Peacekeeping: June 14, 2005


The U.S. Army is adding Peacekeeping 101 to the training it gives company and battalion commanders headed for Iraq. Over there, American combat troops are getting lots of peacekeeping experience, when they arent engaged in combat operations. Actually, company and battalion commanders are getting lots of peacekeeping jobs, mainly because they tend to be the go-to guys in the areas where their units operate. Most foreign NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) are staying out of Iraq because of the terrorism. Al Qaeda is hostile to non-Moslems, and most NGOs are run by Christians, or non-Moslems. The terrorists are also hostile to foreigners of any nationality, unless they are al Qaeda members. Thus American commanders find themselves the logical people military reconstruction and Civil Affairs personnel will turn to. In addition, local Iraqis looking for help, as well as whatever NGOs in the area.

So far, the commanders have been improvising. Their division or brigade staffs sometimes create short documents giving tips and guidelines for how to handle peacekeeping duties. And these officers also make use of Internet resources, especially army controlled bulletin boards and download sites for material, and advice, on what to do. Now the army is going to develop some more systematic training.

American combat commanders have found themselves in this kind of situation for over a century. When the American Civil War ended, it was officers in command of units occupying the southern states that were often called upon to sort out peacekeeping situations. This meant getting involved with local government, or lack of same. Officers had to improvise and use their imaginations. It happened as recently as the U.S. Army operations in Bosnia and Kosovo in the late 1990s. 

As much as the army tries to provide military Civil Affairs units, and civilian operators (either U.S. government, local government, or NGOs) for this sort of thing, power tends to devolve to American combat commanders. In situations where there are still a lot of armed hostiles running around, its the nearest American combat commander who has the most options. People looking for peace, and some relief, regard the American commanders as the people most likely to get the job done. So far, these officers have been successful, although the degree of success varied according to individual talent for this sort of thing, and how intense the combat situation was. In the past year, more and more hot zones in central Iraq have calmed down. This has allowed combat commanders, who are still running patrols and raids, to spend more time on the reconstruction and government aspects of peacekeeping.

In addition to more peacekeeping training for commanders, the army is also adding more people, especially at the battalion level (the smallest unit that has a staff for the commander), who can take care of some of the peacekeeping details. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, the local leaders (tribal or religious), often want to see the local American Amir (commander) to discuss, and resolve problems. Its been that way for over a century, and is not likely to change in the future. 


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