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EU: Successful Congo Mission May Herald Greater Military Self-Reliance

  • Ahto Lobjakas

European Union military authorities yesterday said the bloc's first autonomous military mission to Bunya, a city in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was an unqualified success. Two top EU generals indicated in Brussels that the success of the French-led operation could pave the way for further missions. Brussels, 18 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Top European Union military officials yesterday described the bloc's first independent military mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a complete "political and military" success and indicated that recourse to NATO assets could in future become the exception rather than the rule.

The EU's mission in the city of Bunya concluded on 1 September. Major General Bruno Neveux was the commander of the operation, called Operation Artemis, of which France was the "framework nation." In other words, France provided the headquarters, planning facilities, and the bulk of the roughly 1,500 troops deployed in Bunya starting in mid-June.

Taking stock yesterday, Neveux said the operation had vindicated the practice of using an EU "framework nation" in preference over NATO facilities.

"The concept of [having] a 'framework nation' has worked perfectly," Neveux said. "It has worked perfectly because there exist structures which have made it possible to launch operations. The EU has on this occasion really demonstrated its ability to respond, its military capability to very quickly engage in an operation."

The head of the EU Military Staff, German General Rainer Schuwirth, said yesterday the operation had, on initial scrutiny, not displayed any EU shortfalls.

"The operation has shown what EU member states and other troop contributors are capable of," Schuwirth said. "I would not say it has shown any limitations. This is always an issue for case-by-case situation analysis, but the operation has clearly shown that the European Union is capable [of deciding] rather rapidly to plan both on the political and military level, and to conduct the operation successfully."

However, Schuwirth said, the Bunya mission -- which took place about 6,500 kilometers from the borders of the EU -- had highlighted the already acknowledged need for better EU transport capabilities and means for long-range communication, as well as for greater "interoperability" among member state military forces.

Neither Neveux or Schuwirth were willing to comment on the plan floated in April by Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg to provide the EU with its own military headquarters -- separate from NATO -- in the Brussels suburb of Tervuren.

Both said it remains a "political decision." However, Schuwirth pointedly indicated the EU has no inherent preference for NATO over "going it alone."

"EU-led operations [take place] either with recourse to NATO assets and capabilities -- that's the option which we used for Operation Concordia in [the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] -- or, with recourse to headquarters, be they national or multinational, which are offered by member states for particular operations," he said. "On this basis, we have prepared our concepts and these principal options have been used now -- as I said, with recourse to NATO for the FYROM operation, and with recourse to France offering their headquarters as the framework nation for Operation Artemis."

Schuwirth said the creation of new headquarters would be analyzed on a case-by-case basis by the EU member states. Aside from France, he noted that Britain, Germany, Italy, and Greece have also declared their readiness to lead future autonomous EU military operations as "framework nations."

Schuwirth said these nations feel they have the capability to "multinationalize" their existing military headquarters.

Neveux yesterday said the French-led EU force -- called EUFOR -- had fully achieved its military and political objectives in Bunya.

"As you know, we achieved our military mission," Neveux said. "EUFOR stopped the cycle of killing immediately after its arrival. Bunya was demilitarized and the scale and frequency of [clashes] in [the] Ituri [Province] were reduced. International organizations and [nongovernmental organizations] who left Bunya due to the deterioration of the security situation returned. These agencies could again fly in aid directly to Bunya."

Neveux said that going beyond its immediate military tasks, EUFOR had delivered more than 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid to Bunya. After the demilitarization of the city, more than 50,000 refugees were able to return.

Similarly, Neveux said, the political situation in Bunya and elsewhere in Congo is well on the way to recovery, and that the process is expected to continue apace. A reinforced UN peacekeeping force -- called MONUC -- replaced EU troops on 1 September.

"The reinforced UN presence -- nearly 3,000 soldiers so far have successfully deployed to Bunya and will shortly commence the stabilization of the Ituri region. And as Mr. [Aldo] Ajello [the EU envoy to the Great Lakes region] mentioned, just under two months into the operation, the parties agreed to establish a transitional national government in Kinshasa. Although the peace process undoubtedly faces obstacles on the road towards national elections in two years' time, the peace process is back on track."

Neveux repeatedly stressed yesterday that he is fully confident that the Bangladeshi-led UN contingent in Bunya will not only preserve peace in the city but will also be able to proceed with the demilitarization of the entire surrounding Ituri Province.