Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Jungle training axed as Belize base shuts
British infantry will no longer receive top level jungle training
after the Ministry of Defence has made the surprise announcement to
mothball its base in Belize as part of cost savings.

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent 8:26PM GMT 15 Dec 2010

The departure of 3,000 troops a year who go through the tough training
has also led to fears that the Central America country will be more
vulnerable to foreign invasion similar to the incursions by Guatemala
in the late 80s.

It is also unclear whether Lord Ashcroft, the former Tory party deputy
chairman, who has vast business interests in Belize, has been
consulted over the closure of the British Army Training Support Unit
Belize (BATSUB).

It is also understood that the Ministry of Defence has given serious
consideration to closing its sovereign bases in Cyprus, where it has
airfields and listening posts, but was persuaded not to by the

Already the Army has withdrawn the country’s main emergency air
evacuation by stopping its helicopters responding as an air ambulance
for the local population.

But the final withdrawal of British forces, which have been in Belize
since it gained independence in 1981 when it was known as British
Honduras, has been signalled by the reduction of the training base
from 70 soldiers to a skeleton staff of less than 10 soldiers.

Brigadier James Stevenson, who commands the Infantry Battle School,
told British Forces News that it was regrettable the training mission
was closing. “We’ve really clicked here in Belize, so it is a pity. We
are looking at alternatives because what we don’t want to do is just
admit defeat and say, well, we can’t go to Belize therefore we’ll have
to go back home. We are still looking for somewhere where we can
present the same challenges.”

The training area gives British troops some of the most testing
exercises in the world with access to 5,000 square miles of primary
jungle provided for free by the Belize government. In the last three
years 9,000 troops, including special forces, have been to Belize.
They additionally provide high level training for the Belize Defence

The area has been the home of the British Army’s jungle training for
the last sixteen years and the withdrawal will mean the loss of 160
local civilian jobs along with an estimated £3 million injected into
the local economy.

The helicopters from 25 Flight Army Air Corps, which ferried local
troops to positions on the Guatemala border, trips that take a day by
foot, will be removed by next month.

Mothballing BATSUB will save the MoD £9 million, the cost of two
Challenger 2 tanks, but is seen as a tiny saving compared to the £36
billion overspend by the MoD.

Officers are considering training areas in the United States, although
these are unlikely to be free.

The MoD said after consultation with the Belize government BATSUB
would only remain open from a “reduced level” next year.

It added both governments “look forward to a time when BATSUB will be
able to expand its training support function once again”.

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