Assistance to the African Union

  • Last updated: 20 Jun. 2016 14:23

Since 2005, at the request of the African Union (AU), NATO has been providing different forms of support to the AU. The AU is a regional organisation which brings together 54 African member states. It was established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2002 and requested NATO support as early as 2005 for the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in the province of Darfur.


  • NATO started assisting the African Union (AU) in 2005, when it provided support to AMIS – the AU mission in Darfur, Sudan – the first NATO mission on the African continent.
  • AMIS transferred to the UN/AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) end 2007 and NATO’s support was no longer required.
  • NATO is currently supporting the AU Mission in Somalia – AMISOM – through strategic air- and sealift.
  • The AU is developing a long-term peacekeeping capability – the African Standby Force – to which NATO is also providing capacity-building support.
  • NATO is coordinating the work it does with the AU, with bilateral partners and other international organisations including the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU).
  • Assisting the African Union in Somalia

    Since 2007, NATO has accepted to assist the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by providing strategic airlift and sealift support to AU member states willing to deploy in Somalia under AMISOM. NATO has, for instance, put into practice airlift support from Burundi to Mogadishu and has escorted an AU ship that carried Burundian military equipment for one of the battalions that it had airlifted into Mogadishu.

    NATO has also provided subject-matter experts for the Peace Support Operations Division (PSOD). The PSOD is responsible for the planning, conduct and management of AU operations and missions, including AMISOM. NATO experts, working side by side with AU counterparts, offered expertise in specific areas for a period of six to twelve months, renewable at the AU’s request.

    In addition to this logistical and planning support, NATO was also a member of the International Contact Group on Somalia.

    Strategic airlift

    The AU made a general request to all partners, including NATO, on 17 January 2007 for financial and logistical support to AMISOM. It later made a more specific request to NATO on 22 May 2007, requesting strategic airlift support for AU member states willing to deploy in Somalia under AMISOM.

    On 7 June, the NAC agreed, in principle, to support this request. NATO’s support was initially authorised until 21 August 2007 and has since been renewed for periods of six months and, more recently, for one year, following AU requests. The latest to be agreed by the NAC runs until January 2017

    Strategic sealift

    Strategic sealift support was requested at a later stage and agreed in principle by the NAC on 15 September 2009. Support is also authorised for set periods of time and is currently running until January 2017.

    Subject-matter experts

    NATO has provided subject-matter experts for the AU PSOD that supports AMISOM. These experts shared their knowledge in areas such as maritime planning, strategic planning, financial planning and monitoring, procurement planning, air movement coordination, communications, IT, logistics, human resources, military manpower management and contingency planning.


    NATO has been offering AU students the possibility of attending courses at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany in areas such as crisis-management exercises. Other appropriate training facilities are being identified, based on AU requirements. Since early 2015 and in response to an AU request, NATO started delivering dedicated training in Addis Ababa through the Mobile Education and Training Team concept. The objective is to reach a wider audience of African Union staff, including the Regional Economic Communities, through the delivery of one to two-week training modules on pre-identified themes such as operational and exercises planning.

    Working with other international organisations

    In addition to logistical and planning support, NATO is also a member of the International Contact Group on Somalia. It was first invited to attend these meetings in June 2009 and has participated in subsequent meetings.

    The bodies involved in decision making and implementation

    Based on advice from NATO’s military authorities, the NAC is the body that agrees to provide support to the AU.

    The Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa provides diplomatic resources in support of NATO’s activities in Africa. Requests are communicated via a Note Verbale from the AU to the Norwegian Embassy, then via Joint Force Command (JFC) Naples and SHAPE to NATO HQ to consider the requests and take action as necessary. AU requests are considered on a case-by-case basis.

    The NATO Senior Military Liaison Officer (SMLO) is the primary point of contact for the Alliance’s activities with the AU. An SMLO is deployed on a permanent six-month rotational basis in Addis Ababa and is supported by a deputy and an administrative assistant. More specifically, with regard to NATO’s support to the AU mission in Somalia, JFC Naples – under the overall command of Allied Command Operations - is responsible for the SMLO team operating out of the Ethiopian capital.

    This team not only conducts NATO’s day-to-day activities, but also serves as the NATO military point of contact with partner countries and regional organisations. It served the same function for the representatives of troop-contributing countries for the AMISON operation, the representatives of the donor nations pledging support to the AU, the UN, the EU and various embassies. 

  • Contributing to the establishment of an African Standby Force

    NATO has been providing expert and training support to the African Standby Force (ASF) at the AU’s request. The ASF is intended to be deployed in Africa in times of crisis. It is part of the AU’s efforts to develop long-term peacekeeping capabilities. ASF represents the AU’s vision for a continental, on-call security apparatus with some similarities to the NATO Response Force.

