The attention of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) High Command has been drawn to the Kerr Fatou Online News Outlet’s story with the headline “Samsudeen Sarr Says ECOMIG Should Stay in Gambia as Long as Barrow is President” which was published on 12 August 2023. In the said story, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Sarr stated that, “… the reformation of the Army has gone beyond my imagination. We thought that day one it was going to be Security Sector Reform (SSR), but it was predicated on the wrong assessment. The army is polluted and nonsensical. The promotions were bad, but then it never changed. The very reason that we attacked Jammeh for is what this government is doing”. Additionally, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Samsudeen Sarr wrote, in an article on the Standard Newspaper with the headline “Gambia Warned not to Send Troops to Niger”, published on 3 August 2023, on the possible deployment of an ECOWAS intervention force in Niger, among other things that, “unless we complete our long-awaited Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the Gambia, our troops should not be deployed in any war … I firmly believe that we are not adequately prepared for such an undertaking”.
The GAF wishes to state that the remarks by the retired Senior Officer are disappointing, fallacious, farfetched, ill-informed and out of touch with the current realities in the Armed Forces. In his ill-fated assessment which is devoid of facts, he showed a total lack of understanding of what SSR entails. Additionally, his comments on the promotions in the GAF are malicious and showed his total disconnect with the reforms in the GAF today. Furthermore, the former Army Commander exhibited the height of his ignorance before an unsuspecting audience with his ill-informed assessment of the level of preparedness of GAF, for possible deployment to Niger or any other mission. The retired Senior Officer erroneously misled his audience with his comparison of the conflict in Liberia (which was caused by a rebellion and a civil war) with the current political situation in Niger (occasioned by a military coup). In short, he was comparing apples with oranges. Perhaps it could be deduced that his panicked state of mind during the Liberian crises, which apparently led to his cowardly act of refusing to deploy when his comrades had their introduction to battle in Liberia, still resides in him. He should therefore thank his stars for he should have been court martialled by the Army (in line with established military procedures) for his lame excuse and refusal to be deployed in Liberia at the time.
The Armed Forces, therefore wishes to clarify that contrary to the ill-informed, malicious and contemptible aspersions by the retired Senior Officer, SSR is not an event but a systematic and logical process which is locally driven to promote national ownership, with support from strategic partners. The ultimate aim of SSR is the achievement of certain tangible benchmarks such as improving the living and working conditions of the members of the armed forces. It also leads to the achievement of intangibles such as review and formulation of policy documents, conduct of study tours, workshops, seminars, development of communication strategies, capacity building, amongst others. Accordingly, so many giant strides have been made by the government of His Excellency President Adama Barrow and GAF in the domain of SSR since the dawn of the new political dispensation in 2017.
Among some of the achievements by the government in this domain is the creation of the Office of National Security (ONS), the Ministry of Defence and the appointment of a National Security Advisor and a Minister of Defence respectively. The government also rejuvenated the Armed Forces Council which is a key component of reform of the defence sector. Several vital policy documents were formulated by the ONS such as National Security Policy, the National Security Strategy and the Security Sector Reform Strategy; most of which were launched. The MOD successfully completed the drafting of the first-ever Gambia National Defence Policy (which was recently launched by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces) and the National Defence Strategy (yet to be launched). Suffice it to state that at the level of the legislature, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Defence and Security has also been exercising its oversight function of the Armed Forces. For instance, the CDS has been summoned several times by the Committee and he has always obliged with his physical presence to update them on the administration and operations of the Armed Forces. Today, it is gratifying to state that the Armed Forces has distanced itself and its personnel from partisan politics, an allegation that had tainted the image of GAF in the past. The High Command, under the leadership of the CDS, has successfully insulated the GAF from any tendency towards actively participating in partisan politics. It has to be reiterated that members of GAF have the inherent right to vote during elections; however, they are conscious of the fact that their party affiliation must not be openly manifest. This is necessary to maintain our professionalism and win the hearts and minds of Gambians and non-Gambians. As part of its reforms, GAF maintains an Open – Door policy to the media and the public by giving timely and accurate information through media outlets at home and abroad. GAF today can boast of an enviable performance track record as regards respect for Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of citizens and everyone living in this country. This fact has been corroborated by the National Human Rights Commission of The Gambia in its recent Report which has found that GAF is one of the institutions that respects Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of all persons.
