What were you doing within the Daguet division?
I was then a young lieutenant, reconnaissance team leader in the 11th Marine Artillery Regiment. In 1990, Europe was in high spirits because of the fall of the Berlin Wall: there was talk of the “peace dividends’’, and it was thought that there would be no more major war. Like many French people, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait stunned me.
With my regimental comrades, we began to prepare to intervene in this distant desert, which stimulated our imaginations. As the holiday season approached, the order fell on a Monday evening, and a few days later the entire regiment embarked in Toulon. As soon as I landed in Yanbu (Saudi Arabia), I joined as a precursor to the French forces already present in Saudi Arabia in order to prepare under the best conditions for the deployment of the 11th RAMa.
What were the main challenges ?
Topography! For the first time, we had been equipped with GPS. Artillery requires great topographic precision, and under the conditions we encountered, the challenge to be met was significant, and intellectually stimulating. The aforementioned GPS was not always reliable, and you had to be able to do without it, if necessary. We had therefore implemented navigation techniques similar to those of sailors. We practiced during the rare free time.
Fortunately, it all worked out well. My regiment fulfilled its mission perfectly. The phase of land combat was short, and intense. Our soldiers were awesome: motivated, professional, and united in difficult times. The training we received paid off. But the most striking thing for me remains the bond that existed between the members of my reconnaissance team. The mails were hit and miss, and the Internet didn’t exist yet. Fortunately, the links between the staff were stronger…
Why did you mention the desert?
I didn’t have the chance to go to Kuwait, and only made a few trips to Saudi towns near our deployment areas. So during Operation Daguet, I spent five months in the desert. A desert of sand, rocks, pebbles; cold when we arrived, then hot when we approached summer. The desert is a fascinating environment for a European. Many poets and reporters (Arabs and also Europeans) wrote it before me.
My mother mailed me a book called Arabian Sands, written by Wilfred Thesiger. I then read T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom upon my return. Yes, the desert is a fascinating place, certainly harsh and ruthless for those who live there, but fascinating.