UPA (Utanian Press Agency)
Release: April 5, 301 AP.

Utanian men prepare to go to Dignania - Part IV

Zeitgeist Magazine reporter Julius Estobar has been selected by the Utanian Armed Forces HQ to join D Platoon of the 16th Company in III Brigade on their trip to Dignania, to report the reaction of the men, and their expectations. This is his fourth and final report.

Last Thursday (March 29th) there was the altercation with the Ordlandic trawler, by Saturday the convoy was in the Melananian Sea, and late Monday evening we caught sight of the divided country.

It was tense because after almost two weeks the men of the III Brigade were eagar to begin and restless sitting aboard these "tin cans". When I asked them, the soldiers readily admitted that the lack of exercise and physical training space was their biggest complaint. While I thought it was the lack of privacy, the fact that nowhere aboard this ship could you go and just sit and think, they laughed - you don't get that from the moment you sign up in the Army, nor do most of them want it, and I guess they're right.

Tuesday morning we awoke in Ahmaden Bay, about 80km north-west of Mosul. The bay is no longer blockaded, but it certainly is heavily militarised, with several warships from Zartania and the new Republic of Dignania. The peacekeeping reinforcements were going to land in Mosul, but we were waiting for confirmation from General Gordain - the peacekeepers would be crossing by truck over 100km of UBD territory in order to get to the northern border. Gordain, I was told, had to allow the UBD commanders time to let their troops at the border near Mosul know. In the end, the troops would disembark at a Zartanian military dock in the north of the bay, which was closer to the northern border.

I left my friends, the men of D Platoon of the 16th Company III Brigade, in Mosul. The unloading of the UDK Bathenne took a good two days, with not only thousands of soldiers, but dozens of armoured vehicles, artillery and supply and transport trucks. The men of D platoon played some tricks with my gear before I left, but all in good fun. Last I heard, they were bound for a training facility near the southern coast of the Badme penisula, before serving down in the south. If a new invasion began, they would be amongst the first to feel it, but they were cavalier about this, though I did sense a great sense of importance was in their minds: their task was to prevent war, not to run from it if it breaks out.

I was flown by helicopter to the city of Bradford, which is near the Utanian Peacekeepers command HQ (UDPFHQ), where I met General Gordain. The helicopter flight traversed a good 300km, but wasn't for my benefit: Brigadier Ernst Taramier was flying to meet the General and discuss his soldiers' roles.

I spent a great deal of time waiting, but this morning (Thursday, April 5) I met with the General. He is not particularly tall, about 5'10", but certainly stocky and strongly-built. He provided an introduction, explaining that the peacekeeper force (UDPF) had about 450km of border to patrol between the Republic of Dignania and the United Brotherhood of Dignania, with merely 16,900 soldiers. When, he told me, you removed the cooks, mechanics, storemen, clerks, pilots and technicians, you had probably only a single soldier for each hundred metres, and only if they patrolled 12 hours a day. And, he added, the men were approaching their six months service, and many should be sent home very soon. In other words, they were under resourced, he said, and really needed a force of 80,000 soldiers.

So, I suggested, why not pull in a multi-national force, as the Burovian Realm had offerred to help Utania in this role? The General was aware of the proposal, but told me that "things are currently at a critical stage, where even we Utanians are mistrusted, despite our role to date." To introduce soldiers from the Greater Powers, particularly the anti-communist Burovians, would be a significantly mistrusted move, one that could lead to a collapse of the peace that currently exists. General Gordain predicted that "maybe" the Utanian force could be supplemented in a year's time, or when the two sides agreed they were prepared for a multi-national force.

"That is a key issue", the General said. "We are here as the guest of the Dignanians, of both sides. Nothing guarantees our presense, or the peace."

Seeing this general who, not even five years ago, was virtually exiled by the military hierarchy for his political statements, as a politician negotiating with two sides of Dignanians is quite a surprising twist to the career of General Gordain.

He laughed at the suggestion he was a politician. "I am certainly a diplomat, but I have a team of excellent and far more proficient advising diplomats as part of this mission who have performed brilliantly, enduring difficult and stressful conditions. I am just a soldier. I am called to manage a new type of battle, and I manage the people and the process."

I pursued this line, and asked whether he was considering a political career when he returned to Utania - perhaps the Presidency in January? He laughed at the suggestion, adding that there was "still much work to be done".

I was invited to look at the actual border. I had obviously arrived by Helicopter at the HQ, but hadn't seen the border from the ground. It is only 500 metres either side of the river. There is a growing network of roads and dugouts and watchtowers, as well as a bridge every few miles, being developed by the Utanian peacekeepers, but also by both sides of the conflict. A network of barbed wire fences is also growing to mark the border, too. It is said to see that it must come to this, but it has.

I asked what the Utanian peacekeepers would be ordered to do if an army approached from beyond the barbed wire fences. Well, said the General, they would probably know it was coming long before it arrived. Not least, the barbed wire would probably be removed, replaced by some easily opened gates, and a large series of them, too, for an entire army, for there was no sense slowing your own army's advance with your own barbed wire!

He continued by saying that it would depend on the size of the incursion into this DMZ. "If it's a few platoons, peacekeepers are ordered to inform them of their violation of the treaty, and, if no retreat is made, to repel them." Repel, I asked? Every kilometre of the line will have about one platoon, I was told, but the peacekeepers are constantly on alert, constantly ready to race to a point of invasion.

"If, on the other hand, it is five thousand heavily armed troops approaching, our troops are ordered to diplomatically resist, but to not endanger themselves", the General added. This meant, I clarified, that they would announce that this was a breech of the treaty and step out of the way. "Yes." He told me that they also had plans for evacuations should an invasion begin.

"But, any attempted incursion in the north would require either a boat, a mobile bridge or access to one of our bridges. We have heavy fortifications on the bridges, and are prepared to destroy them should an advancing army approach. There is a very high cost to any attempt to invade. We believe any violation into the DMZ will be purely for intelligence gathering about the UDPF (Peacekeepers) or the enemy", the General continued, "in which case we pass on all intelligence about enemy positions to save them the bother."

"If there is ever a build up, the other side will know about it if it's within twenty miles of the border." added Colonel Shannon of the Bradford Battalion. "This way, they are not... disadvantaged by the presense of peacekeepers."

"The real threat is in the south", announced the General, his tone becoming more grave. "There, we have a thin slice of easily crossed land, with non-Dignanian soldiers on the Republican side of the border. If there will ever be a continuation of the war, it will begin there."

Gordain was quite emphatic that the job was large, but not unassailable, and repeating that the UDPF really only needed reinforcements and replacements, soon. I asked him how many he hoped would be sent to Dignania next month, and his reply was almost instantaneous: five to ten thousand more troops were the minimum, so that he could maintain a force of about 23,000 in Dignania. He said he hoped to be able to send home the hardest working thousands of soldiers in June, about six thousand of them, as they had served, by then, some eight or nine months, without a day of home-leave.

"It is too long for a soldier when we're not actively at war. They are heroes, and should be relieved as such."

I boarded an Utanian military flight from Bradford this afternoon, for Newton, Ordland, and then on to Utania tonight by commercial flight. It has been quite an experience, but most of all I feel for the thousands of soldiers standing on the very thin line between order and chaos in Dignania.

©UPA, 301 AP.

©Mike Ham, 2001. All rights reserved. No reproduction without, at least, tacit approval. ;-)