On December 2nd 2004 the European Union (EU) took over the command of SFOR in the former Yugoslav country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). By doing so, this became the largest military operation led by the EU to date. Although many nations with forces deployed to BiH have been there for a long time, this is a whole new challenge. To symbolize the importance of the mission and its objective the name ALTHEA was chosen. In Greek mythology ALTHEA is seen as the goddess of healing and that is exactly what the EU intents to do; heal the wounds, 10 years after the end of the war in BiH.
Overview of the Multi-National Task Force (MNTF) areas with participating countries.
Over the past decades there has been an almost continuous foreign military presence deployed in former Yugoslavia. The reason for this was to deal with the problems which came to light when Yugoslavia fell apart. One of the main reasons for these forces to still be present is the situation of BiH. Although BiH, together with Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia, was recognized as an independent state as early as 1992, this did not result in stability in the region. In the same year as these four nations were recognized, the two remaining republics of former Yugoslavia, namely Serbia and Montenegro, declared themselves to be the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). As a matter of fact, for BiH their independence was the start of the hostilities along various ethnic and religious lines. The boycott of the referendum over the independence of BiH and the lack of willingness to accept the outcome by the Bosnian Serbs, resulted in the uprising of this ethnic group of the BiH population as they had hoped to one day join “greater Serbia”.
Next to this, the geological situation of BiH made the situation even worse. Being situated between Croatia and the FRY meant that they were in the middle of the fight between Croatia and the FRY over the occupying forces of the FRY, which still remained within Croatia. While the Croatians forced the FRY forces out of their country back towards the East, they forced them into BiH. While doing so, Croatia came in conflict with BiH for entering BiH territory. On their way back, the FRY forces started supporting the Bosnian Serbs in their endeavor to join the FRY; a wish of the FRY President Slobodan Milosevic as well. In 1994, Croatia and BiH signed an agreement ending their confrontations and resulting in the Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After that, the war in BiH between the Bosnian Serbs, supported by FRY forces and the BiH army, grew even more intense. It was finally ended by the Dayton peace agreement of 1995. In short, it was agreed upon to accept the international boundaries of BiH and, within these boundaries, create a joint multi-ethnic national government in charge of diplomatic, foreign and financial policy. Next to this, a second level of government was recognized consisting of two parts in approximately equal size: the Bosniak/Croat Federation of BiH and the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska (RS).
Foreign Forces 1992-present
In 1992, the United Nations (UN) signed a mandate to deploy troops to Croatia to ensure the demilitarization of designated areas. The mandate was later widened to BiH as well. The peace forces were used to support the delivery of humanitarian relief in BiH, monitor the no-fly zones and the safe areas. In 1995, with the signing of the Dayton peace agreement, the UN and NATO deployed a 60.000 troop strong force into BiH under a one-year mandate to implement the military aspects of the agreement. After one year the forces within BiH changed from the implementation force to a stabilization force. From that moment on to the present situation, the presence of foreign troops was gradually reduced to 7.000 troops. On December 2nd 2004, this NATO-led stabilization force ended and the command was taken over by the EU, which has the intention to gradually reduce the number of troops in BiH even more. This while helping the people of BiH to build a new future within Europe.
The chronological overview of the forces in BiH is as follows:
• 21 February 1992 > 20 March 1995
• 20 December 1995 > 19 December 1996
• 21 December 1996 > 02 December 2004
• 02 December 2004 > present
UN-led mission UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force).
NATO-led mission IFOR (Implementation Force), by the name of Operation Joint Endeavour.
NATO-led mission SFOR (Stabilization Force) by the names of Operation Joint Guardian and Joint Forge.
EU-led mission EUFOR (European Union Force) by the name of Operation Althea.
The final stretch
Under EUFOR the three military operation areas, in which BiH has been divided, remain the same as under SFOR. Each area is home to a Multi-National Task Force (MNTF) which has its own command structure. For the first six months of EUFOR, the command of the MNTF South East is in the hands of France with the Headquarters (HQ) at Mostar. For the MNTF North, this is Finland with the HQ at Tuzla and for the MNTF North West it is the United Kingdom (UK) with the HQ at Banja Luka. These three HQs report back to the Commander EUFOR, shortened COMEUFOR, which at the moment is the British Major General Leakey. The HQ of all EUFOR forces is located at Camp Butmir, just outside Sarajevo International Airport. The mandate, under which EUFOR is operating, is initially for two years with an evaluation period scheduled every six months. This six-month period is also used as the length of the command within a MNTF and after this period the command is handed over to another EU nation. Of course, this period of two years might be lengthened in the future if the goals of the EU within BiH take longer than this period. The main goals of EUFOR are to make sure the Dayton peace agreement is still implemented and to contribute to a safe and secure environment in BiH. Next to this, EUFOR also provides support to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Holland. At this moment every MNTF area has its own flying units assigned to it; these are mainly to support the ground forces which are stationed in the same military operating area. Next to this, there is also a Command Flight falling directly under COMEUFOR.
