It’s not like there are rebel hordes nightly assaulting the earthen walls of the EUFOR North Star Camp near Iriba, eastern Chad, where two platoons of Polish troops, plus a grab-bag of French and Irish, are hunkered down in the heat, sand and occasional mud. Still, the Irish troopers man the ramparts, and when the base’s French bartenders – yes, bartenders – drive into town to buy soft drinks and smokes, two of them ride in a four-seater armored car (pictured). “It’s cute,” said one soldier. “And it floats.
For the E.U. refugee-protection force in Chad, force protection is a matter of friendly relations with the locals, a certain wariness around grabby children and sensitivity to the fact that they’re a bunch of (mostly) rich white guys in a land where rich white guys are automatically treated with a measure of suspicion. In other words, it’s all about knowing the “human terrain.”
Chief Mendi Bouland drives to the Iriba market with three other soldiers. Every shop he stops at, he gives something back. At the little hole in the wall where he picks up three cases of Pepsi, he lets some kids toot his truck’s horn. Down the road, in the open-air market, he asks a meat vendor if he minds if the accompanying reporters snap some photos. On their way out of town, he halts the truck and kids run up begging for gifts. “Cadeau! Cadeau!” We’ve been warned that throngs of children could create road hazards.
Bouland tosses out a handful of cookies in foil wrappers then orders his driver to floor it before the gaggle of kids becomes a dangerous mob. Before the truck pulls away, one child extends his hand, offering a mango to the towering Frenchman.