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​Cameroon's reconnaissance unit takes on Boko Haram

28th February 2017 - 14:00 by Erwan de Cherisey in Paris

​Cameroon's reconnaissance unit takes on Boko Haram

Cameroon's elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) is again on the offensive with Operation Thunder 2 launching on 26 February in Nigeria, targeting Boko Haram positions.

Hours before the main Cameroonian body launched its first offensive, BIR operators had infiltrated into the operational area, checking planned entry routes, enemy positions and artillery targets.

The men belong to the BIR's own special reconnaissance outfit, simply known as the Long-Range group.

As one BIR officer explained to Shephard, the unit that was initially known as Special Reconnaissance Group (GSR), before being renamed simply Long-Range group, was stood up in November 2015 as part of Operation Alpha, the BIR's ongoing deployment against Boko Haram in Cameroon's Far North Province.

According to the same BIR source, the decision to establish this specialised outfit was taken in December 2014 after the BIR command identified a need for a dedicated field intelligence gathering unit, capable of conducting long range reconnaissance as a prelude to cross border anti-terrorist operations.

The personnel for the new group was selected amongst Operation Alpha troops based on stringent physical, psychological and intellectual requirements and were subsequently put through an intensive training programme which lasted some 18 months.

The training comprised several specific modules including advanced mapping and navigation, sniping, mission planning processes, sensitive site exploitation, photography and tactical instruction and was conducted at Maroua and the BIR's Sahelian combat training center in Mindif.

Additional training was provided directly on the field in the operational area.

While the unit is understood to have the ability to operate mini UAVs such as the commercial Dji Phantom, currently in service with the BIR's Air Observation Group (GOA), no information has yet been disclosed on whether this capability is being used operationally.

Starting on 25 January 2016 with Operation Arrow 4, the Long-Range group was involved in all BIR cross border operations into Nigeria, including Arrow 9, which took place on June 7-8 in Gambaru, acting as the 'eyes of the combat forces', according to one BIR officer.

According to the same source, the Long-Range group has enjoyed great operational success and provided BIR forces on the field with valuable intelligence.

Prior to the beginning of Operation Thunder 1, on 17 December 2016, which saw Operation Alpha troops strike at Ngoshé, in Nigeria, Long-Range operators had been conducting preliminary reconnaissance in the field.

In addition to their reconnaissance duties, the Long-Range personnel are also tasked with providing perimeter security during operational searches in villages, providing sniper cover to the forces involved.

While the Long-Range group has been primarily focused on supporting offensive cross-border operations, its capabilities make it perfectly suited to conducting intelligence gathering duties within Cameroonian territory as part of the campaign against Boko Haram.

The exact complement of the unit would not be disclosed by the BIR but it is understood to be equivalent to a half-platoon.

Unlike their regular BIR comrades, the men of the Long-Range group are equipped with modular ballistic plate-carriers, lightweight helmets and long range individual communication sets. Weapons in use comprise the 5.56mm IWI Galil SAR and Galil ACE and the 7.62mm Galil Sniper rifle as well as 9mm Glock 17 pistols.

While the Long-Range group is not officially labeled as a SOF unit by the BIR, much like the BIR's Anti-Terrorist Centre's units, it is arguably a special operations force due to the very nature of the missions it is tasked with conducting.

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