Peacekeeping: Helping The Unhelpful

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September17, 2008:  Most Western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are largely doing peacekeeping, not peacemaking. But that means they have to deal with a common problem; general lack of order among the civilian population. This is manifested by theft, assault (robbery, rape and just ill will) and general mayhem. The bad behavior is directed at the peacekeepers, as well as the civilians they are trying to help. Peacekeepers have to ensure that their own camps are well guarded, and that their own equipment and vehicles are kept secure when outside the camp.

The basic problem is that the peacekeepers are dealing with a lot of families that have been reduced to poverty, and are often missing a husband. The teenage males tend to gather as informal gangs, and engage in theft, or worse. Even the women can be violent, especially when food is short and distribution efforts lacks sufficient troops to maintain order. It's not uncommon for the teenagers to turn hostile, and increasingly violent, towards the peacekeepers. This sometimes results in some of the kids getting killed or wounded, when they get too violent.

Since the peacekeepers are the only source of order, and essential supplies, they are often disliked. That sounds strange, but the peacekeepers are foreigners, and the locals tend to expect miracles. When the miracles don't happen, anger follows. If you didn't have irrational attitudes like that, the area would not have developed the instability that brought in the peacekeepers in the first place.

The local leadership is usually lacking as well. Again, these guys tend to be part of the problem (usually because of incompetence and corruption). Peacekeepers cannot expect to encounter good government, or even cooperation. The kind of disorder that requires peacekeepers usually springs from civil war of some sort. Too many people think the peacekeepers are working for the other side, and act accordingly.

Many U.S. Army troops, especially senior NCOs and mid-level officers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, have had prior peacekeeping experience in the Balkans during the 1990s. The similarities are striking. A smaller number of soldiers and marines have had peacekeeping experience in other parts of the world, as have Western troops in general. When notes and experiences are exchanged, the similarities are inescapable.

There are no easy solutions for these problems. Trying to establish a local constabulary can work, although there's always the risk of these temp cops using excessive force. That tends to be the norm in places that need peacekeepers. Another possible option is getting the locals (especially any elders who can talk sense to the surly teenagers and distraught mothers) to form a local council that can settle disputes and generally calm frayed nerves.

No matter how chaotic the situation, there are always some options for making things better. But that usually because there's no place to go but up.

 


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