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Pentagon's ACOTA Program to Offer 'Flexible' Training for African Soldiers - 2002-07-17

The five-year-old U.S. military training program for Africa known as ACRI or Africa Crisis Response Initiative, has a successor. It is called ACOTA, which stands for Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance. The change involves more than just a new name.

In its five years, the original ACRI program saw over 8,600 soldiers from several African countries trained in peacekeeping tactics and humanitarian crisis operations.

Now the Clinton administration's original multi-million dollar program has been redesigned. While the Bush administration's new ACOTA program is still focused on enhancing the ability of African armed forces to serve in peace missions, there is a new dimension: improving the ability of African units from various countries to work together to facilitate sub-regional and regional operations. The new program will also be custom-tailored for each country, no longer following a "one-model fits all" approach.

The Pentagon's top African affairs official, Michael Westphal, says the original ACRI training scheme was seen as too inflexible.

"I think we often get caught up on Africa as one place. There are many places, and we shouldn't 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.

The new program will include training, technical and maintenance assistance and the provision of some field equipment. Pentagon officials say it is designed to be flexible and sustainable but always based on the partner country's interests and capacities. A fact sheet on the new program makes no mention of funding for the plan other than to note the availability of funds will regulate just how quickly ACOTA can expand on the continent.

Priority for program participation will be given to those countries that have previously provided forces for peace support or humanitarian relief operations. But otherwise, all sub-Saharan countries eligible for U.S. security assistance can take part. In addition, the Pentagon says any regional or sub-regional organization with a defense and security role could receive training.

Defense officials say the plan is the product of consultations with authorities from various African countries and regional groups. They say initial African reaction to the new outline has generally been positive.