Live wire exercise

2017-08-06 07:20
To make the Exercise Shared Accord 2017 between the SA National Defence Force and the US Army conducted at the SA Army Combat Training Centre in Lohatla in the Northern Cape seem real, the joint exercise involved riotous crowd control, area domination patrols, cordons and search operations, as well as ambushes that resulted in medical-evacuation and recovery operations. The action pictures of the training were shared by both armies. Hopewell Radebe reports

To improve UN peacekeeping programmes, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Rifleman David Sibanyoni* made sure he was a thorn in the US Army’s side.

Sibanyoni masqueraded as a leader of protesters against refugees brought to his village for safety after being rescued during an insurgency. He led an unruly and disruptive element that stole food from the UN’s World Food Programme, which provides food assistance to 80 million starving people around the world.

All this made the Exercise Shared Accord 2017 between the SANDF and the US Army, conducted at the SA Army Combat Training Centre in Lohatla in the Northern Cape, as real as possible.

In some instances, Sibanyoni and his chaotic group gave US soldiers a hard time, daring them to shoot or leave their turf in villages bedevilled by poverty, food shortages and political strife.

This is what the US Army had hoped its soldiers would experience. Soldiers must learn conflict resolution and negotiation skills to calm tensions between locals and peacekeeping operations during conflict in countries such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Also, a mock attack with daisy-chained roadside bombs and fire from small arms was staged. Young soldiers assigned to protect convoys on Africa’s dusty roads – in this case, in the South African bush – faced well-planned ambushes, where a series of bombs exploded that sent chunks of red dirt and smoke into the air. South African soldiers imitating insurgents used the line of Humvees and cargo trucks as target practice with blanks and simulated grenades.

This scenario gave about 230 soldiers from the US division’s 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment participating in the bilateral exercise, along with about 300 South African soldiers, a taste of a complex enemy attack. At least 100 US and South African marines and 50 soldiers from US Army Africa headquarters also participated.

All scenarios were planned in an effort to enhance the peacekeeping capabilities of US and African forces. The young soldiers had to provide security as bursts of gunfire from both sides rattled off during a bid to remove a wounded fellow soldier to safety.

Another scenario involved Staff Sergeant Travis Dubois from Houston, Texas, who had to save civilians in a combined group tasked with providing a peace support and intervention operation under a UN Chapter VII mandate. They had to force belligerent forces to disengage and discontinue the armed conflict in the region.

“We pushed ourselves hard and the experience was amazing,” Dubois told City Press, adding that it was not just the training on fire power and tactics that was beneficial, but that soldiers from both countries also got the opportunity to share experiences about life, leadership and combat.

“Soldier to soldier, we shared how our weapons operate and other personal experiences, which was the highlight of this trip,” he said.

The exercise involved riotous crowd control, area-domination patrols, cordon and search operations, as well as ambushes that resulted in medical evacuation and recovery operations. They also shared training on improvised devices, counter-techniques, weapon familiarisation and various military tactics, techniques and procedures.

US Major General Joseph Harrington told City Press that the exercise should be viewed as the extension of friendship between the US and South Africa.

“In a sense, we are preparing for peace that must be sustained according to UN principles and guidelines.”

Major General Monde Mbiza argued the operations did not deviate from the UN and African Union (AU) doctrine. He said the irony of the military operation was that soldiers were often prepared for war so they could keep the peace.

“By ensuring soldiers are ready to fight any battle, belligerent forces avoid engaging UN peacekeeping forces. And as long as we have the UN and the AU, chances of full-scale war between nations are slim. Matters are always settled through negotiations, but soldiers must be prepared for any eventuality,” Mbiza said.

* Not his real name. SANDF members are not authorised to speak to the media.

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