Although being in the operational area of the MNTF South-East, Camp Butmir has its own helicopter unit. Having been stationed at Tuzla since August 2004, 847 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) of the Royal Navy (RN), was moved to Camp Butmir in January 2005. There befell them the honor to become the first unit to be assigned to COMEUFOR, receiving the designation Commander EUFOR Command Flight. When arriving at Camp Butmir, they moved into the brand-new hangar and buildings which were just finished early January 2005. For this important task, 847 NAS has two Lynx AH7 helicopters deployed at Camp Butmir and, as they have been in BiH since August 2004, will be replaced by an Army Air Corps (AAC) Lynx-detachment in April 2005.
The very mountainous terrain and the scattered locations of the ground forces makes it very difficult to move around quickly by anything else than a helicopter. With the support of 847 Command Flight, it is possible for COMEUFOR to visit these forces within a reasonable amount of time. The use of the Lynx for transportation purposes also adds to the security of Major General Leakey and his staff. At times when there is no direct request to support COMEUFOR and/or his staff, the Command Flight is also available to others who need to get from Camp Butmir to one of the other locations. As the terrain of BiH can be very difficult to fly in with the large number of power lines running over the top of the hills, it is also very important for the pilots to maintain a Night Vision Goggles (NVG) capability. How dangerous the terrain can be was clearly shown by the loss of one of the two Lynx AH7s on February 21st 2005. On that evening, a Lynx crashed near the town of Kakanj in BiH; luckily the three crew members onboard could walk away with only minor injuries. The rescue operation was made very difficult due to bad weather conditions and fallen power lines. On February 24th, approximately 72 hours after the incident, a Royal Air Force (RAF) C-17 arrived at Sarajevo with a replacement Lynx AH7 from RNAS Yeovilton returning the number of available Lynx to two.
One of the most difficult things can be a snow landing as the pilot is unable to see the distance to the ground. To help both pilot and co-pilot, a visual aid on the ground is used to visualize the distance. To train this the crew of ‘XZ614’, Aircraft Commander Lt. Karl Stringer RN, co-pilot Capt. Matt O’Sullivan Royal Marines and Door Gunner Marine Mike Clark uses a fire extinguisher as a reference point in practicing snow landings at Camp Butmir.
MNTF South-East – Raljovac
The 4° Reggimento Cavalleria dell’Aria “Altair” (4th Army Aviation Regiment) from Bolzano-San Giacomo Army base in Italy, provides the Italian helicopter detachment stationed at the airfield of Raljovac on the edge of Sarajevo. This airfield used to be home to the Yugoslavian Armed Forces Training School as well as the Yugoslavian ORAO aircraft factory. The French forces were the first to arrive at Raljovac and turned the airfield into their barracks for the French SFOR mission. At present, the airfield is divided in two sections of which one section is used by the Zračne snage Vojske Federacije BiH (Air Defense Army of the Federation of BiH) which falls under the command of the BiH Army. The unit stationed at Raljovac is 1. Zrakoplovna Baza Sarajevo and uses 15 ex-US Army UH-1H Hueys, 1 Mi-8T, 2 Mi-8 MTV-1s and a single Mi-17.
The other section is used by EUFOR and carries the name ‘Camp Capitaine Carreau’. Although during the years of SFOR the base was used by various nations to station their helicopter detachments, at present the Italians are the only EUFOR nation with helicopters here. The first arrival of Italian Army helicopters at Raljovac dates back to the end of January 1997. At that time, the first Italian heligroup division arrived in support of the SFOR mission of the Italian Army Brigade. At present, the 4th regiment “ALTAIR” has a total of four Augusta AB-205s on permanent deployment at Raljovac. And in support of these helicopters, there is a group of approximately 50 men and women stationed here as well. The majority of this personnel comes from the parent regiment at Bolzano. But that this is not always the case is proven by the present commander of the helicopter detachment, Lt.Col. Dimitrio, from the Army Flying School at Viterbo near Rome.
The main gate of Camp Capitaine Carreau, Raljovac showing the flags of all nations residing at this site.
