Peacekeeping: June 5, 2003


The Department of Defense has never been very enthusiastic about peacekeeping, even though the U.S. has the largest force of peacekeeping troops on the planet. These specialist troops are in SOCOM (Special Operations Command). These include the five Special Forces groups (about a thousand highly trained troops each), 13 Civil Affairs battalions (some 4,000 troops, 90 percent of them reservists) and five psychological warfare battalions (three reserve units). But the generals have been reluctant to think of these troops as peacekeeping forces. This was seen in the Balkans peacekeeping operations, where military and civilian diplomatic and cultural experts were present, but largely ignored. The "can do" attitude of the combat units leads to solutions that work in the short term, like "keeping things quiet" until the local American commanders tour of duty is over, but allows longer term problems to grow. The best example of this is the growth of criminal gangs and the persistence of ethnic military and civilian organizations in the Balkans. In other words, the troops keep the place out of the headlines, a year at a time. But they do nothing to fix the problems. Special Forces, Psychological Warfare and Civil Affairs troops can implement long term solutions, with an assist from the State Department, NGOs and other organizations. But there has always been a struggle between the "warrior approach" and the "diplomat approach" in the Special Forces. Even though Special Forces troops have always been trained to do both, being part of an army that emphasizes the warrior angle, and disparages the less violent approach, produces senior Special Forces commanders who start to lose touch with what their guys can do, and are doing, out in the field. But the Special Forces have kept the faith. At the troops level, your average Special Forces A Team can still go into a very different (from the U.S.) culture and make connections and get things done without causing long term problems. SOCOMs success in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if the full story of their operations there have yet to emerge, have given the peacekeeping professionals increased stature and clout among the warrior minded generals who run things. So there is change, but it's awfully slow.




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