Good intelligence is at the heart of every successful military operation and efforts to tip the balance in favour of those fighting to prevent the wholesale slaughter of rhinos are being boosted by the Army’s 1 Tactical Intelligence Regiment.
The very nature of the work done by these SA Army specialists means it is not possible to divulge their exact modus operandi or where they are deployed, other than to say in the Kruger National Park.
The troop, under the command of Captain Sam Samuels, is based at the SA Army’s main Sand River base in the massive game reserve hundreds of kilometres from its Potchefstroom headquarters. From there teams are deployed in support of other Army elements, the SA Police Service Special Task Force and Kruger’s expanded ranger corps as part of Operation Horizon, a sub-component of Operation Corona, the border protection action.
The 1 Tactical Intelligence Regiment scouts are deployed all over Kruger and surrounding areas working on information received over possible poacher access and exit routes.
Once in position, mostly after long and arduous marches in dangerous and difficult terrain with heavy, cumbersome equipment, carefully hidden observation posts (OPs) are set up and the watching starts. This sees human eyes and ears backed by the Intelligence Formation’s Tactical Intelligence System (TIS) to provide updated information to commanders, either at Sand River or strategically deployed elsewhere in Kruger.
The OPs are manned for up to 72 hours by a single team and they are fully self-sufficient, disturbing their immediate surrounds as little as possible during this time. This adds to their invisibility and ability to gather good intelligence that will assist in bringing more poachers into the law enforcement net.
Intelligence troopers deployed as part of the Operation Horizon force have to face dangerous wild animals including lion, buffalo, elephant and highly venomous snakes while on duty. These, however, are nothing compared to “unwelcome ticks” that find their way into the most uncomfortable places, “even inside our camo” one trooper said.
With 216 rhino already having fallen to poacher’s high-powered assault and hunting rifles this year, the intelligence gatherers know their observation and stealth skills have to be finely tuned at all times. This not only to provide good information to their fellow soldiers but also to ensure they do not land up in the rifle sights of an unscrupulous poacher.
“Poachers are not afraid of the dark and we man our OPs 24 hours a day. We are also extra vigilant when it’s full moon. Poachers call it the African torch and make use of the better night visibility to find their targets. Luckily for us, the full moon also allows us to see better in the dark,” another trooper said.
Sightings made from intelligence-manned OPs have seen rangers and police patrols intercept gangs of poachers before any killing could be done.
“We are not always this fortunate but have been able to lead anti-poaching patrols directly to where weapons have been left behind by poachers in their rush to exit the park. We have also managed to play a role in recovering poached rhino horn.
“It still is disturbing to see a slaughtered rhino without its horn but we are confident we are contributing positively to the fight against poaching,” the trooper said.
The contribution of Major Jennifer Jonker of the SA Army Intelligence Formation in gathering information for this article is appreciated as are the photographs taken by troop commander Captain Sam Samuels.
A gallery of his pictures can be viewed by clicking here.