Members of the Croatian Armed Forces and of the Police attended the 23 Military and…
CROMIL’s team visited the members of the 2nd Croatian Contingent in early April and testified to the reputation they had built with their knowledge and capabilities, but above all with their professional and responsible attitude towards every task. They have been in mission UNIFIL since last October. In a short time, they have become recognizable at every step, both in the area of operation and among civilians. Many of them probably never imagined that the military calling would bring them to Lebanon, let alone that they would leave a permanent mark of Croatian presence with their engineering services.
Although rather exhausted by the all-night journey, we tried to stay awake during the drive from Beirut to Camp Shama so as to soak up initial information about the country we had just arrived to. Modern, luxuriously decorated buildings that do not lag behind similar buildings in the most famous world capitals stand opposite underdeveloped areas. As we approached the Croatian soldiers’ lodgings in the south of the country, those differences became more pronounced. Next to a castle-like building, you can see a seemingly desolate facility for which it is impossible to determine when it was built. Car brands on the road would make you think you were in one of the most developed countries in the world. At the same time, streets are swamped with makeshift repair shops where owners of those luxury cars would not even park their vehicles. All of that paints a vivid image of the layered, divided and manifold character of the local population’s living standard. From the road, we observed numerous plantations where bananas, lemons, tangerines and other fruits are grown. These plantations speak volumes about the demanding and difficult life in the south. Still, numerous active construction sites give rise to optimism and send a message that significant efforts are being invested into the country’s economic recovery.
One of the first rules that we were introduced to upon our arrival to Lebanon seemed incomprehensibly rigorous to us: no photographing or filming was allowed without individual approval for each occasion. This rule denied us of the opportunity to register the juxtapositions that we were witnessing. However, after an additional explanation that asking permission for taking photographs was a matter of decency, custom and culture in Lebanon, we became aware of the fact that we had to follow the conventions of the host country. It was a welcome change for somebody hailing from a country such as Croatia, where people grab their mobile phones to record every, even the most trivial event so as to fascinate people around them, even at the cost of losing the bare minimum of privacy. After a two-hour drive, we arrived to the decently furbished Camp Shama, where the members of the 2nd Croatian Contingent are accommodated. Along with them, we were greeted by the members of the Italian Armed Forces from UNIFIL’s Strategic Communication and Public Information Office, who supplied us with the most important information regarding our stay. The camp offers numerous amenities so as to make the soldiers’ months-long separation from their families as painless as possible. But, most Croatian soldiers told us that numerous military tasks they performed there took up their whole day and thus alleviated the feeling of separation from their loved ones. Because of that, we could hardly wait to join our soldiers at some of their jobs.
Before setting off, the Commander of the 2nd Croatian Contingent Major Siniša Šlibar introduced us to the basic task of Croatian soldiers, who are a part of the Combat Support Battalion in Sector West (SW): performing all types of engineering services. “They protect the UN’s forces by constructing and renovating pillboxes, maintaining safety fences and creating better living and working conditions for all participants in mission UNIFIL,” Šlibar said.
Acta non verba – Deeds, not Words
A visit to a secondary school in Chahabiya, where Croatian soldiers are performing engineering services, exhilarated us since such construction works are not only a harbinger for the future, but also a lasting mark of Croatian presence in Lebanon. We were amazed not only with the construction works, but also with the children’s delight when they saw the flags on the shoulders of Croatian soldiers as they were exiting their vehicles. Spontaneously, they started shouting in chorus: “Modrić! Mandžukić! Rakitić!” That once again got us thinking about how we will probably never fully comprehend how much Croatian football players contributed to the promotion of Croatia in the world with their historic success at last year’s FIFA World Cup. The children in Lebanon are a testament to that. The schools’ principal Ali Ibrahim Darwish thanked Croatian soldiers for carrying out the construction works and pointed out: “The forces of UNIFIL are peace messengers. Peace is a common factor between our work as teachers and UNIFIL’s peace messengers. I want to thank the Croatian people and UNIFIL. I am very satisfied because they are doing their job very well.” Croatian soldiers responded to the praise by shrugging and saying that they were just doing their job. That may be true, but their appreciation of and respect for the local population adds value to their work. The Commander of the Engineer Company Captain Luka Dodig is a Croatian officer who does not speak much, but is constantly working or thinking about what could be improved. Visibly proud, he introduced us to the Commander of the Infrastructure Squad Sergeant Hrvoje Janković, who keeps a firm hand on the construction works at the school. Sergeant Janković stressed that his six-man squad performed all locksmith and carpentry services both for UNIFIL’s soldiers in their area of responsibility and the local population. “The construction works at the school will last four months. We hope that all planned activities will have been finished by the end of our deployment,” Sergeant Janković said.
Still impressed by all the praise, we left the school to go on an entirely different task: a visit to Observer Group Lebanon Patrol Base 1-31 by the Blue Line, where our engineers carry out various construction works.
