Kosovo Operations
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    Cool Kosovo Operations

    Kosovo Operations

    by Maj James D. Davis

    ‘A well-trained and disciplined military unit is the best foundation upon which to build a peacekeeping force.’

    —LTG T. Montgomery,
    Senior Military Representative to NATO

    It has been said that we, as military professionals, should always be doing one of two things—participating in combat (or military operations other than war (MOOTW)) or preparing for combat. Training for combat is a difficult task that takes insight, planning, resources, and clear goals with measurable standards. The preparation for operations in an “other than war” environment, such as in Kosovo, is especially difficult. The skills required to be successful encompass all conventional capabilities and additional skills that are oftentimes inconsistent, or even contradictory, with those conventional warfighting capabilities. Close and continuous civilian interaction, while conducting primarily law enforcement functions, requires a whole new set of skills other than those dealing with “mere combatants.”

    Preparing U.S. troops for operations in Kosovo requires a more extensive training plan that includes familiarization with the history and political sensitivity of the region. The extensive battlespace and complexity of the situations encountered in the primarily urban environment will force decentralization, while making decisions at the tactical level quite often leads to strategic ramifications.

    There are no secret recipes for conducting peace operations in an uncertain urban environment. However, there are numerous factors and considerations that, when properly implemented during training, can prepare a unit for operating in Kosovo or any similar environment with its own set of intricacies and nuances.

    As I discuss the doctrinal application of maneuver warfare in Kosovo, I must apply it to the multiethnic, primarily urban, nature of the environment. Most, if not all, civil functions have been degraded to the point of nonexistence. Therefore, training requirements to effectively operate in Kosovo rely primarily on solid competency in conventional warfare. Only with these capabilities as a foundation can a unit “graduate” to the more complex tasks of integrating additional assets and capabilities to the unit. The inherent political sensitivity in peace operations requires clear-cut guidance that allows small unit leaders to understand that their decisions, more often than not, have strategic and political implications. Commanders must train with this in mind to ensure that their men will be able to act decisively when “in country.”

    Doctrinal Foundations: The Marine Corps Model
    The importance of a sound and comprehensive doctrine has never been more apparent than in the preparation and execution for operations in Kosovo. The Marine Corps approach to doctrine may differ in theory and application to that of other Services and countries. Yet, due to the Corps’ experiences in MOOTW, it subscribes to doctrine in a manner that facilitates operating in this complex environment. Doctrine, from a Marine Corps perspective, is defined as:

    . . . a teaching advanced as the fundamental beliefs of the Marine Corps on the subject of war, from its nature and theory to its preparation and conduct. Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking about war and a way of fighting, . . . a mandate for professionalism, and a common language. . . . Our Doctrine does not consist of procedures to be applied in specific situations so much as it establishes general guidance that requires judgment in application. The Marine Corps style of warfare requires intelligent leaders with a penchant for boldness and initiative down to the lowest levels. . . . We will not accept lack of orders as justification for inaction; it is each Marine’s duty to take initiative as the situation demands.1

    Judgment and decisionmaking are attributes required from all men of all ranks. Never were these demands more important to the success of an operation than in the complex and confusing environment of the Serbian province of Kosovo.

    Our doctrine, MCDP–1 [Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1], Warfighting, professes centralized planning and decentralized execution. The importance of this publication and the principles that it expounds were truly evident in the missions conducted by India Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/8 [BLT 3/8] during Operation JOINT GUARDIAN in Kosovo. The experiences that our unit had operating in the ‘three block war’ brought to life the ‘Strategic Corporal.’ The decisions made by a Corporal or Sergeant operating at the tactical level of warfare in Kosovo had the potential for strategic implications.

    India Company was assigned a Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR). Based on a detailed mission analysis, what began as a Company TAOR soon transitioned to platoon sectors with squad checkpoints. This decentralized execution was the only way our company could adequately cover our TAOR. This method of employment relied heavily on the abilities of our Corporals and Sergeants to make decisions based on the mission and the commander’s intent.2

    The success of operations in Kosovo relied heavily on the trust the units had in the abilities and judgments of their young leaders. Mental agility is perhaps the most important attribute a unit will bring to the Kosovo Peacekeeping Force (KFOR) theater of operations.

