View Full Version : Kosovo peacekeeping helped prepare troops for Iraq

05-02-03, 06:26 AM
May 01, 2003

Kosovo peacekeeping helped prepare troops for Iraq

By Chris Tomlinson
Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The dusty city streets of Baghdad look nothing like the rural, winding roads of Kosovo. But for many U.S. soldiers on foot patrol in Iraq’s capital, their experience keeping the peace in Europe is proving invaluable in the Middle East.
U.S. troops have again found themselves on uncertain ground in a far away country, not sure whom to trust. After three weeks of being shot at by Iraqi forces, U.S. soldiers now play with Iraqi children and awkwardly chat in pidgin English with men who claim they were once part of the Iraqi forces trying to kill them.

For many of the men in A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, the scenario is reminiscent of the time they spent as peacekeepers in Kosovo, from May to November 2001. And they say it gives them an advantage.

“It helps you read people better. You know by their actions what they are thinking, you learn to look in people’s eyes to know what they will do,” said Sgt. Joshua Dziewiatkowski of Eaton Rapids, Mich.

Before U.S. troops are assigned a peacekeeping operation, they undergo special training in how to deal with homeless civilians, thieves, crowd control, searching homes and conducting checkpoints. But nothing compares to the experience of working in a foreign country, where only a few people speak English and Americans stand out like sore thumbs.

In Baghdad, a few troops often find themselves surrounded by hundreds of curious civilians, a vulnerable position in a country where U.S. forces have already found more than 800 suicide bomber vests.

“We knew that when the war ended we would be around for a while,” 1st Lt. Pete Brost, the 1st Platoon leader, said. “The biggest question for me is where to draw the line between the soldiers and the civilians. We’re trying to develop a new relationship with the Iraqi people ... so how far do you stand off, do you put up (barbed) wire or let civilians come up and talk to you?”

Most U.S. commanders have allowed their soldiers to mix with civilians, buying food and drink from Iraqi shops and letting children play around the checkpoints, where they inevitably demand candy or money.

“They’ve been through it all before,” Brost, of Carter, N.J., said of his men, who served in Kosovo. “They’ve dealt with the ‘Give me, give me, give me’ kids and people coming up constantly and asking for stuff. They know how to speak with people and still keep their guard up.”

But after weeks of combat, the soldiers are still nervous about being so close to civilians, especially when they know there are forces who still want to kill them.

“A lot of people speak a little English, and they’ll tell you they were soldiers and they fought us,” Spc. David King, 21, of Camden, Ala., said. He admitted that making the transition from combat soldier to peacekeeper has been tough, but his Kosovo experience helped.

On the streets, Iraqi civilians greet U.S. patrols with a cheerful, “Hello, mister!” They inevitably tell the Americans they are happy to have U.S. soldiers on the streets, chasing away looters and solving everyday problems.

“It’s good to know that locals are somewhat on our side,” Brost said, explaining how civilians often tell them where to find weapons caches or thieves.

But the soldiers suspect that once they pass by, many Iraqis grumble about foreigners in their country.

“There are a lot who will tell the truth, but a lot who will lie to you,” King said. “I learned that in Kosovo.”

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press