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Halfway to the EU?

Szöveg: Béla Szabó |  2011. január 23. 15:26

The role of Hungarian troops in peace support and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans has a long history. Hungarian peacekeepers went on missions in Kosovo between 1902 and 1907 and in Albania between 1902 and 1917.

Seen from a historical perspective, the Balkans has almost always been unstable. About one hundred years after Hungary’s very first military presence, Hungarian peacekeepers deployed to the region again. When a new conflict arose in the former Yugoslavia in 1995, Hungary supported the NATO forces by offering some domestic initial staging bases (ISB) in the interest of ending the civil war and re-establishing peace in the region.

Hungary declared the Hungarian Engineer Contingent (HEC) to the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR)-led operation, which deployed to Okucani, Croatia in 1996. In 1999, the first troop rotation of the HDF Guard and Security (Force Protection) Battalion commenced its tour of duty. This battalion was responsible for guarding and protecting the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) Headquarters in Pristina, Kosovo. In 2002, members of the HDF Military Police Contingent deployed with the NATO Stabilization Force/Multinational Specialized Unit (SFOR/MSU) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2004 – the year the European Union launched Operation EUFOR ALTHEA to take over responsibility for the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) – the Hungarian contingent was re-assigned to the Italy-led Integrated Police Unit (IPU). The contingent had the same area of responsibility (AOR) until 2007, the year of its withdrawal. Later in 2004, the HDF Transport Platoon was formed, drawn from the personnel of the HEC. This unit completed its mission in the region in 2004.
The HDF Guard Platoon deployed in the Balkans between 2003 and 2005 – it was tasked to guard and protect the NATO Headquarters in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. The year 2006 saw another change to the Hungarian presence in the Balkans when the HDF KFOR Company deployed as one of the companies within the multinational battalion of the KFOR Multinational Task Force-West (MNTF-W). The 150-strong grouping was located in Pec/Peje (Kosovo). In 2007, as a result of some favorable policy shifts in BiH, the HDF Military Police Contingent was closed and the HDF EUFOR Contingent took on the peacekeeping duties.

In accordance with the role undertaken by the Republic of Hungary in the Kosovo stabilization process, the HDF KFOR Battalion deployed to the Balkans Joint Operations Area (JOA) in August 2008. Concurrently the HDF Guard and Security Battalion and the HDF KFOR Company were withdrawn from the region.
The main tasks of EUFOR ALTHEA – the third and largest military operation that the European Union has embarked upon to date (regarding its duration and manpower levels) – are to ensure continued compliance with the Dayton Peace Accords, to contribute to a safe and secure environment (SASE) in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to assist with the search and arrest of war criminals. ( With the aim of bringing an end to the three-and-a-half year war in Bosnia and promoting post-conflict political consolidation, the peace agreement was signed at a conference held at Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio, USA, between November 1–21, 1995.)
In 2003 the European Union reaffirmed its commitment to improving the security situation in the Balkans in the Thessaloniki Declaration. The EU’s political objective in BiH is to develop the economy of this multiethnic country and enable it to meet the criteria of EU membership in the medium term. Operation EUFOR ALTHEA was launched on December 2, 2004, mandated by UN Security Council Resolution No. 1551/2004 (July 9).

Initially the operation was planned for two years and kept under regular review every six months. The original force structure (7,150 troops) was based on the SFOR force level. The three major political events of 2006 (negotiations as to the status of Kosovo, elections in Bosnia and the referendum in Montenegro) did not destabilize the region, so the EUFOR was re-structured and its troop levels decreased. The implementation of the revised operational plan (OPLAN) began on March 1, 2007. As a result of the force re-structuring process, a rapid response maneuver battalion was mobilized and deployed at Camp Butmir, Sarajevo, and the former deterrent presence gave way to a rapid response capability.
During Operation ALTHEA large amounts of weapons, ammunition and ordnance have been collected. According to intelligence reports, however, despite the success of these operations, civilians still possess many small arms. This state of affairs can be explained by reference to the traditions and culture of the people living in the Balkans rather than to any preparations for a possible armed conflict.

