Missions OperationsReport

At the headquarters of EUFOR RCA (Central Africa)… in Larissa

The entrance to the Larissa headquarters (© NGV /B2)
The entrance to the Larissa headquarters (© NGV /B2)

(BRUSSELS2 in Larissa) The headquarters of the EUFOR RCA operation is based at the Nikolaou Plastira camp in Larissa (in Greece), where the 1st Greek Army is established, not far from the military air base.

At the bottom of a bowl

We are a good three hours drive from Athens, 1h30 from Thessaloniki. And Larissa is located in a vast agricultural plain, bordered in the distance by hills. A real bowl. Suffice to say that even in May, at the height of the day, the sun beats down hard. Summer is worse, a regular told me. And in this vast area, cut off from the sea by a small hill, there is little wind to cool off. Result: oppressive heat in summer, with a certain humidity rising from the rivers… “ Less humidity, we are not very far from what we encounter in the Rep. Central African jokes an officer. Less discomfort, one might add.

17 nationalities

There are 128 staff of different nationalities working here (17 in total). The main nations present in the theater are represented: we find French, Spanish, Germans, Georgians, Poles, Finns, Italians... But also all the States which could not, or did not see fit , to send troops on the ground (British, etc.). Most of the system is “armed” by the Greeks of the 1st army (around fifty). The Chief of Staff is himself Greek, General Drissa.

Each element has its office

Inside the command building, located on two floors, a succession of offices. We are not here in the concept chosen by the British at Northwood of a large command room with 2 – 3 other fallback rooms; nor the device chosen by the French for their CPCO, in the basement. We breathe the sun. And every element of command – from J2 (intelligence) to D4 (logistics) or  D5 (planning) or D7 (training and feedback, “lessons”) - at her office.

Looking at different sources

On the intelligence side, the bulk of the work is to deal with open sources. " A lot of things are on the internet today, you then have to analyze it, qualify it, report it explains Colonel Ekström, a Finn. The " problem we face is having information, sometimes contradictory ". A good part of this information is used to brief the operation commander (the Ops Commander in jargon). And this can be useful for planning developments or concepts in the field. This is also used in his discussions with political leaders. Example questions “ who can ask themselves: how many Muslims remain in a given neighborhood in Bangui? If it is 3000 or 7000, this will necessarily induce different force commitments ».

Planning: an important challenge for the European Union

Another office, another atmosphere. J5 – planning – one of the most important challenges in all European Union missions, underlines Colonel Tsiokanis. “ Unlike NATO, we do not have a permanent command structure. "It is therefore necessary to build everything from scratch from the beginning and to" follow each day if we are in the nails ».

Have a general view

At the end of the corridor, the command room (JOC), quite small after all. In this room are the watchkeepers, who are on duty 24 hours a day, 24 days a week, reinforced as appropriate by specialized officers. Without forgetting, the essential element today, indispensable to any command room, the television screen which allows connection to the outside world and provides additional information. The advantage of this room is to bring together in the same place, the same point, all the information that arrives and the problems (logistics, command, medical, etc.) that may arise; to provide the commander with all the essential elements and thus be able to decide quickly. Several meetings are organized in this room, using all means, telephone, internet, to constantly update our data.

An alert level… very variable

On the wall, a board which displays the alert level of the day. From white to red to green, blue or yellow, it gives the temperature in the blink of an eye of the situation on the ground. “ The status can change from one minute to the next, says an officer. The situation in Bangui is (indeed) very, very complex. » It is the commander who determines the alert level, according to a coding defined in an internal document, based on events on the ground. “ There are a number of different factors at play, parameters to consider. » No need to ask for too many details... We won't know anything more. “Top secret”! What you need to know – a senior officer tells us – is that the higher alert level, “Red”, is “ any event that could jeopardize the smooth running of the mission ».

Two boroughs at risk

The two districts allocated to Europeans - the 3rd and 5th arrondissements - are not, in fact, among the quietest in the Central African capital. On the contrary. Those are " among the most dangerous in Bangui », Tells us an officer. The 3rd quarter is an essentially Muslim sector but there are also Christians gathered in a well-defined area », hence the risk of friction. The 5th arrondissement remains (or at least remained) a still mixed district. And " we are faced with an additional danger », that of permanent confrontation; one always being the minority of the other.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read the rest of the report:

Why Larisa?

 

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).