Special Operations Regiment - 3 Para Belgium
The Land Component is the biggest component of the Belgian Defence in terms of men. The component is composed of the Motorized Brigade, the Special Operations Regiment, a Military Police unit, an Information Operations unit, a movement control group, four training camps and an instruction center for land troops.
In total, there are about 10600 men and women serving the component. Their mission: preparation and training for foreign missions. The Land Component permanently deploys hundreds of servicemen in operations anywhere in the world, both on land, in the air and at sea. Their missions include providing support in Afghanistan, support the Iraqi army and the coalition in Iraq, support in Mali, boarding at sea and participation in Military Partnership Programs in several African countries.
With its 35 units, the Land Component is involved in numerous international operations and carries out a wide range of missions. On the Belgian territory, the land troops can provide support to the population and they are responsible for defending the country.
Their motto is therefore hence: “With people, amongst people, for the people”, because a soldier of the Land Component is always in the field, at the heart of the conflict. Together with their colleagues, they are in direct contact with civilians and opponents, which makes their mission a constant challenge.
Special Operations Regiment
At present, the Special Operations Regiment (SOR) consists of the “Special Operations Group”, the 2nd and 3rd Para-Commando Battalion and the related training centres for commandos and paratroopers. The 6 Gp CIS has also been integrated in the SOR to provide the communications support.
The SOR particularly focusses on the execution of special operations, military activities performed by specially organized and equipped units, using carefully selected personnel and special tactics, techniques and engagement methods.
These methods are often discrete, through water, on land or by air, with the mission of carrying out sensitive actions on several occasions, such as the collection of information, control of precision bombing by the air force or the liberation of hostages anywhere in the world. The SOR can play an active role within the context of the fight against terrorism and the assistance of friendly democracies in their struggle against irregular groups.
In addition to their current training for a number of more conventional missions, such as capturing and securing an airport or evacuating nationals from a crisis area, the Para-Commando battalions are also trained to carry out special operations. Depending on the nature of the mission, they may execute them in support of the Special Forces Group or in a completely autonomous way.
3 Para-Commando Battalion is one of two battalions of the Special Operations Regiment. At any given time, the regiment keeps one battalion ready to act as fast intervention force. 3 Para is located in Tielen, Belgium.
In 1955, the 3rd Para-Commando Battalion was created out of elements of the 1st Para Battalion and the 2nd Commando Battalion during their presence in Belgian Congo. As a new unit, 3 Para took over the traditions and logo of the Volunteer Corps for Korea. This corps earned multiple honorable citations during battle. During the independence troubles of Belgian Congo, 3 Para took part in airborne actions on Kikwit, Kindu, Manono and in raids on Lokandu and Kasongo. In 1962, the battalion leaves Burundi and finds a new home in Lombardsijde (Belgium). In the course of 1977, the battalion moves to a former British ammunition depot in Tielen, their new home. The camp was named “Camp P. Gailly” to honor Captain Pierre Gailly who lost his life during the Korean War. In 1983, the battalion becomes an exclusively Flemish battalion and has the privilege to have His Royal Highness Prince Filip of Belgium as platoon commander. From 2006 to 2010, 3 Para is the pilot unit of the Rapid Intervention Force of NATO (NATO Response Force – NRF).
The final change for 3 Para presents itself when the Recce squadron, located in Lombardsijde, is disbanded and part of the squadron moves to a new Recce squadron with 3 Para.
Throughout its history, the battalion has also adopted two institutes for mental and physical disabled children and adults, the MPI “De Mast” in Kasterlee and “t Margrietje” in Tielen.
Main tasks for the battalion include:
- Deployment as a Rapid Intervention Detachment (RID) both nationally and internationally
- Delivering the backbone for a battle group of the EU Battle Group (EUBG) or one dedicated to the NATO Response Force (NRF)
- Evacuation of non combattants (Non-combattant Evacuation Operations – NEO)
In support of the above mentioned, classic or special operations, 3 Para is able to execute these missions entering the difficult and complex theatre of operations via air (air transport/jump) or amphibious way, both day and night. In addition, CRO (Crisis Response Operations) can also be executed to prevent or stabilize conflict situations.
In order to be able to execute all missions requested, the battalion often deploys within Belgium but also abroad to hone their skills. The author was able to attend an ‘after sunset’ Special Operations training mission which was executed by 3 Para, supported by assests of 1 Wing operating out of Beauvechain with 2x NH-90’s for the air assault and 1x Agusta which operated as medivac.
According to the scenario, Kalashnikov equipped insurgents kept themselves hidden in an ammunition storage location situated in a tower. Members of a Recce team observed the location during a period of 36 hours. On the second day of the operation, just after sunset, members of 3 Para were inserted by two NH-90 helicopters and immediately after touchdown, the offensive group rushed towards the tower. With the aid of night vision goggles (NVG), they managed to seize the tower and eliminate all insurgents.
The rest of the group remained behind to provide cover. The scenario wrote that one member of the attack force got wounded during the attack on the tower and the team members had to take appropriate action to evacuate the casualty from the combat zone.
After having returned, covered by the own forces, the patient was stabilized and brought to the Agusta helicopter which operated as Medevac. Once the casualty was evacuated from the battlefield, the remainder of the teams were picked up by the NH-90’s and brought back to Beauvechain airbase where the mission will be debriefed in detail to take on board the lessons and apply them when called upon.
Article and pictures: Michiel Peeters