Finns taking part in exercise for tri-nation EU battle group in Germany
Under the floodlights of the Travemünde Seaport, curious and slightly sleepy heads peeked through the hatches of Pasi armoured personnel carriers in the early hours of Sunday morning, as the Finnish arm of an EU battle group landed in Germany for a definitive exercise.
EU Battle Group 107, consisting of German, Dutch and Finnish troops, is the first one of the self-sufficient, rapidly deployable, multinational military units at the disposal of the European Union. The aim of the three-week training period is to put the finishing touches to the skills and operations of the unit.
From the turn of the year, the battle group will be deployable at five days' notice for command anywhere in the world where crisis management is needed.
But where that might be is anybody's guess. "Hopefully some place warm", a Finnish sergeant medic throws in.
Some clues can be detected from the adjustments made to the Finnish vehicles. In military slang the armoured vehicles have been "tropicalised" - in other words, they have been equipped with air-conditioning units and intensified cooling systems for the engine.
Africa, a continent riddled with conflicts, has been suggested as a likely destination, but the leaders of the battle group refrain from disclosing anything.
"The unit has not specialised for operations in Africa. Its training and equipment meet with the general requirements for a battle group", explains the commander of the group's German wing, Major General Rainer Fiegle.
"A humanitarian crisis - should the unit be used for managing one - can arise anywhere in the world, not just in Africa", he adds.
In Congo an EU-led operation is currently going on, but it is gradually being shut down, and the German troops serving there are waiting to be repatriated by Christmas.
"One must remember that a French-Belgian battle group is on stand-by at the same time with ours. Traditionally they have tight connections with Congo", notes Lieutenant Colonel Petri Mattila, who - like Fiegle - serves at the Battle Group Staff in Ulm, Germany. At the start of duty, Mattila is the commander-in-chief of the group's Finnish wing.
In the arrangement, Finland is the odd one out, for unlike Germany and The Netherlands, it does not belong to NATO. "I have not felt we are outsiders, though", Mattila says.
For one, receiving intelligence information will not become an issue. "Even belonging to NATO does not automatically guarantee the sharing of information. This is often done on a bilateral basis. You give some to receive some."
The Battle Group is not represented in the exercise in its whole capacity of 1,600 soldiers. Only the Finns are taking part in the exercise in nearly the entire strength of their unit, in order to get the feel of their main duties, which will be supply logistics and protection of the Staff.
Major General Fiegle smiles wryly at the notion of this being the first time since World War II that Finnish and German soldiers have served side by side.
"I would not go too far in search for historical comparisons. This arrangement's roots are not in history but in our countries' common interests in the present day. The traditionally good relationships between Germany and Finland should not be limited to a certain period in history or to a military side", Fiegle observes.
Finland interested in NATO crisis management exercises (3.11.2006)
EU Factsheet on Battlegroups (.pdf file)
NATO Response Force (Wikipedia)
European Union Battlegroups (Wikipedia)