The first steps of the SPFRBG
2Lt. Agustín López
First published in
SFOR Informer#153, December 5, 2002
Platoons from the different Companies and Squadrons of
the newly created Spanish-French Battle Group (SPFRBG), belonging
to the Multinational Division South East (MND-SE) started
patrolling their Area of Responsibility (AOR) as part of SFOR's
mandate to provide a safe and secure environment.
Mostar - Located next to Mostars airport is Europe
Base, one of the main SFOR bases in Bosnia and Herzegovina
(BiH). Attached to the MND-SE headquarters and other support
units is the SPFRBG, commanded by the Spanish Cavalry Col.
José Monasterio Rentería. This joint Battle
Group consists of a Staff; a combat support service; two Spanish
units: one Light Cavalry Squadron (LCS) and one Infantry Marine
Company (IMC); and two French units: one Marine Reconnaissance
Squadron (MRS) and one Infantry Marine Company (IMC). The
first task assigned to the operational units is reconnaissance
of the whole AOR. This takes place in order to accustom the
BG personnel to the area (main roads, villages, etc.) and
gather information about what is happening in the local communities.
A different challenge
The creation of the SPFRBG represents a new and challenging
level of multinational co-operation in SFOR. Whilst this is
a novel experience for the troops involved, it does require
a high level of planning, with several structural changes.
Spanish Cap. Pedro Hidalgo Moya, Deputy Plans Officer BG said:
"I admit we are encountering two obstacles. Firstly,
the different languages spoken; we will have to become used
to communicating in English when personnel of both countries
work together. Secondly, with respect to the operational tasks,
we have to prepare a Planning Method and guidelines for Operation
Orders with similar lines, we are to accustom ourselves to
this type of work, assigning national units from the BG: one
French Engineer unit and one Spanish Signals unit."
Nov. 28, Spanish soldiers discover a new country
Varos - Located 12km from Mostar, this small town is one of
the villages that Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Montesino José,
assigned to the 4th Platoon, Spanish Infantry Marine, visited
during his patrol. "All the men are pleased to carry
out this task as it is a chance to learn more about BiH. Part
of my job is to talk to the local people and to find out what
they need, I take down the information and pass it on to Civil-Military
Co-operation (CIMIC)," he said. His unit consists of
four Humvees and they covered the stretch from Mostar to Caplijna,
visiting Buna, Bivolje Brdo, and Domanovici. "The villagers
seem to be happy when my unit arrives. They consider us as
friends and I think that the liaison among the parties at
every level is essential to build trust," he said.
Stolac - First Lt. Damien Mireval is in BiH for the first
time. He commands the 1st Platoon, French MRS, and that day
accomplished a watchfulness and security task in Stolac outskirts.
"Today, we maintain two squads with our VBLs (Light Armoured
Vehicles) on the top of the mountains with a constant monitoring
above Stolac; and two vehicles inside the village, near the
mosque, because this building is the cause of many riots between
ethnicities. We must allow and provide security to the return
of displaced persons and refugees to their pre war homes,"
said Mireval. The task there wasn't easy to perform because
they tried not to show too visible a military presence inside
the town . Staff Sgt. Frederic Petit said: "Another of
our missions is to support the civil authorities in ensuring
that they are not subject to intimidation and violence."
A new future for a city
Mostar - By the middle of November, most of the personnel
belonging to the Spanish Light Cavalry Squadron arrived at
Europe Camp in Mostar. A platoon led by Staff Sgt. Moisés
Ariño Rubio started his first peacekeeping operation
in BiH with a reconnaissance of this city.
"We will try to know the structure of the town; this
task means, for instance, to situate districts, main avenues,
squares, bridges, approach roads and the main buildings, such
as the city hall, hospitals and churches," Ariño
said. His unit consists of two BMRs (Armoured Personnel Carrier)
and one REBECO (similar to the Humvee). The patrol will stop
at pre-designated locations to appraise the normal life of
the civilian people. Staff Sgt. Gustavo Bello Yus said: "I
think that a peacekeeping operation may involve a wide array
of functions. It is not only military arrangements such as
cease-fires and demobilisation of forces, but also a variety
of civilian topics, such as the establishment of new police
forces, the verification of the elections and the respect
for human rights."
New role for SFOR units
There are, of course, other aspects to consider. Capt. Francisco
López Villar, commander of the Spanish Light Cavalry
Squadron, said: "The absence of an evident dangerous
environment and the rebuilding of the economy change our task;
at the moment, our main mission is to establish conditions
to support the Bosnian civil structures with enough maturity
to assume their responsibilities in compliance with the General
Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP). This fact involves a
response by means of a fast and flexible military presence,
only in critical areas."
For Staff Sgt. Manuel Fernández, assigned to the 2nd
Platoon, French Infantry Marine Company, BiH is not an unknown
country. He is carrying out his third peacekeeping mission
in this country. "This third mission means a change in
comparison with the previous ones. In the year 1994, my unit
was under a mandate of United Nations (United Nations Protection
Force, UNPROFOR). And, of course, there was a real war between
the belligerents. To provide security in delivering humanitarian
aid, guard the checkpoints, mark minefields and obtain a cessation
of hostilities with the respect of the human rights were our
main tasks," Fernández explained. Later, in 1996,
with Implementation Force (IFOR), "we supervised the
withdrawal of the Parties' forces and heavy weapons to approved
sites, patrolled along the demilitarised Inter-Entity Boundary
Line (IEBL) and maintained public order during Sarajevo elections;
but, at last, now I can find a country with a hope of real
peace and development," he added.
An improved Europe base
It goes without saying that a consequence of the MND-SE restructuring
is that soldiers from two different cultures have a very close
work in the same quarters. Capt. Hidalgo said "We must
be grateful to the French unit for his welcome. Furthermore
they made a great effort to foster good relations and make
us feeling like at home. We have to arrange this base to billet
more units. We have just initiated the infrastructure works
and prepared new military facilities, such as lodgings, laundry,
dining facilities, clothing stores, shoppettes and cantinas."
The SPFRBG begins its hard work, but there is always an opportunity
to rest. Spanish and French soldiers share a mug of beer or
a coke in the afternoons, speaking about their own habits.
Pvt. Cristina Correa Pérez, posted to the 3rd platoon,
Spanish LCS, said: "The Spanish troops just arrived to
BiH, but we are on good terms with the French soldiers. Different
languages pose an obstacle but our two countries have similar
cultures, with a cheerful nature; Each nationality has distinct
customs as far as it concerns meals, eating times and dishes.
I suggest that every country will cook two weeks a month,
it's the best solution."
Nations of SFOR: France,
SFOR at Work