cape Georjean moored off Cape Sierra Point. They were thwarted by a British marine superintendent armed with a pump-action shotgun and members of the mainly Russian crew.
Security related budget
British government spending of some £48 million on military support to Sierra Leone constitutes/will constitute the bulk of that countrys security related funding for 2001/02. Much of this had been used to train and equip the 8,500 SLA soldiers by September 2001. See, too, Defence budget (below).
- Minister of Defence : President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
- Deputy Defence Minister : Captain (rtd.) Sam Hinga Norman
- Minister of Safety and Security : Charles Margai
- Justice Minister & Attorney General : Solomon Berewa
International community involvement
In a desperate effort to prevent Sierra Leone from plunging back into full-scale anarchy, President Kabbah requested additional assistance from the UN and Britain in 2000. The UN responded by expanding its peacekeeping force - originally deployed in 1999 - from some 8,000 troops in May 2000 to 13,000 by September. The United Kingdom also reacted with celerity by dispatching a battle group of 1,500 elite troops (mainly Royal Marines and soldiers from the Parachute Regiment) in May to secure Freetown and its airport and to strengthen government and UN forces. The swift British deployment halted the RUF assault on the capital and led, by the end of May, to the release of all remaining UN hostages. However dozens of peacekeepers had been killed during skirmishes with RUF units.
On 10 September 2000, British airborne forces including Special Air Service (SAS) troops rescued six British soldiers and a Sierra Leonean captured and held hostage by a renegade militia, the West Side Boys. The brilliantly executed operation, in which one SAS NCO and dozens of militiamen died, dealt a body-blow to rebel morale - setting the stage for further rebel setbacks and ultimately leading to the May 2001 peace accord. By then, the civil war had claimed up to 100,000 lives and displaced more than half of the countrys 4.5 million population.
During 2001, a United States partnership with several West African armies - Operation Focus Relief - was responsible for training Ghanaian, Senegalese and Nigerian battalions to bolster UNAMSIL operations in Sierra Leone.8
In November 2001, an 800-man Nepalese infantry battalion arrived in Sierra Leone, bringing UNAMSIL up to its mandated strength of 17,500 under its highly experienced Kenyan commander, Lt.-General Daniel Opande. UNAMSILs main function is to provide security and logistical aid for the forthcoming May 2002 parliamentary and presidential elections. In a report to the Security Council in September 2001, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said force needs for UNAMSIL were still under review. He said any increase would be to add vital specialist support capabilities. These would include logistical assets, such as construction engineers to assist in deploying UNAMSIL, and transportation, including helicopter support, for moving election monitors.9
Forces deployed outside country
No SLA personnel are deployed outside Sierra Leone. However hot pursuit operations and joint military patrols by the security forces of the Mano River Union countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are taking place in an effort to prevent armed dissident groups from launching cross-border attacks along their common frontiers.
Sierra Leone Army
President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Under him is the Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier-General Tom Carew. Director of Operations is Colonel Alfred Nelson-Williams. Commanding Officer of the Force Reconnaissance Group (FRG) is Captain Dimor Musa. Commander, British Forces Sierra Leone: Brigadier Nick Parker.
Since October 2000, the SLA has in effect been under the umbrella of a British command structure at its HQ in the capital, Freetown. After the completion of the British training teams job in September 2001, British soldiers stayed on to help with administration and central planning of a force modelled on the light infantry structure sections of the British army. The SLA also boasts an elite unit of more than 100 troops, the Force Reconnaissance Group.
Apart from its HQ at Cockerill Barracks in Freetown, units at Lungi Airport and infantry barracks in the capital, elements of the SLA have been moving out of Freetown since May 2001 and reoccupying its former bases in the countryside. To aid them, the Sierra Leone Police - including members of its Special Security Division - have also been deployed in former rebel-held territory as part of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme. The SLAs main training base is the Benguema Infantry Training Centre north of Freetown. The SLAs 4th Infantry Brigade is located in Port Loko, near the northern front line.
Sierra Leones own defence budget for 1999/2000 stood at approximately $11 million. Expenditure in 2001 was in fact a good deal higher, much of it subsidised by the UK Treasury.10 See Security related budget (above).
