UK — Stabilisation personnel hone skills in Botswana

UK mil­i­tary and civil­ian per­son­nel have tak­en part in a train­ing exer­cise in Botswana to hone their sta­bil­i­sa­tion skills, which will be used in Afghanistan, while also help­ing the gov­ern­ment of Botswana to pre­pare for civ­il dis­as­ters and emer­gen­cies.

Major Adrian Roberts plans a route with his colleague Lieutenant Arnold Hange of the Botswana Defence Force [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Major Adri­an Roberts plans a route with his col­league Lieu­tenant Arnold Hange of the Botswana Defence Force [Pic­ture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

A group of 35, most­ly Ter­ri­to­r­i­al Army (TA), offi­cers and sol­diers from the Mil­i­tary Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Sup­port Group (MSSG) spent most of Novem­ber 2011 on Exer­cise Civ­il Bridge 11 in the wet­lands of Botswana’s vast Oka­van­go Delta.

They deployed to the south­ern African repub­lic, at the invi­ta­tion of the Office of the Pres­i­dent, to car­ry out an inde­pen­dent assess­ment of the Nation­al Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Office’s Dis­as­ter Risk Man­age­ment Plan which meant assess­ing the government’s pre­pared­ness for dis­as­ters and emer­gen­cies such as flood­ing, fires and air acci­dents.

They were also asked to run a civ­il-mil­i­tary co-oper­a­tion course to train the Botswana Defence Force in how to assist the gov­ern­ment in any civ­il dis­as­ter.

The MSSG per­son­nel were joined on the deploy­ment by civil­ians from the UK Government’s Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Unit which employs spe­cial­ists from the Depart­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, the MOD and the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Office who are able to deploy to frag­ile and con­flict-affect­ed states. They took part in the exer­cise to pro­vide civil­ian input and repli­cate the work­ing rela­tion­ships found on oper­a­tions.

The Oka­van­go Delta region of Botswana is a UNESCO (Unit­ed Nations Edu­ca­tion­al, Sci­en­tif­ic and Cul­tur­al Orga­ni­za­tion) World Her­itage Site and is a unique habi­tat for birds and wildlife. It is the main tourist des­ti­na­tion in the coun­try for safaris, and the peo­ple who live along the Oka­van­go Riv­er and on the delta itself make a liv­ing from fish­ing and agri­cul­ture in the only part of Botswana not cov­ered by the Kala­hari Desert.

The whole area is sus­cep­ti­ble to flood­ing on a cycli­cal basis and this has seen peo­ple being dis­placed from their homes, and roads, crops and cat­tle being dam­aged and destroyed by flood­wa­ter.

With most mem­bers of the MSSG work­ing in their civil­ian careers as spe­cial­ists in sta­bil­i­sa­tion skills in areas such as civ­il engi­neer­ing, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, emer­gency plan­ning and con­struc­tion, they were ide­al­ly placed to con­tribute to the Nation­al Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Plan and to see if it could be imple­ment­ed at nation­al, dis­trict and right down to vil­lage lev­el.

To car­ry out the assess­ment, the group was split into four sta­bil­i­sa­tion teams based in the cap­i­tal city, Gaborone, the main north west town of Maun, which is the dis­trict cap­i­tal of Ngami­land on the Oka­van­go Delta, and two towns along the Oka­van­go Riv­er: Gumare and the north­ern­most town in the coun­try, Shakawe, near the bor­der with Namib­ia.

An exer­cise HQ was also based in Maun. Team mem­bers went out every day to speak to nation­al and local gov­ern­ment offi­cials, plan­ners, vil­lage chiefs and ordi­nary mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty to assess what their roles would be in the event of a dis­as­ter and to see what improve­ments could be made, if any, to the co-ordi­na­tion.

Exer­cise Com­man­der, Lieu­tenant Colonel Lex Agath­angelou, said that it was excel­lent train­ing for mem­bers of the MSSG as well as pro­vid­ing a vital piece of work for the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple of Botswana. He added:

“The pri­ma­ry aim of Exer­cise Civ­il Bridge 11 has been to train mem­bers of the MSSG in their basic sta­bil­i­sa­tion skills, in a fair­ly harsh and basic but benign envi­ron­ment, to emu­late as much as pos­si­ble what they might encounter on oper­a­tions.

“It is also going to be a great help to the gov­ern­ment as we will be able to present them with an inde­pen­dent assess­ment of what they are capa­ble of now, and some rec­om­men­da­tions which they will then be able to work on. The exer­cise will be of ben­e­fit to every­one in Botswana as well as MSSG per­son­nel.”

The Roy­al Engi­neers were heav­i­ly rep­re­sent­ed on Exer­cise Civ­il Bridge 11. The nature of MSSG’s work means that engi­neers are a vital part of the unit, but they were also aug­ment­ed by two TA and two reg­u­lar Army mem­bers of 170 (Infra­struc­ture Sup­port) Engi­neer Group who were able to assess the country’s phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture and pro­vide expert analy­sis on improve­ments that could be made.

The Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Unit (SU) mem­bers also ben­e­fit­ed from the exer­cise. The Deputy Head of the SU’s Civil­ian Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Group, Cathryn Han­nah, was one of the par­tic­i­pants. She said:

“This exer­cise has been a fan­tas­tic oppor­tu­ni­ty for the group’s mem­bers to train with the mil­i­tary so they can build rela­tion­ships and test the skills they will need when they deploy for real.

“For me per­son­al­ly it was a great chance to work in a mil­i­tary team and at the same time learn so much about dis­as­ter man­age­ment in Botswana.”

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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