Former US military trained target member says
Squad could have cleaned up Buxton
“...even if we had to sleep in the backdam”
By Dale Andrews
A former member of the Target Special Squad now residing overseas says that the present police administration is at sea on how to deal with the Buxton situation.
The officer in an exclusive telephone interview with the Kaieteur News from his overseas residence said that had the Target Special Squad not been disbanded, the situation in Buxton would have ended a long time ago.
More than 50 persons including policemen have been killed so far in the troubled East Coast village since the 2002 jailbreak, which sparked a massive crime wave in Guyana . The former target squad rank said that the recently formed special unit for some reason is not adequately trained to deal with the situation and he said the force's administration should adopt new strategies to deal with it once and for all.
Gunmen in Buxton have wreaked havoc over recent years and there seems to be no concrete plan to alleviate the suffering of Guyanese caused by the reign of terror as a result of the police ineffectiveness in the village.
According to the former policeman, the Target Special Squad was trained by the US military to deal with such situations, unlike their counterparts in the newly formed special unit, who can only deal with civilian unrest and less confrontational engagements.
This newspaper understands that the newly formed squad which began with about 50 ranks and trained by British security personnel is now down to about eight men.
Information received by this newspaper stated that in 2003, a senior police officer was mandated to establish a team by August that year to deal with the escalating violence that was plaguing the country.
The government had set aside $200M for that purpose.
However, this was not done until late last year.
New vehicles, weapons, bullet-proof vests, uniforms and other equipment were acquired for this purpose.
But unlike the Target Special Squad, which gathered its own intelligence and operated with two senior officers, the new elite team is never allowed to act independently.
A source said that the unit was under the direct command of the head of the Tactical Services Unit.
Since their establishment, several ranks from the special unit including a sergeant have been transferred to various other police divisions and departments following allegations of corruption.
“This is a total waste of government money. They have not made a single case since their establishment and a lot of people are asking what has become of them,” a senior official at the Tactical Services Unit told this newspaper.
After their initial training, the elite team as the present Police Commissioner advised that they be called, has never undergone any other training. A source said that they are just sent out to do routine patrol duties and then it was back to their barracks.
The former Target Special Squad member told this newspaper that after they were trained by the US military in close combat, warfare and several other different maneuvers, continuous training was mandatory.
“They were 12 of us and two senior officers. Apart from the overseas training, we trained under Mr. Laurie George and every Sunday we had to pass a fitness test,” the former cop said.
(Former) Police Commissioner had indicated a dislike for the operations of the former Target Squad and since his appointment the squad was disbanded and the officers placed in several low key areas.
“The present Commissioner would like to see a police force with batons instead of guns. While that is okay, times have changed and criminals are now armed with high-powered weapons. We need to get real,” the former policeman said.
Describing the operations of the now disbanded Target Special Squad, the former policeman said that a lot of people were given the wrong impression.
The squad was set up in 1996 to deal with the growing gun related criminal activities at the time.
But things got out of control when the unit was called upon to deal with other activities outside of their scope of training.
“We were never trained to deal with mass demonstrations and election related violence,” the former officer said.
During both the 2001 and 2002 General Elections, the Target Special Squad was called out to carry out duties to quell violence that erupted, although the onus for such duties fell within the ambit of the Tactical Services Unit.
However, this newspaper understands that during that period, ranks from the TSU were apprehensive.
“Target was instructed to deal with the situation by direct orders from the police hierarchy, despite the reluctance of the ranks.”
The former officer explained that “we were told to go and not return to base until the roads were cleared. Bossman, there were over 5000 people out there, so you could imagine what we went through”.
He recalled that during the 2001 General Elections the Target Special Squad rescued an entire division and a TSU contingent which was engulfed by thousands of persons in Buxton on Buxton Public Road .
“Twelve of us cleared 33 fires from Beterverwagting to Clonbrook. All the police stations were locked and we went up there and controlled the situation,” the former cop said.
Allegations of brutality were leveled against the squad by several members of the public as well as the media.
“The men at the top escaped the lashes. We were the ones who were made the scapegoats,” the former policeman said.
Speaking on the current situation that is plaguing the country, with a group of gunmen holding the country at ransom, he said that the Target Special Squad always had a unit that could have responded to any situation within three to five minutes.
He opined that the members of the new elite unit may be a bit apprehensive to operate to the best of their abilities, after taking into consideration what had happened to the target squad.
This newspaper was told that when the squad was formed the ranks were promised a risk allowance, equivalent to their monthly salaries. However this never materialized.
Kaieteur News understands that members of the new elite squad had refused to go to Agricola when called upon during the brutal triple murder there.
“What has happened is that ranks from the new special unit saw the disbandment of Target and were curious to find out what really happened to us.”
According to the former cop the ranks from the Target Squad were placed under tremendous pressure.
First they were confined to a building at Police Headquarters, Eve Leary for several years, with only one day off per week.
“After a certain period of time some of us lost our spouses. Our children had to be changing schools ever so often. Social life was non existent for us, but we showed our dedication and made a sacrifice for this country. All we saw were weapons and life threatening situations,” the former cop stated.
Many members of the target squad were wounded in confrontations, including senior Superintendent Steve Merai, Sergeant Eon Smith called ‘Gangster' and Constable Eustace Abraham called ‘Robo cop'.
Their Second-in-Command, Leon Fraser, was killed under mysterious circumstances.
The former cop pointed out that they never received any compensation for their injuries.
“All of this is being taken into consideration by the members of the new elite squad,” he explained.
He said that although the target members were accused of extra-judicial killings, many of the target ranks are before courts giving evidence in several inquests.
Referring to the present situation facing the police force with regards to Buxton, the former policeman said Buxton calls for more manoeuvres on foot.
“This is what we were trained for - guerilla tactics. Going by nights is how we were trained. Our mission would have been to seek, find, engage and arrest or eliminate.”
The officer suggested that the police should desist from vehicular patrols in the village which are only making ranks a target for the gunmen.
He is advising that the police set up a base at the back of the village, with ranks outfitted with proper communication and night vision equipment along with an adequate supply of ration.
“Even during the flood we would have gone in there. Our local trainer Laurie George taught us to love adverse conditions, whether it was bad weather, trenches or canefields.
“We were trained for situations like Buxton and not elections. We would have lived in the Buxton backdam if there was a need.”
He said that fugitives like Neil Bovelle would have been caught already by the Target Special Squad.
The former cop said he is willing to return to Guyana to participate in any commission of inquiry into the operations of the Target Special Squad.