This series of images are a mixture of photographs from various sources taken in the Ivory Coast in November 2002 – January 2003, the period of the highest tensions and the heaviest combats. The vast majority of the images are from the central western sector, from the city of Man where the Compagnie d'Eclairage et d'Appui (CEA, a support company) fought against the rebel forces, to the city Duékoué where the 1 st and 4 th Companies clashed with rebels groups.
Transall - the workhorse of the French Air Force after landing on Ivorian soil.
Arrival at Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city.
For most of the units arriving in the Ivory Coast the first few nights were spent in Abidjan inside the 43 BIMa camp, under extensive hangars improvised as sleeping areas. The simple metal foldable beds are fitted with anti-mosquito netting as malaria was a real danger.
Once our weapons arrived we were issued with our armaments and ammunition and it stayed with us - on the person - for the duration of the operation.
Offloading ammunition pallets. The wooden and plastic cases contained cartridges from 5.56mm to 12.7mm in calibre, in addition to hand and rifle grenades, mortar rounds, anti-tank rockets and anti-tank missiles. It was quite an arsenal of firepower for the entire company.
Instruction was given on how to disarm and subdue potentially hostile personnel - here one-on-one fighting tactics are taught.
How to take someone prisoner.
A group of the CEA being presented to the Colonel of the 2nd REP in Daloa. These were some of the first units to arrive in the Ivory Coast following the crisis in October/November 2002.
A convoy of French troops arriving in Bouaké, a large city in the centre of the country.
All means of transport were used for rapid deployment to the most affected areas.
A fully loaded Transall is about to land in the field airstrip.
Negotiating more checkpoints on the way to the combat zones.
French forces in Yamoussouke closely watched by ever present media - they followed the troops throughout the country.
After spending a week in Abidjan, during which the situation in the central-western part of the country had seriously deteriorated, we were sent on a mission to help stop the rebels' advance.
The initial mission was to form checkpoints around a small village called Dibobly, about 40km eastwards along the main route from Duekoue. The village was situated on the edge of the Sassandra river (here forming a wide lake). The bridge that spanned the river was a vital landmark that had to be protected from potential attacks - hence the checkpoints.
The first checkpoint, along the main route. Every vehicle that passed from west to east had to be stopped and the driver interrogated on where he/she were going, what they were carrying (the big trucks carried mostly cocoa beans) and where were they coming from.
The VAB armoured personnel carrier with its 7.62mm machine gun was used to back up and support the sentry standing at the barrier.
Another angle of the VAB. Later on we were forced to build sandbag protection walls around the position as the rebels were armed with RPG-7 armour-defeating rockets.
Every day roughly 800 to 1000 refugees left the region to migrate to the safer areas further south and to the east. The minibuses were packed with at least 25 passengers each, plus their meagre belongings. Our job was to question them and their driver on whether they could provide any useful information on rebel movements or activities in the area.
A local female villager passes the checkpoint position.
More villagers. The photo shows quite well how things are carried around - on the heads. Even the females were able to port amazingly heavy baskets filled with fruits or wood - in addition to a baby in a sling tied around the waist - for kilometres on end. Children also worked hard from a very early age, for the benefit of the community.
Another checkpoint just outside the village of Dibobly. This dusty road led northwards and had to be patrolled daily to ensure that no hostile elements approached our positions. The chicane barrier was put in place by us to slow down the passing vehicles and give us some more time to react should an armed rebel pick-up try to pass. We spent a total of about four weeks at Dibobly before moving westwards to Duekoue to replace the 1st Company.
The small town of Guitrozon, belonging to the city of Duekoue. The view is taken from a prominent rock formation as seen in some of the pictures later on. Items of note are the electric light poles that were never lit up and the strange mix of almost modern brick-style houses and mud-and-straw shacks.
One of the many defensive positions around the checkpoint christened "Calvi". This is what the rebels would be looking at as they tried to approach. Our bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets are placed on a tree branch just to the rear, ready to use at a moment's notice.
Checkpoint "Calvi", looking southwards from the hotly contested hill-line. The photo was taken much later when it was a little safer to venture out so far from our positions, marked by two great bunkers in the road that housed heavy machine guns, anti-tank missiles and gave cover to an ERC-90 Sagaie armoured car. The road and the surrounding areas were filled with spent cartridge shells, live RPG-7 rockets and other discarded military material.
The bunker that housed the 12.7mm Browning machine guns as well as emplacements for snipers with their FRF-2 rifles. Just to the left of this bunker, behind a mound of earth, is the ERC-90 Sagaie belonging to units of the French regular army. Its 90mm cannon proved quite useful in shelling the rebel attacks, alongside the 81mm mortars based further down in the city itself.
The bunker is almost finished, just needing some camouflage. At the time we had at our disposal an MPG wheeled bulldozer/earth-mover to help clear ground and set up the sectors of observation. Sadly it was during the protection of this MPG that one of our VAB vehicles was hit by an RPG-7 rocket, severely injuring the driver and the group leader.
Another view of the bunker. The roof was sandbagged to provide some protection from shell splinters and ricocheted bullets.
A staged photograph in another prepared position, this time at a different checkpoint christened "Lumio". We only spent a short time there, as it later became the responsibility of the 3rd Company. Note the Minimi light machine gun, present in every combat group (squad equivalent).
