The British Army’s 4th Battalion The Rifles (4 Rifles) is currently in Kenya undergoing intensive training to be the next rapid response force ready to tackle crises worldwide at 24 hours’ notice.
4 Rifles will continue training in Kenya until the middle of June when the exercise culminates in a major scenario to test personnel thoroughly before they start their new role as Spearhead Lead Element in October.
The rapid response force deals with various situations across the world from major terrorist attacks to the evacuation of British nationals overseas.
Around 700 personnel from 4 Rifles have been joined by other units, including artillery and engineers, for the five-week intensive exercise at the British Army Training Unit Kenya, otherwise known as BATUK, the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced yesterday.
The aim is to train them in the skills of infantry soldiering ranging from day and night patrolling, ambushing an opposing force and taking control of an area and reassuring the local inhabitants they are safe. The standard equipment of rifles and machine guns are complemented with items such as body armour and helmets which can detect whether a soldier has been technically injured or even killed.
“Kenya is superb because it gives us unparalleled opportunities for live firing and indeed firing with blank ammunition,” said Lieutenant Colonel Nick Thornton, Commanding Officer of 4 Rifles. “Force-on-force exercises really test every level of the battalion and every aspect of the battalion, so we are ready to go if called upon at any time – in what we call contingent operations.”
Kenya offers 4 Rifles a number of challenges that the likes of the Salisbury Plain Training Area near their base in Bulford, Wiltshire, cannot provide. These include roads that are no more than desert tracks that put a lot of demands on the vehicles, their drivers and the mechanics who are on hand to fix them when the need arises. Temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius also create another hazard to overcome.
“Extremes of climate are always very valuable in terms of training robustness. The heat adds an extra dimension to the force protection of the riflemen, ensuring they stay and remain fit to fight,” said Thornton. “We have to make sure they have the right amount of water, they are eating correctly, that they are looked after and given as many creature comforts whenever we can.”
“The pressures on our vehicle fleet are huge, so we have to take that into account. It has been a challenge, probably one of the biggest challenges in 27 years to be honest, but the team I have got with me makes it a lot easier and I have some extremely competent guys,” said Major Rob Cutler, the Quartermaster in charge of the stores.
The UK Ministry of Defence recently renewed a long-standing agreement with the Kenyan government that allows six British infantry battalions per year to carry out four-week exercises in Kenya’s arid Great Rift Valley.
The training gives the soldiers the opportunity to carry out live firing in a wide variety of challenging hot and high climatic conditions. The exercises are run by the British Army Training Unit Kenya based at Kifaru Camp in Nairobi, and Nanyuki Showground Camp (NSC), 200 km north of capital. The Army’s Main Operating Base during the exercise is at MOB SIMBA in the Archers Post training area, 80 km north of NSC.
The level of training has more than doubled since last year under the new series of exercises codenamed ‘Askari Thunder’ to better reflect current operational deployments. They are designed to afford infantry battalion’s the chance to work alongside the engineers, medics and logisticians that make up their battle group. Known as Hybrid Foundation Training, the exercises involve up to one thousand troops, begin with individual role specific training and culminate in a Battle Group-size exercise. The final element includes local Kenyan people assuming the roles of insurgents and aid workers with tribal and ethnic and religious tensions.
Air support for the exercises is provided by a permanent detachment of RAF Puma HC.1s under the umbrella of Joint Helicopter Force (Kenya) (JHF(K)) based at the Kenya Air Force’s Laikipia Air Base. Deployments of Royal Navy Sea Kings or Army Air Corps Lynx use the exercises for pre-deployment training to Afghanistan and provide additional air support.
British military training in Kenya has been marred by several incidents this year. On March 17 a civilian was shot during a training exercise, prompting the suspension from duty of Colonel Neil Hutton, who is in charge of the British Army Training Unit Kenya. He fired at least one warning shot to scare off locals after a spate of thefts from British troops, HM Forces reported. Colonel Hutton was is responsible for putting some 3,500 British troops a year through the training programme in Kenya.
Every year, three infantry battalions spend six weeks taking part in Exercise Grand Prix to practice their skills before their deployment to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. Colonel Hutton’s unit is engaged in a year-long training cycle.
Kenyans have sued the British government for unexploded ordnance left over from exercises, News From Africa reports. In July 2002 a deal was negotiated for the payment of £4.5 million (Sh630 million) plus costs to 233 Kenyan victims injuries by munitions left by British forces whilst training in the Samburu area. More than 200 accidents have been recorded in the area where the British forces have been carrying out exercises, with 90 percent of them involving children.