News: AFL completes annual field exercise
TEH, Liberia — The enemy approached, their unifying red sashes standing out among the soggy undergrowth. There was not a dry eye around, not because of some overwhelming sadness of the events, but because the rain had been relentless for much of the past five days. It was hot, when it wasn’t raining, and when it was, the humidity made conditions almost unbearable.
But relief from the elements would not come for the rebel forces anytime soon - they had bigger problems. Their main concern was staving off the advancing Armed Forces of Liberia battalion, who were committed on destroying their positions and disrupting the rebel’s freedom of movement and restoring peace and stability along the border regions.
For six straight days they traded gunfire, strategic positions and spontaneous attacks, both sides suffering casualties. The final battle pitted the small contingent of rebel forces against the full arsenal of AFL assets, leaving them overmatched and outgunned.
Observers would easily note the commitment on both sides to destroy the other throughout the week, with the rebel forces eventually being overwhelmed and captured.
Observers would also probably find it odd that, as committed as the two sides were in destroying each other; they were even more committed to breaking bread together on the final day, laughing about their experiences and celebrating a job well done on both sides of the muzzle flashes.
That is because in this instance, the two sides were not real enemies, but fellow soldiers taking part in the Armed Forces of Liberia’s annual training exercise, Exercise Watch Over II, held in Liberia’s Grand Cape Mount County May 27-June 1.
Approximately 700 soldiers from the AFL participated in the exercise, which took place in northwestern Liberia. The soldiers came from the 23rd Infantry Brigade, AFL Logistics Command, AFL headquarters, and of course, a contingent of opposing forces made up of soldiers from Armed Forces Training Command.
The six day exercise took place across several areas within the county, from the rugged, swampy terrain of a plantation to the lush fields near Teh in the county’s geographic center.
“This is not the first time we have gone to other counties, but for our big annual exercise, the location [of Grand Cape Mount County] was chosen because we wanted to have geographical balance, in that we want to show different parts of Liberia that their army is developing into a force for good,” said AFL Maj. Daniel Ziankahn, who, in his position as deputy director of operations at AFL headquarters, helped plan the exercise.
“Past exercises have gone to different locations, but we wanted to go to Teh this time to show those citizens the new AFL. We are citizen soldiers. We wanted to show the citizens of Liberia that we are a competent force.”
Another reason the AFL traveled to Teh was to practice gaining situational awareness in unfamiliar territory, said Ziankahn.
“In the real world, soldiers are deployed into areas that they know little about,” said Ziankahn. “Commanders have to be able to quickly learn their environment and work with local citizens in a process called civil consideration. So we were able to practice that aspect of military operations by coming here.”
Following the final engagement, AFL soldiers joined with citizens and leaders of Grand Cape Mount County for a closing ceremony and bonfire to show the AFL’s appreciation for the local citizens as well as give the local citizens a chance to interact with the AFL and get to know them.
In addition to civil consideration, the AFL also practiced both offensive and defensive maneuvers, culminating in a large-scale raid on the “rebel stronghold” just west of the city of Teh on the final day of the exercise.
“We are graduating up in our exercises,” said Ziankahn. “Six years ago, we were conducting training exercises focused on individual movement. From there, we focused on squad maneuvers, then platoon, then company-level operations. This exercise, we practiced as one battalion, but in reality, parts of two battalions were put together to complete the exercise. We will continue to develop and train and we hope to exercise the entire brigade in future exercises.”
For the first time, the AFL also successfully included the Liberian coast guard, utilizing their unique maritime proficiencies to insert a team of advanced party soldiers which provided surveillance and over watch of the location of the enemy forces.
As with any exercise, things did not go perfectly, said Ziankahn.
“Currently, we are going through the after action review of the exercise to identify where our gaps exist,” said Ziankahn. “We have some things to work on, but our hope is to learn from our mistakes and perform better next time.
Two lessons the AFL learned from the exercise is the continuing importance of logistics and the importance of local citizen support.
“Logistics is the key to executing every plan,” said Ziankahn. “You can’t have a perfect plan without logistics. A huge part of any exercise or operation is what supplies are available and how to get those supplies to the individuals that need them. We also learned the importance of the hospitality of the locals. They were willing and able to work with us and they seemed to appreciate our efforts. That was symbolized by the successful bonfire in which locals and the AFL got together and became friends.”
Whether they are playing the role of rebels or applying their operational knowledge, the AFL’s most recent exercise showed they continue to develop into the “force for good” the people of Liberia expect them to be.
Date Posted:06.26.2012 05:52
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