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Interview with DCOMOP

Lt. Oystein Paulsen
First published in SFOR Informer #61, May 12, 1999.

Since assuming his position of Deputy Commander Operations (DCOMOPS) at the beginning of March, Lieutenant General Mike Willcocks CB, has developed a good feel for the conditions in BIH, and, off course, for all SFOR operations.

Coming from the job as the Assistant Chief of the British Army, a position Lt. Gen. Willcocks held for almost three years, he is glad to be back in BiH. "An operational job is always better for a soldier, and the position here as DCOMOPS gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the field, among soldiers, which is what I enjoy. These days are also a fascinating time to be in BiH. From the moment I arrived we had the crisis in RS, which then also after four weeks was followed by the NATO bombing campaign. It has been a extremely busy time, but an extremely interesting time."

It's not the first time Lt. Gen. Willcocks has been in Bosnia and Hercegovina. During the war he came here on reconnaissance several times, and, as Chief Of Staff of the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps, he was involved in all the planning for the IFOR mission, and deployed to BiH in November 1995. "Actually I negotiated the Headquarters complex at Ilidza in Sarajevo from the Serbs, and thereafter designed the Headquarters," said Willcocks. He came to BiH with IFOR to end the war, and he thinks it's encouraging to come back now to see the progress.

"We are here in the service of peace, and that has to be tremendously fulfilling for a soldier. To be able to put an end to a war, and see it come through, having a chance to grow together again. It is a worthwhile and a good mission. One we can be proud of. What we are doing here is really something good," he added.

The General tries to visit as many of the troops on the ground as he can, and normally he spends five or six days a week out in the field. "What I normally do is to go out to see a Brigade or a smaller unit, hopefully go out to see some of the local officials. Usually I go out on day-trips, because I normally have to be back to my Headquarters in time for the evening briefings. Therefore I have my own helicopter, a Lynx. That helicopter is vital for me and enables me to get around, because I can't afford five or six hours drive in a car."

As DCOMOPS, Willcocks is responsible for translating COMSFOR's intent and campaign plan into operational effect. "I take the way he sees us taking forward our mission, and translate that into the operational effect on the ground within the divisions. On top of that I'm specifically responsible for contact and negotiations with the Ministries of Defence of the two Entity Armies, and also dealing with the heads of those armies. I do that through Joint Military Commissions (JMC) and, of course constant contact with them all. I speak to at least one of them almost daily, and I also try to meet them face to face as often as I can. That is particularly important now while we have the RS crisis, and the NATO action going on in FRY. It is very important to keep very closely engaged with them all to make sure they fully understand that SFOR's mission is, of course, not related to the NATO action in Yugoslavia, but it is to maintain the peace and stability of this country. Our job for the moment is keeping this place calm and stable within the Dayton Peace Agreement. And so far, we have managed to do it."

In describing his position, Willcocks maintains that the role of DCOMOPS is professionally a very rewarding job. "The mission and the task is very worthwhile, just to bring peace to this unhappy country. I love multinational operations with the tremendous mixes of nations and people, which is very, very rewarding as well. The DCOMOPS position is a very responsible and operational job, and I am very lucky to sit in that position. To have a field job is tremendous for me. I like to think that with my past experience I can bring some of it here to Theatre, and actually help the soldiers on the ground."

In the general's opinion, SFOR may have to stay in BiH for some time. "After a very bloody civil war, you cannot expect people to want to live together or to be able to live together for some time. What we have to do is to provide the time to allow them to start to do it. And that might take some considerable time. With all my contacts with the factions, they always say having SFOR here enables them to make progress. And most of them think we will be needed here for a considerable time, until they can overcome the hatreds and fears themselves. And I don't think they are there yet. So I think we will be involved here for some time, but not at the same level of troops. This year we ought to be able to take a step to reduce our forces here, and that is what I see is happening over time, gradually running down as the country gradually grows back together again.