Africa

How The UK Is Saving African Lives By Teaching Safe Bomb Disposal

Forces News has been given special access to the UK school training African troops in safe bomb disposal.

Forces News has been given special access to the UK team training African troops in safe bomb disposal.

The Counter IED Wing, part of the Humanitarian Peace Support School in Nairobi, Kenya, has trained 1,600 students from 15 African nations in just over three years. 

The teaching is led by former leading British Army bomb disposal expert Tony Dedman. 

He joined the Army when he was 15 and served for 22 years - carrying out counter-IED operations across the world.

Despite his vast experience, the 73-year-old said working in bomb disposal is still a tough business.

"If anybody tells you that they're not scared, then they're either stupid or they're lying," he told Forces News.

"lt is a big responsibility - if they [the students] go out and they get killed, you think - well, did I do a good enough job?

"That is why I explain to the ones who don't make it [through training] that it's because it's your life. If you make that mistake for real, then you will die."

Tony Dedman delivering counter IED training induction in November 2019 in Kenya used on 050320 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Tony Dedman delivers counter-IED training to African soldiers.

Kenya shares a border with Somalia - Africa's most dangerous country for IEDs.

It saw around 1,700 IED incidents in 2019 alone and has a continued terrorist threat from the violent extremist group al-Shabaab.

Many of the students being trained at the UK-led school will eventually be deployed to the country.

Reports from the frontline suggest there are fewer casualties and better bomb disposal techniques as a result of the school's teaching.

Instructor Glyn Hannah said: "We teach them to be hardy and to be resilient.

"There's guys that we've got here now that have done two or three of our courses and have toured and taken these skills with them.

"They've come back and they say, 'yes we applied those skills and they're life saving'."

The work done by British personnel at the school has led to both the US and German military getting involved.

Humanitarian Peace Support School in Nairobi in November 2019 used ion 050320 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
The Counter IED wing of the Humanitarian Peace Support School was created by the UK in 2016 at the request of the Kenyan government.

"We are delighted to work with our US colleagues, who have been very helpful in driving the creation of a continental-wide doctrine for countering IEDs," said Brigadier Mark Thornhill, the UK's Defence Attaché to Kenya.

"We are also delighted to learn that the German government has decided to invest about €1.8m (£1.6m) in building a purpose-built facility here to help with the delivery of the counter-IED training."

Originally, all the teaching at the school was done by British instructors but that is slowly changing.

Around 40% of lessons are now taught by the Kenyan Defence Force and by 2022, that figure is expected to be 100%.

"The British are... more than friends to us," said Corporal Alfred Okuta who is now one of the Kenyan instructors.

"They have taught us a lot in terms of safety and training - they are more than friends to us."

British military personnel are deployed across Africa, helping to train forces from countries including Nigeria, Morocco, Cameroon and Malawi.

One senior diplomat in Malawi told Forces News the UK Armed Forces are helping to "open doors" in the African countries they operate in. 

In the summer, 250 British troops are expected to deploy to Mali on a United Nations peacekeeping mission.