The SA Army Specialist Infantry Capability, better known by its acronym SAASIC, provides the Infantry Formation with more mobility via the use of horses, motorcycles and increased tracking ability by employing canine olfactory senses.
It is by and large deployed on border protection duties as part of Operation Corona but SAASIC skills and equipment stand ready to be utilised in other areas, including crowd control and as part of conventional operations. The unit can, although it has not been used in this capacity to date, find itself as part of continental peace support or peacekeeping missions, depending on requirements of particular missions.
As with other units in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), SAASIC can be called a reincarnated one, having first seen the light of day as a horse and dog unit in what was then Voortrekkerhoogte, now Thaba Tshwane. It moved on to Potchefstroom in the then Western Transvaal as an integral component of the then 12 SA Infantry Battalion where it was specifically tasked with border protection duties.
Information has it that the unit had to “hit the ground hard” in the late sixties and seventies because of the then government’s increasing attention to halting cross-border activities of particularly political movements and underground military groupings.
At that time the unit had two groupings, one handling dogs and training and the other equestrian. The canine component was also active in mine detection as well as its major function of reconnaissance in support of other units such as motorised infantry. The equestrian part of 21 SAI was deployed mainly in support of infantry operating on foot in the border areas. At a later stage during its pre-democracy existence off-road motorcycles were added to its skillset. This was also to improve mobility during cross-border operations.
Then came democracy and in early 2000, 12 SAI closed its doors as costs continued to rise and five years later the unit officially handed back border protection duties to the SA Police Service. At that time the police were considered a better option for border protection and 12 SAI’s equestrian capability moved to the SAPS equestrian unit with the canine side of the unit remaining in the military under the command of the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), based in Potchefstroom. The two-wheel component was moved to the Infantry School in Oudtshoorn and slotted into training.
According to SANDF corporate communications, as 12 SAI the unit was deployed on border control operations and was also put into service as an active unit in what has become known as the Border War. Other successes include suppression of the 1994 uprising in the former Bophuthatswana, intervention in the PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs) in the Western Cape in 1997, stabilisation operations in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, particularly Impendle and Richmond, and the 2001 rail and taxi violence in Western Cape. All these operations were conducted simultaneously with ongoing border control on South Africa’s borders with Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland concentrating on vehicle and stock theft as well as drug running and illegal aliens.
In April 2011, the then SANDF Chief, General Godfrey Ngwenya, issued a directive to establish a specialist infantry capability in the wake of a Cabinet decision to hand border protection duties back to the national defence force. The General Officer Commanding the Infantry Formation was instructed to resuscitate this capability with immediate effect. Infantry School played a pivotal role in training soldiers to work with animals and trained animals were purchased. Training was conducted at SAPS Welgegund training base.
The unit was officially named SAASIC to operate with an amended doctrine of the old 12 SAI with the mandate of preparing and providing combat ready specialist infantry for specific missions.
SAASIC is now a provider of own training and makes full use of the military skills development (MSD) platform. Instructors undergo advanced training at other centres, including Infantry School.
SAASIC is currently a three company unit with a personnel strength of 243. The headquarters element is 22 strong and the equestrian platoon has a strength of 53 with 40 each in the canine and motorcycle platoons and another 40 in a Reserve Force platoon. There is also a 39-strong Joint Operations Division attachment.
In addition to operational duties SAASIC is also much in demand for parades and demonstrations where its mounted – both equestrian and motorcycle – and dog handling skills are widely appreciated.
Pictures: Captain Matthew de Jager