Lieutenant Colonel Steve Brand, former Queen’s Own Commanding Officer, led a team of Canadians in Operation Sculpture, Canada’s contribution to a British-led initiative in Sierra Leone. He arrived in West Africa in December, 2003 and had many interesting, eye opening, active and exhausting experiences. The International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) is part of the British government’s program of assistance to help the Sierra Leone government to restore peace and stability after years of brutal civil war causing tens of thousands of deaths and displacement of over two million people. Brand provided this sitrep in early 2004:
My role as Staff Officer 1, Freetown Garrison is to assist and advise the FTG Commander – a full Colonel – and his 2 Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces battalion commanders in all training and logistical matters regarding the conduct of light infantry SOPs, in the field, garrison and during ops.Tactics are focused at platoon level, in a company context. IMATTs goal is to ensure companies can seize and hold ground and deliver effective small arms fire in a dismounted light infantry role. To assist me I have a US Logistics Captain, a Bermudan CSM and a Canadian Medical Sergeant. We are currently 130 strong, commanded by a Brit Para Brigadier.
After the war ended 3 years ago a new army was created – the RSLAF. Many former rebels from the Revolutionary United Front now serve alongside former government soldiers as part of a very carefully orchestrated reconciliation plan. The personal weapon in use is the British SLR (7.62mm FNC1). The C6 is used as the platoon GPMG. RPGs are used as the anti-armour weapon. 81 mm Chinese and Romanian mortars are also used here. The Air Force has a Russian Hinds that hasn’t flown for a year or so and just received an Alouette helicopter that has all the commanders excited over its recce potential. The Naval Wing has a solo 60s vintage patrol boat gifted by China and several Zodiacs. The Army special force – Force Reconnaissance Unit – is at company strength and they are apparently the best soldiers in the country.
The 5th (Freetown Defence) Battalion is tasked to provide troops for several important security details within Freetown, including key government buildings, the Presidential and Vice Presidential lodges, the Special Court, Pademba Prison, MOD installations and maintains a company-sized Quick Reaction Force. The 15th is charged with the security of Lungi International Airport and the Mapeh Internment camp that currently houses some 400 former Liberian rebels undergoing re-integration training. Both battalions have effective strengths in the order of 600 troops each.
Battalions have only limited transport – 2 Land Rovers and 2 Troop Carrying Vehicles (when they are running.) Both BORs have all the normal reports and returns that we use in Canada and are reminiscent of a 1970s Canadian BOR in the field. They have one telephone line and no fax or copier. They still use morse code – quite a bit more reliable than many of the socalled modern means. The most notable difference is the total absence of computers. The Chief Clerks type away on WW2 era typewriters and use carbon paper to make copies. A couple of old laptops would go along way here. (Special thanks to Hon LCol Paul Hughes, who donated a lap top computer and printer to 5 Bn.)
Soldiers, who wear a mix of uniforms donated by various countries, only have one uniform each, but they’re well maintained and washed by hand once a week in the local streams and water points.They wear their uniforms and berets smartly and with a great deal of pride. Remember the short-lived Garrison Boot project? Canada donated hundreds of these beauties and they now gleam with RSLAF spit and polish.
Soldiers are issued 3 cups of rice a day and some condiments such as Cassava leaves, salt and pepper. A private soldier is paid 12000 Leones (approximately $60 Cdn) once a month. Soldiers and their families are supposed to receive free accommodations but both battalions are short of housing. Accommodations are quite shocking by western standards but generally soldiers in the RSLAF are often better off than the civilian population. Sixty percent are married with large extended families that overflow the military bases. Kids, dogs, goats and chickens run everywhere throughout the quarters. Quality of life issues that we take for granted – paying soldiers on time, feeding and housing them – have been neglected in the past. I will be spending a great deal of time and effort in these matters if operational standards and positive morale are to be achieved.