Based on British army strategic thinking, the SLAs military doctrine against rebel groups has been to aggressively recapture territory from rebel forces, leaving UN peacekeepers to consolidate these areas in the aftermath.
By September 2001, the SLA had expanded to approximately 8,500 troops, with a small Air Wing and some 200 Navy personnel.
SLA strength is augmented by pro-government civil defence force (CDF) militia known as the Kamajors, controlled by Chief Hinga Norman, the Deputy Defence Minister, who have traditionally supported Kabbahs administration. In late-2001, there were concerns that the Kamajors were concealing weapons from the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration commission. Some former AFRC soldiers also fit into the pro-Kabbah militia category.
Until recently, the SLA recruited mainly from the Mende population in the south. As a result of the May 2001 cease-fire, successful efforts were made to recruit on a wider geographical/ethnic basis.
Until the arrival of British forces in May 2000, the SLA was ill-disciplined and badly trained and equipped, with its senior officer corps spending a good part of its time pursuing private commercial activities in the capital. SLA officers appeared to have had little interest in the welfare of their subordinates.11
The arrival of British forces in May 2000 was designed not only to act as an immediate bulwark to the RUF, but also to train SLA personnel so that they could do the job of neutralising the rebels themselves. In this regard, on 1 September 2001, UK Minister of State for Defence Geoff Hoon announced that the British trainers, known as the British Army Short Term Training Team (STTT) would complete its task on 7 September, reducing the British military presence to some 360 personnel. Hoon stated that London would continue to provide military observers and staff officers for (i) the UN mission (UNAMSIL), (ii) a continuing training element for the newly designated International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) and (iii) a force protection element for IMATT consisting of 110 soldiers. Britains Ministry of Defence announced that the UK would provide around 100 personnel to the current IMATT strength of 126. The other nations involved in the IMATT are Australia, Canada and the USA. London is also looking for African partners to join the training team.12
The withdrawal of the British STTT concluded the successful training by the UK of around 8,500 Sierra Leonean soldiers - a task widely recognised as crucial in transforming the security situation in the country. Specialists such as engineers still have to be trained.
Numbers of the following pieces of equipment not known: T-72 MBT; Ferret recce; Saladin recce; Piranha recce; Roland APC; OT-64 APC; 25-pounder FG. In addition to the above, air-launched weapons include SA-7 Grail; AT-2 Swatter; AT-3 Sagger and AT-6 Spiral. Rockets include S-5 57mm; UB-32 Pod; S-8 80mm and B-8V20A 80mm. Additional guns include UBK 12.7mm and USPU-24 Turret. The UK has also supplied 10 million rounds of 7.62mm small arms ammunition and 4,000 81mm mortar rounds. SLA Air Wing helicopter procurement is noted below.
In April 1999, Sierra Leone purchased from Ukraine two re-built Russian-made Mi-24V Hind helicopters, which have been widely credited with helping to shift the military balance in favour of government forces. However in October 2001 one of the helicopter gunships crashed during a routine reconnaissance mission in eastern Sierra Leone, killing a British officer, leaving the SLA temporarily without an operating gunship since the second one has auxiliary power unit problems and requires a replacement. A third Mi-24, written off in 1998, has been stripped of parts; but there are plans to ship it back to Ukraine for a complete overhaul. Meanwhile, British, Russian and Ukrainian military helicopters provide support for UNAMSIL forces.14
In October 2001, Britain donated a large quantity of military equipment and supplies, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, machine-guns, rifles, trucks and other military vehicles, medical equipment, 25,000 uniforms and 7,000 pairs of boots.15
REVOLUTIONARY UNITED FRONT (RUF)
General Issa Sesay is interim RUF leader. RUF spokesman is Gibril Massaquoi, with whom Sesay has major differences. Omrie Golley is chairman of the RUFs peace council. Former RUF leader Foday Sankoh remains imprisoned in Freetown. If released, he could resume the leadership of the RUF; but many Sierra Leoneans insist that he should stand trial for war crimes.16
The RUF has gained an unenviable international reputation as a brutal guerrilla force that has campaigned on the basis of indiscriminate terror against civilians in rural areas - resulting in untold numbers of murders, rapes and mutilations. Kidnappings of UN military observers and aid workers have also been high on the doctrinal agenda for use in seizing weapons and gaining political concessions. RUF units have frequently operated as little more than bandits but on other occasions they have proved capable of disciplined operations.
