By the end of May, U.S. officials expect to announce the name of a new military training program to replace the five-year-old African Crisis Response Initiative.
In its five years, the African Crisis Response Initiative, or ACRI, has seen over 8,600 African soldiers from several countries trained in peacekeeping tactics and humanitarian crisis operations.
Now the Clinton administration's original multi-million dollar program is being redesigned. While it will still aim to enhance the ability of African armed forces to serve in peace missions, Pentagon officials have said there will be some changes - largely to address concerns voiced by African defense representatives.
The Pentagon's top African affairs official, Michael Westphal, explained the ACRI training program was seen on the continent as too inflexible.
"When it [ACRI] first came out, one of the complaints was that we just kind of put this thing together, rolled it out, and said, 'You can participate or you cannot.' This time around we are engaging with partner countries in Africa to determine that we get their input to say 'this was important, this was not important; we think you should focus here; we should not focus so much there,' Mr. Westphal said.
Pentagon sources have said rather than an ACRI-styled single master plan for training all African armed forces, U.S. defense officials intend to pursue individual country-specific programs.
Training will be targeted to meet a country's desire for, say, improved field medical capabilities or airdrop skills or even equipment maintenance - all this in addition to traditional peacekeeping and humanitarian training.
Mr. Westphal said it is an important change in approach. "I think we often get caught up on Africa as one place. There are many places, and we should not have a program which approaches it as one place - not one cookie cutter, but rather an evaluation of the individual African militaries, what their capacities are, what we think they should be able to do, and what we would want to accomplish with them," he said.
Defense officials have been consulting with authorities from various African countries and regional groups - including those whose forces have already received training under the original ACRI program and others with experience in peacekeeping missions.
Pentagon sources have said African reaction to the new outline has generally been positive.
But they have said African officials have made some specific suggestions - including a new dimension to the human rights training included in the original ACRI program. This new dimension would stress negotiation skills and crowd control.
Pentagon officials envision the new program as a permanent one - not a limited, five-year effort like ACRI. In addition to getting input from African countries, the Defense Department is also attempting to enlist the support of European countries like Britain, France, Germany and Portugal. The aim is to coordinate the new U.S. program with European security assistance efforts in Africa.