Lt.Col. Dimitrio explains the situation with the deployed personnel: “The normal duration of a deployment for staff personnel is six months. For other personnel, including the aircrews, the duration of a deployment is normally no longer than two to three months at a time”. Because of the fact that the 4th Helicopter Regiment has maintained a detachment at Camp Carreau for over eight years now, many pilots have been deployed on more than one occasion and are therefore familiar with the flying conditions in BiH. Pilots who have been deployed here prior, will go through a short refreshment course before they become operational here again. Pilots deployed here for the first time get a more intensive course which also includes flying with Night Vision Goggles (NVG). Lt.Col Dimitrio continues: “At this particular moment we have a total of four crews available here in BiH. Two of these crews have Night Vision Goggles-capability.”.
Captain Motta, Chief of Operation for the Italian helicopter detachment explains the variety of missions the helicopter group encounters: “The missions of the Italian Helicopter detachment are various. One of the four AB-205s is fully prepared for a casualty (CASEVAC) or medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) mission and is on alert for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For these particular missions there is a medical team consisting of a doctor and a nurse on call as well. In case this specific AB-205 is unavailable due to maintenance, another of the three remaining AB-205s will be refit for this mission. The other three AB-205s are ready to be allocated to other missions, such as transport, liaison, fire support, reconnaissance and training”. For all these missions, including the CASEVAC/MEDEVAC missions, the Italian helicopter detachment falls under the command of HQ MNTF SE. However, if necessary, they will support and deploy all over BiH on demand of the COMEUFOR. For troop support, the MNTF SE can call on either the Italian detachment at Raljovac or the Spanish detachment at Mostar. Which unit and helicopter is best suited for the mission, is decided by the HQ MNTF SE.
The missions of the Italian helicopter detachment are various.Capt. Motta
Training missions are scheduled on a regular basis. These sorties are mostly scheduled to familiarize the ground forces with the safety and emergency procedures of the AB-205, but are an important part of the pilot training as well. For performing maintenance and inspections on the AB-205s there has been a special ‘hangar’ constructed. This large tent is home to the maintenance squadron and can fit two AB-205s at one time. Warrend Officer Turco, maintenance chief of the detachment and just about to leave for Italy explains: “the 50 and 100 hour inspections, as well as the smaller maintenance, takes place at Raljovac and while the deployed maintenance personnel is fully qualified the bigger maintenance issues take place at Bolzano. Just before one of the AB-205s needs to be sent back to Bolzano, its replacement arrives and giving the detachment a total of five AB-205s for a short period of time”.
Although very uncommon, it has happened that the Italian helicopter detachment flew a training mission together with the BiH Army UH-1H Hueys. In this particular case, the BiH Army requested the support of the Italian detachment for the training of their pilots in the Search And Rescue (SAR) role. More of these training missions might follow in the future, but due to the present situation in BiH and the missions of the EUFOR helicopter detachments, it will be a very rare occasion.
The second flying unit under the command of the MNTF South-East is the Spanish Army AS532UL Cougar detachment at Mostar International Airport. The detachment has been given the name SPAHEL, simply standing for ‘Spanish Helicopters’. It has been the name of this detachment since their first arrival in former Yugoslavia during 1992. The only thing which has changed over the years is the added serial number; officially the present detachment is SPAHEL-22. While, like many other countries, the first deployment to former Yugoslavia was at Ploce in Croatia, the detachment moved to Mostar in 1999. Although the detachment, which has two AS532UL Cougar helicopters and 30 personnel including three crews, is one of the smaller detachments within EUFOR, it encounters a especially difficult situation. During the war, the area of Mostar was one of the places where fighting was the heaviest; this due the fact the city was home to a large Muslim community. This community came under heavy fire from the Serbian Army forcing their way into Mostar, which resulted in many casualties and the destruction of a major part of the city and its surrounding villages.
For the people in the Mostar area, it is still very difficult to come to terms with what happened during this period. And the Spanish contingent plays a vital role in maintaining the stability of the region, giving the people time to heal their wounds. The civil airport of Mostar was turned into the mainstay of the Spanish forces in BiH with the relocation of both the Spanish helicopter detachment from Ploce, Croatia and the Spanish Army Brigade from Jablanica, BiH to this one location.
Captain Alarco, Operations Chief of the Spanish helicopter detachment and a veteran of Spanish detachments in Iraq and Kyrgyzstan, however on his first detachment in BiH, gives an insight of the daily routine. ”With our multi-role helicopters we are stationed here in support of the MNTF SE ground forces, but we also try to give a helping hand to the civilian population”. The missions of the Spanish helicopter detachment are mostly identical to those of the Italian colleagues. But there are differences between the way the Italians and the Spanish operate. The biggest difference is of course the number of available helicopters, and as the Spanish have one Cougar especially prepared for CASEVAC and MEDEVAC missions as well, there is only one aircraft left for other missions. Another difference is that the Cougar crews come from various units in Spain and stay for a longer time in BiH, as their normal tour is between four and six months. “This unit is a combination of people from many different units in Spain. For instance the commander, Major Mares, is from Batallon Helicopteros de Manoiba No. VI (BHELMA VI), stationed at the Canary Islands and I am normally stationed at BHELMA IV near Seville. Next to this we also have pilots from BHELMA II stationed near Valencia” Captain Alarco explains.
