Joint Forces Chief of Staff for the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Operational Head Quarters, Brigadier Simon Barwabatsile, 52, has defended the BDF anti-poaching unit at the ongoing inquest on the killing of suspected three Namibian poachers and one Zambian heard before a Kasane magistrates court.
Giving evidence before Regional Magistrate Taboka Mopipi on Tuesday, Barwabatsile said the BDF were happy with the report they received from the Platoon Commander and were satisfied that the section that had contact with the suspected poachers on November, 05, 2020 acted accordingly by meeting fire with fire.
Barwabatsile further stated that the Joint Force Head Quarters exists solely to plan, coordinate and execute BDF operations both domestic and abroad.
He said they, together with other intelligence units from the Botswana Police and Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) regularly meet to discuss and compare gathered intelligence.
“Our intelligence is accurate, that is why we have no doubt that the BDF section was acting on an accurate intelligence when they encountered the suspected poachers,” Barwabatsile told court.
“The response by the section is also in line with the Standard Operation Procedure and Rules of Engagement. If there’s fire before you can act, you return fire,” said Brigadier Barwabatsile.
The army top official further told court that they receive intelligence from their counterparts, which include from neighbouring countries.
“They tell us entry points of these poachers, their numbers and what they’re carrying,” he said.
He said sometimes poachers are able to sneak in undetected and move within short distances of their strategic points.
“Poachers are able to mount telescopic sites, which increase accuracy and precision. We’ve retrieved silencers, both conventional and unconventional,” said Barwabatsile.
He said poachers have shown the sophistication to be able to take down a member of the BDF’s Special Forces.
“We’ve lost two members of our Special Forces and we’ve had too many near misses. So this speaks to the ability of the poacher,” he said and added: “So in my view, the use of 32 rounds of ammunition, from a total of 815 is reasonable.”
Taking the stand on Tuesday, Sergeant Puisano Kgokong, 45, said the team carried a total of 815 bullets, and only used 32, during an engagement with poachers that lasted for about six seconds on November, 05,2020.
The magistrate heard that, acting on a tip off from an anonymous caller, a section of seven BDF soldiers on two speedboats surveyed the river in search of the suspects, finally finding them on Sedudu Island on the southern channel.
Armed with Singapore Assault Rifle-21 (SAR-210, Fabrique Nationale (FN) and AK47, the unit led by Section Commander Lieutenant Moreri Mphela, 32, gunned down the quartet after a single shot was fired in their direction.
A borehole mechanic by profession, Kgokong said he was the Administrator of the section at Sedudu Base Camp, and checked all guns and ammunition before the team left for the operation.
“I was the rearguard during the engagement and did not fire like the rest of the team in the second boat,” he said.
Kgokong further said he counted the ammunition of each soldier on his or her return from the mission.
Only four members of the Botswana Defence Force, seven men team that trekked down suspected poachers in the Chobe River discharged their firearms, the court was told.