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Patrolling hotspots in winter

By Sgt. Peter Fitzgerald
First published in
SFOR Informer#129, December 26, 2001

The Portuguese Operational Reserve (OPRES Ground) took over patrols in the Doboj area from the Nordic-Polish Battle Group (NPBG) for a week this December. The ongoing mission of the OPRES in SFOR requires the Portuguese soldiers to be ready to go anywhere at anytime.

Doboj - From his command post in Camp Dannevirke, Portuguese Capt. Luis Martins, 13 Coy commander, reviews the daily patrol plans for his troops. His company has been called into Multinational Division North (MND-N) to take over patrolling duties from C Squadron of the NPBG. The area of responsibility includes three regions of contention or "hotspots" - Kotorsko, Derventa and Bosanski Brod/Srpski Brod.
"This is our job," Martins says. "We train continuously to be ready."
Unique role
In carrying out the mission of maintaining a safe and secure environment, the Portuguese have a unique role within SFOR. Based in Visoko in MND Southeast, the task force has theatre-wide reach in operations and exercises. They can be called upon to take over normal framework operations like area patrols. They can also be used in crisis operations to support SFOR elements such as the Multinational Specialised Unit (MSU).
"It's interesting working with different countries," Martins says. "Soldiers get to experience co-operation with other armies."
During this most recent mission, 13 Coy had a chance to conduct a one-day joint patrol with Danish soldiers from NPBG's C Squadron. The squadron was then called to Camp Butmir in Sarajevo to perform a security detail. For the rest of the week, 13 Coy took over patrolling responsibilities from C Squadron.
Patrolling in the Doboj area is nothing new to the Portuguese.
"This is our third time here, so we know the area quite well," Martins comments. "We just have to be careful on the roads because of the weather."
After a summer of protests and demonstrations, cold and snowy weather has come to Kotorsko and given it a sense of calm. For the time being, land disputes have been quieted as construction has been halted. While there are several hotspots in the region, Kotorsko remains the main area of concern (See SFOR Informer No. 124, Oct. 17, 2001).
Largely a Bosniac village before the war, Kotorsko saw an influx of Bosnian-Serbs in 1995. As people fled and became displaced during the war, population shifts in the area resulted in Bosniacs inhabiting Bosnian-Serb areas and vice versa. After the war, these shifts would eventually lead to disputes over land ownership. The situation was exacerbated in March of 2000 when the Doboj municipality decided to award land plots in Kotorsko to displaced Bosnian-Serbs. As the B-Serbs began building homes on the plots, angry Bosniac returnees pressed for land rights. Demonstrations and protests on both sides followed, and the Office of the High Representative (OHR) has put off dealing with the matter until February of next year. The winter weather and the continued presence of SFOR have helped keep the situation calm.
The patrol
"Everything has stopped," says Martins. "There's no building going on, only a few people living there."
Martins says patrols in the area are still necessary in order to provide a "calming presence." The 95 soldiers of 13 Coy - all infantry paratroopers - conduct continuous patrols of the area. Each of the three platoons is given its own area of responsibility. The patrols are carried out with eight people in two vehicles. An interpreter and a medic accompany each patrol. The company conducts nine patrols every day, each patrol lasting five to six hours.
"They make up their own schedule, use map overlays and submit their patrol plans to me," Martins explains. "The plans are sent up to (headquarters) for approval and then they conduct their patrols."
On patrol, Martins explains, the soldiers are tasked with gathering specific information. They look for signs of friction between ethnic groups or anti-SFOR sentiments. They also collect data on displaced persons and returnees to keep records on numbers and origins.
"They go to churches and mosques, police stations, and they know what to search for, what to ask the people," he says.
During one afternoon patrol in Kotorsko, 1st Sgt. Rogerio Da Silva's platoon investigates one site where plots have been given to displaced B-Serbs to build homes.
"We're checking to see if everything's OK," says Da Silva, the platoon sergeant. "We look for families to see if they have any problems."
The patrol can find no construction taking place in the harsh weather, but they spot one family. Cpl. Antonio Da Rocha, a team leader, asks the family a few questions. He finds that the father is an unemployed construction worker with three children. The family was unable to return to its pre-war home in Vozuca and had to settle on this plot in Kotorsko. Their home is still in the early stages of construction and the father tells Da Rocha that he's just waiting for a time to build.
"Sometimes it's very difficult to ask some questions," Da Rocha says. "It's difficult for some of these people because they're new to the area so they don't talk so much. Many don't have jobs."
While it can be difficult at times, Da Rocha says that "most of the time it's OK. I like communication with locals. Sometimes you get offered coffee or something to eat. It's nice to talk and make friends. That's the best part of patrols."
As the snow continues to fall, the patrol moves out to another part of Kotorsko. Like on every one of their missions, the Portuguese soldiers are looking to keep the situation calm and make new friends.

Related links: SFOR at Work
Nations of SFOR: Portugal