UPA (Utanian Press Agency)
Release: August 20, 300 AP.

Special report: I'ana seizure

A special report from Franck Lubyek of the Utanian Press Agency, who was aboard the UDK Armadillo, a transport ship involved in the recent I'ana archipelago seizure. He explains what he saw and heard.

The waves crashed on the bow of the transport as it powered toward the shore. The sky was almost entirely light now, though the sun hadn't yet risen. Some stars could still be seen, and the eastern sky behind us was showing a brilliant orange. Four platoons of heavily armed men were aboard the four landing craft that were speeding toward the shore. I was with them, and their commander, Colonel B'jont, to witness for the Utanian people who couldn't also be present the first military operation of their fledgling country.

As we got nearer the shore, four large helicopter transports, carrying another four platoons of troops, roared overhead. Their objective was five or so kilometres further north of our landing point. They were accompanied by another three assault helicopters, one of which zoomed ahead to the shore we were landing at to check for resistance. It was a loud and powerful roar from the seven helicopters above, as the Colonel gave the final orders: hit the beach if they encountered any resistance, and stay low - they were to secure a beachhead until the next lot arrived, not take the whole island themselves.

As the four landing craft crashed on the shore and opened, all the training these men had received went into action. They were a well-oiled mechanism of men charging left and right, securing the beach before them. Once done, they began setting up a perimeter, with mortars and machine gun nests, so that any enemy counter-offensive could be more effectively repelled. This took these one hundred-plus men a mere fifteen minutes to have several defensive positions put in place, before the Colonel radioed that the beach was secure, and patrols of the immediate facinity would begin.

Over the next hour, another nine platoons arrived, immediately being set to work of expanding the defensive perimeter and moving further inland on I'ana island. It was now 7am, and I managed to get a few moments with the Colonel to ask him the burning question in my mind: What resistance had they been anticipating? Colonel B'jont was very matter-of-fact about the mission commanders' expectation that there could be up to 1000 "enemy" personnel already on the island. Their mission was to find all the enemy personnel and force their surrender by sheer numbers of the Utanian force, but not to take the enemy positions by force, he emphasised. What if the enemy refused to surrender? Then, the Colonel replied, they would contain them, but fall back to a "non-threatening position", and then allow President Hope to begin negotiate with the nation in question.

B'jont was then drawn away by the arrival of another four platoons, under Major Bolger, who was to move into the village itself which some three kilometres north of us. If there was any resistance on the island, I heard the Colonel remark to his men, it would be there. The men who had been flown in by choppers would move south from their position and the two regiments would meet in the middle.

Yet, my recollection is that the only "resistance" encountered was curious, local inhabitants, farmers on their morning rounds, who suddenly found at 7:30am some 600 men on the eastern bay of the island. I also noticed several trucks were stopped in the morning along the main road that travelled south from the main village. They were asked whether they knew of any other military occupants of the island, and asked to stay within the occupied perimeter of the Utanian force until lunch. Despite their meek protests, they could only comply. Besides, none of the drivers appeared to be in any particular hurry, such is the pace on the island.

The operation, I recalled, had begun the previous day, before I arrived at Agraam Naval Base. The base was alive with troops, vehicles and trucks, hundreds of trucks, moving around the two main transport ships, the UDK Armadillo and UDK K'yama. These were two enormous ships whose sterns had completely opened up to reveal enormous cargo holds into which travelled trucks, unloading the munitions and food supplies, plus several armoured vehicles. Thousands of troops had already been loaded aboard not knowing exactly what the "training mission" they were on, known as Operation Deftsword, was about. I was stowed with the junior officers, and none of them knew either.

The troops had lights out at 8pm because they would be up for briefing at 4am. I stayed awake, unable to sleep with the amount of activity going on outside in the base. It slowed by 10:30, when the ship's great deisel engines started. The ship vibrated heavily as the great stern doors closed, and then the ship moved out into the bay away from the dock. It was then that I saw the other ships in the fleet that would accompany these two heavily-laden transports. I recognised the UDK Krysaror, the massive battleship/flagship of the Utanian navy. With smaller gunboats pulling out around it, the warship was made to look twice as large. It was truly enormous. Several other destroyers and missile cruisers were also beginning to move away from the dock and soon their was a flotilla of some twenty or thirty ships moving out into the dark night seas, leaving behind the familiar shores of Utania. While I could never have guessed where we were heading, I knew we were heading south, at least for now. It was about midnight.

