Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF)

At independence, then-Prime Minister Mugabe declared integrating what were then Zimbabwe's three armed forces to be one of his government's top priorities. A unified army was created by combining the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), the Zimbabwe Peoples' Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), and the Rhodesian Security Forces (RSF). In July 1994, the combined Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) Headquarters was created. Currently the armed forces of Zimbabwe are completely integrated and are composed of an army and an air force.

The Zimbabwe Defense Forces is under the command of the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the Defense Forces. He is assisted by the Minister of Defense, who is responsible for the administrative and logistical support of the Defense Forces, and the commander of the Defense Forces, who maintains operational control of the Defense Forces. Subordinate to the commander of the Defense Forces are the commander of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the commander of the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ).

The ZNA is authorized 40,000 members but end strength estimates as of January 2009 indicated the ZNA had about 30,000 members serving. The ZNA's operational forces are based in Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, and Mutare. Operational forces include five infantry brigades, artillery brigade, mechanized brigade, field artillery regiment, engineer regiment, air defense regiment, commando regiment, and one airborne battalion. Today, the ZNA is beset by shortages of supplies, including food. It is mostly under-trained and its equipment is aged, not particularly reliable, and largely immobile.

The Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) is authorized 5,000 members, but only 4,000 were on active duty as of January 2009. It was estimated that half of Zimbabwe's aircraft are mission capable.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police numbers 25,000. The force is organized by province, and is comprised of uniformed national police, the Criminal Investigation Department, and traffic police. It also includes specialized support units including the (paramilitary) Police Support Unit and riot police and a Police Internal Security and Intelligence unit. The police commissioner-general exercises overall command of the force.

The US Congress terminated support for military cooperation programs in 2001. Presently, the US has no military-to-military cooperation with Zimbabwe other than through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program.

The Army Fifth Brigade became operational in December 1982, made up almost entirely of former ZANLA forces and trained by North Korea. They wore different uniforms from the regular army and had an abbreviated chain of command, with their brigade leaders “answering directly to Mugabe’s army commanders.” At the passing out ceremony Mugabe urged the troops to “start dealing with dissidents.” In January 1983 the Fifth Brigade was deployed to Matabeleland North to execute an operation named Gukurahundi, a Shona expression meaning the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains. Fifth Brigade troops convicted of violent crimes and human rights abuses in 1984 were pardoned by Mugabe, reinforcing to the remainder of the Fifth Brigade the backing and assured protection of the Mugabe government.

In March 1983 journalists had uncovered decomposed bodies, part of a group of 17 or 18 young men killed in the previous three weeks by the Fifth Brigade troops. Following an initial period when the Fifth Brigade had focused its attacks on former ZIPRA soldiers and ZAPU officials, between March and November 1983, Fifth Brigade troops summarily executed accused dissidents, and undertook a wider campaign of attacks on anyone not carrying a ZANU-PF membership card.

There were large numbers of disappearances at the hands of the Fifth Brigade with assistance from Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) officials, who removed men from buses, trains, or from their homes, and they were never seen again. Some men who were killed or detained were merely young men who were of ‘dissident age,’ and families of the dead were reportedly shot simply for weeping. By the end of 1983, possessing a ZANU-PF card became essential for safety.

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