Ivory Coast: Testing Ground For U.S.-Backed African Standby Force
The announcements of presidential election results last month in West Africa and Eastern Europe have served as the pretext for the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union to again embark on the warpath of sanctions, embargoes, travel bans, "regime change" plots and even the threat of military force.
The reelection of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on December 19 has been followed by the U.S. State Department supporting EU sanctions against him and other leaders of the nation. On January 20 the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding the European Council "impose a ban on visas and freeze any EU bank accounts of senior government officials and members of the judiciary and security agencies responsible for rigging the elections and persecuting the opposition." The EU's 27 foreign ministers will formalize that decision at their first meeting of the year on January 31.
State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed American backing for the actions, about which, he added, "we are consulting closely with our counterparts in the European Union.
"We are very much aware and supportive of steps that the EU is taking, and we are also, in light of our concerns, prepared to take additional steps to restore sanctions that have previously been lifted." 
On December 2 the opposition-controlled Independent Electoral Commission in Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire) released provisional results showing that presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara had defeated incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo in the November 28 runoff election. The following day the nation's Constitutional Council declared the Electoral Commission's results invalid and proclaimed Gbagbo the winner.
Former colonial master France, the U.S. and the European Union backed the result which best suited their interests - an Ouattara victory - and secured support from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Security Council.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara were sworn in as president and in the interim the drumbeats of military intervention to depose Gbagbo have steadily risen in intensity.
Whatever the respective merits of the two candidates' contentions, that the U.S. has entered the fray on behalf of the one declared the loser by the nation's top court exactly a decade after the 2000 U.S. presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court would prove embarrassing to any country other than the world's sole military superpower.
ECOWAS has suspended Ivory Coast's membership in the fifteen-nation group (Niger was suspended in 2009) and pressure is being put on ECOWAS to activate the West African Standby Force brigade under its control for an invasion of Ivory Coast.
The African Standby Force, under the nominal direction of the African Union but trained by U.S. Africa Command and NATO, was to have been activated last year and to have provided brigades of an estimated 3,000-4,000 troops each for five regions in Africa: East, west, north, south and central. The West African brigade is to grow to 6,500 troops.
Previous ECOWAS military deployments in Liberia in 1990, Sierra Leone in 1997, Guinea-Bissau in 1999 and Sierra Leone again in the same year were conducted under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) multinational armed force and the 2003 deployment to Liberia under the ECOWAS Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL), but the proposed intervention in Ivory Coast will be the first to employ the West African (ECOWAS) Standby Force brigade with troops from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
Before the initial activation of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) on October 1, 2007, the person who would become its first and still current commander, General William Ward, affirmed:
"AFRICOM will assume sponsorship of ongoing command and control infrastructure development and liaison officer support. It would continue to resource military mentors for peacekeeping training, and develop new approaches to supporting the AU and African Standby Forces." 
Regarding NATO's role in establishing and supporting the African Standby Force, the U.S.-led military bloc has stated:
"Joint Command Lisbon is the operational lead for NATO/AU engagement, and has a Senior Military Liaison Officer at AU HQ in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. NATO also supports staff capacity building through the provision of places on NATO training courses to AU staff supporting AMISOM [African Union Mission for Somalia], and support to the operationalisation of the African Standby Force -" the African Union's vision for a continental, on-call security apparatus similar to the NATO Response Force." 
The African Standby Force is not only similar to but based on the NATO Response Force, a 25,000-troop globally deployable strike force which was launched in the former Portuguese African possession of Cape Verde with the massive Steadfast Jaguar war games in 2006. Last year NATO began airlifting Ugandan troops assigned to AMISOM to Somalia for combat operations. Uganda is also a mainstay of the East Africa Standby Force.
The ECOWAS/ECOMOG intervention in Sierra Leone in 1999 was followed the next year by Britain's Operation Palliser in the nation, commanded by Brigadier David Richards, now the United Kingdom's Chief of the Defence Staff. In the interim Richards was commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan and Britain's Chief of the General Staff and Commander-in-Chief of Land Forces.