A colossal logistical challenge
By Nicolas Gros-Verheyde in N’Djamena and Abéché, Chad | Thursday 24 April 2008
Sand, sun and wind are the main elements awaiting the EUFOR troops – the European force being deployed to Chad and the Central African Republic – when they arrive on the ground. “There is nothing or almost nothing” in the camps when they arrive. “We have to drill for water – we’ve drilled in six different places – and find a water table with enough volume to supply the troops,” explains Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Axelos, in charge of information. “The earth has to be packed down and stabilised, drainage and ditches have to be built to be ready for the rainy season, water pipes and telephone lines have to be laid and tank dikes have to be built to protect the camp.” Some 6,000 tonnes of cement were brought in for the N’Djamena and Abeche sites and water had to be flown in because there was not enough groundwater available. “It’s very simple,” adds French Colonel Serge Duval. “This is a bit of desert on which we have to erect small towns. We have to put up three small towns of 600 inhabitants and a bigger one of 2,000 inhabitants, starting from scratch. And everything has to be ready in record time, before June and the rainy season.” This huge task has to be carried out in difficult climatic conditions – heat (35°C to 45°C), sand and wind – and an unstable political situation.
In N’Djamena, Camp Europa has been in place since the beginning of April to house the rear staff headquarters and to serve as the transit and adaptation camp for newly arrived troops. It takes two to three weeks for new troops to adapt. They also have to be briefed on the specifics of the mission (relief troops are brought in every two to six months, depending on the functions and nationalities). The camp’s maximum capacity is 600 people, with an area reserved for the MINURCAT (UN mission in Chad and CAR). The installation is very basic: air-conditioned tents – only the headquarters are permanent structures – with field showers (very practical because users can enter fully dressed, placing their belongings in watertight bags) and open-air wash basins.
The Europeans have set up camp on a site that was meant to serve as a prison. There are still a few remnants of the former installations, such as the enclosing wall and the grating, that give the area a prison-like atmosphere. The camp has three advantages, however. Situated a bit outside the capital, far from any other military or national installation, it is quite easy to defend. It is also close to the main access road: the airport is 500 metres away as the crow flies and a road financed by the Europeans is being built to provide direct access, without having to go through French or Chadian military camps. One disadvantage is that the slightly high ground on which the camp is installed is fully exposed to the sun – there is only one tree on the entire camp – and the rainy season is likely to be an ordeal (the ditches have been reinforced with sand bags).
In Abeche, Starcamp – which is expected to have maximum capacity of 2,000 troops – is still under construction and not set to be operational until mid-May. The forces present are temporarily housed in tents on three different sites: some (including a hospital and headquarters) are at Camp Crocci – home to the troops of the French Operation Sparrowhawk – others are on the site of the National Rural Development Office, which the government of Chad has made available to the Europeans, and the rest are in a ‘nomad’ camp. The Swedes and Finns have set up tents along the edges of the Starcamp building site, with a few goats and, in the distance, a Chadian military camp as their only neighbours.
In Farchana (or Forchana), the camp of the centre brigade is beginning to be set up (see separate article). To the south, in Goz Beida, a platoon has arrived to stake out and prepare the Irish camp. To the north, in Iriba, drilling is under way to provide water for the Polish camp.
Each contributing state chooses its own installation arrangements. For example, the French are installing the camp in Iriba on behalf of the Poles, but the Irish have opted to manage their own installation, using a private undertaking.
See www.europolitics.info for further reports.
From the oldest to the most modern… The troops have various means of communicating with each other: from modern radio and telecom systems to good old Morse code – “very useful at times when nothing else is getting through,” explains one officer – and sometimes simply mobile phones. Indeed, mobile phones work perfectly in the capital and in Abeche. The main computers are interconnected via an inland ‘defence confidential’ network; 350 computers operate as part of the EUFOR headquarters network, connecting N’Djamena and Abeche (10 kms of optical fibre were laid). The public internet network, on the other hand, is slow and unreliable.