“It’s certainly very different, very challenging and very rewarding. We will hopefully achieve our mission and bring some stability to the area,” said Sgt Will Frawley. The Fermoy, Co Cork, man is one of a team of five involved in the training.
The sergeant is learning the Somali language so he can communicate effectively with the troops, giving them the skills needed to protect ports and help thwart pirate attacks. The training has been taking place since February but has not been revealed until now. It is being carried out at an army base in Bihanga, 220 kilometres from Ugandan capital Kampala – considered to be more safer than in war-torn Somalia.
But Sgt Frawley said there is something about the camp that reminds him of home. “I did all my training in Kilworth in Cork and when I look out at the lush green fields here, and even the way the troops have begun to move like Irish troops, it certainly reminds me of there,” he said. “In one way it is very isolated but it also looks very much like home.”
The EU training mission was set up following the EU Council’s decision earlier this year to make the commitment as part of the security and defence policy brought in under the Lisbon Treaty. Irish Defence Forces Commandant Ronan Corcoran, from Kerry, said one of the aims was to improve the fighting skills of the troops so they could tackle the activities of Somali pirates on land. “Until there is security on the ground, there can’t be security at sea because these pirates have to come back into ports.”
The sister mission is EU-NAVFOR, the European Union Naval Force, which is protecting shipping off the coast of Somalia from piracy. The Somali troops are being taught how to fight in built-up areas and how to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which are used as roadside bombs. “We are always conscious of where these people come from and where they are going back to and we always send them back as best prepared as we possibly can,” said Sgt Frawley.
There are 13 different nationalities represented in the training camp. The majority come from a special forces background – the French for example are from the Foreign Legion.
The Somali troops are also receiving legal training to ensure they respect human rights laws. The Irish troops vet all those undertaking training for age because there is a problem with child soldiers in Somalia.
The mission will finish at the end of this year but Sgt Frawley is looking forward to returning to Fermoy for a short holiday in August.
“Being away from home is part and parcel of army life. But we couldn’t come out here without the support from our families at home. I have a beautiful wife and two children and am looking forward to having some family time. They are very proud of what their daddy is doing in Africa.”