New Model Army: Liberian troops deploy on their first combat mission since their country’s brutal civil war.
On a grassy patch outside a makeshift military base in Zwedru, Liberia, uniformed soldiers stand steel-faced and stiff, ready for the morning drill. Their platoon commander, a short man with a small, round face only partly visible under his heavy helmet, grunts a litany of orders and rallies the troops.
“We have told people that we are prepared for the job and we can do the job!” the commander shouts. “Only morale can carry you!”
These soldiers, stationed in the thick jungle near the border with Côte d’Ivoire, are about to undertake the first combat mission since the close of their nation’s fourteen-year-long civil war, during which countless atrocities were committed, hundreds of thousands were killed, and weapons and bullets flowed freely.
Now—almost nine years since the war’s end and long after the departure of the rebel leader-turned-president Charles Taylor—the country is facing a new security threat along its southeastern border. The government of Côte d’Ivoire has accused Liberia of failing to prevent Liberian mercenaries and militants loyal to the fallen Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo from crossing into Côte d’Ivoire to attack civilians. After Human Rights Watch released a damning report claiming that the Liberian government had done little to address the problem, mercenaries allegedly killed seven UN peacekeepers. Côte d’Ivoire’s defense minister suggested that Ivorian troops could enter Liberian territory to prevent attacks, forcing Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government to act.
And so the troops have gathered in Zwedru and other border towns. With his orders and pep talk out of the way, the platoon commander outlines the standard operating procedures for the mission and leads the troops in weapons and rounds counts, both signs of change here.