Are More British Troops Going To Belize?

It has been 40 years since Belize – formerly 'British Honduras' – gained its independence from Britain.

But Britain's presence in the small central American country could be set to increase. 

It was in September 1981 that Belize, the last British colony on American mainland, gained its independence, however the British Army did not leave the country immediately.

How long have British forces been in Belize?

Britain retained a deterrent force – British Forces Belize or 'BritForBel' – to protect Belize from the threat of invasion from Guatemala to the south, which did and still does, claim Belize to be its own.

In 1994 British Forces Belize finally withdrew, leaving behind just a handful of personnel.

Belize is now used by the British as a training facility for jungle warfare.

Thousands of troops pass through BATSUB (British Army Training Support Unit Belize) each year, often training with the BDF (Belize Defence Force), but nobody stays there for long.

People from Belize Defence Force or Police or Coast Guard in Belize forest SEPTEMBER 2021
Personnel from the Belize Defence Force, Police and Coast Guard being trained up by British Forces in Belize, in September 2021.

What are British forces doing in Belize?

Major Jamie Harle took Forces News through the Manatee training area where he is with his team from Sandhurst for a month, delivering training to the Belize Defence Force, the Belize Coastguard and the Belize Police.

There are 5,000 sq miles of jungle which act as a training facility for jungle warfare.

In March 2021, in the Integrated Review, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said the British Army was set for "the most radical transformation in two decades".

It was to become "more agile, more integrated and more expeditionary", "designed to operate globally", exploiting existing "global land hubs".

One such land hub is Belize, which could mean more soldiers being based in the country for longer periods. 

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Nichols, the Commander of BATSUB, told Forces News: "It's going to be an evolution, not a revolution.

"We are trying to get after quick wins in terms of making sure our infrastructure is ready to support.

"We're the only toe hold in the Americas really – Belize is the only English-speaking Central American, but Caribbean-facing country, that's had no civil unrest and we're well-placed here to complement the activities of other partners in the region."

Why is Belize at risk?

Lt Col Simon Nichols goes on: "The other thing is, between June and November, Belize gets ravaged with hurricanes.

"It's a great opportunity if we've got soldiers here to be able to take our place and play our part in supporting our host nation."

While there is no imminent threat of invasion in Belize, Guatemala's claim to the land is ongoing. 

In 2019, Guatemala voted to send the matter to the International Court of Justice.

Belize has until 2022 to respond before the court decides who the country belongs to.

Children go to school across the border, villages are split in two by the country divide – but the communities live as one.

Belize Defence Force or Police or Coast Guard in Belize forest SEPTEMBER 2021
Belizean female from either the Belize Defence Force or Police or Coast Guard being trained in the Belize forest.

Brigadier General Steven Ortega, Commander of the Belize Defence Force, told Forces News: "Guatemala has the largest military in this region, and they have a claim to us.

"We have the smallest military in this region and so there is always that aspect of that overwhelming effect that they can have on us.

"We are always prepared, and we continuously prepare to defend this country with what we have. We believe that we put up a credible defence.

"Yes, the numbers might be small but the heart is very big and I believe the heart will take us quite a long way," he added.

The Belizeans view the British like a support system.

Brig Gen Ortega continued: "I grew up with them [the British] around, and I guess our children are growing up with them around, so it's normal."

"They're welcome wherever they go."

Officer Cadet Shellidh Moguel, from the Belize Defence Force, described the British as "a back-up plan".

"Just to have you guys as a support, we don't need to have that fear.

"Even in the worst-case scenario – we still have the British on our side.

"If we were to have more British here again, it would give us a sense of peace, a sense of support and also a sense of exchange of culture.

"We will be creating that old bond we had once before and forming new ones," she added.

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