British military mission in Vyskov extends focus
The British Military and Advisory Training Team, or BMATT, has been operating in the Czech Republic since 2000. Based at the military academy near Vyskov in Moravia, it has trained more that a thousand officers from Central and Eastern Europe. Recently, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom signed a further agreement enabling any country affiliated with NATO to receive military training and assistance.
The BMATT was established in 2000. Colonel Simon Newton, the defence attaché at the British Embassy in Prague, explains what the objective of the mission was at the beginning of the project.
"The original intention of the project was to provide training and experience for countries in Central and Eastern Europe, especially those that were developing, moving out to the post-communist age, in order to help them develop their armed forces, develop their understanding of the place and role of armed forces within a democracy, and also to improve their skills and knowledge of working in peace-support operations which is an area that many of the countries in the region were or were wanting to take part in in various missions around the world."
Last week, the agreement was expanded. Colonel Newton explains how the focus of the British military experts has changed.
"What the amendment that the Defence Minister and the British ambassador signed did, was that it removed the restriction of Central and Eastern Europe, and it replaced it with a statement that the BMATT would train, or could train, students from any NATO, from any Partnership for Peace, from any EU and from any other country that was acceptable both to the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom."
The change in the scope of the BMATT mission was recently reflected in the Czech press, which said countries like Israel, Jordan or Egypt could join the programme. Simon Newton says that is unlikely.
"I think some of the countries we heard mentioned in the press the other day are not suitable candidates, or are unlikely to be candidates, for the BMATT training. I saw the countries like Israel and Egypt reported in the press the other day. To my knowledge, at least, it is not on the agenda, either the Czech or the British agenda, to export the type of training that BMATT offers to countries like that. They are quite developed in many ways and I am not sure that they would want to even accept the training if it was offered. I don't think you are going to be seeing people from those countries attending courses in Vyskov, in the near future, certainly."
The British training mission has been in the country for seven years now and at the moment, 27 British military personnel are stationed in Vyskov. They come for two-year terms, often with their families. What is their life like outside the barracks?
"The families I have spoken to down there very much enjoy their time here in the Czech Republic. It is an excellent experience, and it also gives them the opportunity to travel in the region and therefore discover more themselves. The communications are good, nowadays of course they can fly directly to UK from Brno airport, one of the low-cost carriers flies in there, so it is really easy, I think."