The Cougars though do come from one unit and at the moment they are from BHELMA II. All of the three Cougar crews are NVG-capable, but it becomes clear that night time is not the only dangerous time of day flying over BiH as Captain Alarco continues his story; “Flying over BiH in the snow conditions is quite dangerous because of the many power lines which are difficult to see. When there is the additional difficulty of snow it is very confusing to see them from the air. The conditions are quite dangerous due to the heavy winds in the valleys and the low clouds. When taking all these factors into account flying constantly requires your full concentration”.
Captain Alarco also explains that the Spanish Army has found a different way of dealing with maintenance: “We have done big maintenance here and of course we need the full support from Spain to do that. Normally we do not change the helicopters during our detachment period. We have a very competent maintenance group and have the capability to change any component on the helicopter if necessary. If we need any specific equipment, it is flown in from Spain with the regular support flight”.
In January 2005 the Spanish Army switched its helicopters at the detachment. And where the Italian detachment has made use of the AB-205 since the beginning of their deployment into former Yugoslavia, the Spanish detachment exchanged the UH-1H Hueys for the AS532UL Cougar. In the past years there have also been AS332B1 Super Pumas deployed, making a larger group of crews become available.
The situation at the airport of Mostar is gradually improving, but at the moment the Spanish detachment still uses their own fire brigade and refueling trucks. Captain Alarco is quick to point out there are also situations where the Spanish detachment makes use of the Mostar airport facilities: “The Spanish detachment works with the ATC at the civilian control tower of Mostar International Airport who have a good spirit of co-operation. Normally they give us all the facilities to fly and the relationship is very very good”. This is a clear sign of the adaptability of the Spanish pilots and the improvement of the situation in the South of BiH.
During the first six weeks of EUFOR, there was no EUFOR helicopter unit stationed in this military operating area. The US Army ‘Eagle Base’ at Tuzla International Airport has always been the main operating station of the US. After the change of command from SFOR to EUFOR, the first country to arrive with helicopters at Tuzla for the EUFOR mission was Belgium. The Belgian Air Component detachment, named ALTHEA-1, consists of four Augusta A109BA Hirondus helicopters with 44 men and woman including five flying Crews, all mainly coming from 16 Sqn Multi Role Helicopters (MRH) / Wing Heli at Bierset Airbase in Belgium.
With the support of a RAF 99 Sqn C-17A, these four helicopters arrived on January 9th and 10th of this year. Using a C-17A, through the co-ordination of the recently established European Airlift Centre at Eindhoven Airport, (The Netherlands), made it possible to ferry the helicopters in two flights instead of four if C-130 Hercules aircraft would have been used. Initially the plan was to fly the helicopters from Belgium to BiH, but the worsening weather conditions en-route made it wiser to ferry them by the use of cargo aircraft. At the time of the first C-17A arrival, the support vehicles and personnel had already arrived by road to set up camp. On January 15, after five days of check and familiarization flights, the Belgian detachment became part of the EUFOR forces. Ten days later the detachment was declared Full Operational Capable.
Of the four A-109BAs, one has been fitted for MEDEVAC duties, while the others are mainly used for troop support, liaison flights and intelligence missions. Of these three, one is used as spare, making it possible to always have three helicopters available to the MNTF N. For maintenance and shelter purposes, the Belgians have erected a huge tent with enough space to park all four helicopters inside, as there are no hangars available to them. Maintenance-wise the Belgian Air Component works along the same lines as the Spanish Army; all maintenance is done at Tuzla, so the helicopters are not rotated back to Belgium. As one of the maintenance personnel explains; “The MEDEVAC helicopter plays the most vital role and in case the helicopter used at this moment needs maintenance, we can refit one of the other three helicopters in one day to take over the MEDEVAC role”. It also becomes clear that the MEDEVAC role is quite a burden on this small detachment: “For this MEDEVAC mission the detachment is on call 24/7; during the day the goal is to be airborne within 30 minutes of receiving the call for medical assistance and during the night the goal is two hours”. In mid-March, the first rotation took place and the initial group of personnel returned to Belgium after a twelve-week stay at Tuzla. They were replaced by their colleagues from 18 Sqn MRH.
