– COS Brigadier Mark Phillips
With mid-year General Elections, repeated threats from Venezuela, and a surge in serious crime, 2015 was a challenging, but successful year for the Guyana Defence Force, in terms of securing the nation’s territorial integrity and protecting its citizens.
And with the upcoming Independence Anniversary celebrations, 2016 is expected to be equally busy for the army, which is also seeking to enhance its overall capabilities.
Chief of Staff (COS) Brigadier Mark Phillips made this observation yesterday during an end-of-year press conference at Defence Headquarters, Base Camp Ayanganna, while recapping some of the Army’s major challenges and goals for the new year.
“The year 2015 was a challenging, yet successful one for the Guyana Defence Force… and my view is that we will continue to be relevant to the people of Guyana and we look forward to 2016 and its challenges,” the Chief of Staff said.
Brigadier Phillips recalled that from January to May last, the GDF was busy preparing its ranks for General and Regional.
ELECTIONS, BORDER THREATS
In May, the Army activated ‘Operation Plexus,’ in which ranks were deployed countrywide to ensure the stability and security of the nation during the elections period.
“After Elections, the period June to August/September was quite a trying time for the GDF, because the focus was on our borders and threats of aggression from our western neighbour.
“That consumed a lot of our time; we had activities related to upgrading our facilities, and testing our contingencies in relation to defending our borders. We had our jungle training and Exercise Greenheart, in October, which ended in the Bartica-Potaro area.
And with a surging crime rate, Brigadier Phillips recalled that the army ranks were also deployed to assist the police in the countrywide patrols. The exercise, dubbed Operation Dragnet, was launched on December 1, 2015, and will continue during the February 23 Republic and the nation’s fiftieth Independence Anniversary celebrations in May.
“As you know, a lot of Guyanese plan to come home, and it is very important that we create a safe and secure environment.”
Operation Dragnet, which will include aerial reconnaissance, will end on June 1, 2016. Asked if the army should continue to assist the police in anti-crime patrols beyond this period, Brigadier Phillips expressed confidence that the Police Force now appears to be well equipped to deal with the crime threat.
The army also celebrated its 50th anniversary, with a month of activities, which included military games last November.
“Without the GDF there would be no independent nation of Guyana. The establishment of a national army was a precondition of granting independence. We really hold high our service in defence of Guyana. The army is entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting and defending the motherland…and we are very proud of that,” Brigadier Phillips said.
TRAINING AND UPGRADING FACILITIES
In 2015, the Guyana Defence Force also had two recruit courses, where 500 ranks were enlisted. The army also held an officer cadet course, with the aim of graduating 15 officers in February 2016.
At present, the Force is also training officers for the Belize Defence Force and the St. Lucia and St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Forces.
The Chief of Staff also stated that there was an upgrading of facilities at all the major army bases, including those at border locations, which are now equipped with solar power.
“This has really enhanced the quality of life of our troops. Communication, including photographic technology, at army bases has also been upgraded, so that we can have real-time reports, not only written data, but photography of incidents that may occur on our frontiers, and these will be submitted to Defence Headquarters.
“Recently when we had the over-flight of helicopters landing at Kaikan, we were able to have these images, and therefore accurately submit our incident report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so that acts of diplomacy can be initiated, so that those acts can be explained by our western neighbour.”
The Chief of Staff was referring to the December 3, 2015 incident where a foreign military Black Hawk helicopter, transporting eight armed men dressed in military fatigues, landed at the Kaikan airstrip.
On landing, two men disembarked and spoke in Spanish to two female villagers who had approached the helicopter. The two men were reported to have asked the women if they had landed at San Juan, a village located in proximity and south west of Kaikan on the Venezuelan side of the border
The men reportedly then boarded the craft which immediately flew in a southerly direction before any GDF rank could have intervened.
IMPROVEMENTS FOR 2016
Brigadier Phillips also recalled that President David Granger had earlier in the year unveiled his National Defence Policy, which was aimed at the recapitalization of the Guyana Defence Force.
“Focus areas will be on improving the Engineer Corps to play a major role in infrastructural development in the hinterland and for the recapitalization of the Air Corps, to not only provide aerial transport for the army, but also for search and rescue and quick deployment to any area in support of the Guyana Police Force and other Government agencies.
Speaking of plans for the Coast Guard, Phillips noted that the army had purchased some in-shore vessels and plans to acquire off-shore vessels between 2016 and 2020.
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