I was awoken at about 4am to join a briefing of junior officers under Colonel B'jont. As they fixed themselves some breakfast in this medium-sized officers' mess, I grabbed nothing more than a coffee, hoping it would bring me the equivalent of another four hours sleep that I'd missed playing reporter in the night. The entire room, however, snapped to attention when the main door into the mess opened. Rigid and upright within half-a-second, it appeared it was all perfectly choreographed. General Peter Kopana entered the room, accompanied by several aides who immediately began setting up slideshows and charts on walls. He told the men to be at ease, and they quickly moved into seats with the best view of the General, while I sat at the back of the small mess.

For those who do not remember him, General Kopana was an Utani nationalist hero in 293 for refusing to use his 23rd Armoured Battalion against unarmed protesters in the Mountains province, and blocked the 44th infantry regiment from doing so. He is a consummate soldier: professional, dedicated and with a stern glare of determination fixing on every officer in the room. He had their full attention as he told them about the President's order to "militarise" the I'ana archipelago, a group of thirty islands south of Utania, that effectively connected the Utanian coast with Ptica island, making them an enormously strategic holding. No fewer than a platoon would be dropped on an island, and they were to secure the island checking for enemy personnel (they were always "personnel", never troops) and reporting them, not confronting them. There was not to be, he emphasised, any running gun battles with ANY enemy personnel.

I remembered reading about the I'ana Archipelago in Zeitgeist magazine and wondered whether anyone else would put one and one together: Operation Deftsword and the islands.

At 9am, General Kopana's chopper landed in the defensive zone after reports had arrived that the "capital village" (pop. 180, I was later told) had been occupied without resistance, and that no citizens were being detained. By this stage, too, the entire eight hundred troops (some 26 platoons) had been unloaded onto the island, more than doubling the number of inhabitants. In addition, six armoured vehicles were being unloaded at the landing site and would be ready to move into the small naval base by 10am. General Kopana took me with him, although in a separate jeep, with my guide, Captain Joh'nn Argenta, the man who had accompanied me everywhere last night and today.

Within fifteen minutes, I was watching General Kopana be greeted by the island's chief and a dozen or so of the island's police force, all of who appeared to be celebrating the arrival of Utanian troops to the island. In traditional Utani custom, the two "opposing" parties sat in the middle of the village's courtyard and spoke openly and loudly about the "militarisation" of the archipelago, and within another thirty minutes, it was agreed that the Utanian flag should be raised (in fact, that appeared agreed within two or three minutes, but one does not rush such diplomacy, it appears). So, at 11am, the Utanian flag was raised, with a full police and military honour guard of 31 police and three platoons respectively. The General saluted and the chief bowed, and the flag flapped in the mild winter air.

A table was then set up in which the Chief and his officials, including the 35 police, signed a declaration of allegiance to Utania. Around this time, the six armoured vehicles could be seen (and most certainly heard!!!) in the next street rumbling their way toward the old naval base, accompanied by several truckloads of men and munitions.

By one in the afternoon, aside from the last platoons searching the small unsecured portions of this island, the operation was complete. General Kopana had received word from his commanders on the other twenty-nine islands that they had encountered zero resistance, and would commence security patrols only. There was a bouyant mood now, with the officers about the command centre on that roadside more relaxed and smiling: the operation was almost complete, without a single casualty or shot fired. General Kopana told them, however, that not until tonight could they be sure, and probably not for weeks before every blade of grass had been checked. But, he concurred, they had secured the islands.

Thereafter, I was returned to the bridge of the UDK Firestorm, a missle cruiser circling the island. There I was told the next component of the mission was to secure the waters around the islands. This was fraught with danger because they were certain that an "enemy naval group" could make significant damage on the fleet if it came to a firefight. Captain Shara was confident, however, that it would neither come to that, and that the sailors aboard these Utanian ships would fight to the last man, and secure victory before long.

The naval patrol, however, was eventless, save a brief moment when a school of large fish appeared to resemble an enemy submarine and the ship's crew were put through their paces. By nightfall, there was several hundred more men sent to shore to relieve the tired day-soldiers, and take up night defensive positions. Utania had, by the end of the day, secured the island archipelago and the vital strategic position they represented for Utania's defenses.

Franck Lubyek had served in the Guwimith Dependencies Security Forces reaching the rank of Captain in the GDSF Military Reporter Battalion.

©UPA, 300 AP.

©Mike Ham, 2000. All rights reserved. No reproduction without, at least, tacit approval. ;-)