MEDEVAC A109BA with callsign “Angel01” seen flying over the city of Tuzla while on a crew familiarization flight early February 2005. Clearly visible are the so-called ‘slump pads’ mounted for landing in snow and muddy conditions. This helicopter is also equipped with a re-animation kit, cardio logical set and oxygen. There is room for one patient, one medical assistant, co-pilot and aircraft commander.
While the Belgian detachment was the first to arrive at Tuzla, there will gradually be more detachments arriving during the first half of 2005. First to join the Belgian detachment at Tuzla is the Hellenic Army CH-47D Chinook detachment, later followed by a Czech Air Force detachment. While initially planned to have the Belgian detachment in theatre for a period of one year, there are several evaluation points scheduled during which it might be decided to prolong the commitment.
The EUFOR camp at the Banja Luka former metal factory is different from the other camps in several ways. First there is the geographical difference; while the other camps are situated in the area governed by the Bosniak/Croat Federation of BiH, Banja Luka is in the heart of Northern Republika Srpska. Next to this, Banja Luka was already home to two helicopter detachments during February 2005. These were a detachment of 846 NAS RN, consisting of two Sea King HAS6Cs, and the Romanian detachment consisting of four IAR 330 SOCATs of Baza 61 Elic. de Atac.
The April 2005 arrival of the AAC Lynx helicopter detachment at Banja Luka means an end to the record stretch of the RN Sea King presence in and around BiH. As early as November 1992 saw the first arrival of four Sea King MK4s of 845 NAS at Divulje Barracks near Split in Croatia. Although the number of Sea Kings in theatre was reduced from four to two in 1998, there has been a continuous presence of RN Sea Kings of both 845 and 846 NAS in former Yugoslavia from 1992-2005. This thirteen year continues span is the longest presence of any type of helicopter to date. The Sea Kings were used for the same type of missions as the detachments in the other military areas. Similar to every other detachment, one of the two Sea Kings is on permanent MEDEVAC alert, while the other can be called upon for other missions. During February 2005 the detachment consisted of a group of 30 people, including three flight crews which were all operational on the NVG.
Next to Brits, the Romanian SOCAT detachment is the new kid on the block at Banja Luka. Their arrival on January 4th 2005 was the first time Romania deployed helicopters to BiH. They were also the first unit to arrive in BiH under the EUFOR flag, as all other detachments were already in BiH when the command went from NATO to the EU, or arrived at a later date.
The Romanian detachment includes a total of 38 personnel among whom there are 6 crews available. As these crews are also able to use NVGs, the IAR 330 SOCATs are used for exactly the same missions as the Sea King and other helicopters. One of the SOCATs is likewise on standby as a MEDEVAC helicopter, while others are used for ground forces training, liaison, reconnaissance and fire support. During the first month of 2005, many hours were flown to familiarize all 6 crews with the area in which they have to operate.
Both the British and the Romanian helicopter detachments have their own hangar and both are fully capable to perform all maintenance and inspections at Banja Luka. The other duties on site, like for instance Air Traffic Control, are split up between the two detachments.
As there is no difference in the tasking of both the British and Romanian detachments, it is up to HQ MNTF NW to decide which type is best suited to respond to a request for support. And as the two available Sea Kings are replaced by at least a doubled number of AAC Lynx helicopters, the support to the ground forces of MNTF NW and to EUFOR in total will gradually increase.
The start of the EU’s largest military operation to date will hopefully mean the final stretch in the struggles of BiH. The people of BiH see that they now have an honest chance to once more become part of the European community. But as long as there is a feeling of distrust between the various ethnic and religious groups, there is still a lot of work to be done for EUFOR.
Althea Command Structure
Command Flight | EUFOR Headquarters | Camp Butmir – Sarajevo
MNTF North | Camp Eagle Base – Tuzla
|Wing Heli/16 sqn MRH
MNTF North-West | Dragozaj Barracks – Banja Luka
|Baza 61 Elic. de Atac
|IAR 330 SOCAT
|Sea King HAS6C
MNTF South-East | Camp Capitaine Carreau – Rajlovac
MNTF South-East | Mostar International Airport – Mostar
|SPAHEL (BHELMA II)
|Valencia / Bétera AB
Phodocu would like to thank the MNTF areas, EUFOR PAOs and personnel of all helicopter detachments for sharing their stories and help in creating this article.
A special thanks to the crews of 847 NAS “Chieftain01”, SPAHEL “Aquila31” and Lt.Cdr E.Sutcliffe (RN) at Camp Butmir for their outstanding support.