On November 18, 2010, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of Operation EUFOR ALTHEA, the NATO HQ Sarajevo, the Integrated Police Unit (IPU) and the Liaison Observation Teams (LOT) for a further 12 months. The Security Council emphasized in its statement that the extension of the mission’s mandate facilitates the implementation of the Dayton General Framework Agreement for Peace on a greater scale so that Bosnia-Herzegovina can continue to move forward in the EU integration process. The UN Security Council also called upon the political parties in Bosnia to stop using their segregationist and divisive rhetoric because although the EUFOR will stay in the country for at least one more year, it is the armed forces of BiH that must enforce and implement the articles of the Dayton Peace Accords. In the current situation the completion of the mission must be regularly postponed since although the region can be considered secure in general, due to ethnic divisions the Balkan state cannot resolve its domestic political conflicts, as in most cases the opposing nationalities are out of touch with each other.

Around 20 personnel of the Hungarian Defence Forces are present at the EUFOR HQ in Sarajevo. Brig.-Gen. Tibor Nagy has been posted as Deputy Commander EUFOR (DCOM EUFOR) since January 2010 and has four assistants. In line with the planned force restructuring, as of March 2011 the DCOM EUFOR will be appointed chief of staff EUFOR (COS EUFOR), so recently another Hungarian “reinforcement" of three personnel has been posted to the EUFOR HQ. Since September 2010, Hungary has sent two trainers in a Mobile Training Team (MTT) to instruct the armed forces of BiH at the MTT House in Travnik.
As mentioned earlier, there is also a NATO HQ in Sarajevo (NHQ SA), which is responsible for maintaining the continuous presence of the Alliance in Bosnia-Herzegovina in an advisory/supervisory role following the completion of the SFOR operation. Since November 9, 2006, two field officers (intelligence (J2) and plans (J5)) have been representing the Hungarian Defence Forces in the NATO Advisory Team. The Deputy Chief of Staff Support (DCOS SPT) at the NHQ is also a Hungarian officer who works with two assistants.

The largest Hungarian force is the 150-strong HDF EUFOR Contingent stationed in Camp Butmir, Sarajevo which executed its tasks as one of the companies of the multinational maneuver battalion in cooperation with Austrian, Polish, and Turkish units (presence patrolling, information gathering activities (IGA), crowd riot control (CRC) and specific missions, VIP escort, occupation and maintenance of forward operating bases (FOB) and the provision of tactical reserves (TACRES) for KFOR). Currently the seventh rotation is deployed in the Bosnian capital under Lt-Col. Géza Gulyás. Most troops are drawn from the HDF 25th “Klapka György" Infantry Brigade of Tata, and most officers posted to fill key positions are from the Combat Support Battalion of the brigade, as is the contingent commander, who is the commander of that battalion in Hungary.

The contingent is made up of a maneuver infantry company and a National Support Element (NSE). The maneuver company comprises three platoons – each with the same structure and equipment – and a repair section. The staff forming the National Support Element, the Combat Service Support (CSS) platoon and the medical cell are responsible for the logistic support of the maneuver company stationed in Sarajevo and the personnel posted to individual positions. The eighth rotation of the contingent commences its tour of duty on January 31, 2011.

Concurrent with the adoption of the aforementioned UN Security Council resolution, the Chiefs of Defence of EU member states held a conference in Brussels. The military leaders agreed to continue conducting Operation EUFOR ALTHEA in BiH until the end of 2011. The current manpower of EUFOR is around 1,600 following a significant reduction of troop levels. 170 military personnel of the Hungarian Defence Forces are being deployed with EUFOR ALTHEA. This means that Hungary is playing an increasing role, because unlike other troop contributing nations (TCN), it has maintained its troop level in EUFOR BiH during this recent period.


Photo: Tünde Rácz, László Szűcs and archive