1 R WELSH support to the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard
In early 2020, 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh deployed three independent Short Term Training Teams, consisting of four soldiers per team, to support the British Military Mission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. One team was centred in Riyadh conducting Marksmanship and another in Dammam, focused on Urban Operations. The teams supported the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG). As overall Team Leader, I will focus on my team’s experience supporting the Internal Security and Patrols course run in the Western Sector with the support of Corporals McDonald, Merril and Tipping. We were to be based in Jeddah; home of the Islamic Port and gateway to pilgrimages to the holy cities – only 70KM from the city of Mecca; the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of the Scared Mosque, al-Masjid al-Haram.
The SANG is known as the “White Army” recruiting only from tribes loyal to King Salaman to act as the internal security force within Saudi Arabia itself. Their recent concerns surrounded the uncertainty of neighbouring countries during the Arab Spring and providing reinforcements to the South Border to assist the [Field] Army against the Houthi Rebels in Yemen. One of our students volunteered and was sent South only days after the course ended. The SANG Brigade Commander set the true context of the course when he ensured the remaining students that the Battalions were to begin transitioning into Mechanised and Light Role Infantry Battalions in order to support the mounting efforts in the South.
The Jeddah and Mecca Special Service Battalions – which were our training audience – are primarily tasked with ensuring safety, security, checkpoints, counter-terrorism and crowd control during the Hajj. The annual pilgrimage and mass of people congregating within Mecca during this time has presented challenges in the past. Clearly, there was a purpose to the training we were to provide; focused on leadership, command and control enabling the attending NCO’s to return to their units and share the knowledge they had learnt.
Our lofty aspirations however were limited initially to appropriate weapon handling skills and equipment care of their primary weapon system – the SCAR – basic marksmanship and infantry skills up to section fire and manoeuvre and finally the enabling activity of operating vehicle checkpoints. We opted to instruct the foundations to a high degree of understanding and aptitude. We also introduced them to various methods of physical training and created the Saudi Arabian One Miler, much to the students’ dismay. The variety of PT, from steady state runs, functional circuits and most importantly CASEVAC techniques and drills – disguised as PT – exposed the SANG to physical training outside of their norm.
We optimised our surroundings by using a piece of land, now designated as the SANG’s “Back Training Area”, the equivalent of our trusted yet limited Area Bravo. Dusty, dry, rock and sand with significant valleys and mountainous areas; it provided an acceptable representation of a realistic operating environment. An element of the training was simply to demonstrate best practice, how training can and should be conducted and how to utilise resources around the camp. The initial challenge was encouraging the students of the benefits of training outside of “the wire”; to them, internal security literally meant, internal! This initial frustration soon wore off and the students threw themselves into the daily serials and training.