Wednesday, 6 February 2013 12:00 AM
Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 13: The National Reconnaissance and Surveillance Force (NRSF)
Extract from my memoirs
The national security interests of the Solomon Islands were a focus of a meeting of the South Pacific Forum, way back in 1994 when the question of the national surveillance of the Solomon’s vital industries of fisheries and forests was raised.
The Solomon Islands delegation at the meeting expressed their strong concerns about the exploitation of tropical forests in the region and in the Solomons in particular, especially mentioning the urgent need to address the problem of unsustainable logging.
Another area of concern was related to the need for day to day control of the vital fishing resources with special attention needed for surveillance operations throughout the vast areas of ocean, the widespread islands and coral atolls, together with the very long coastal fringes extant in the Solomon Islands.
It was also said at the meeting, the Solomon Islands Government viewed with increasing concern the rising crime rate throughout the region relating to drugs in particular, as well as alien, arms and fauna smuggling. It was mentioned such crimes were usually linked to the logging, fishing and tourist industries.
The announcement was made that in order to have better monitoring of the nations resources and to gather intelligence, the Solomon Islands Government intended to integrate its then current Maritime Surveillance Force and the Police Field Force into a joint National Reconnaissance and Surveillance Force.
Here, therefore, was the concept for the birth of the NRSF with the following roles and tasks defined.
“The role of the joint force is to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance operations within the Solomon Islands monitoring security, borders, national resources and extractive duties.
“The NRSF is to be capable of sea, land and air operations to:
i. Ensure the security and safety of citizens, and in particular those situated in remote areas.
ii. Prevent the movement of illegal aliens over national borders.
iii. Monitor national resources to prevent illegal removal or damage.
iv. Monitor extractive industries in conjunction with other Government Ministries.
v. Provide immediate assistance to NDC in the event of natural disaster.
vi. Assist the regular Police in the event of any emergency.”
The concept for the operational deployment of the NRSF envisaged the acquisition of two fast surveillance vessels, aircraft, surveillance video cameras, pilot training, motor transport and a substantial operational budget – all within a time frame of 6 months – from September 1994 to March 1995.
However, the NRSF was not instituted as a unit until the outbreak of a civil war on the Island of Bougainville brought trouble to the nation’s maritime border with Papua New Guinea when Incursions into the Shortland Islands resulted in casualties.
The security challenges then occurring resulted in the NRSF being instituted. They were armed and trained as soldiers: although for logistic and political reasons they were still officially listed as part of the Solomon Islands police force establishment.
In order to restore a broader national focus to national reconnaissance and surveillance operations, the Strategic Review of the Solomon Islands, a document explained in greater detail in other chapters, recommended restructuring the NRSF and giving it an expanded and vital role with added operational capability, both inshore and offshore.
In effect a de facto army was now in operation in the region under the umbrella of the Island police force. The NRSF section reduced both the available number of general duty officers and, yet, was part of the force’s overall establishment, as mentioned above.
Following the national tragedy in the Solomons which culminated in what was termed a “coup” in 2000 and the ultimate arrival in the country of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2003, the NRSF was effectively disbanded and disarmed.
Now we had one set of military replaced by another – albeit a foreign one…
To be continued...
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.