The Army is modelled on the British Army and came into existence after independence in 1961. The core of the army was based on the Sierra Leone Battalion of the Royal West African Frontier Force, which became the Royal Sierra Leone Regiment and later the Republic of Sierra Leone Regiment.
In 1991 the RUF began to make war against the government, and the army went on the offensive toward the end of the year along with troops from Guinea. In 1992 the army was expanded to 6,150 under President Joseph Saidu Momoh in a ‘poorly designed strategy that eradicated the few remaining elements of cohesion in the military… recruits were mainly drifters, rural and urban unemployed, a fair number of hooligans, drug addicts, and thieves.'
A similar expansion effort after Strasser took over aimed to build the army to 14,000, using young criminals, school drop-outs, and semi-literate youths. ‘In consequence, the army became further fragmented, leading to the complete breakdown of command and control during the war, and again after the AFRC coup of 1997.'
During the long Sierra Leone civil war which the government fought against the Revolutionary United Front from 1991–2002, the 1992 Sierra Leonean coup d’état brought the armed forces into power again. In 1997 the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council seized power. Over 15,000 perished during the war. After peace returned, the armed forces were slowly reduced in size, from around 13,500 personnel in 2007 to 8,500 in 2010. The British Armed Forces, in the shape of the roughly 100-strong International Military Assistance Training Team (IMATT), is assisting in the formation of the new armed forces. IMATT is slated to down-size to 45-55 personnel by the end of 2010.
Today the army is by far the largest Armed Forces branch and is responsible for protection of the state borders, the security of administered territories and defending the national interests of Sierra Leone within the framework of its international obligations. It had an active force of about 13,300 personnel circa 2007. There were plans to reduced strength to 8,500 by 2011. However, the reduction in strength to 8,500 was achieved by the end of 2009.
The force appears to consist of three brigades, 3 Brigade, in the past headquartered at Kenema, but as of 2011 seemingly at Murray Town Barracks, Freetown, which covers the Eastern Province. 3 Brigade probably includes 9th Battalion RSLAF at Simbakoro outside Koidu).
From 1985-91 1st Battalion was at Wilberforce Barracks, Freetown. Elsewhere are 4 Brigade, at Teko Barracks, Makeni, which covers the Northern Province (including 2nd Battalion RSLAF at Teko Barracks, Makeni, as of 2003), and 5 Brigade, which covers the Southern Province from headquarters at Gondama Barracks, Bo. As of 2002, about six IMATT advisors were deployed with each RSLAF brigade to assist with training, planning, personnel, and operations.
As stability and peace deepened in Sierra Leone, the RSLAF aimed to create a capability to contribute to international peace support operations. Official websites said that ‘..To this end the RSLAF has targeted 2007 as the base year to initiate a Company for Peace Support Operations for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the UN. This would be gradually increased to a battalion strength by 2010. As a demonstration of this desire, a Peace Support Operations Course was introduced into the curriculum of the Horton Military Academy in Freetown. The course was intended to enhance capacity building, and to train and prepare officers of the RSLAF for their future role and participation in international peace support operations, and especially for the proposed ECOWAS Standby Force.'
The hoped-for initial operational capability date for peacekeeping slipped until late 2009, when a Sierra Leonean reconnaissance company was deployed to Darfur as part of UNAMID.() International donors and the Government of Sierra Leone provided the $6.5 million required to equip the unit and build the base camp in-theatre, some 2,300 kilometers inland from Port Sudan. The contingent is under the command of Lieutenant Colonel S.E.T. Marah.
Despite the enormous resources invested by the UK into security sector reform in Sierra Leone, there are continuing financial pressures. Pay for soldiers is only GBP 45 plus some rice for a private per month, rising to GBP 350 for the Chief of Defence Staff. There are continued serious financial pressures on monthly running costs, with fuel, rations, stationery, and maintenance ‘for both equipment and the estate’ rarely funded. Housing is generally of low quality. ‘Operation Pebu’ planned to build new barracks for the force, was badly planned and thus extremely over-ambitious. As a result, it was cut down to only two sites (Albrecht and Jackson 2009). In 2010 Robertshawe said that ‘living accommodation for soldiers and their families is generally appalling with no running water or ablutions and often is a self-built shack or mud hut.'
Official sources said in 2012: