Hard ground makes for hard soldiers
The landscape is rocky underfoot and covered in thorny and dry scrub with large expanses of flat inhospitable ground peppered by steep hills.
Temperatures are freezing at night and boiling during the day and it’s here in the Kalahari on ground baked hard under the African sun the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) practices its war games at the South African Army Combat Training Centre, Lohatla.
Of course, Lohatla is not the only training ground for the SANDF.
“On the continent we deploy in different climates and terrain and we need to prepare our soldiers for deployment in those areas,” said the South African Army Chief, Lieutenant General Vusimuzi Masondo.
“It’s a fact some of those countries where we deploy pose a challenge to our members and or equipment. But from the outset when we began deploying on the continent in peace accord operations what we did was send some of our members who would benchmark some of the countries in terms of fighting in desert areas and fighting in jungles and we have developed doctrines so we can begin to train our members.”
Masono said areas in South Africa are then found which approximated those conditions .
Lohatla is one of only 10 in the world which offer provide exclusive and permanent facilities for landward warfare training, and one of only two in the southern hemisphere, the other being in Australia.
It’s motto is “Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum“, translated as “If you want peace – prepare for war”.
And when all the gunfire and explosions and smoke and dust has drifted away in the breeze, peace returns to the Kalahari, until the next exercise.
Where eagles dare
“When diplomacy fails, the next option is a big stick
The Republic of the Western Cape learnt this the hard way when it supported the rebel Bungu tribe in its efforts against the Republic of the Northern Cape.
“The African Union, in co-ordination with the United Nations, in view of the recent violence, decided the only alternative would be military intervention. The Republic of the Northern Cape requested the Republic of South Africa to intervene to protect its sovereignty and to avoid destabilising the the southern African region.
Once the necessary paperwork from the UN General Assembly Security Council was obtained, the wheels were set in motion for a short and relatively bloodless war.”
Read into the above scenario what you will, but this was the basis for Exercise Young Eagle which threw nearly 5 000 South African National Defence Force members from the army, navy, and air force into a land, sea, and air operation, culminating in a “ground attack” at the army training base Lohatla in the Northern Cape.
With ships barrelling up and down the coast between Durban and Cape Town, submarines skulking off the Cape coast, a marine “blockade” of ports, and a wide range of military branches involved,
Operatives from 9 SA Infantry Battalion, 44 Parachute Regiment, 1 Special Services Battalion, 2 Field Engineer Regiment, 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 18 Light Artillery Regiment, 1 Tactical Intelligence Regiment, 1 Signal Regiment, 102 Field Workshop, 17 Maintenance Unit using air force Hawk and Gripen jets, Oryx and A109 helicopters, quickly “shaped” and then controlled the “battlefield”. Simulated injuries of 25 from South Africa and 10 from the Western Cape were the final toll of the “battle”
The Republic of the Western Cape never stood a chance.
According to globalfirepower.com South Africa is ranked 32nd in the world, and states “The South African military is one of the most modern fighting forces on the African continent – complete with a local military industry”.
In terms of real life injuries, it was the elite Pathfinders who suffered, with one dislocating a shoulder in Upington on August 13 and one on Thursday when after fast roping to the ground from a helicopter, the rope wrapped around his leg and he was hoisted into the air before he could disconnect himself.
The Pathfinder, a special forces reconnaissance soldier, was only slightly injured and is back at work.
Preparing for peace – The African Standby Force
The African Standby Force (ASF) falls under the auspices of the African Union (AU)and was brought about by Article 13 of the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the AU.
Africa is widely known as a war torn continent.
“Currently we know of Central African Republic, Burundi, we know of the challenges there as a result of President Pierre Nkurunziza, seeking a third term, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, but the decision as to which conflict the Africa Standby Force will actually be deployed will be the decision of the African Union,” South African Army chief Lieutenant General Vusimuzi Masondo said on Thursday.
The Institute for Security Studies’ Peter Fabricius said in a July paper “The African Union (AU) – and especially South Africa – regards the AU’s nascent African Standby Force (ASF) as a means to pre-empt alleged Western meddling in Africa.”
Fabricius said more than 5 000 soldiers, police officers and civilians from around the continent are expected to come to the SA Army Combat Training Centre in Lohatlha, Northern Cape from 19 October to 7 November for Exercise Amani Africa II.
“It is expected to be the single largest ‘multi-dimensional’ military exercise ever held in democratic South Africa. As it so often does, South Africa stepped into the breach to host this exercise, which was supposed to be held in Lesotho late last year – before political and security unrest ruled that out.”
Fabricius noted the ASF’s forerunner, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) “was established two years ago, very much at South Africa’s behest, because South African President Jacob Zuma and other leaders felt that the ASF was taking too long to get going.”
Masondo said on Thursday history had “taught us we cannot enjoy the luxury of folding our hands and watching from a distance or claim that African problems do not affect us. If we do that we might have another genocide happen on our watch, sitting idly while Africa burns is something we refuse to do as an African collective.”
The SANDF are preparing combat ready forces to operate anywhere on the continent, Masondo said.
“There is not a terrain far enough not to cover. Development on the continent will not happen in an environment of instability and carnage, we need to arrest insecurity challenges before they escalate and cause our people to veer off course and fail to attain economic growth and prosperity.”