The Blue Line is a 120-kilometer long demarcation line which was identified by the United Nations, in association with Israeli and Lebanese officials, in 2000 with the aim of confirming the withdrawal of Israel Defense Forces from the Lebanese territory, in compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 425 (1978). It does not represent the official border between Israel and Lebanon and it is without prejudice to any further border arrangement between the two countries. Unauthorized crossing of the Blue Line represents a violation of the provisions set by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. One of the basic tasks of the UN’s forces in UNIFIL is to oversee that the Blue Line is respected.
The ease with which our engineers operate powerful construction machines proves that technology, no matter how good it is, can only be operational and efficient in capable hands. Our soldiers have proven to be capable countless times. First Lieutenant Matija Merkaš, the Commander of the Engineer Platoon, emphasized that his platoon carried out engineering infrastructure works with a view to increase the level of the UN forces’ protection: “We have recently completed the furnishing of several pillboxes and the area around them.”
Seven members of the Croatian EOD/IEDD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal / Improvised Explosive Device Disposal) Team make up a heterogeneous international platoon with five Italian soldiers. Their task is to secure the mobility of UNIFIL soldiers in case they come across improvised explosive devices or unexploded ordnances. “Our team has to be ready to react anywhere in Sector West at any given moment,” said the Commander of the EOD/IEDD Team Sergeant First Class Krešimir Marjanović, adding that robotized remote-controlled systems were used for the reconnaissance, neutralization and destruction of explosive ordnances.
The base where the Croatian soldiers lodge was bustling with activity when we met the Commander of the 1st Squad of the Engineer Platoon Staff Sergeant Nikola Pešut, whose unit is busy with the refurbishment of the so-called HESCO bastion (elements of woven hexagonal wire netting filled with rocks or other materials) on the outer wall of the base. “We take this project on when we are not busy with other CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation) projects. During our stay here, we have carried out construction works on a scout club and on a road in Yaroun. The latter project earned us a commendation,” underlined Staff Sergeant Pešut, a Homeland War veteran who had joined the Croatian Armed Forces at the age of 17.
Owing to the Croatian soldiers’ professional attitude towards every task and their proper military conduct in the base and outside of it, CROMIL’s team was received by the Commander of Sector West Brigadier General Diodato Abagnara at the end of our visit to Croatian soldiers.
We shall long remember the pride we felt because of Croatian soldiers’ honourable conduct during every assignment both at home and abroad. Although we are used to hearing praise about Croatian soldiers from all sides, including UNIFIL, it is always nice to hear it again. We believe they shall complete their work in Lebanon successfully and return to Croatia safely.
Finally, we wish to give special thanks to the Deputy Commander of the Engineering Company Captain Tomislav Baša, who was by our side throughout our stay in Lebanon and invested a lot of effort into making us feel comfortable so that we could return to Croatia enriched by lasting impressions.
UNIFIL is deployed to southern Lebanon. Its area of operation stretches from the Litani River in the north to the so-called Blue Line (BL), the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel, in the south and south-east of Lebanon. Since 18th October 2018, the Commander of Sector West (SW) has been Brigadier General Diodato Abagnara (Italian Armed Forces).
In July 2007, the Croatian Armed Forces started participating in UNIFIL by deploying a staff officer to the mission’s Command. A liaison officer’s task is to keep an eye on the BL, especially in cases which could potentially add to the tension between Israel and Lebanon.
Since April 2018, the Croatian Armed Forces have been contributing more significantly to UNIFIL by deploying the Engineer Company to Sector West, the headquarters of which are at United Nations Position 2-3 Camp Shama. At the moment, 52 members of the 2nd Croatian Contingent are participating in UNIFIL as a part of the Combat Support Battalion of the Italian Armed Forces’ Garibaldi Brigade.
The basic task of the Engineer Company within the Combat Support Battalion is to provide the forces in Sector West with the required support by implementing force protection measures and supporting their mobility in the area of operation.
Peace-keeping mission UNIFIL in the Lebanese Republic was established by United Nations Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426 on 19th March 1978. Its initial objective was to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, which they had invaded five days prior. A further objective was to assist the Lebanese government in the restoration of their effective authority over the Lebanese territory.
After the Second Lebanese War in 2006, the United Nations Security Council approved Resolution 1701, which constitutes the legal framework of UNIFIL today and has in many ways enhanced the mission in comparison to the resolutions from 1978.
The mandate of the operation is to monitor the cessation of hostilities, support the Lebanese Armed Forces in their deployment throughout the south of Lebanon and assist humanitarian organizations in the safe return of displaced persons.
MANDATE CONFIRMED WITH NEW RESOLUTION
In August 2017, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2373, which confirms the UN’s mandate as defined by Resolution 1701. In Resolution 2373, the Security Council reaffirms the necessity of accelerated and durable deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces to southern Lebanon and the territorial waters of Lebanon. It also calls for the enhanced expansion of co-ordinated activities with the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Security Council also requests detailed reports on UNIFIL’s activities and the implementation of the recommendations from the 2016-2017 Strategic Review. The Security Council renews UNIFIL’s mandate annually at the request of the Lebanese government.
Text by ŽELJKO STIPANOVIĆ
Photo by TOMISLAV BRANDT
Translation by IVA GUGO