Announcing the fact that British and Sierra Leonean troops will train together for the first time ever, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has underlined the breadth of the contribution the UK makes across the whole African continent.
Two thirds of Britain’s entire global short-term training team effort is invested in Africa – equating to approximately 18,000 man days of training annually. As well as ad hoc training commitments made under bilateral agreements, the UK also has an enduring footprint in several nations, through resident military training teams in Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and South Africa.
In Nigeria, British troops continue to provide training support for Nigerian armed forces fighting Boko Haram. Over 350 British troops deployed to Nigeria in 2016 in support of the resident British Military Advisory and Training Team, including a 70-strong team from the RAF Regiment to help train its Nigerian counterpart. In total, around 22,000 Nigerian military personnel have been trained since April 2015, underlining the scale of UK support. This follows the Defence Secretary’s announcement last year of a doubling of UK personnel to train Nigerian forces, and Britain has also recently provided life-saving medical supplies to equip 5,000 Nigerian troops as they take on the extremist group.
As well as countering Daesh in Iraq and Syria, the UK also plays a role stemming extremism in Africa, supporting security in the countries affected, in turn making Britain safer. In Tunisia, the UK helps defend against Daesh by training Tunisian forces in border security to prevent illegal movement from Libya and protecting against the threat posed by IEDs. Around 1,000 members of the Tunisian armed forces have been trained in counter-IED techniques.
Separately, the UK has stepped up its presence in Somalia, and around 65 UK troops are backing UN, EU and African Union efforts in-country, supporting work to build stability, enhance the effectiveness of the Somali National Army, and help neutralise the threat posed by Al-Shabaab extremists. A UK Headquarters has been established in Mogadishu to coordinate UK effort in Somalia.
UK support to UN operations also extends to peacekeeping in South Sudan, and at the UK-hosted UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in September Sir Michael announced an uplift of British troops supporting this effort, meaning up to 400 are due to deploy to the UN Mission in South Sudan, as well as the UK setting up a field hospital.
Illegal wildlife trade is a challenge that blights much of Africa. In 2017 a British Army team will deploy to Malawi to train a new force of anti-poaching trackers, helping counter the threat of poaching, and bring those responsible to justice. Separately, around 850 Malawians are trained per year by the British Peace Support Team in South Africa, in support of their contribution to the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UK military personnel have previously carried out anti-poaching training in Gabon, in Uganda, and the British Army Training Unit Kenya is supporting the building of an elephant fence in Kenya to protect the endangered animals from poachers, and protect the British training area, local people and resources.
The UK contribution in Africa also involves working alongside other international partners. This includes joint maritime support, sharing ideas and intelligence, and, following the Amiens Summit in March, the UK provides a monthly C-17 flight to French forces in the Sahel, which will continue through to spring 2017.
At sea, the UK has sent Royal Navy ships to support Operation "Sophia" in the Mediterranean, focused on tackling human smugglers and arms traffickers who endanger the lives of migrants seeking to travel to Europe, often from northern Africa. Since 2015, this has included the deployment of HMS BULWARK, ENTERPRISE, ECHO, DIAMOND, RICHMOND and RFA MOUNTS BAY. British vessels have saved nearly 15,000 of the 31,000 migrants rescued during the operation, as well as constricting the activity of criminal gangs. The UK also plays a longstanding leading role in a separate operation in the Indian Ocean, focused on targeting piracy off the coast of Somalia.
In Sierra Leone, some 90 British troops recently deployed alongside their national counterparts in a jungle training exercise aimed at learning the skills to live, fight and survive in this environment. “Training with Sierra Leonean forces is just the latest example of the UK stepping up globally to tackle international threats that put Britain at risk.” Fallon said.
The policy of Persistent Defence Engagement underpins the UK’s relationship with African partners. In December 2016 the MoD announced the creation of a new British Defence Staff (BDS) for West Africa, based in Abuja, in addition to existing BDSs in the Gulf and Asia Pacific. The BDS West Africa will act as a regional hub for the UK’s defence efforts. This will include engaging with Nigeria and other countries around the Lake Chad Basin, focusing in particular on transnational threats from Boko Haram terrorists.