    There is no doubt in my mind, that the success of a peacekeeping operation depends more [than] anything else on the vigilance and [on] the mental alertness [of] the most junior soldier and his NCO [noncommissioned officer], for it is [on] their reaction and immediate response that the success of the operation rests.3

    The nature of the environment in Kosovo is one of both urban and open terrain, with cultural and ethnic fault lines, generations of hatred and violence, and groups with political agendas. There is crime and lawlessness and a total lack of civil functions—no fire, police, or judicial systems. The vacuum created upon the cease-fire agreement left the civilian population highly vulnerable to criminal opportunism. Units must be trained and prepared to perform tasks they never would associate with a warfighting function. The very essence of the mission becomes one of creating a safe and secure environment free of violence, retributions, and lawlessness. Decisive and offensively oriented actions are an absolute necessity and “omnipresence” is the first goal of the peacekeeping force.

    The company was tasked with enforcing the Military Technical Agreements [MTA] in accordance with the KFOR Rules of Engagement [ROE], despite daily changes and exceptions. The NCOs acted as civil affairs representatives, diffusing problems within the company TAOR, while employing assets seldom seen at the company level (i.e., U.S. Army Psyops [psychological operations], EOD [explosive ordnance disposal], HETs [human resources intelligence exploitation teams] and translators). The Marines of 3d Platoon illustrated the need for all Marines to be prepared to perform the tasks required of a civil affairs trained serviceman, with well-developed negotiation skills. This platoon’s command post was located in a bakery complex, containing several shops used by Serbian businessmen. The bakery operators, Albanians, cut the lock of a clothing store, which had been closed for several months. Marines located at a security checkpoint nearby, observed civilians loading merchandise into a truck. The two Marines alerted the Sergeant of the Guard [SOG] who investigated, concluding that looting was in progress. The SOG requested the platoon QRF (quick reaction force), which dispersed a growing crowd. With the arrival of the QRF, the situation was diffused and the clothing was returned to the store. An agreement was brokered in that the Serbian businessman agreed to pay the outstanding rent and vacate the store. The settlement was enforced by observing the store front from a security outpost, 24 hours per day. The situation this Marine Sergeant influenced is not unlike many others that can be expected in these ethnically turbulent regions. As a result of the decisions made by this Sergeant, both the Albanians and Serbians living in this section of Gnjilane could see the neutral motivation of our actions. Additionally, contact was made with other Serbians whose presence was unknown to us prior to the event. Most importantly, the civilians in this area realized that KFOR was the only legitimate law enforcement organization in the area.4

    This is but one of many examples of the nature of the environment in Kosovo upon initial entry in June 1999. All of the men in the company immediately recognized the complexities and nature of this environment. The presence of unconventional tasks required equally unconventional solutions. Initiative was critical down to the corporal level. Credibility of the unit, quick decisive action by the leaders, and the threat of overwhelming force were the most important and effective deterrence measures.


  2. #2
    Training Requirements: The Importance of a Conventional Capabilities Baseline
    Key to the success of maintaining a safe and secure environment is gaining and maintaining a credible combat capability to utilize military force to deter or neutralize ethnic violence amongst Kosovo-Serbs and Kosovar-Albanians and gypsies. The mere presence of a disciplined combat-ready force deters violence by its unpredictable omnipresence across the TAOR. This capability must be grounded firmly in the basics of what good combat units consider the “blocking and tackling” of combat operations—patrolling, reconnaissance, reporting, rapidly assessing changing situations, rapid decisionmaking, decisive measured responses to violence, defensive security measures to protect the force, night operations, and the effective integration of all means of supporting the ground force (aviation, air, and ground mobility), as well as the maintenance of an offensive mindset.

