The 7 RIFLES Battlegroup deployed to Cyprus in April and will be based in the island’s Buffer Zone, which divides the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, until October. The troops are tasked with monitoring the activity of both sides to de-escalate tension and to prevent the outbreak of fresh hostilities. The British Army has maintained a peacekeeping presence on Cyprus since 1964 and took over responsibility for what the United Nations calls ‘Sector Two,’ the area of the island in and around Nicosia, in 1993. What the British Army calls Op TOSCA sees about 250 personnel police the Buffer Zone for a full operational tour of six months.
Unlike most past deployments, the current British peacekeeping force is over 90% Reservist. Around 120 Reservists from 7 RIFLES are deployed, joined by a similarly-sized contingent from 5 FUSILIERS, another Reserve infantry battalion. The Army Reservists come from all walks of life – from builders, to accountants, to policemen and students – but have chosen to become full-time, Regular soldiers for what will amount to over half the year in the service of their country and the cause of peace.
‘This deployment shows that the Army Reserve can take on a full operational tour under its own steam,’ said Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) James Gayner, Commanding Officer of the battlegroup, ‘thereby fulfilling the philosophy of One Army, Regular and Reserve. TOSCA is an intricate tour. It demands excellent understanding of what is a complex conflict, diligence, and diplomacy: the kind of nuanced, human skills that are particularly found in the Army Reserve.’
‘We deployed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I am particularly proud of the way in which my Riflemen have dealt with the additional challenges of keeping the peace whilst taking all measures necessary to combat coronavirus.’
Lance Corporal (LCpl) Kevin Eames, a builder from Oxfordshire, said, ‘getting the chance to deploy overseas on an operational tour is one of the reasons I joined the Army Reserve. Generally, we train for war on weekends and have a two-week exercise every year. TOSCA sees us keep the peace on the behalf of the international community whilst upholding the British Army’s reputation for total professionalism in the eyes of the world. Cyprus is a fascinating place, and we will also have some time to explore the island alongside enjoying a week of adventure training.’
The battlegroup will keep the peace on Cyprus until the autumn, when they will hand-over to another battlegroup formed largely from the Army Reserve led by 6 RIFLES.