Olifant, Berenice, Hermine, Curlew, Ifor, Ares, Detobs, Shark, Volcano. These names certainly do not evoke you. They refer however to missions of the French army, more specifically to external operations (Opex). "These are interventions of the French army which are ordered by the political power, mainly by the chief of the armies, the president of the Republic.They exist since the post-Algeria, that is to say since 1963. They have punctuated the history of our country, from General de Gaulle to the heads of state who have succeeded, "said Jean-Pierre Pakula, president of the National Association of participants in external operations (Anopex).
During these operations, 549 soldiers died for France. Their names will now be inscribed on a monument inaugurated Monday for the ceremonies of 11-November by President Emmanuel Macron, in the Park André-Citroën (Paris XV). The first is that of Marcello Orione, a chief warrant officer of Italian origin, who was ambushed at the age of 38 on 15 March 1969 in Oum Hadjer, Chad. In this African country, a total of 129 fighters died between 1969 and 2013.
From the Drakkar bombing to Uzbin's ambush
But it is in Lebanon that the Opex were the hardest hit. 141 soldiers of the French army lost their lives there. "We must remember the date of October 23, 1983, the day of the bombing of the Drakkar in Beirut that had killed 58 people in one day," said Jean-Pierre Pakula. Ten days later, surrounded by dozens of coffins in the courtyard of the Invalides, François Mitterrand paid a national tribute to these deaths for France. Images that, at the time, had marked the public opinion.
But according to Jean-Pierre Pakula, the French have gradually forgotten the existence of these soldiers in external operations. "It took the attacks of 9/11 and the intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 for the French to realize that there were still soldiers who were going away to defend the interests of their country." On August 18, 2008, France discovered with astonishment that ten of its soldiers were killed during a Taliban ambush in the Uzbin Valley in Afghanistan. "This was one of the strongest episodes of French military engagement in this country," says Jean-Pierre Pakula. "They were all young Frenchmen who, at some point in their lives, decided to do a very special job, that of weapons.They went to the end of the mission that was asked of them", insists this colonel of Land Force.
Men and women
More recently, on May 10, 2019, the death of the two marine commandos Alain Bertoncello and Cédric de Pierrepont during a mission to release hostages in Burkina Faso sparked a wave of emotion. "I often go to the Alexander III bridge during the funeral convoys for the soldiers, and I have never seen so many people for a tribute," said Jean-Pierre Pakula. "In a society of every man for himself, the French realize that, on the contrary, there are those who work for the national interest, for the preservation of our freedom and for the fight against terrorism. young people in their twenties or thirties go to the ultimate sacrifice. "
Among these 549 names, there are also two women. The first, Anita Mignot, died in 2004 in Kosovo; the second, Laurence Briançon-Forest, was killed in 2007 during a plane crash in Sinai, Egypt. To honor them, the new monument includes six bronze soldiers carrying an invisible coffin: five men and a woman. "It is also to show that the armies of today are no longer exclusively male.There are women in all units," said Jean-Pierre Pakula.
For the president of the National Association of participants in external operations, this sculpture fills a gap: "The armies needed it." Those who lost their comrades, but also the families who gave one of theirs: a child, a spouse, a husband, a father, a mother or a sister, but beyond the family, there was also a need for a place where the whole nation could pay homage. "
This monument is unfortunately destined to evolve. Space has been left to write the names of the next dead for France. The last was added just before the ceremony. This is that of Brigadier Ronan Pointeau, killed on 2 November by an explosive device in northeastern Mali. More than 30,000 French soldiers are still engaged in Opex. They are deployed as part of Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, Operation Chammal in Syria and Iraq, and Operation Daman in Lebanon.
[Webseries] 🗓 Next November 11 will be inaugurated the tenth High place of national memory
➡️ In the heart of the @ André-Citroën Park, @Paris, the National Memorial pays homage to the fallen soldiers for France. ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/IXc4hsukbK
To find the name and the route of the soldiers killed for France in external operations: Opex, a history of external operations since 1963, Historian-Council, published by Anopex.