    With these conventional capabilities as a baseline a unit must interject the specific tactical and technical skill sets required to effectively operate in the environment. The following list is not all-inclusive, yet gives the unit leader some ideas to establish an overall effective training plan to support operations in Kosovo:

    • Familiarization of the political situation. Identify key leaders, militarily and political, specifically where your unit intends to be employed
    • Customs, culture. Your personnel must be able to differentiate cultures and respect the traditional values each ethnic group utilizes to define themselves whether Orthodox Serb or Albanian Muslim.
    • Nongovernment organization (NGO) interaction. NGOs will undoubtedly roam freely in your area of operations. They are a wealth of information. Learn the organizations you are most likely to have contact with and establish some interaction with them during your training program. Learn their charter, mission, and philosophies and you may discover their motivations.
    • Threat capabilities. Discuss the current military and armed civilian groups (Ministry of Internal Affairs, police forces, Kosovo Liberation Army) and how may they pose a threat to your unit and, more importantly, your mission.
    • First aid. Enhanced first aid training is always helpful but even more so in the environment in Kosovo. Treating and assisting civilian casualties will facilitate positive relationships and open many doors to cooperation and information.
    • Detainees. Standing operating procedures for detaining, handling, and treating civilians will facilitate a professional, capable deterrence to criminals. Proper handling and evacuation, as well as proper processing and documentation, of detainees can be cumbersome tasks.
    • ROE. Understanding the proper application of force to accomplish the mission may take precedence over the ROE. Oftentimes legitimate, deadly force is not always the answer, whether justified or not.
    • Language and negotiation skills. Young leaders seldom get the experience of working through a translator or learning effective negotiation techniques. Training with translators will put your unit light years ahead of most units.
    • Public affairs/media awareness. Embedded media is not a new method of handling the press. Local media personnel would probably welcome the opportunity to embed with your units during training.
    • Mines/unexploded ordnance (UXO) handling. Mines and UXO are constant threats in the Balkans and most countries having experienced a civil war. Every person employed in KFOR should understand the techniques for avoiding mined areas and should know how to identify, mark, and report UXO and mines in the proper format to their higher headquarters. Make the assumption that there will never be enough engineers to find or enough EOD personnel to mark and destroy these silent killers.
    • Non-lethal weapons training and tactics. Crowd control and dealing with civilian disturbances is an implied task with any potential peace operation. Non-lethal weapons are not difficult to acquire and train with, but proper prioritization of time is necessary to make a unit ready to utilize this capability.
    • Urban operations. Urban patrolling, mounted and dismounted, was the single most utilized tactic to ensure proper enforcement of the mission on maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kosovo. In the cities and villages—where the majority of the conflict was centered—the streets are narrow, the alleys even narrower, with a multitude of complex three-dimensional terrain. Patrols often had to transition quickly from patrolling to more conventional offensive, military operations on urbanized terrain, and thus, the majority of all training should be done in an urban setting and preferably in times of reduced visibility—night—when the majority of criminal activity and violence occurred.

    The majority of the above training requirements are validated through the following situation summary that provides an assessment of the many challenges a typical squad leader experienced in Kosovo in June and July 1999.

    Ranging from estimating the trafficability of roads to detaining hostile gunmen, Marines from India Company coordinated their efforts with adjacent platoons and companies in an effort to ensure the well-integrated, constant presence of U.S. forces. Shortly after the company’s arrival in Gnjilane, Kosovo, Marines from 3d Platoon assisted Marines from Company L and Weapons Company in the task of apprehending a sniper located in an apartment complex near their checkpoint. This followed the shooting death of an Albanian motorist and the injury of several others. A fire team from our Company, and a squad from two others detained the Serbian sniper in short order. During a more typical day, team and squad leaders conducted vehicle and personnel searches, day and night security patrols, and the actions of a platoon, or company quick reaction force (QRF). No one patrol brought the same challenges as the other. Patrol leaders often had to play the role of policeman, fireman, and corpsman; concurrently, they performed tasks such as those involving crisis intervention and civil negotiations. Support for these patrols, most often led by a Corporal or Sergeant, often consisted of a civilian linguist and Marines from the human exploitation team (Counter-Intelligence). These additional assets were invaluable to the Patrol Leader, and ultimately the Company, in creating a more potent intelligence gathering team, and were utilized whenever the situation allowed it.5

    Preparing U.S. troops for operations in Kosovo requires a more extensive training plan that includes familiarization of the history and political sensitivity of the region, as well as a conventionally well-trained and disciplined unit supported by a Service doctrine that breeds decentralization in operations. The extensive battlespace and complexity of the situations encountered in the primarily urban environment will force decentralization, and decisionmaking at the tactical level will quite often have strategic implications.

