Operation TRENTON: Update on the British Army in South Sudan
Soldiers Deployed on UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)
Hard labour and clearing up rubbish, the British Army are slaving away in South Sudan on Operation TRENTON because “The UK must continue to set an example in the battle to bring equality and stability to the world’s most fragile countries,” according to the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson.
By pumping in £40.8million last year, the UK has become the third-largest humanitarian donor to crisis country South Sudan, with over 300 British soldiers currently deployed across the fledgling nation.
Gavin Williamson visited the UK’s largest contribution to United Nations peacekeeping, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), where military personnel have been running a hospital and improving infrastructure.
South Sudan Selected Under 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review
In 2015, the Strategic Defence and Security Review saw the Prime Minister’s intent to double the number of military personnel that the UK contributes to UN peace-keeping operations. South Sudan was the mission of choice.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) commenced in 2011 when they declared independence, and is now the largest peacekeeping mission, with over 14,000 contingent troops from 65 countries . Providing medical care over a country 3 times the size of the UK is challenging, with large areas of swamps, armed clashes and a substantial wet season.
UNMISS currently has 40 Level 1 Clinics (29 Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) provided; 11 UN provided), 8 Forward Medical Teams and 8 casualty evacuation/medical evacuation (CASEVAC/MEDEVAC) helicopters for urgent aeromedical evacuation. UNMISS has 5 Level 2 hospitals across South Sudan, with Level 3 hospitals for further specialist care in Entebbe with a dedicated fixed wing aeromedical aircraft available; the Level 4 hospital for the mission is in Nairobi.
In 2017, Operation TRENTON commenced with the deployment of a UK engineering task force to two sites – Bentiu and Malakal – along with the supporting medical footprint for UNMISS. On arrival, the UK erected a tented Level 2 hospital in Bentiu from a bare patch of scrubland prior to the UK engineers being tasked to build a hardstanding Level 2 hospital in close vicinity which was due to be completed in December 2018.
The UK medical deployment for the Level 2 hospital was unprecedented in its roulement; Army deployed and set-up the tented capability, Royal Navy developed the capability before handing over to the RAF to manage and mentor the Vietnamese through the successful transition. This is the first time that a UN hospital has had unbroken clinical cover; the UN have formally recognised this transition as best practice, with other Troop Contributing Countries being encouraged to follow suit.
The relationship between the UK and Vietnam has grown over 2 years as the UK provided an ‘Advise, Assist and Mentor’ package as the Vietnamese prepared for their first ever peacekeeping mission. America and Australia have also provided supporting roles, celebrating the international effort, Vietnamese medics, trained by the UK, using American equipment, flown in by the Australians. This deployment epitomises what can be achieved through defence engagement with new and old partners alike, to fulfil a UK goal to get more nations involved in UN peacekeeping. The Vietnamese officially took command of the Level 2 Hospital in Bentiu on 27 October 2018.
British Army Staff Officers on Operation VOGUL
In wider support to UNMISS, 8 UK Staff Officers (SO) are deployed under the Op VOGUL banner. One of the SO positions is the Deputy Force Medical Officer (DFMO) based at the Level 2+ Hospital in Juba. The DFMO post will endure until 2020, which will see the position held by a doctor from all three Services for a tour length of 9 months each.
The current DFMO, Wg Cdr Adam Manson, has described the role as monitoring and co-ordinating all the Level 1 and 2 facilities, improving the health of the force through education, clinical advice, facility inspections and hygiene inspections to allow the force to implement the mandate for UNMISS.
Force Medical also co-ordinate CASEVAC/MEDEVACs to ensure patients are moved in a timely fashion with the right level of escort to the right medical facility. Having a UK doctor as the DFMO has already reaped huge benefits from within the UN, not only to ensure the required standard of care for UK personnel deployed, but also through the soft power of medical to relationship build with other TCCs to open avenues for defence engagement to support both the Global Britain and prosperity agendas.
