Portrait of a Belgian battalion

Overshadowed in the past weeks by the migrants’ crisis, anti-terrorism operations nevertheless continue in Belgium: the occasion for FOB to meet the 12th Line Prince Leopold/13th Line (or 12/13Li) battalion, one of the Belgian Army’s most sought after units both inside the country for operation Vigilant Guardian and on foreign theatres of operation with the European Training Mission in Mali.

 

12/13Li soldiers patrolling the streets of Brussels (Credit: Marc Ganser / 12/13Li

12/13Li soldiers patrolling the streets of Brussels (Credit: Marc Ganser – 12/13Li)

 

Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Morin, actual commander of the 12/13Li

Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Morin, actual commander of the 12/13Li

Based in Spa, in southern Belgium, created just after the Belgian revolution of 1831, the 12/13Li is today the oldest active unit in the Belgian army. Having joined the Light Brigade in 2011, the 12/13Li with its 550 troopers has taken part in all recent operations, from Rwanda to Kosovo via Afghanistan and Mali. Its main mission is as a rapid reaction force. True to its motto “To the fore”, the 12/13Li is twinned with the 1st Rifle regiment of the French Army whose motto echoes that of the Belgians: “First Always First”. A graduate of the 144th class of the Belgian Royal Military College, Lt-Colonel Manuel Monin was appointed the 75th commander of the 12/13Li on 5 June 2015. He was kind enough to answer our questions.

 

What role does the 12/13 play in the war against terrorism in Belgium and what is its experience in this field?

 

Just like the other manœuvre units of the land component, the 12/13Li is massively deployed across the national territory. We currently have around 200 men deployed in Liège, Verviers, Charleroi and Brussels.

 

The infantryman is by essence polyvalent. Given the anti-terrorist experience acquired over successive deployments, in particular in Afghanistan, our soldiers have become very effective.

 

Nearly 200 military from the 12/13Li are still deployed in four Belgian cities (Credit: Marc Ganser -12/13Li)

Nearly 200 military from the 12/13Li are still deployed in four Belgian cities (Credit: Marc Ganser -12/13Li)

 

What is the specificity of the 12/13 soldiers? Do France and Belgium exchange experiences in this field?

 

The specificity of the 12/13Li is in its light-armour aspect. We are rapidly deployable either by aircraft or helicopter, by amphibious means or with our own vehicle, the Dingo [Multi Purpose Protected Vehicle – MPPV]. Our lightness is our strength in comparison to those units equipped with the 8×8 Piranha whilst the armour of our MPPV is our strength in comparison to paratroop units.

 

Are you adjusting your existing procedures?

 

During the events of November 2015, the 12/13Li mobilised 350 soldiers in less than 24 hours with no prior notice. This demonstrates how available our personnel are and that our procedures work. But it’s true that our current regime means we have choices to make. The priority today set by our politicians means that our time for training has to be cut.

 

350 men from the 12/13Li were mobilized in 24 hours for "Vigilant Guardian" operation (Credit: Mark Ganser / 12-13Li)

350 men from the 12/13Li were mobilized in 24 hours for “Vigilant Guardian” operation (Credit: Mark Ganser / 12-13Li)

 

How do the army and police cohabit?

 

Globally, cooperation is excellent. The added-value of working together during a crisis has been well understood both by the “greens” and the “blues”. The fact that the mission has become more routine, that the threat is less palpable, is however giving rise to a few doubts, particularly in the minds of the military. When you execute the same mission for a long time then the very different status of the personnel in the two forces gives rise to a few misunderstandings. The task of the leadership is then to explain that everything has to be put in the balance if comparisons are to be made.

 

Come back tomorrow for the end of this interview!