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Operation Albatross takes flight

By Cpl. Diego Bunuel
First published in
SFOR Informer #98, October 11, 2000

Gacko - Dropping from the mountain tops, the enormous German-made CH-53 helicopter, swooped over a grassy clearing before landing. The bay door spilled out an entire platoon of heavily armed French infantry who took cover under nearby bushes as the transport chopper bounced back into the clear morning sky. At the same time, around 7:45 a.m., similar scenes occurred in three other locations as the French Tactical Battle Group deployed for Operation Albatross.

Then men then moved into action securing a series of strategic locations simulating the event that a village of ethnic minorities had come under attack.
"This is a two-day, 36-hour exercise, that aims at training the tactical French reserve and projecting our forces rapidly to protect a town of returnees facing an outside (military) threat," said Maj. Marc Alleno, in charge of the operation. "We are training our units to deal with such situations."

But this simulation is a reminder to all involved that their units would be the first one to be sent out in case something went wrong. The French tactical group has two armoured platoons on constant alert working under a one-hour notice, said Lt. Col. Dominic Laugel.

On the field, Capt. Michel Magne of the 110th Infantry Regiment made sure this mission would be a success. He posted his armoured personnel carriers at two crossroads thus controlling all the entrances into the town and giving him a commanding view of the valley.

"I've seen two types of threats so far," Magne said, looking at a map inside his command vehicle. "First a possible infiltration of enemy commandoes to harass people or blow up buildings. The second is the threat posed by about 10 cars packed with armed drunken people who would want to force our position to go through the city. They've been gathering outside our area but we don't know when they'll make their move."

Magne used all the tools at his disposal to make sure the security in and around the town was airtight. Precision shooters trained their scopes to detect any sniper activity from the nearby dirt bluffs, while the 50 cal. guns from the APCs guarded the towns entrance. A third platoon took position inside the town as reserve and also to defend the locals if an infiltration was successful.

"I like the kind of exercise we do here (in Bosnia) because we have more means at our disposal than when we train back in France," Magne said.
Perched atop a shady hilltop a few kilometres away from the exercise location, the soldiers manning the command post were in full swing, setting up satellite links, UHF and VHF radio signals and making good communications a high priority.

"It's essential that the communication from the headquarters to our command post and then down to our troops be checked and double checked and that we have at our disposal several means of communicating in case one goes down," said Alleno.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: France
Exercises and Training