    The Alliance offers capacity-building support through courses and training events and organises different forms of support to help make the ASF operational, all at the AU’s request. NATO is, inter alia, assisting the AU with the evaluation and assessment processes linked to the operational readiness of the ASF brigades. This continental force is being operationalised and could be seen as an African contribution to wider international efforts to preserve peace and security.

    Expert support

    On 5 September 2007, as part of NATO’s capacity-building support to the AU, the NAC agreed to provide assistance to the AU with a study on the assessment of the operational readiness of the ASF brigades.

    Training support

    NATO has also provided targeted training packages to the ASF. Since 2009, the NATO School in Oberammergau has been hosting AU staff officers, who attend various courses, including operational planning discipline.

    JFC Naples - the designated NATO HQ to implement the Alliance’s practical cooperation with the AU – has also organised certification/evaluation training programmes for AU staff. For instance, it has trained AU officials participating in military exercises and provided military experts to assist in the evaluation and lessons learned procedures of an exercise. NATO has also participated and supported various ASF preparatory workshops designed to develop ASF-related concepts.

    NATO experts provided support for the preparation phases of Exercise Amani Africa II (October-November 2015) in South Africa, and also played an active role in the execution phase. This was the first field training exercise for the ASF which brought together regional standby brigades from across the continent. African military, police and civilians participated in testing the ASF’s Rapid Deployment Capability and the ASF’s level of readiness for full operational capability.

  • Assisting the African Union in Darfur, Sudan

    The African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) aimed to end violence and improve the humanitarian situation in a region that has been suffering from conflict since 2003.

    From June 2005 to 31 December 2007, NATO helped the AU expand its peacekeeping mission in Darfur by providing airlift for the transport of additional peacekeepers into the region and by training AU personnel. NATO support did not include the provision of combat troops.

    Alliance support ended on 31 December 2007 when AMIS was transferred to the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The Alliance has expressed its readiness to consider providing support to the UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping force made up of peacekeepers and civilian police officers, if requested.

    Airlifting AU peacekeepers and civilian police

    Between 1 July 2005 and October 2005, NATO coordinated the strategic airlift for peacekeepers from African troop-contributing countries moving into Darfur, helping to transport almost 5,000 troops. This boosted the number of troops on the ground to 8,000.

    In August 2005, on the request of the AU, the NAC agreed to assist in the transportation of civilian police. NATO coordinated the airlift of some 50 AMIS civilian police between August and October 2005.

    Additionally, from September 2005, NATO provided the coordination of strategic airlift for the rotation of troops, transporting them in and out of the region.

    Overall, NATO-EU Air Movement Coordinators harmonised the airlift of some 37,500 troops, civilian police and military observers in and out of the Sudanese region. NATO alone coordinated the airlift of over 31,500 AMIS troops and personnel.

    NATO's airlift was managed from Europe. A special AU Air Movement Cell at the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, coordinated the movement of incoming troops and personnel on the ground. Both the EU and NATO provided staff to support the cell, but the AU had the lead.

    Training AU personnel

    For the duration of the mission, NATO also provided training assistance to AMIS in a variety of disciplines.

    • Strategic-level and operational planning: training in this area focused on technologies and techniques to create an overall analysis and understanding of Darfur, and to identify the areas where the application of AU assets could best influence the operating environment and deter crises. A total of 184 AU officers benefited from this training. They were based at two different AMIS headquarters: the Darfur Integrated Task Force Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the AMIS Force Headquarters (FHQ) in El Fasher, Sudan.

    On 2 June 2006, the AU requested NATO support for the establishment of an AMIS Joint Operations Centre (JOC), which the Alliance agreed to provide six days later.

    Two months later, in August 2006, NATO also contributed to a UN-led mapping exercise. The aim of the exercise was to help AU personnel understand and operate effectively in the theatre of operations, as well as to build their capacity to manage strategic operations. NATO provided 14 officers, including exercise writers and tactical-level controllers.

    • Training on “lessons learned”: on 8 June 2006, the NAC agreed to the AU request for training assistance in the fields of pre-deployment certification and lessons learned. Following a further AU request on 19 September of the same year, NATO provided mentoring and training on how to establish a tailored “lessons learned” process for the AU. Seventy-five AMIS officers from three different headquarters (the Darfur Integrated Task Force Headquarters, the AMIS Force Headquarters and the AU Mission Headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan) were trained through these courses.

    In this area, NATO was working in full complementarity with the European Union, which also provided substantive input to the process.  

    • Training in information management: following a Note Verbale sent by the African Union on 25 August 2006, NATO provided temporary training and mentoring on managing information to six AU officers in the Information Assessment Cell of the Darfur Integrated Task Force.

