News Article

British forces prepare Gambian troops for Darfur deployment

A Training and Adventure news article

18 Feb 08

Soldiers and policemen from The Royal Gibraltar Regiment are currently in Africa training 500 Gambian troops who are about to join the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, Sudan.

Mine awareness training

Instructor Lance Corporal Chris Gomez trains Gambian troops in Mine Awareness ahead of their deployment to Darfur
[Picture: British Army]

Major Andrew Bonfante who commands the British Military and Advisory Training Team (BMATT) currently in The Gambia said:

"In previous exercises we were training a Gambian infantry company of about 150 soldiers who then deployed as part of the African Union's headquarters in Darfur."

"With the political changes in Darfur and the acceptance of the UN's mandate, the Gambians have now pledged 500 troops, a figure that includes both policemen and soldiers. But this next deployment also contains a wide range of specialists – not just infantrymen. We really are training Africans to solve Africa's problems."

During their three weeks in The Gambia, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment instructors will train about 150 infantry soldiers, just as before. But this time they will also be training a Force Headquarters company which will include intelligence operators, clerks, drivers and Operations Room staff as well as an armed paramilitary company who will learn such skills as vehicle checkpoints, public order drills and patrolling.

"This next deployment contains a wide range of specialists – not just infantrymen. We really are training Africans to solve Africa's problems."

Major Andrew Bonfante

Lieutenant Lamin Sanney, the Deputy Commandant of the Gambian Armed Forces Training School explained:

"The training given by the Gibraltarians means that our troops are up-to-date with the skills they will need to carry out their tasks in Darfur."

The British team also includes Inspector Harry Parody and Sergeant Joe Olivero of the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) whose task is to train civilian, unarmed Gambian policemen who will assist the Sudanese police to establish law and order and to set up local police stations around Darfur.

"This is our first time in The Gambia and we aim to train about 200 of the civil police prior to their deployment," said Sgt Olivero. "For the last 11 years the RGP has trained with the Royal Gibraltar Regiment on exercises in the UK so we're experienced at working with them."

The RG's Chief Instructor is Colour Sergeant Andy Rodriguez. He was impressed by the Gambians' motivation:

"These Gambian soldiers are a joy to teach," he said. "They are always asking tough questions and asking for more information. They are certainly keen – on the first day I told one group that they should bring notebooks and pens with them. When I checked the group the next morning only two men out of 160 hadn't brought a notebook and pen."

Mechanics workshop

Corporal Norman Pozo shows Gambian students how to fix a Land Rover
[Picture: British Army]

Corporal Keith Dellipiani is one of the junior instructors:

"Yesterday I gave a session on 'The Correct Handling of Prisoners of War'," he said. "It went very well. We gave two presentations – one on how to handle prisoners the wrong way and one on how to do it properly – and these demonstrations went down brilliantly. The Gambians are good listeners – they are a pleasure to teach."

Away from the main training school, Corporal Norman Pozo was teaching the Gambians to fix their vehicles:

"We use all their broken-down vehicles," he explained. "There's nothing better for them than to see a vehicle back on the road that they have helped to fix."

And there is strong evidence that the students enjoy the course too; one of Cpl Pozo's students, Musa Jammeh, is now on his second BMATT course. He enjoyed his last course so much that he named his son 'Francis' after one of his RG instructors.

Lance Corporal Chris Gomez said:

Gambian students question instructors

The BMATT lecture ends with a barrage of questions from eager trainees
[Picture: British Army]

"I'm now starting to get to know the students well. It seems that there is a local Gomez tribe in The Gambia so they were all telling me about it on my first day. They're a good bunch – they're always asking more and more questions which shows that they're paying attention."

Major Bonfante added:

"Some of our junior NCOs [non-commissioned officers] find themselves giving lectures to about 150 troops, much bigger than any audience they would face in Gibraltar. This is invaluable experience for our whole team: it's not just the Gambians who benefit from the BMATT training."

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