On Wednesday, 17 May, according to a yearslong tradition, this year’s handover-takeover of the chief of staff positions of EUFOR Operation ALTHEA and NATO Headquarters Sarajevo (NHQ Sa) took place at a joint ceremony held in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Lieutenant General Dr. Gábor Böröndi, Chief of General Staff, Hungarian Defence Forces was also present at the event organized in Camp Butmir, Sarajevo.
It is already a tradition in the life of EUFOR Operation ALTHEA – a mission safeguarding the peace of the Western Balkan country – and the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo co-located with it that the positions of chief of staff are filled by Hungarian senior officers. Speaking about this international engagement, Lieutenant General Dr. Gábor Böröndi said that “The Western Balkans is of paramount importance for the security of Hungary.” He added that “We do all we can to ensure it, and that is why our soldiers come here to serve peace, security, and the security of Hungarian people as well”.
The Chief of Defence also said that Hungary and the Hungarian Defence Forces aspire to nominate a Hungarian commander for EUFOR Operation ALTHEA in the second half of 2024, when Hungary will be holding the presidency of the European Union.
In his speech delivered at the ceremony closing the one-year tour of duty abroad – which was attended, among others, by Major General Dr. László Sticz, Commander, HDF Force Modernization and Transformation Command, Brigadier General Balázs Szloszjár, Commander, HDF General Staff Joint Operations Command and Control Centre and Krisztián Pósa, Hungary’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Bosnia-Herzegovina – outgoing EUFOR Chief of Staff Brigadier General Zoltán Somogyi said that he had filled his first-ever operational command position in the Sarajevo peace mission in an extremely complex security environment.
He pointed out that Europe is being exposed to several external and internal threats, from illegal migration to terrorist threats to the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine. Thus, according to Zoltán Somogyi, European nations must take greater responsibility than before for their own security and capabilities.
The acceptance of this idea on an international level is well exemplified by the fact that a number of old-new countries joined EUFOR Operation ALTHEA in the last one year, so Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are already members of the international coalition, which brings to 22 the number of Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) of the European Union’s peacekeeping mission. Besides, both Bulgaria and Romania have increased their troop levels in the Balkans Joint Operational Area by sending one infantry company each.
While expanding on last year’s results, Brigadier General Zoltán Somogyi recalled that in addition to Exercise Quick Response 2022, which has been accomplished with full success – and on which the Airbus H145M helicopters of the Hungarian Defence Forces took off to fly operational search and rescue sorties for the first time – the Hungarian contingent has successfully completed several training sessions during which its members were exercising together with local units of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (AF BiH) already on battalion and brigade levels.
Brig. Gen. Zoltán Somogyi asked the EUFOR troops to continue sustaining their readiness for their tasks. He thanked everyone that he had worked together with during his one-year tour of duty, and wished Brigadier General Ovidiu Lungu – the incoming Chief of Staff EUFOR from the armed forces of Romania – future success in his new role.
COMEUFOR Major General Helmut Habermayer praised Brigadier General Zoltán Somogyi’s conscientious service and commitment, and at once welcomed Brigadier General Lungu to the mission. In his speech, the new Chief of Staff EUFOR expressed his gratitude for the trust, and his sincere belief that they can achieve real results through collective work.
Colonel Róbert Szász, Chief of Staff NHQ Sa also completed his one-year tour of duty abroad on the same day. While handing over his position, he said that one year earlier he had arrived in the Western Balkan country to perform a service full of testing moments. He admitted that he had not been wrong on that count. Beyond everyday routine tasks, the changed and still continuously changing international security situation has posed many challenges, some of which require new methods. He addressed all his comrades who had served with him in Sarajevo and expressed his thanks for their commitment in supporting his work.
NHQ Sa Commander Brigadier General Pamela McGaha emphasized that Hungary continues to be one of the strongest supporters of the missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She said that the Hungarians’ commitment is manifested in each rotation, when such excellent and well-trained officers as Colonel Róbert Szász and Colonel Vilmos Nosza are sent to perform the tasks.
This position is nothing new to Colonel Nosza, since he already served at NHQ Sa between 2016 and 2017, and remembers this time as one of the nicest periods in his military career. He said that for this reason, it is a great pleasure and honor for him to have the opportunity to prove himself again here, in an international environment.
Following the ceremonies, Lieutenant General Dr. Gábor Böröndi met the Hungarian soldiers currently serving in Sarajevo at a staff meeting. The Chief of Defence highlighted that today the EUFOR mission is one of Hungary’s most important international engagements, which guarantees the security of not only the region but also Hungary. Thus, he expressed his thanks to the personnel who are contributing to this operation, saying that he is proud of their service, and cited the work of the National Support Element deployed there as an example to be followed.