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Soldiers join forces at Lohatla

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More than 1 000 South African and US soldiers are rehearsing potential UN-mandated peacekeeping operations in Lohatla.

An exercise title Shared Accord, an annual meeting between the US Army Africa and other African armies, is being held in Lohatla. File picture

MORE than 1 000 South African and US soldiers are busy learning to work with each other – should they ever have to do a UN peacekeeping mission together.

The soldiers from 2 South African Infantry Battalion and the Navy’s maritime reaction squadron along with members of the 101st Airborne Division, US Marine Corps Reserve and assorted national guard (military reservists) have been joined by senior officers rehearsing potential UN-mandated peacekeeping operations in the continent over the last 10 days at the SANDF’s combat training centre (CTC) in Lohatla in the Northern Cape.

US Brigadier General William Prendergast explained yesterday: “There’s a saying that we should not be exchanging business cards when the disaster occurs, but rather meeting beforehand.”

The exercise is titled Shared Accord, an annual meeting between elements of US Army Africa and other African armies, which returns to South Africa every three years. Next year, Exercise Shared Accord will be held in Rwanda.

Prendergast’s co-exercise director, SANDF Brigadier General Gustav Lategan, stressed that the exercise is part of an ongoing bilateral agreement between Washington and Pretoria regarding military co-operation and not part of the SANDF’s peacekeeping duties in terms of its African Union responsibilities.

“We have been sharing lessons that we have learnt from our current peacekeeping experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo and utilising 2 SAI in particular for training on this exercise as this is the next battalion to be placed on standby for peacekeeping as part of the African Union stand-by force.”

In turn, the US military has been teaching the SANDF officers and soldiers how it combats the use of improvised explosive devices against it, which it has experienced in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This is our opportunity to train our younger soldiers that have not seen this type of warfare before for when they do deploy,” said Prendergast.

Training over the last 10 days has included being ambushed, taking casualties and evacuating them, guarding camps for displaced persons and safely running convoys.

The exercise culminates next Wednesday with a live-fire exercise at the CTC using soldiers from both countries side-by-side.