UK MOD Defence NewsNow in its tenth year, Exercise Jebel Sahara continues to grow in size, scope and importance, offering British troops the chance to train in the kind of harsh conditions that they are facing on current operations.ExJebelSaharaThe exercise takes place in the desert and mountains of Morocco and also offers the British military the opportunity to work alongside their Moroccan counterparts.This year saw 180 soldiers from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and 205 RAF and Army Air Corps troops training alongside 115 members of Morocco’s La Deuxieme Brigade d’Infanterie Parachutiste.

Troops of The Royal Gibraltar Regiment hitch a ride in a Morroccan "Hummer" during Exercise Jebel Sahara 2009, near Marrakech, Morocco.

Major Ivor Lopez, the overall exercise controller, said:”This exercise is unique. The desert, with its high temperatures and rugged terrain, makes for some extremely challenging and utterly realistic conditions.“We are able to ‘live fire’ our weapons and we are spoiled for choice when it comes to brilliant locations to train in all the different infantry skills needed in today’s counter-insurgency environments.”To add to the realistic conditions, the final part of the exercise required the Gibraltar Regiment’s infantry troops to move forward into a replica Forward Operating Base, modeled on those found in Afghanistan.

The mock Forward Operating Base under construction by the G4 team as part of Exercise Jebel Sahara.

The training is centered on Ram Ram camp, a collection of huts situated just to the north of Marrakesh.As well as having scores of vehicles, the exercise is supported by eight helicopters of the Joint Helicopter Force – five RAF Chinooks and three Lynx helicopters from the Army Air Corps.

A Chinook helicopter drops supplies for the Forward Operating Base constructed for the exercise.

The Moroccan authorities make huge areas of countryside available for this military training, ranging from arid deserts to the High Atlas mountains, and so the helicopters are an invaluable means of moving both men and equipment.The exercise began at the start of October and the first people to arrive in Morocco were the Quartermaster, Captain Stuart Bensadon, and his logistics staff (the ‘G4 team’), whose task is to provide everything that could possibly be needed to make the exercise a success.Having crossed the Straits on the once-a-week ferry from Gibraltar to Tangiers, it took nearly 35 hours for the regiment’s 36 vehicles to drive the 300 miles (483km) from the port to Ram Ram camp. Delays caused by breakdowns and punctures on the drive down from Tangiers meant that the drivers had to spend the night sleeping at the side of the road.Having finally arrived at the camp, the Quartermaster and his staff needed to construct a tented town, equip it with electricity and sanitation systems and prepare kitchens able to provide over 400 people with water and three cooked meals a day.At this stage plans were already in place for weapons and ammunition to be flown in, for huge quantities of water to be delivered daily, for communications to be established and for the necessary medical support to be established.By the time the soldiers, airmen and helicopters arrived, a large patch of red earth and a few huts had been transformed into a small town of tents, all covered by camouflage netting.

Troops from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment training in conditions reflecting those on current operations.

The exercise, now well underway, saw both the British and Moroccan troops learning from each other. For example, soldiers from Gibraltar have been improving many of their own infantry skills but they have also been training their Moroccan counterparts in such specialist skills as sniping.Exercise Jebel Sahara culminates with the ‘Sahara Patrol’ competition in which each section of ten men will cover 55 kilometres on foot in under three days. Along the way the sections will be faced with fourteen obstacles where they will be tested on their knowledge of first-aid, survival skills, Prisoner-of-War handling, etc.———————————————————————The quality of the exercise has attracted the attention of senior military officers and there have been visits from, amongst others, Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chief of Joint Operations; Commodore Adrian Bell, Commander British Forces Gibraltar; and Brigadier Richard Dennis, Director of Infantry.The success of Exercise Jebel Sahara is also shown in the fact that Lieutenant Colonel John Perez has been appointed to the Order of Wissam Al Istihkak Al Askari (the equivalent of a British knighthood) by His Majesty The King of Morocco.Lt Col Perez is the first non-Moroccan ever to be presented with this prestigious award.The citation makes mention of ‘all the efforts which Lt Col Perez continues to deploy to improve the co-operation between the Moroccan and British forces in general and, in particular, between the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and La Deuxieme Brigade d’Infanterie Parachutiste (2BIP)’.

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