With no elephants killed in nine months, it's clear deterrence is working. However, the unit is operating at great risk in areas outside the normal range of government and UN missions, effectively alone in extremist territory. Right from the start of operations, reports were received from security organizations that the extremists are deliberately targeting the brigade. On the very first patrol 4 separate attempts to attack the brigade were made with landmines and prepared ambushes. However, due to the movement tactics adopted, these attempts were ineffective against the unit. Sadly though, the same efforts to target the brigade saw other units and even a civilian bus blown up and attacked.
Since building a clearer understanding of who is behind the poaching and trafficking, it is not surprising that extremist groups would target the brigade. Whilst it would be unprofessional to go into security details, suffice to say that the criminal networks and extremist groups work hand in hand.
Another important achievement to note is that from the time training first began in the conflict zone, for eighteen months, not a single casualty was sustained by the brigade while in the field.
Sadly, on the 17th of August, extremists launched an attack on the United Nations peacekeeping base at Douentza. The brigade happened to be in the town at the time and many of the men heard the shots fired and responded to assist the UN forces. Caporal Suolaymane Tangara, the radio operator of the brigade, one of the first to respond, was shot and seriously wounded. He died as a result of those wounds later that day. Caporal Tangara is pictured below.
This year we managed to keep two trainers in the field, and through partnering with other organizations, such as WILD Foundation and Action Against Poaching, we have had a third trainer present to provide certain specialist training, such as counter-IED and ivory detection dog handling.
The need for counter mine and improvised explosive device training arises from the need for the unit to protect itself against mines and IEDs planted by extremists, and also against the booby-trapping of elephant carcasses and other evidence.
[At this point, while composing this letter, we were ambushed by a large extremist force during operations].
Chengeta trainers not only have the heavy responsibility of ensuring the men we train are capable of saving the endangered species they are charged with protecting, they also need to teach those men how to stay alive. By that, I mean to protect themselves.
In September 2017, we were attacked by a large extremist force that heavily outnumbered us. A mine was detonated under one of our vehicles and the attackers opened fire on the column. A long and intense firefight ensued. When it was all over the brigade had miraculously only sustained three casualties: two seriously wounded and one walking wounded. One vehicle was completely destroyed. I cannot reveal the details of the casualties inflicted on the attackers, suffice to say that the return fire was effective enough to force a superior force in prepared positions to retire.
The entire brigade reacted with incredible bravery and professionalism. I am pleased to report that the wounded men are recovering well.
When we founded Chengeta Wildlife just a few years ago, we had no idea that we would end up here. To be totally honest, if someone had told me four years ago that we would be saving the last Sahelian desert elephants from extinction, in the midst of a war, whilst being directly targeted by Islamic State affiliates and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, amongst others, I would have most likely suggested that they seek psychiatric help. Thank you again, to all who have supported us.
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