Kosovo Force Rotation Prepares for Peacekeeping Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2012 As the next rotation to serve in the NATO Kosovo Force completes its final training, its members are looking beyond the warfighter skills they’ve refined during combat deployments to focus on the distinctly different challenges of peacekeeping.
Army 1st Lt. Torrence Yarborough from the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade meets with a role-playing coffee shop owner during a Kosovo Forces training exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Aug. 25, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Sharp
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It will be a profound departure,” Army Lt. Col. Rob Stilwell, chief of staff of the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, said in comparing the upcoming, 10-month mission to his unit’s deployment to Afghanistan in 2007.
“In a peacekeeping operation, we really have to recognize that there is no enemy, and that we have to be focused on a much broader spectrum of issues than we did in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he told American Forces Press Service during the mission rehearsal exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.
Stilwell is preparing to serve as chief of staff for KFOR’s Multinational Battle Group-East, an element currently led by the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.
The deploying unit, to be commanded by Army Col. Blake Storey, includes National Guard members from South Carolina and eight other states, as well as members of the Army Reserve and troops from several other nations.
As part of KFOR, they will serve alongside another multinational battle group and five joint regional detachments to help set conditions for a stable, democratic, multiethnic and peaceful Kosovo.
KFOR entered Kosovo in June 1999 in support of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244. The Balkans at that time were in turmoil, facing the biggest military and humanitarian crisis since World War II.
A mounting conflict between the Serb-dominated military of the Federal Yugoslav Republic and the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army demanding independence from Belgrade had claimed some 10,000 lives and sparked the exodus of almost 1 million Albanian refugees.
At the height of the KFOR mission, 39 nations were contributing about 50,000 troops. Today, the NATO-led mission continues, supported by about 6,240 peacekeepers from 30 nations. The upcoming deployment represents the 16th for KFOR.
As Stilwell and his fellow soldiers are learning, peace support operations are vastly different than the combat missions many of them have conducted in the past.
“We train as warfighters, but in this instance, we really are not in the business of warfighting,” Stilwell said. “So we can’t necessarily address the issues that arise in the same manner that we would in a kinetic fight. Our enablers aren’t necessarily guns and ammo. Our enablers are our ability to form relationships and having meaningful discussions and negotiations to inform and influence the population of Kosovo.”
The unit mobilized three months ago to train for the mission -- first at their home station at Fort Jackson, S.C., then at Camp Atterbury, Ind., then at Hohenfels for an intensive final mission rehearsal exercise to wrap up this weekend.
When the first elements of the KFOR-16 rotation begin deploying to Kosovo next week, Army Lt. Col. Eric McFadden is committed to ensuring they arrive ready to take on whatever awaits them.
“The goal here is to replicate the challenges they might face, and in some cases, accelerate those challenges,” said McFadden, senior trainer for JMRC’s “Raptor” team, during a break from the training.
He and his observer-controller-trainers monitor the situation in Kosovo and travel there regularly to meet with KFOR leaders and get firsthand assessments of conditions on the ground. That, McFadden explained, helps them make the training they provide as realistic and valuable as possible.
For example, when Serb demonstrators attacked NATO peacekeepers who removed roadblocks that had shut off a main road in northern Kosovo last November, JMRC introduced a similar training scenario within days.
The current training scenarios reflect escalating tensions north of the Ebar River and ongoing challenges to the newly independent Kosovo state. “We have incorporated all those aspects into the operating environment here,” McFadden said.
The scenarios typically unfold in realistic-looking Balkan mock villages with role players depicting agitated local citizens. A protest or riot may erupt, and a barrier or barricade will appear, preventing freedom of movement by not only the KFOR, but also the local people.
KFOR will be tasked to restore freedom of movement and ultimately, calm.
“They have to figure out the best way to do that,” McFadden said. “The goal is to do that from a nonlethal perspective. The primary means is through negotiations.”
Much of the training focuses on crowd-control techniques and negotiation and problem-solving skills required to engage with key leaders to deescalate tensions, he explained.
During their after-action reviews, McFadden and his team regularly emphasize the importance of perceptions -- by the Kosovars and the media. “One of the most significant challenges [KFOR troops] face are the potential implications of tactical actions with strategic impact that is virtually real time,” he said.
Demeanor means a lot going into an operating environment, he tells them. “If you go in heavy and strong and look like you are looking for a fight, there will be a fight,” he said. And a seemingly minor misstep can have unintended second and third-order consequences that could turn public opinion against KFOR.
By using cameras and audio during the training, the Raptor team helps the deploying teams understand exactly how they come across when they respond to the exercise scenarios.
“We have to think a lot harder about what we do and say, because the effects are much more subtle, but no less profound,” Stilwell said.
He called the JMRC training “invaluable” in challenging him and his fellow soldiers to focus on the important nuances associated with peace operations.
“The heavy hand is not the best way to deal with every set of circumstances,” he said. “So this has been a very, very good resource, here at Hohenfels, to help all of the soldiers, from E-1 to O-6, recognize that this is a very different ballgame.”
It’s a mission he said they’re honored to take on.
“Personally and professionally, we are looking forward to another challenge,” in a different part of the world, Stilwell said. “It is another opportunity to hone our skills in something other than what we have become accustomed to over the years.”