By Capt. Christopher B Bradley (USAREUR)November 21, 2016
HOHENFELS, Germany-- Training exercises at a Combat Training Center are usually what their names imply: preparation for combat operations. But sometimes, the mission is not combat focused. Sometimes, as with units supporting the 17 year NATO mission in Kosovo, Soldiers must train to interact seamlessly and effectively with civil authorities while simultaneously standing ready to maintain security when necessary.
In Kosovo, NATO forces are the third response force. This means that the police and security forces of Kosovo are the first lines of public safety. However, tensions can run high in this divided area, and sometimes mass protests get out of hand. Should a situation grow beyond the capacity of the police, another organization, the European Union Rule of Law Mission -- Kosovo, acts as a second response force to contain the situation. Only if these two elements can't stabilize the situation will NATO forces take action.
This ability to provide order when necessary is a key mission of the NATO forces in Kosovo. "We provide the security and stability which allows the politicians to grow in their ability to run their own country. It's a real safety valve to allow the other institutions of government to grow and develop their capabilities," U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, said during a recent visit here to observe the 37th Infantry Brigade as they prepared to deploy to Kosovo.
This is the unique mission that the Joint Multinational Readiness Center trains every time a unit prepares to assume the mission as Multinational Battle Group -- East in Kosovo. The MNBG-E is a U.S. Army brigade headquarters augmented by U.S. and multinational units, and serves as a maneuver element subordinate to the NATO Commander of Kosovo Forces.
To replicate the unique environment of Kosovo, JMRC enlists a range of Kosovo experts that advise the training unit how to understand the operating environment and interact with Kosovo institutions. One expert is Sebastian Blaser, a former advisor to the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.
"We train units to work beyond the parameters of traditional organizations. Infantry works with the Red Cross and USAID. Each needs to see beyond their doctrine and solve problems," said Blaser.
During these mission rehearsal exercises, Soldiers from across the Regular Army and the National Guard assemble for their pre-deployment training. After more than a decade of highly kinetic warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, the scenario they experience here helps reframe the problem set they will face in Kosovo.
This means changing the focus of training from large scale maneuver on a pre-defined enemy, to executing Peace-keeping operations. A key difference is to train units to identify and respond to potential causes of conflict, rather than actual enemy targets.
For example, Soldiers train to interact with governmental and non-governmental actors, to understand the day-to-day operations of the town they patrol. Sometimes, they replicate administrative boundary line patrols that NATO soldiers regularly conduct in coordination with Serbian forces to monitor the shared boundary. Other times, they meet with officials, or simply train to keep their military skills fresh.
But for the times when security cannot be kept, JMRC trains soldiers to be ready to respond. This is accomplished through infantry soldiers dressed in civilian clothes acting as angry protestors, who then begin to riot. The Battle Group is called, riot gear is adorned, and soldiers help break up the riot.
"This training helps develop the automatic reactions, keep your emotions under control, and do your best to resolve something relatively peacefully and not have to resort to kinetic action," said Ambassador Delawie. "It's like anything else in the military: you practice it over and over, it's more likely to be correct."
The mission of NATO forces in Kosovo is complex. In addition to riot control, it includes facilitating civilian freedom of movement and fostering trust in U.S. and NATO.
"KFOR is NATO's most successful mission, and it still continues. It isn't over yet," said Delawie. By training diverse mission sets, JMRC facilitates the continued success of the NATO mission to build peace and stability in the area.