Back at "Calvi", and a rebel delegation is making its way towards our position. The stolen vehicles were painted with slogans and insignias of notorious insurgent/terrorist forces (including Al Qaida). This time the negotiations went smoothly and eased some of the tension between the two sides.
Two caporals (corporals) posing on top of the VAB. This one is armed with a 12.7mm machine gun, many others had the 7.62mm ANF-1 in its place instead.
Our combat group (squad), with an improvised combat "standard". In the group there was the leader (a Caporal-Chef), a Chef d'Equipe (a Caporal), the VAB driver, a Minimi machine gunner, a LGI mini-mortar operator, an AT4CS anti-tank rocket launcher operator and a simple "Grenadier Voltigeur" armed with a FAMAS and hand grenades.
An aimpoint optical sight destroyed by a shrapnel from a mortar shell. An aimpoint optical sight destroyed by a shrapnel from a mortar shell.
Bringing in a wounded legionnaire from one of the forward positions.
Two 20mm cannon-armed Gazelle helicopters, in the heat of action at "Calvi".
Two PUMA helicopters in the action at the coast area.
A MILAN anti-tank missile with its operator belonging to the Section MILAN of the CEA vigilantly watches over an open-area zone.
An interesting image taken through the lens of the OB-50 night vision device.
Arms captured from rebel soldiers or found abandoned during patrols in the various zones. Besides the AK-47 clones can be seen an RPG-7 rocket launcher, an RPK light machine gun and a PPS-43 submachine-gun.
Some of the weapons found or captured at Calvi. Amongst the wide variety of AK-47 clones, there are two RPG-7 rocket launchers, two French AA-52 machine guns and russian-stamped ammunition boxes.
These two pictures are photographs of the VAB armoured personnel carrier that was took a direct hit from an RPG-7 rocket. In the first picture, the entry hole can be seen, just above the lower left hand corner of the driver's access door. The deadly jet of molten metal that consequently was propelled to the interior of the vehicle severly wounded the driver, destroyed the steering wheel, penetrated the steel gear transfer box and came out the other side, burning the feet of the Chef de Groupe (the squad leader) who was standing up on his seat, manning the 12.7mm machine gun in the cupola. The driver and the squad leader were immediately medevac-ed by helicopter to Yammassoukro and then by airplane to a French hospital. The driver, suffering from severe wounds and burns to his arms and chest area had his left forearm amputated and undertook several operations to save his mangled right forearm. The squad leader was a little luckier, his burned feet leaving no permanent damage once healed. The incident demonstrated the devastating effectiveness of the relatively primitive RPG-7 rocket with its hollow charge explosive warhead. A weapon dating back to the 1950's, the RPG-7 has been manufactured in numerous versions by numerous countries in enormous quantities. Its widespread availability, ease of operation and low price on the world's black arms markets assured that it quickly became the armor-defeating weapon of choice for terrorist, guerilla and rebel insurgent groups worldwide. Like the American Army units found out in Iraq, Somalia and other various conflicts in the Middle East, the relatively lightly skinned troop transport vehicles like the VAB, the M113 and the Hummer are extremely vulnerable to even the most primitive of the various types of RPG-7 warheads. Many different studies and efforts have been made in an attempt to counter this threat, from “in the field” armor plating to sophisticated kevlar and even reactive armor kits for the various wheeled and tracked armoured personnel carriers, all with various degrees of success. The fact remains that in any combat scenario the RPG-7 threat must not be underestimated and measures need to be taken to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable vehicles against this threat.
Negotiating the passage was often done by means of a mobile phone.
FANCI troops offloading ammunition and supplies from a transport plane.
The ammunition boxes identifies this as a box of 7.5mm ammunition in belts for the old AA-52 medium machine-gun of French origin.
A French commando together with a soldier belonging to the loyalist ivorian army (the FANCI).
Another shot of the French commando with a FANCI soldier, armed with an RPG-7. The FANCI group seems to be motorized on a standard civilian 4X4 pick-up.
A unit of the FANCI troops. Here they seem to be armed with the ubiquitous FN FAL and G3 assault rifles.
A French commando posing with two FANCI soldiers. Note the camouflaged P4 jeep belonging to the commandos in the background.
A FANCI soldier armed with an RPG-7 rocket launcher, and with the typical AK-47 webbing on his chest. The RPG-7 is an early model with plain "iron" sights.
Two irregular loyalist ivorian troopers, one with a scrounged helmet and armed with a vintage Second World War Russian PPS-43 submachine-gun, the other with an FN FAL assault rifle.
Two French commando soldiers posing with a group of FANCI troops.
A group of ivorian loyalist troops. The uniforms and armaments are all items scrounged from various corners of the country.
A FANCI soldier demonstrates the stance during the launch of an RPG-7 rocket. This seems to be one of the more modern launcher tubes, equipped with an optical sighting device rather than just plain "iron" sights.
Another two FANCI soldiers with the RPG-7. The one at the rear seems to be wearing a helmet fitted with some sort of a decorative effect at the top.
A scene at a typical ivorian checkpoint - armed irregular loyalist ivorian soldiers causing more mayhem than calm, often necessitating heated negotiations using mobile phones with those in charge.
The FANCI are invariably armed with hand-me-downs from the French Army: here the relatively modern ERC-90 Sagaie is flanked by the ancient AML-60 armoured car.