US-Lesotho begin talks over military cooperation

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 Herbert Moyo

THE United States and Lesotho have begun talks over the resumption of military cooperation between their respective armies, a senior official in the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), has said.

The deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement at AFRICOM, Ambassador Alexander Laskaris, recently visited Lesotho at the request of US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales.  Ambassador Laskaris whose delegation included civilian and military representatives from AFRICOM, met Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, senior Ministry of Defence and Foreign Affairs officials to discuss progress made to date on the implementation of security sector reforms and improving civil-military relations in Lesotho.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have fully implemented constitutional and security reforms. These, along with media, judicial and governance reforms, are seen as crucial in re-establishing lasting peace and stability without which socio-economic development would not be possible.

In recent years, Lesotho has experienced instability particularly from 2012 to 2017 whose most visible characteristics were the attempted coup on Dr Thabane’s first government in 2014 and three elections in the space of five years, first in 2015 then 2015 and in 2017. During that period the country also witnessed the assassinations of army commanders, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao (on 25 June 2015) and Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo (on 5 September 2017).

Many civilians were also killed during the instability which occurred during the tenure of Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli who was eventually forced to retire on 1 December 2016.

It was also during that period that the US military stopped providing training programs with the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).  During that time, however, the US Department of Defence continued to support HIV-related health services for members of Lesotho’s armed forces, their families and communities through PEPFAR.

Military cooperation between the armies of the two countries could resume after the recent visit of   Ambassador Laskaris and his delegation.  Ambassador Laskaris said his visit “serves as an initial step to re-open conversations between the US military and the LDF”.

Ambassador Laskaris visited LDF Commander Lt-Gen Mojalefa Letsoela at Ratjomose barracks and praised the latter for his efforts to professionalise the LDF and to improve relations between the LDF and the other security services, including the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

“My visit to Lesotho serves as an initial step to re-open conversations between the US military and the LDF and to begin to consider the possibility of further engagement and training.

“Central to that conversation is the understanding that the military must be under full control of the elected civilian leadership and that respect for the rule of law and human rights is paramount,” Ambassador Laskaris said in a statement to the Lesotho Times.

On her part, the Ambassador Gonzales said, “The United States is proud to be a committed, resolute partner to the Kingdom of Lesotho”. 

“It is critical that Lesotho continues to take meaningful, concrete steps in the reform process, particularly to ensure accountability in the security sector and adherence to the rule of lawSuch actions enable us to explore new areas of collaboration and capacity building, including with the security forces,” added Ambassador Gonzales.

A statement from the US embassy in Lesotho describes AFRICOM as “one of the six US Defence Department’s geographic combatant commands and is responsible to the US Secretary of Defence for military relations with African nations, the African Union and African regional security organisations”.

“A full-spectrum combatant command, AFRICOM is responsible for all US Department of Defence operations, exercises, and security cooperation efforts on the African continent.  One of AFRICOM’s core missions remains helping our partners to strengthen defence capabilities. We concentrate our efforts on helping African nations and regional organisations build capable and professional militaries that respect human rights, adhere to the rule of law and more effectively contribute to stability in Africa.  AFRICOM implements military-to-military engagements, training programmes, exercises and operations which are all coordinated with the US embassy and host government in each African partner nation.”

Ambassador Laskaris is the highest-ranking civilian at AFRICOM.  He is a career diplomat with extensive experience in Africa.  Prior to assuming his role as Deputy to the Commander at AFRICOM, Ambassador Laskaris served as the US Ambassador to Guinea from September 2012 to November 2015.  He also served in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Iraq, Kosovo and Liberia and as advisor on African affairs to the US ambassador to the US Mission to the United Nations.

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