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The New Face of Peacekeeping 


by Harold Kennedy 

For the 1,800 or so U.S. troops—mostly Marines—who deployed to Haiti in March, it was, in many ways, back to the future.

The Marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934. In the mid-1990s, more than 22,000 U.S. military personnel returned as part of an international peacekeeping operation.

Now, U.S. forces are back again. Their mission, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news briefing, is a familiar one: “contribute to a more secure and stable environment ... , help support the constitutional process, protect U.S. citizens, facilitate the repatriation of any Haitians interdicted at sea, help stand up a multinational interim force and create conditions for the arrival of a U.N. multinational force.” By the end of March, the U.S. forces had been joined by 1,500 troops from France, Canada and Chile.

In the past 12 years, the United States has taken on such assignments in half a dozen other countries, including Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo—and as operations move from combat to post-conflict reconstruction—Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In each of these instances, local police, courts, penal services and militaries were destroyed, disrupted, disbanded or discredited and were consequently unable to fill the post-conflict security gap,” James Dobbins, director of the Rand Corporation’s International Security and Defense Center, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. U.S. military services were ill prepared to cope with these problems, he said.

Although the Defense Department spends billions of dollars on training forces for combat, Dobbins said, it has made no comparable investment in its ability to conduct post-combat stabilization and reconstruction operations. The reason, officials said, is a combination of cultural biases against peacekeeping operations under U.N. control and previous failures, such as the 1993 operation in Somalia.

Some military officers, however, argue that the United States has a long history of peacekeeping. “If you look at what’s going on in Afghanistan, it follows the pattern of American frontier wars,” said Army Col. David R. Gray, who served with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. As in the 19th century American west, U.S. military forces in Afghanistan spend much of their time patrolling to protect settled populations against marauders, he told a conference on peace and stability operations at George Mason University, in Arlington, Va.

During much of the first part of the 20th century, Gray noted, the Marines performed constabulary duty in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

At the end of World War II, 1.6 million U.S. troops remained in Europe for years to help maintain stability during reconstruction, Dobbins said.

Modern peacekeeping operations, with blue-helmeted troops, made their debut with the establishment of the United Nations. Since 1948, the U.N. has launched 56 such missions, 13 of which still are active.

U.S. ardor for peacekeeping operations cooled in the 1980s and ‘90s as American forces participating in them suffered significant casualties. In 1983, 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers died in Lebanon, when their barracks were bombed. A decade later, 17 special operations troops were killed during a firefight in Somalia. In both cases, the peacekeepers were withdrawn.

Since then, the Defense Department has taken a number of steps to improve its peacekeeping efforts. In 1993, the Army established a Peacekeeping Institute, as part of the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. Its job was to teach such concepts to the mid-level Army officers who attend the college and to advise senior leaders.

The Clinton administration, meanwhile, established an Office of Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement Policy, under the defense secretary, to keep better tabs on such operations.

President Bush came into office opposing use of U.S. forces for peacekeeping operations. “The president has said repeatedly that the purpose of America’s military is to fight and win wars,” not to participate in peacekeeping missions, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters in 2001.

In July of that same year, Rumsfeld reorganized the Pentagon’s peacekeeping unit, renaming it the Office for Stability Operations. The Defense Department defines stability operations as military campaigns that take place outside of combat, usually in a post-conflict situation.

In January of 2003, the Army announced its intention to close the Peacekeeping Institute and transfer some of its functions to the Center for Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

After the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, however, U.S. leaders began to rediscover the value of peacekeeping operations. In both countries, U.S. forces quickly triumphed in combat, but post-conflict stability operations left them stretched thin.

More than 114,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and nearly 12,000 are in Afghanistan, struggling to impose order, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Some specialties, such as military police and civil affairs, are in such short supply that the Army is training troopers from other fields, such as artillery, combat support and transportation, to fill in.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, meanwhile, is increasing its peacekeeping role in Afghanistan. In August of last year, NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force, a unit of nearly 6,000 NATO and non-NATO troops. It was NATO’s first deployment outside of Europe, the alliance’s supreme commander, U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In December, Jones said, ISAF replaced Germany as head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Konduz. At the end of March, there were 12 PRTs working in Afghanistan’s 32 provinces. Eight were run by the United States, and the remainder by other coalition partners. NATO has committed to standing up five more of the teams.

The PRTs include military civil affairs specialists, civilian aid workers, contractors and force-protection troops, explained John D. Finney, director of political advisors for the State Department’s Bureau of Political Affairs. He recently served as political advisor to the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.

“The mission of the PRTs is to promote, first and foremost, stability,” Finney said. “You have to have that before you can rebuild the country.”

A “fundamental element” to restoring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, Abizaid said, is replacing the two countries’ security forces, which were destroyed during the fighting.

In Iraq, the United States and its allies have trained more than 200,000 members of the Iraqi Army, Civil Defense Corps, police services, border patrol and infrastructure protection agency.

In Afghanistan, approximately 8,900 soldiers have been enlisted into the new Afghan National Army, Abizaid said.

“A key to long-term Afghan security self-sufficiency is to reform the ministry of defense and general staff from a Soviet-style bureaucracy to a modern, professional armed force,” Abizaid said. “By linking the ministry of defense and general staff structure to that of the regional commands, we will have the framework required to expand the reach of the central government throughout the country.”

Important deadlines, however, are approaching for the peacekeepers. In Iraq, the coalition is supposed to turn over power to a provisional Iraqi government by June 30, with elections to follow within months.

In Afghanistan, presidential elections were scheduled for June, but they have been postponed until September. Before the elections can take place, 10 million Afghanis have to register to vote, Finney said. At last count, only one million had done so.

Meanwhile, the experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be convincing U.S. leaders that more attention needs to be paid to peacekeeping operations.

In October, the Army decided it was not going to abolish its Peacekeeping Institute. Instead, it was going to be reorganized, expanded and renamed the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.

The institute’s mission will be to study the strategic implications of stability operations, help senior Army leaders understand and deal with those implications and explore the impact of international organizations, foreign governments and non-governmental organizations, said the acting director, Col. Mike Dooley.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s chairman, Dick Lugar, R-Ind., argued that the military services needed more help from civilian agencies in conducting post-conflict operations.

“The military has led post-conflict operations primarily because it is the only agency capable of mobilizing sufficient personnel and resources for these tasks,” he said. “If we can improve the capabilities of the civilian agencies, they can take over many of the non-security missions that have burdened the military.”

With this in mind, Lugar and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., have proposed legislation urging the president to create a Stabilization and Reconstruction Coordinating Committee. The committee would be chaired by the national security advisor and made up of representatives from all appropriate federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Defense, Commerce, Justice, Treasury and Agriculture, as well as the Agency for International Development.

The bill would authorize the creation of an office within the State Department to coordinate the civilian component of stabilization and reconstruction missions. The secretary of state would be authorized to establish a reserve corps of civilian volunteers, available to be called up on a moment’s notice to respond to emerging international crises.

Hans Binnendijk, director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University, told the committee that the services also need to change to meet emerging peacekeeping needs. Among the steps that he proposed were creating two new joint stabilization and reconstruction commands, one in the active component and one in the reserves, and encouraging NATO to establish similar structures.

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