The U.N. peacekeeping chief says the United Nations — which has 80 percent of its peacekeepers deployed in Africa — is very happy that the African Union's long-awaited rapid reaction force is about to become a reality.

Herve Ladsous told a Security Council meeting Tuesday on peace and security cooperation between the U.N. and the AU that strengthening this partnership is "absolutely critical," especially because nine of the U.N.'s 16 peacekeeping missions are in Africa.

He said the African Standby Force, first proposed in 1997, "is about to be declared operational," which will mark an important step forward in Africa's "capacity to respond to crises, in strong cooperation with the United Nations."

The AU plan calls for each of Africa's five regions to provide a 5,000-strong brigade to the force.