Villagers surprised by soldier invasion during French army exercise

Resident: ‘I opened my shutters and saw soldiers firing right in front of me’

A view of French army soldiers lined up, wearing camouflage
The exercise was designed to help soldiers train for combat in real-life conditions, said the leading colonel
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Villagers in southern France were surprised to see French and Spanish army forces firing rifles in their streets this week, during a “real-life” army exercise operation.

More than 600 soldiers descended on Villefranche-de-Rouergue in Aveyron (Occitanie) - including from a French brigade, as well as Spanish legionnaires - overnight on Sunday, March 24.

The operation - dubbed ARES - was led by Colonel Thomas Riou, head of the 13th demi-brigade of the Foreign Legion.


J-3️⃣ E X E R C I C E A R E S

Le GTIA MONCLAR a eu l’honneur d’accueillir le général de brigade Valentin Seiler, @COM6BLB. Présentation du dispositif, suivi de la situation tactique et des actions au contact.

EXERCICE EXERCICE@armeedeterre @LegionEtrangere

— Chef de corps 13eDBLE (@Cdc_13eDBLE) March 26, 2024

Soldiers dressed in stone-coloured camouflage fatigues lay on the village’s cobbled streets and gathered in groups as they undertook the military exercise, which included the firing of gun blanks. Military vehicles and tanks were also present.

The exercise was to help soldiers “train for combat in real-life conditions”, said Colonel Riou, including an offensive “in the face of an attacking enemy”.

La #13DBLE accueille durant deux semaines une compagnie de la Légion espagnole. Après une semaine de tir sur le camp du Larzac, cette dernière est pleinement intégrée au GTIA MONCLAR : interopérabilité et progression mutuelle en vue de s’emparer de Villefranche de Rouergue !

— Chef de corps 13eDBLE (@Cdc_13eDBLE) March 26, 2024

Residents had been informed of the exercise, but one local said that they “weren't expecting such a huge deployment”.

“I heard explosions. I opened my shutters and saw soldiers firing right in front of me,” he told La Dépêche.

Some streets in the village were left covered in ‘blank’ shell casings at the end of the morning, he added.

Colonel Riou said that by the end of the morning, the village had been “taken back”, and the operation moved to “liberate” the nearby town of Decazeville.

Tomorrow (March 28), the operation is set to continue in Rodez. This time, it will focus on counter-terrorism exercises and strategies.

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