The DFMO highlights that the UN provides a unique working environment with every day being different with the challenges of language, culture and communication. He highlights that it is culturally fascinating working day-to-day with a Chinese Lieutenant Colonel, Major Staff Officers from Rwanda and Sri Lanka and a Marine Warrant Officer from Bangladesh. Living in a UN camp with a mixture of civilian and military personnel brings a real sense of unity and friendship, whether it is undertaking exercise, over lunch or even when catching lifts for the 30-minute drive across Juba between the two main UN camps.
British Army Facing Refugee Crisis in South Sudan
The roles within the UN Mission are varied and often the result of the ground-realities; a third of the 12 million population of South Sudan are displaced, either internally or as refugees in external countries, with children often suffering the most. A memorable day for UK personnel in Juba was the cleaning of a local orphanage which is home to 50 orphans ranging in age from several months old up.
Over 60 UNMISS personnel got together and between them rooms were emptied, cleaned and tidied, food stores were emptied and rats removed, the teaching room was organised and dormitories and eating areas were cleaned and disinfected. Swings were repaired and grass areas cut to allow for vegetable patches and new play areas.
The UK support to UNMISS continues until 2020 with the engineers on Op TRENTON and Staff Officers on Op VOGUL. The small numbers of UK personnel have not only greatly assisted the mission to implement the mandate but each individual has found it personally rewarding and seen actual results to improve the lives and relieve the suffering of the South Sudanese population. With new peace efforts ongoing it is hoped these may result in a longstanding solution and allow the country to prosper in the future.
British Defence Secretary Visits South Sudan
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson recently visited the Op TRENTON deployment, finding time to make a speech:
The UK is a nation that leads from the front – promoting security, championing prosperity, and protecting human rights. We stand with the people of South Sudan, particularly those who suffer horrific crimes such as sexual and gender-based violence. We all want Africa’s newest country to seek a peaceful and prosperous future.
Last month, British soldiers in Bentiu completed upgrades to 15km of roads used to deliver vital food and aid supplies. According to the MOD, this means that women will no longer be forced to make the long journey by foot each day, which exposes them to the risk of attack.
During his visit, the Defence Secretary also met President Salva Kiir Mayardit to discuss how efforts were going to bring peace to South Sudan following the signing of a peace agreement in October.
He also visited a UN Protection of Civilian (PoC) camp in Malakal to hear the stories of some of those who have been affected by the conflict and spoke to UK-funded aid workers to discuss the challenges they face.
Williamson then went to a UK-aid funded female-only ‘safe space’ which has been created for victims of sexual violence to find out what more the UK’s military can do to support those who have suffered horrific crimes such as rape and kidnap. He finished the South Sudan leg of the visit by travelling to Bentiu to officially hand over control of a Level 2 Field Hospital, which had been built and run by the UK, to Vietnamese medical staff who are on their first UN deployment.
36 Engineer Regiment Handover Marks End of Op TRENTON 5
Lt Col Mark Jones, Commander Op TRENTON 5, passed the baton to Lt Col Jamie Stuart, Commander TRENTON 6, on January 15, marking the end of Op TRENTON 5 and the beginning of Op TRENTON 6. 36 Engineer Regiment, Corps of Royal Engineers, reported that it been an extremely rewarding tour, with more than half of the 300-strong UK Engineer Task Force having received operational medals.
Lt Col Mark Jones, passes the baton to Commander TRENTON 6, Lt Col Jamie Stuart, thereby bringing Op TRENTON 5 to an end. It has been an extremely rewarding tour and 65% of the 300 members of the UK Engineer Task Force have received their first operational medal . pic.twitter.com/lrqvDhENRI
— 36 Engineer Regiment (@36_Engr_Regt) January 15, 2019
Image: The Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, talks to soldiers from the UK Engineer Task Force serving in Bentiu, South Sudan. The Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, visited soldiers deployed as part of the UK Engineer Task Force (UK Engr TF) in South Sudan on 3-4 January 2019. The soldiers are in the country on Operation TRENTON, undertaking engineering tasks in support of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The Minister met troops in Malakal and Bentiu and saw the positive impact the men and women are having on this critical UN mission. During the visit Mr Williamson officially handed over the UK-built Role 2 Hospital in Bentiu to the Vietnamese Contingent as well as visiting Malakal’s Protection of Civilians (POC) camp. (Crown Copyright, 2018)