the legionaries of Operation “Barkhane” recount the five months of their infernal mission

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It is a time of reunion after five months of war. That of hugs and cold beer, ceremonies, too. The moment of “Your mouths in there!” Cried among the assembled officers, when silence is ordered to greet the one who is transferred. That also of the always awaited “The hand above!” », Which delivers buffets to appetites while the cicadas sing in the midday heat.

The 2e foreign infantry regiment (REI) returns from Mali. On July 29, the last company crossed the gates of the Chabrières district, in Nîmes. In the shade of the plane trees of the Place d’Armes, the ghosts disembark, white caps on their heads, surgical masks on their mouths. They grab their pack in silence under the tired eyes of their leader. We were no longer expecting them. “Now we must first find our first family, who are in the regiment. Return to our own home, which is here ”greeted Major Joselito, whose hair is turning gray after thirty-one years in the Foreign Legion.

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In Mali, it was five uninterrupted months of fire, sand, sleepless nights. An order was made in January to wipe out the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS) organization from Sahelian terrain. So in Operation Barkhane it was the legionaries’ turn. The “Legion mandate”, they rejoice today. Because the foreign regiments were sent en masse: paratroopers from Calvi, riders from Carpiagne, sappers from Laudun. Infantry soldiers from Nîmes arrived in the Sahel in early February with their armored infantry fighting vehicles. The process ? If you listen to the COO, Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre, it emerges with a clear line. “Deploy as many people as possible in the field, in a sustainable manner. “

“Seek out the enemy where he is evolving”

The legionaries wanted it, this hunt for the jihadists. Each of these combat professionals claimed their share of the balance sheet. They got it. Harassment, searches and sweeps, dismounted infantry combat, neutralizations at every opportunity. It was an exceptional mandate. It had been a long time since most of the regiment had left like this, with 900 men: the “Dragon” group fulfilled its mission. “Pure happiness is there, doing the job for which you are paid, looking for the enemy where it operates, knowing everything about its paths, to the market where it gets its supplies”, notes Major Joselito. They can put it that way because, they all repeat, “Everyone is home”. Neither killed nor seriously injured. A third of these soldiers, 26 years old on average, in 2020 experienced their first foreign operation under the French flag.

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