From house-to-house fighting to dealing with hostile crowds, paratroopers have practised the full range of skills they need to operate in built-up areas.
Troops from 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment have been on Exercise Urban Eagle as they prepare to become the British Army’s global rapid reaction force. The week-long training on Salisbury Plain was designed to refresh the paratrooper’s key skills of fighting in built-up areas and dealing with public disturbances.
Urban skills saw the Colchester-based soldiers start at the basics of clearing enemy from individual rooms, working up to company attacks to capture the mock village at Copehill Down building-by-building and street-by-street.
Air Assault Task Force
Public order drills saw the soldiers bombarded with abuse, petrol bombs and missiles by rioters as they practised how to work together to both defend each other and drive back hostile crowds.
3 PARA’s core role is to alternate with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment as the lead unit in the Air Assault Task Force (AATF), which is ready to deploy anywhere in the world to conduct the full range of military operations. 3 PARA is training to take on the AATF role from April 2014, with the unit’s airborne infantry bolstered by artillery, engineers, signallers, medics and logisticians from 16 Air Assault Brigade.
Major Mike Brennan, 3 PARA’s second-in-command, said: “As the world becomes more centred on towns and cities that is where conflicts are more likely to take place. Urban areas are cluttered, congested and full of people - both friendly and hostile - and it is an essential part of our preparations for contingency operations to be used to this environment.
“Urban operations are slow, complex and soak up manpower. To secure a building you have to clear every room, because otherwise you can be left with enemy behind you. It is also vital to minimise collateral damage to avoid alienating the local population.
“The British Army has faced rioting crowds in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Iraq and public order skills are important to have as a softer option to establish control of a hostile situation.
“The training has progressed well and helped develop our soldiers’ understanding of the intensity and variety of skills that urban operations demand.”
Hostile crowds and adrenaline
Private Stephen Derbyshire, 23, from Worcester, said: “This has been a challenge, developing skills that are very different to those needed to fight in the countryside. The key to fighting in built-up areas is being methodical, but with speed and aggression. We’re going into dark buildings that can be easily fortified and heavily defended with a small number of people, but also have innocent people sheltering inside.”
Among the soldiers having their first experience of public order training was Private Scott Reynolds, who has been in the Army for just over 18 months.
The 21-year-old from Kitts Green in Birmingham said: “Facing a hostile crowd gets your adrenaline going, but the most important thing is to keep your head and work as a team. It’s about showing discipline to a rabble to gain control of the situation.
"As paratroopers we’re at the head of the queue for the Army’s next operation, which is an exciting place to be, and it’s important to have trained for whatever could be asked of us.”
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