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Operation SCULPTURE was Canada’s participation in the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT), a multinational effort led by Britain to help the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone build effective and democratically accountable armed forces in compliance with the Lomé Peace Agreement.

Operation SCULPTURE began in November 2000 and concluded on 15 February 2013.

Task Force Freetown

In total, there were 23 rotations. The responsibilities of Task Force Freetown during this period included:

  • Providing military advisory and training support to the Sierra Leone Ministry of Defence, Joint Force Command, and various formations and units of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF);
  • Providing technical infantry expertise, training and education advice, strategic development and leadership;
  • Supporting the development of the RSLAF Maritime Wing;
  • Sponsoring literacy and numeracy training for RSLAF members;
  • Supporting the preparation of an RSLAF task force for deployment with the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM); and
  • Carrying out civil-military co-operation (CIMIC) projects.

Mission context

The civil war in Sierra Leone

From 1991 to 2000, the Republic of Sierra Leone in west Africa suffered a civil war that produced a series of coups, counter-coups and periods of military rule. Noted for horrific violence against civilians, the war displaced some 40 percent of the population by 1994, when about 10 percent of Sierra Leoneans were living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

The primary insurgent groups were the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which launched the war in 1991 to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone, and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a splinter group of the Sierra Leone Army that allied itself with the RUF. Efforts by the United Nations to restore orderly civilian rule began in 1994, but the Lomé Peace Agreement — signed in the capital of neighbouring Togo by representatives of the RUF, the AFRC and the Government of Sierra Leone — was not achieved until 7 July 1999.

The Lomé Peace Agreement

The Lomé Peace Agreement included the following provisions:

  • a collaboratively monitored cease-fire supervised by the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL),
  • the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission covering war crimes and human rights abuses, and
  • a program of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of all combatants, with a deadline of 15 December 1999.

In October 1999, the unarmed observer mission UNOMSIL was replaced by the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), which took the field with 6,000 combat troops supported by a Military Observer Group from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Its mandate was to suppress the insurgency to allow an orderly transition of power to the democratically elected Government of Sierra Leone led by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Canada provided UNAMSIL with U.N. Military Observers, headquarters staff and air support under Operation REPTILE.

In the spring of 2000, renewed fighting broke out between UNAMSIL troops and the RUF.

The International Military Advisory and Training Team

The roots of IMATT

On 7 May 2000, a British joint task force deployed under Operation PALLISER began a successful non-combatant evacuation operation to rescue European Union and Commonwealth citizens from Sierra Leone.

On 10 May 2000, the Government of the United Kingdom received a formal request for military intervention from the Government of Sierra Leone. Their initial objectives achieved, the troops deployed on Operation PALLISER were re-tasked to maintain control of the airport at Lungi, patrol Freetown, and ensure the flow of supplies to UNAMSIL forces. The RUF leader was captured on 17 May 2000, and Operation PALLISER ceased on 15 June 2000.

The IMATT took the field in November 2000. Designed to exploit traditional friendly ties maintained through the Commonwealth, the IMATT deployed with a mandate to help the Government of Sierra Leone build democratically accountable, effective, sustainable armed forces capable of performing any security task assigned by the government.

The IMATT was initially led by a British brigadier-general serving as Military Advisor to the Government of Sierra Leone, and originally comprised a team of advisors and trainers and a battalion of infantry with a mandate to restructure the army of Sierra Leone from top to bottom.

After eight years of recruitment, training and mentorship at every rank level, and capacity-building and reform in the Department of Defence, the RSLAF was ready to move into a sustainment phase, beginning with a Core Review conducted with IMATT support. Among the results of the Core Review were the decisions to cut the RSLAF to 8,500 all ranks, produce a National Security Plan, and add a Maritime Wing.

In 2009, the Government of Sierra Leone was able to make its first offer of troops to a peace operation, and in July 2009 the RSLAF deployed a sector reconnaissance company to serve with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). After having deployed five rotations in total, the contingent was redeployed back to Sierra Leone in February 2013.

In 2011, the Government of Sierra Leone committed to the deployment of a battalion of infantry (850 soldiers) to the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The battalion completed their pre-deployment training September 2012. For the RSLAF, the mission is an opportunity for training and operational experience, and to re-equip. The first AMISOM task force is scheduled to deploy in 2013.

In December 2012, the United Kingdom approved to drawdown IMATT by 31 March 2013 due to the increased capabilities of the Sierra Leone armed forces.

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