Wednesday, 4 May 2011

‘Exercise Over Watch’

New AFL Mock-up combat leaves villagers in panic

-Zota District, Bong County

Mae Azango

The Town of Nama in Zota district, Bong County heard a familiar sound of firing when ‘Exercise Over watch’, organized by the new Armed Forces of Liberia, was executed in Camp Jackson. 

The new Armed Forces of the 23rd Infantry Brigade comprising of 700 men were divided into two groups who fighting one another. The exercise was aimed at preparing the new Army to curb any armed insurgence in the absence of UNMIL in the future.  

During this exercise over the weekend, children were said to have run out of school buildings and villagers from their farms, when the training exercise kicked off with a sporadic shooting between what they called the government forces and the rebel forces. Although the shooting exercise was done with what was AFL officials called blank bullets, upon hearing the sound, one would think it is an armed attack with two opposing forces.

“I was coming to the town when I saw school children and villagers running in panic when they heard the shooting,” confirmed District commissioner Joseph Urey of Zota district. “I told them to go back to their normal duties because the AFL was practicing.”

Zota also explained that the AFL had informed the people that they were going to be doing a shoot out training, but that it was not enough. “Our people are engaged into farming and many did not hear the message. But, if the message was transmitted through the radio, everybody would have heard it, but the community radio transmitter spoiled sometime ago and no help to fix it.”

 Mr. Urey said he was impressed with the new army because it has never happened before in Liberia for the AFL to go through such an exercise. “This tells us the AFL that we have today is a new breed of the army. They interact with the people.

He appealed to the government through the Defense Minister, Brownie Sambukai to help fix the transmitter for the village, saying it was a helpful tool for the village as election is drawing closer for the people to be sensitized and for messages to get across quickly.

Defense Minister Brownie Samukai who was at the indoor program promised the district commissioner that the AFL would help with whatever project as they reconstructed a broken bridge and he would take the message to the commander in chief of the AFL, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. 

On the grounds of the training exercise at the old camp Jackson, Major Joe Wleh of the AFL said the training exercise Over Watch is the first of its kind for the new AFL, as it affords soldiers the opportunity to practice jungle warfare to confront their enemies.

“The importance of this training is that it gives the soldiers the chance to know what it is when an enemy attacks unexpectedly. One group represents the rebel and the second represents the government. The whole exercise is to show how the rebel forces seized the village of Nama and started terrorizing civilians while the government forces moved in and recaptured the village and save the villages.”  

Moving through the proposed camp of the rebels, soldiers dressed exactly as rebels without proper army outfits but odd clothes, were in bushes and on top of buildings carrying AK 47 rifles and guarding their territory.

Lt. William Michael, commander of the rebel forces, would not disclose his manpower but said his mission was to secure a foothold. “I want to gain a passage into Bellefani town and further. We terrorize civilians so that the government forces would want to come into our territory and rescue. When we catch any prisoner of war, we would hold them for ransom to support our group.”

The fake rebel commander said the soldiers of the first infantry are impressed with the training exercise and want it to continue. “I am happy about this training because I know how to fight in the jungle, so I can take on any force if anything should erupt in the future.”

On the day of the exercise, the sound of gun fire was so heavy and loud that some guests who went to witness the exercise including journalists, were terrified during the action which looked real.

At first, the rebels were seen crawling in bushes and hiding between old dilapidated structures and remnants of the old camp Jackson’s barracks, when the government forces bypassed them in a counter attack. The first phase of shooting lasted for over thirty minutes, when more men from the government forces came as back up to flush out the 47 men of the rebel group.

The ‘rebel group’ was defeated when some of their men were killed while others, who got bullet wounds, were captured by soldiers of the government force.