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Summary: The Armed Forces’ Assistance Mission to Observe the Austrian Eastern Border from September 1990 until Today

Christian Segur-Cabanac

After the fall of the "Iron Curtain" and of the totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the number of illegal border crossings along the eastern border of Austria increased dramatically. That is why the Home Department requested the Armed Forces to observe the border. Thus on 9th September 1990 the cabinet decided to entrust the Armed Forces with the observation of a borderline section in the Burgenland for 10 weeks. As the respective preparations had been almost completed, the Armed Forces were able to begin the observation with two assistance battalions already the following day. As a result, the illegal border crossings shifted into the Lower Austrian area, and for this reason the operation area was extended to the north as far as the river Danube on 17th September already. When it became obvious that ten weeks of an observation mission would not be sufficient, the mission was extended for 26 weeks; since 1991 extensions have taken place every year. At the same time the observation in the operation area "South” was started, where the third assistance battalion - now called assistance command - was deployed. After 1700 to 1900 soldiers had been on duty in the assistance mission in 1991, in the following year their number was increased by 400 in order to observe the "green frontier” bordering Hungary. In 1999 the operation area was extended to the river March in Lower Austria, and the rotation period was extended to six weeks.

The assistance forces observe a total of approximately 470 km of border-line and are tasked to deter, and pick up respectively, illegal border crossers, and to hand them over to the organs of security. Originally the operations division of the army headquarters was in command of the mission, but in 2002/2003 the joint command and control staff took over. In the operations area itself the military regional command of the Burgenland is in charge, which also has to coordinate all military efforts with the security directorate. The observation proper is carried out by so-called assistance platoons, consisting of 42 soldiers in four assistance squads and one command and control detachment. During the day 156 detachments are on duty, whereas 312 are on duty at night, the latter being equipped with heat image and ground radar devices.

So far more than 300.000 soldiers have been deployed in the observation mission, and they have picked up 80.000 illegal border crossers from 110 countries, and handed them over to the security authorities. Thus, this mission has been the most important task of the Armed Forces at home, and will be in the foreseeable future as well, until Austria’s EU-neighbours will have attained Schengen-maturity.

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Eigentümer und Herausgeber: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung | Roßauer Lände 1, 1090 Wien
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