    The bodies involved in decision making and implementation

    Based on advice from NATO’s military authorities, the NAC agrees to provide support to the AU. With regard to NATO’s support to the AU mission in Sudan (AMIS), the then Joint Force Command Lisbon – under the overall command of Allied Command Operations - had the responsibility for the NATO Senior Military Liaison Officer (SMLO) team operating out of Addis Ababa. The SMLO team was NATO's single military point of contact in Addis Ababa with the AU. In addition, it was the NATO military point of contact with the representatives of the countries contributing troops to the AMIS operation, the representatives of the donor nations pledging support to the AU, the UN, the EU and various embassies. 

    The evolution of NATO’s assistance to AMIS

    On 26 April 2005, the AU asked NATO by letter to consider the possibility of providing logistical support to help expand its peace-support mission in Darfur. In May 2005, the Chairman of the AU Commission, Mr Alpha Oumar Konaré, visited NATO Headquarters to provide details of the assistance request. The next day, the NAC tasked the Alliance’s military authorities to provide, as a matter of urgency, advice on possible NATO support.

    Following further consultations with the AU, the European Union and the United Nations, in June 2005, NATO formally agreed to provide airlift support as well as training. The first planes carrying AU peacekeepers took off on 1 July of the same year. Training of AU officers started on 1 August and, a few days later, the NAC agreed to assist in the transport of police to Darfur.

    Key milestones – Darfur, Sudan

    26 April 2005

    The AU requests NATO assistance in the expansion of its peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

    17 May 2005

    The Chairman of the AU Commission, Mr Alpha Oumar Konaré, is the first AU official to visit NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

    18 May 2005

    The NAC agrees to task the Alliance’s military authorities to provide advice on possible NATO assistance.

    24 May 2005

    The NAC agrees on initial military options for possible NATO support.

    26 May 2005

    NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer participates in a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on international support to the AU’s mission.

    9 June 2005

    Alliance Defence Ministers announce the decision to assist the AU peace-support operation in Darfur with the coordination of strategic airlift and staff capacity-building.

    1 July 2005

    The NATO airlift begins.

    1 August 2005

    NATO training of AU officers begins.

    5 August 2005

    On the request of the AU, the NAC agrees to assist in the transport of civilian police to Darfur.

    21 September 2005

    The NAC agrees to extend the duration of NATO’s airlift support for the remaining peacekeeping reinforcements until 31 October 2005.

    9 November 2005

    The NAC agrees to extend NATO’s coordination of strategic airlift by two months, until end May 2006, in view of the AU’s troop rotation schedule.

    29 March 2006

    Following a phone call from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 27 March, the NAC announces its readiness to continue NATO’s current mission. The NAC tasks NATO military authorities to offer advice for possible NATO support to an anticipated follow-on UN mission in Darfur.

    13 April 2006

    The NAC announces its readiness to continue NATO’s current mission until 30 September.

    5 May 2006

    Two parties sign the Darfur Peace Agreement.

    30 May 2006

    UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr Jan Egeland, visits NATO HQ to discuss Darfur and the role of the military in disaster relief.

    2 June 2006

    The Chairman of the AU Commission, Mr Alpha Oumar Konaré, requests the extension of NATO’s airlift and training support, as well as additional forms of assistance.

    8 June 2006

    Defence Ministers state NATO’s willingness to expand its training assistance to AMIS and the Alliance's willingness to consider support to an anticipated follow-on UN mission. The coordination of strategic airlift is extended until the end of 2006.

    16 November 2006

    The Addis Ababa meeting introduces the notion of an AU-UN hybrid peacekeeping mission.

    28-29 November 2006

    At the Riga Summit, NATO reaffirms its support to the AU and its willingness to broaden this support. It also reiterates its commitment to coordinating with other international actors.

    14 December 2006

    NATO decides to extend its support mission for six additional months.

    15 December 2006

    US Special Envoy to Darfur, Ambassador Andrew Natsios, meets NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at NATO Headquarters, Brussels.

    15 January 2007

    NATO agrees to provide staff capacity-training at the AU Mission HQ in Khartoum, in addition to training provided in El Fasher and Addis Ababa.

    14 June 2007

    NATO Defence Ministers reiterate the Alliance’s commitment to Darfur and welcome the agreement of the Sudanese Government to a UN-AU hybrid mission in Darfur.

    6-7 December 2007

    NATO Foreign Ministers express readiness to continue Alliance support to the AU in Darfur, in agreement with the UN and the AU.

    2-4 April 2008

    At the Bucharest Summit, NATO states its concern for the situation in Darfur and its readiness to support AU peacekeeping efforts in the region.

    3-4 April 2009

    At the Strasbourg/ Kehl Summit, NATO reiterates its concern over Darfur and, more generally, Sudan. Stressing the principle of African ownership, NATO states that it is ready to consider further requests for support from the AU, including regional capacity-building.