Support and allies.
Liberias warlord President Charles Taylor has been the key foreign sponsor of the RUF rebels. Taylors regime has been the main beneficiary of conflict diamonds, smuggled from Sierra Leone to Liberia in order to pay for steady supplies of weapons and other equipment - a symbiotic relationship heavily undermined by the UN Security Councils unanimous support in March 2001 for sanctions against Liberia.
In the largest alleged shipment of weapons to the RUF, the UN in May 2000 claimed that 67 tons of military equipment, including SAM-7 missiles, guided anti-tank rockets, 3,000 Kalashnikovs, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from Ukraine had reached RUF rebels via Liberia.17 According to US and European intelligence officials, the RUF has also been selling cut-price diamonds to Osama bin Ladens al-Qaeda network to support the groups terrorist activities.18
Strength and composition.
Until the March 2001 cease-fire, estimated at 15,000. However throughout the 1990s the structure and strength of the RUF remained uncertain.
Bases and areas of operation.
RUF operations have been conducted from their previously safe haven bases in Eastern Command and Northern Command. Training camps for RUF rebels inside Liberia have also been provided by President Taylor. At the end of 2001, some of the diamond mines remain in rebel hands, but former rebel strongholds have been becoming increasingly under UN control since the May 2000 peace accord. In anticipation of the RUFs transformation into a political party ahead of the 2002 elections, the RUF in October 2001 opened offices in central Freetown.
Apart from the RUF, Sierra Leone has also been host to the West Side Boys, dozens of whom were killed in the British airborne SAS/Parachute Regiment attack on 10 September 2000, Operation Barras. The West Side Boys - infamous for being drunk or high on drugs - were mainly members and followers of the ousted AFRC junta headed by Johnny Paul Koroma.
Finally, there were reports in 2000 and early 2001 that former members of the South African military were training rebels in Liberia at Gbtala, 100 miles north of the capital, Monrovia.19 The rumours of South African mercenaries raised memories of the role of Gurkha Security Guards Ltd., and Executive Outcomes in the Sierra Leone governments war against RUF rebels during the mid-1990s.20
- Sierra Leone, in Colin Legum (ed.), Africa Handbook, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1969.
- Sierra Leone, in Africa A-Z, Africa Institute, Pretoria, 1998.
- William Reno, War and the failure of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, SIPRI Yearbook 2001, SIPRI, OUP, Stockholm, 2001, p.149.
- Sierra Leone, The 1999 World Book Year Book, World Book Inc., Chicago, 1999.
- See, too, John L. Hirsch, War in Sierra Leone, Survival, IISS Quarterly, Autumn 2001, pp.145-162.
- Janes Defence Weekly, 12 September 2001.
- Sierra Leone News Web, 29 October 2001.
- Janes Defence Weekly, 23 May 2001; and Africa Research Bulletin, 1-31 March 2001, p.14353.
- Janes Defence Weekly, 26 September 2001.
- The Military Balance 2000/2001, IISS, London, October 2000, p.281.
- Christopher Clapham, Sierra Leone, in South African Yearbook of International Affairs, SAIIA, Johannesburg, 1996, p.257.
- Janes Defence Weekly, 12 September 2001.
- Sources include The Military Balance 2000/2001, p.281; Janes Air-Launched Weapons, 16 August 2000; and Janes Defence Weekly, 10 October 2001.
- For more details, see Janes Defence Weekly, 14 February 2001.
- Sierra Leone News Archives, October 2001.
- Africa Confidential, 29 June 2001.
- Africa Research Bulletin, 1-31 May 2000, p.13988.
- Washington Post, 1 November 2001.
- International Defense Review, 1 September 2000 and Janes Terrorism Watch Report, 4 January 2001.
- William Reno, War and the failure of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone. op. cit., p.151.