Burundi peacekeepers prepare for next rotation to Somalia, Bjumbura, Burundi 012210
Burundi peacekeepers prepare for next rotation to Somalia
By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa
BUJUMBURA, Burundi – Under the shade of a tree, Pvt. Avlerie Mdayimiye cleans her Kalashnikov assault rifle and chats with fellow infantry soldiers about their upcoming peacekeeping deployment to Somalia.
One of two women in her battalion, Mdayimiye reflects on her decision to join the infantry with pride.
“I want to support my nation and to help other people,” she said.
In the coming months, the infantrywoman will have the opportunity to do both.
Recently trained through the U.S. State Department-led African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, Mdayimiye’s battalion will soon serve with the African Union Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping operation geared toward stabilizing Somalia’s security situation.
But now, she is among hundreds of Burundian National Defense Force troops awaiting orders to move to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, where they will serve a one year tour alongside Ugandan troops. While waiting, the battalion set up camp near the Bujumbura International Airport.
Soldiers dry clothes and bedding under midday sun and cluster under shade to clean their rifles. A few hundred yards away, a massive Ethiopian Airways jet touches down on the tarmac. Nearby, air defense artillerymen shout commands as they drill with their 23-mm cannons.
Smoke drifts from peat cooking fires between the camp’s green camouflage tents, signaling lunch time. Mdayimiye taps a magazine into her rifle, checks that it’s functioning properly and heads to a nearby field, where soldiers stir large pots of rice and beans.
Meanwhile, at Burundi’s military headquarters, U.S. Army Africa officers are discussing peacekeeping operations with senior Burundian officers – sharing ideas on how brigade staff plan missions and run a tactical field headquarters, an effort to improve efficiency within Burundi’s peacekeeping contingent.
Burundi regularly supports African stability through military partnerships, with troops recently taking part in three regional exercises. In Sept. 2009, Burundi sent troops to Mlima Kilimanjaro, an exercise in Tanzania, followed by Natural Fire 10, a U.S. Army Africa-led a humanitarian and civic assistance exercise held in Uganda during October. Then, in late-November, Burundi participated in Eastern African Standby Brigade military exercises in Djibouti.
Meanwhile, they continue to train and deploy peacekeepers to Mogadishu, a mission Burundi has supported since 2007.
The U.S. State Department supports Burundi’s ongoing efforts to partner with other African nations in peacekeeping, to include offering assistance through the ACOTA program. U.S. Army Africa coordinated its recent mentorship engagement with the U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura.
Participating in peacekeeping is very important for Burundi, a nation that experienced 15 years of war within its borders, said Brig. Gen. Cyprien Ndikuryio, who currently heads Burundi’s land forces and is slated to serve in a senior leadership role with AMISOM in Somalia.
“Today our country is peaceful,” Ndikuryio said. ‘We were helped by the African Union and the international community. Supporting peacekeeping efforts shows we are now able to help others through the AU and offer experiences we learned.”
For nearly two decades, Somalia endured war and chaos. Following a 2007 peace deal, some stability was established as moderate Islamists joined the Somali government.
Still, Mogadishu remains violent, with extremists and criminal groups working against international efforts to bring security to Somali people.
Hardliners have made their intent clear, targeting peacekeepers from Burundi and Uganda.
“One of the main challenges our forces are facing is the use of IEDs by al-Shabaab insurgents,” Ndikuryio said.
In February 2009, 11 troops from Burundi died when insurgents attacked an African Union peacekeeping base in Somalia's capital. Another 15 peacekeepers sustained serious injuries. The Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. Then in Sept. 2009, extremists struck again with a suicide bombing at Mogadishu airport that left at least nine African peacekeepers dead, to include Burundian Maj. Gen. Juvenal Niyoyunguruza, deputy commander of the AMISOM force.
“Most of our soldiers who have been killed were killed by IEDs,” Ndikuryio said. “We are not experienced with managing that kind of threat, so we look to our international partners, such as U.S. Army Africa, for information to better prepare ourselves.”
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Photos by Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa
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