BUJUMBURA, Burundi – Members of the U.S. Army and British army instructed a 10-day civil-military co-operation course (CIMIC) for 35 Burundi National Defense Force (BNDF) soldiers in Bujumbura, Burundi, March 12-21, 2014.
As another battalion of BNDF soldiers prepares to deploy to Somalia, the course taught them how to engage effectively with people in the villages they’ll be patrolling. The deployment is in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations.
The senior representative for the British army was Maj. Mark Thompson, he is also part of the British Peace Support Team for Eastern Africa. Thompson has trained six battalions during the past two years and said he believes the training has had a major impact on operations in Somalia.
“By working with the Burundians and showing them what they can do with limited funds, it helps them build rapport,” Thompson said. “(It shows them how to) work with the civilian population and understand counter insurgency and peace-keeping fundamentals.”
Thompson said what the BNDF were taught went beyond the normal boundaries of CIMIC. “It’s a bigger package,” he said. “It’s understanding the political sphere, negotiation, mediation and a lot of encompassing things.”
It encompassed counter improvised explosive devices, how to conduct effective nighttime operations, and how to operate in rural areas alongside the civilian population.
According to U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Lucas Velmer, a civil affairs team sergeant, those tools are vital in the fight against violent extremist organizations (VEO). He said it’s very important for BNDF soldiers to gain the support of Somali citizens and have them back their government in an effort to defeat al-Shabaab.
Velmer said instructors keyed off other pre-deployment training the BNDF soldiers had received and took it from a macro level to a micro level. They reinforced “bottom-up operations and reporting feeds.” Expressing the importance of minor details the soldiers should clue in on during their patrols to make an analysis of the bigger picture.
Part of making that analysis is having an understanding of the Somali culture, Thompson said. It’s important to know their culture to open up doors and make their mission effective.
Thompson said he was pleased with how far the soldiers had come in grasping the importance of effective civil affair operations. Toward the end of the course, the soldiers took a written test followed by a practical exercise.
During the exercise BNDF soldiers went through several scenarios where they put new tools to use. They had to assess a health clinic and negotiate for information, they did a key leader engagement with a village elder, followed by a battle assessment on a truck, and they had to engage the media.
“We’re trying to put all the skills that they’ve learned over the last two weeks into a test scenario with hands-on practical application,” Velmer said.
Aside from the satisfaction of watching the soldiers succeed during the course, Velmer said it was also a great opportunity to work with coalition partners and felt the soldiers benefited from it.
“They get two different perspectives which are how the U.K. conducts stabilization operations and how the U.S. conducts civil affairs operations,” Velmer said. “All of it (falls) under civil military … the overall concept still remains the same.”
“We found it was a good opportunity to get involved with both, the Burundi National Defense Force and the United Kingdom. To further enhance what we were trying to do as far as building partner nations in a capacity to defeat violent extremist organizations in the future,” Velmer said.
Thompson said the key behind the joint course was to create consistency and familiarity in the way the course is instructed. The way forward will be for the U.S. and U.K. to alternate training BNDF battalions, preparing them for deployments to Somalia