On the erroneous assessment of promotions in GAF, the GAF High Command wishes to inform the retired Senior Officer that today, promotion in GAF is not “business as usual”. The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has put in place a structured method of promotion whereby Officers sit to Promotional Exams (PROMEX) supervised by an independent Board which reviews candidates’ eligibility for promotion based on merit. The promotions are also based on the availability of vacancies within GAF in line with the Table of Organisation and Equipment (TOE). A similarly structured but appropriate method of promotion is applied in the case of soldiers and Non-Commissioned Officers.
GAF wishes to further clarify that the retired Senior Officer misled his unsuspecting audience with his attempt at making a fallacious assessment of the level of preparedness of GAF. It might be gratifying to state, without equivocation, that GAF is today relatively better equipped in terms of human resources than at any other time in her entire history. The Armed Forces has a pool of highly qualified specialists and professionals with post graduate degrees in so many fields from defence and security, peace and conflict studies, medicine, law, engineering, finance amongst others. It might be instructive to assert that our gallant men and women attended several training courses that have prepared them for appointments at the operational, strategic as well as at the international level with the United Nations, African Union and ECOWAS. Significantly, our personnel have attended civil courses at home and abroad; at Universities like the University of The Gambia (UTG), GAF had produced two Valedictorians. Some of our other personnel at the UTG also graduated with distinction in their respective departments. Today, so many of our officers have also attended several professional military training courses at Command and Staff Colleges, War Colleges as well as Defence Colleges in Nigeria, Turkiye, Ghana, China, Pakistan, USA, and UK amongst others. It might interest the retired Senior Officer to note that our officers have also held sensitive appointments under the auspices of the United Nations, AU and ECOWAS at the highest levels. Their performances at these strategic positions had been commendable and exemplary by all standards.
Furthermore, GAF wishes to educate the retired Senior Officer that the Armed Forces is also today relatively better equipped in terms of equipment and logistics than it had ever been in its history. In the area of Peace Support Operations (PSO), the GAF Command is vigorously engaging the United Nations and other strategic partners to deploy a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in a UN mission. It has to be emphasised that the task of a QRF is a very risky venture and is totally different from the usual peace keeping tasks. Therefore, the fact that GAF has been given this task by the UN to deploy as a QRF goes to show the level of trust and confidence that the international peacekeeping community have in our personnel. Consequently, series of joint exercises have been conducted both at home and abroad with our strategic partners such as the Turkish Armed Forces (250 personnel each of QRFs 2 and 3 trained in Isparta, Turkiye), the British Royal Gibraltar Regiment (trained QRF 1), US, amongst others.
It should be emphasised that GAF has an enviable performance track record in Peace Keeping Operations either under the auspices of ECOWAS, AU or the UN. On the basis of this, our soldiers had been tasked with complex and often sensitive missions in Liberia and Guinea Bissau in the 90s and in Darfur, Sudan with protection of the UNAMID Forces Headquarters from 2004 until the liquidation of the mission. Interestingly, the coward in the retired Senior Officer sadly, advised him to chicken out when it was his turn for deployment to the ECOMOG mission in Liberia. Therefore, he is in no position to talk about or give an accurate assessment of the performance of Gambian soldiers in Liberia or the capabilities of GAF for possible deployment to any mission. Suffice it to state that the Gambian people (through the National Assembly) have the final say in any decision to deploy Gambian troops in any military operation outside the shores of The Gambia. This is succinctly captured in Section 188 (4) of the 1997 Constitution that, “The President shall not deploy any troops outside The Gambia without the approval of the National Assembly”. It must be emphasised that our gallant, brave men and women have been praised for their gallantry and professionalism in the missions they participated. Most importantly, GAF personnel have never had any adverse report against them in the conduct of their duties in any mission throughout the world. This is contrary to the erroneous and malicious assertion by the retired Senior Officer.
