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.
Thereafter, a week of ranges was conducted, effectively introducing students to the Marksmanship Principles and demonstrating Live Fire progression shoots. The students utilised the SCAR, 5.7mm pistol and the Combat Shotgun. The ranges were designed and run to an American standard. We certainly tried to encourage accurate, aimed and principled shooting rather than a simple desire to expend ammunition and escape the sun – which seemed to be many a main effort! The final standards were to demonstrate and practice an ACMT-lite whilst also bringing in a scenario and snap-shooting into the shoots; again, exposing students and the SANG RCO to the possible training that can and could be conducted – increasing their scope for imaginative training.
There was also a final week of Public Order – where Cpl Goad from 2PWRR arrived from Cyprus to lead the training. The remaining members of the team took great pleasure – and precaution – adding intensity and realism to this part of training as IC Civilian Population.
Outside of working hours, we were hosted exceptionally by the BMM Permanent Staff as well as our interpreter and the students themselves – after 8 weeks of building these diplomatic relations.
We really could not have asked for anymore. Activities such as sunbathing, PT, diving, shopping at the enormous Red Sea Mall, an invite to the British Consulate and generally exploring – we tried to do it all! We saw the tallest fountain in the world – the King Fahd’s Fountain – the largest flag and flagpole in the world and we explored the wadis and mountainous areas a few hours north of Jeddah after some off-road driving before finally delving into Al-Balad, the Old Town, which was first established in the 7th Century. We ate like Kings and were given the freedom to enjoy everything Jeddah had to offer.
Finally, we were invited to attend a local football match with one of the students in the newly established King Abdullah Sport City Stadium which only very recently had hosted the Spanish Super Cup between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. For a measly 10 SAR (£2.50)! Fortunately, the home team – Al-Ittihad – came away 5 – 1 victors and the Team made it onto the big screen, much to our excitement. Former Swansea City striker, Wilfred Bony proving that the Welsh really can make it internationally.
At the end of the course, the students rented a social area to host, feed and entertain us; Saudi Arabian style. There was music, dancing and a sit-down barbeque meal which was exceptional. They especially appreciated our donning of the “thawb”; a traditional Arabic dress which I must say we only just managed to pull off!
Our 8-week STTT in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was truly a unique and eye-opening experience. We have all learnt something about training foreign militaries and a little too on building diplomatic relations despite the language barrier. We have been exposed to the culture of Saudi Arabia and its pattern of life. Cpl Merril especially acquired the skills to drive in Saudi Arabia by fully engaging with the Saudi driving logic. I fear for all drivers in and around Merril when approaching a roundabout – he may need a period of decompression! We also return with a confidence in our own Army, having been exposed to another. Ultimately however, we delivered a high-quality training package that can be replicated in the Eastern, Centre and Western Sectors and enabled twenty-two SANG NCO’s to return to their units and share what they have learnt. I believe we have done nothing except promote the reputation and standards of the British Army and The Royal Welsh, and for that I am proud of my team.