    The environment in Kosovo is complex and requires the most mentally agile and disciplined military forces and strong leaders that we can develop. If we are to ask our Marines to conduct peace operations, we must give them the tools to effectively prepare so as to ensure their success. Effective and realistic training is the key to mission success in any operation. However, the unique nature of the thousands of years of ethnic hatred and violence make Kosovo—and the entire Balkan region—one to be studied with great scrutiny. Furthermore, it should be used as a litmus test to validate our philosophy of warfare and armed conflict—if it is malleable enough to pass the test of peace operations, and our units are adept and agile enough to achieve mission success in this environment, they will undoubtedly be prepared for the innumerable other contingencies in the contemporary operating environment of the 21st century. Below is an excerpt from BLT 3/8’s after-action review, following a month of operations with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (26th MEU(SOC)) as the initial entry force for KFOR, on contingency training:

    The current training emphasis in the Marine Corps supports the execution of other types of actions in an ‘other than war’ environment. Our current focus on warfighting [conventional] skills prepares us for the rigors of combat, the uncertainties of full-scale warfare and gives us the mental and physical training needed to survive in uncertain and hostile environments. Because of this training, we develop subordinates in the areas of decision-making, mental and physical courage, adaptability and versatility. We also instill in them the warrior spirit necessary for success. With these intangibles fully developed, the Marines of our Corps have proven to have the ability to adapt to the uncertainties and complexities of the ‘Three Block War’ and perform in environments where destroying the enemy [is] not our primary focus or objective.6


  3. #3
    Without the utmost trust and confidence in our NCOs, we would not have been able to fully saturate our TAOR in Kosovo and, thus, enforce the MTAs and stabilize the situation is Gnijlane. NCOs and their leaders must believe that their decisionmaking ability and level of professional development will truly be put to the test—on a daily basis—in a mission of this type. The NCOs in the 26th MEU(SOC) met these challenges and performed magnificently. They did so solely because they were trained in an environment that allowed them to make decisions as well as mistakes, and they were responsible for their actions and inactions. There is no special formula or training manual that prepares soldiers or Marines for operations in this type of environment. The practice of the tenets of maneuver warfare, coupled with the flexibility of the well-trained and well-disciplined United States Marine produced mission success in one portion of the KFOR theater of operations. The unit’s presence, bearing, and demeanor demonstrated daily to the people of Kosovo that we were there to maintain peace and stop violence. That confidence and presence, in and of themselves, stopped many incidents from occurring. We strove to be unpredictable. In fact, we appeared to be “everywhere at all times.” Many civilians asked us if we ever slept. Our ability to conduct these small unit patrols and checkpoints boiled down to one word—trust. We trained our NCOs to operate without the physical presence of their senior leaders. Consequently, when the time came to make decisions on their own, they did so with certainty and success. Any commander who thinks he must be everywhere and make every decision will not be successful in a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo—or any such environment.

    Peace Operations commanders and staff planners—even in companies and battalions—may find their efforts require a level of sophistication formerly associated only with soldier-statesman at the highest level.7


    1. MCDP 1, pp. 43–45.

    2. Davis, Capt J.D., “Empowering the NCO in Kosovo,” essay dated June 1999, p. 2.

    3. Harbottle, Brigadier M., United Nations Forces, Cyprus, as quoted in Joint Publication 3–07.3, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Peace Operations, Washington, DC, p. II–3.

    4. Davis, p. 3.

    5. Ibid., p. 5.

    6. BLT 3/8, Operation JOINT GUARDIAN after-action report, dated 26 July 1999, p. 2.

    7. Center for Army Lessons Learned, May 1996.

    >Maj Davis served as the CO, Company I, BLT 3/8, 26th MEU(SOC) during Operation JOINT GUARDIAN in 1999. He returned to Kosovo in August 2001 as the XO, BLT 2/8, 24th MEU(SOC) during Operation RAPID CHEETAH in support of the continuing mission of Operation JOINT GUARDIAN. He is currently a student of advanced military studies at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Leavenworth, KS.



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