The first steps of the SPFRBG

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2Lt. Agustín López Marín
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 Mostar’s 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.
Vigilance
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."
Relaxing together
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."

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France, Spain
SFOR at Work

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Photos: Sgt. Diego Ropero Pastor

French 1Lt. Mireval and Staff Sgt. Petit analyse the terrain features in order to determine which is the best route.


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Staff Sgt. Montesino and Sgt. Ortiz verify the route while the other soldiers keep watch over Varos.


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The French squad deployed in the centre of Stolac provides security during the rebuilding of the mosque.


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Spanish soldiers are always welcome among the civilian population.


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Deployment of the Spanish units ensures a safe and secure environment in the towns.


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This squad commanded by Staff. Sgt. Bello Yus shows the interaction between the modern Mostar and SFOR troops.


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The Spanish squad, belonging to the 3rd platoon, patrols in Mostar with a BMR (APC).