By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - African leaders decided on Monday to immediately establish a military rapid reaction force to deal with regional security emergencies, moving to reduce the continent's reliance on outside forces and funds for its defense.
The move made at an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa followed calls from several leaders for an African defense capacity to be created right away, given the persistence of a number of conflicts and rebellions on the continent.
Plans for an African Standby Force have existed for more than a decade. But delays in the creation of this contingent has led to criticism that Africa has for too long been slow to do its own peacekeeping, relying instead on help and funding from the United Nations and Western donors.
The text of the AU Assembly decision, seen by Reuters, said the immediate rapid response force would be formed from voluntary contributions of troops, equipment and funds by member states currently in a position to provide these.
The initiative was being called the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), and it would be a transitional stop-gap measure pending the full formation of the planned Standby Force.
It would consist of a "flexible and robust force ... to be deployed very rapidly to effectively respond to emergency situations, within the framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture".
The decision was "aimed at helping in bringing about African solutions to Africa's problems", the text said.
Security challenges faced by the AU over the last two years have included coups in Guinea-Bissau and Mali, offensives by Islamist militant groups in Mali and Nigeria, and conflict involving rebels in eastern Congo and Central African Republic.
In Mali, former colonial power France rushed in troops and planes earlier this year to block an advance by Islamist jihadists, an intervention that embarrassed the AU by showing up the continent's lack of its own defensive capacity.
(Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Jon Herskovitz)