Granted that the Senior Officer had held enviable positions in the Armed Forces (Commander of the GNA), it has to be emphasised that he had no strategic level of training until his retirement. He has also not held any key command and staff appointments either as Battalion Commander or head of a Directorate at the DHQ prior to his apparent and questionable rise to these enviable positions. His deficiency in strategic military training can be seen in his depth of knowledge as well as some of his watery and sometimes infantile analysis of complex military issues. The retired Senior Officer is hereby challenged to share such qualifications in strategic level training if at all he had any after Infantry Officer Basic Course (IOBC) and Junior Staff Course. These are military qualifications which an overwhelming number of Officers in the Armed Forces today have surpassed. Secondly, the only positions he held in the Armed Forces at the time prior to catapulting himself to the top were Staff Officer at the Army Headquarters and at the Ministry of Defence. He has never led or commanded troops into a serious military operation to be able to learn the intricacies of how to lead men to war or how an Armed Forces operates, plans and executes a war. Besides, he left the Army at a time when the Armed Forces had not expanded and grown to its current size.
From the foregoing, the retired Senior Officer is not in any position to give an intelligent assessment of the capabilities or operational readiness of GAF to deploy in any military operation both locally and abroad. Moreover, the Senior Officer lacks a fundamental quality of consistency, bravery and most importantly credibility. Here is a man who wrote a book, “Coup D’état by the Gambia National Army”, just for him to turn around and claim that all that he wrote in the Book was false and that he was a liar. Therefore, the retired Senior Officer has nothing whatsoever to contribute because he lacks the moral authority to give an honest opinion on GAF or sensitive national security matters. His performance at the Kerr Fatou Online News Outlet can best be described as a desperate attempt at writing an ‘Application letter for employment’ or a woeful and shambolic performance at an interview for a job.
Furthermore, the GAF High Command wishes to reiterate that respect invites respect just like disrespect invites disrespect. The action of the retired Senior Officer to insult the fine men and women in GAF by saying that, “the army is polluted and nonsensical. The promotions were bad, but then it never changed”, is uncalled for and unethical. This is a despicable and treacherous act on the part of the retired Senior Officer; he is someone who was moulded by GAF from a humble beginning from where he rose through the ranks and ultimately gained everything including fame and glory in this country and beyond. It just goes to further amplify our assertions about the character of the Senior Officer. This is the height of ingratitude on his part!
GAF never intended to go this far! However, it is the considered view of the GAF High Command that the retired Senior Officer has crossed a red line this time around which will not go unchecked. We therefore call on him to shut up and never attempt at insulting the integrity of the gallant men and women of GAF again. He is in no position to discuss strategic issues that border on national security and the Armed Forces in particular. Furthermore, he should stop using the issues of the Armed Forces to pursue his hidden and nefarious agenda/vendetta with ill-informed, malicious, unfounded commentaries and assessments.
The GAF High Command is appalled and is finding it very difficult to continue to respect the retired Senior Officer due to his unguarded public utterances especially on issues about the operations of the Armed Forces. The retired Senior Officer had on numerous occasions been engaged constructively by GAF on some of his unguarded, misleading and sometimes contemptible utterances and publications on the Armed Forces and national security to no avail. GAF commends the likes of retired Colonel Baboucarr Jatta, retired Lieutenant Colonel Pa Modou Ann, retired Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence R Jarra, retired Lieutenant Colonel Abdoulie Conteh, retired Major Antouman Saho and late retired Major Maba Jobe, amongst others. These are fine gentlemen-officers who epitomize professionalism and have high regard for the GAF High Command and the entire Armed Forces. They have never sighed away from reaching out to GAF to provide candid, professional advice as well as commend the professionalism in the Armed Forces today. Perhaps, the retired senior Officer needs to take dressing from these retired senior officers. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Sam Sarr need not be reminded that he is still bound by the Official Secret Act which he swore to uphold while serving in the Armed Forces for his actions/inactions even as a private citizen.
We hope that the retired Senior Officer has learnt a little from this expose on the SSR and some of the milestone achievements registered by the government and the Armed Forces. The GAF High Command is very open to constructive engagement with all and sundry in the search for innovative methods of enhancing the operational efficiency of the fine men and women in uniform who are ready to pay the ultimate price for the love of this country.
Finally, the Armed Forces wishes to assure the general public of its readiness to maintain its professionalism while at the same time subjecting itself to civil oversight and authority.
Lt. Col. Lamin K. Sanyang