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Mountain warriors:
making thunder in the valley

By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informerr#127, November 28, 2001

At the end of last month, between Nevesinje and Gacko, the 27th regiment of "chasseurs alpins" (Mountain Troops) belonging to the French Battle Group (FR BG) were engaged in training exercises consisting of rescuing people, de-mining the land and neutralising cores of resistance. These manoeuvres ended with a spectacular assault of airborne troops over the ranges at Macipolje.

Macipolje - The whole operation was conducted in the framework of SFOR missions devoted to control and supervision in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). It provided a chance to appraise the capabilities of these soldiers, who are particularly well prepared to move in such a landscape under winter weather conditions.

In recent years, the situation in BiH has been subject to important changes justifying a parallel evolution of SFOR missions. "Our efforts are now concentrated in three directions," says Col. Phillippe Berne. "First, we still need to be vigilant and ready to neutralise any emerging source of tension. Second, deliberately we are engaged more and more in CIMIC type operations, which contribute to facilitate our integration into the local populations. Finally, it is essential to maintain the potential of our troops to interfere in any local conflict. Ultimately, we tend toward not so much of presence, but more proximity."

With such a view in mind, the possibility of reducing the number of tactical battle groups in Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE) from four to three is being more and more seriously considered. Similarly, the FR BG might envisage a shrinking of its contingent (by 165 troopers) during the first half of December. "We really want our troops to be in phase with the local situation," says Berne. "This is particularly the case for the chasseurs alpins. They are mountain soldiers, well adapted to the local environment, and well trained to climatic winter conditions."

Presently, SFOR missions are for the most part directed toward assistance or dissuasion, thereby fully justifying exercises such as the present one. "They allow us to show our force, to test our responsiveness and to evaluate the efficiency of our troops in the operation field," explains Col. Marcel Abbonen.

"Such a combination of tactical exercises with shooting exercises provides an overview allowing us to point out possible improvements. The training is also excellent for our soldiers. We can watch their reactions to our (commands) and gestures. This also gives us an opportunity to appraise their skills in shooting under realistic conditions."

"There is a remarkable cohesion within our group," says Berne, "since about 75 percent of these troopers come from the same regiment. I consider this important. The exercise is not only aimed at testing the reactivity of the forces, but also at evaluating their aptitude to co-ordination."

A simulation of medical evacuation was also carried out using a helicopter belonging to the Multinational Air Army Detachment (BALATAT) of Ploce, with the assistance of a medical team consisting of a doctor, a nurse and a medical auxiliary. A de-mining group also participated.

"Since such operations may be particularly hazardous, we get training as often as possible in actual conditions," explains Doctor Raphael Guyon-Veillet. "Our rescue team often needs to intervene in ravines, at night, or under snow storms, since car accidents are unfortunately rather frequent here."
Without a doubt, the most spectacular part of the exercise was the three successive assaults of airborne troops on the plains of Macipolje. Soldiers of the alpine regiment landed on the field and readily evacuated after a series of 10 shootings at 550m.

This was supposed to simulate the neutralisation of a pocket of resistance as part of the operation "Harvest," with the goal of discovering an arms hiding place. "That kind of intervention is now becoming unlikely, but we need to maintain the reactivity of our troops," says Abbonen.

"In the near future we plan to conduct such exercises with armed forces of the two entities (Armed Forces in BiH)," says Berne, "since such a concerted action is entirely in the spirit of what we are expected to do here."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France
Training and Exercises