Rome '08 Workshop

From the Balkans to Afghanistan: Dealing with the Challenges 

General Karl-Heinz Lather

SHAPE Chief of Staff 

General Karl-Heinz Lather

We have been in the Balkans since 1992, supporting UNPROFOR and enforcing the no-flying zone. During an operation that was called Deny Flight, NATO aircraft helped UNPROFOR protect its forces and served as a deterrent to the then-warring parties. In 1994, cooperation between the United Nations and NATO intensified, and NATO aircraft conducted close air support and air strikes on selected targets. 

The security situation in Bosnia Herzegovina worsened in July 1995 with the fall of the U.N. Safe Havens, Srebrenica being just one of them. NATO was then asked to conduct air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions with heavy weapons and then, during Operation Deliberate Force, which was conducted between the end of August and mid-September 1995, we flew a total of 3,515 missions. This operation was crucial in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table at Dayton and, at the end of 1995, bringing all NATO nations together with 18 non-NATO nations, including Russia. A force of 54,000 troops was provided in IFOR to provide a safe and secure environment for the implementation of what we call the General Framework of Agreement for Peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

Several years later, NATO air power was used again in Kosovo. The Kosovo crisis reached a peak in the middle of 1998, when large-scale violence led to hundreds of civilian casualties and the displacement of nearly 300,000 people from their homes. International efforts over the following months failed to reach a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Despite efforts to maintain a cease-fire, with international observation and verification supported by NATO, the humanitarian and security situation continued to worsen. 

In the spring of 1999, NATO made a unilateral decision to intervene to bring about the end of the humanitarian crisis and to stop violence and repression. We made air attacks against selected targets in the former Republic of Yugoslavia in order to compel compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions and force withdrawal of their force from the province of Kosovo. Mandated later by the still-in-place U.N. Resolution 1244, NATO-led forces dedicated by Operation Joint Guardian were deployed in Kosovo. where they still are. And you heard the number where we currently stand. Now, what can we learn from all that? 


In the area of command and control of forces, it is necessary to have a robustly resourced force from the very beginning of each peace enforcement operation. This is essential, not only to deal with the challenges in theater and to demonstrate the resolve of the international community to implement the relevant peace agreement but also to ensure that critical military capabilities are met from the outside. If unfilled, such critical shortfalls are likely to remain for some time and will place those serving in operation theaters at additional risk, including risk of life. Unity of command is desired and is demanded from the military from the outset. However, in the case of an alliance of nations, it must be recognized that nations will rarely give full command of their forces to the operational commander. Forces will arrive with restrictions, both upon the deployment and their people’s employment. These restrictions or caveats place limitations on the operational and tactical commanders. It is imperative that these limitations be fully understood by all in the chain of command and that action is taken often at the political level to insure that over time these restrictions are minimized or ideally fade away or are removed. With rules of engagement being developed as part of each operation’s plan, some participating nations might be more restricted because of constitutional or political reasons or constraints. Once again, such differences need to be harmonized to ensure that forces can coordinate and act unanimously throughout the theater of operations. 


The second point is the need for situational awareness. That is a key element of the successful implementation of the military aspects of any peace enforcement operation, and insures that commanders at all levels maintain situation awareness. This point is vital not only for commanders to know where they are in relation to other units but also to understand their environment to the fullest extent. 

At the beginning of an operation, maintaining situational awareness will largely be in the hands of regular military units supported by intelligence elements that are organic to them. However, over time, when general compliance has been achieved, there is the opportunity to reduce what one could call the hard edge of the military profile and move to operations that are intelligence driven. Lessons learned in Bosnia-Herzegovina and I think in Kosovo clearly demonstrate the utility of small teams like liaison and observation teams that discreetly carry their side-arms and are deployed to local municipalities to meet, talk to, and understand the people and, of course, to report to the chain of command. Understanding how individuals feel about particular issues and when preemptive action might be needed by the military to ensure that the military element of the operation maintains the initiative is key. 


My third point is that international peace forces deployed to a crisis reaction operation must be aware that they may have to fulfill non-military tasks. We do not like that. Each operation is conducted under an internationally approved mandate and, for Alliance operations, the tasks that a force can conduct are detailed in the relevant operation’s plan. Should new tasks arise, as currently is the case for KFOR, then NATO as an organization may decide that they can be undertaken. 

While NATO forces generally do not undertake nation-building tasks, it is important that the local governments and security institutions of the country in which NATO forces operate are brought to maturity as quickly as possible and that indigenous capabilities and capacities are developed. During the initial stages of operations, forces must be capable of maintaining a safe and secure environment if necessary, up to the use of lethal force. However, as operations develop, the maintenance of the environment gradually must be guaranteed through the use of non-lethal means. In KFOR, and earlier in SFOR-IFOR, the biggest challenge was to build up crowd- and riot-control units’ capabilities to deal with demonstrations, disturbances, and civil unrest. In some cases in which KFOR troops contributed, nations had to change national legislation to allow their forces to be equipped and trained for that task. Once achieved, this capability became what I think is a very powerful and effective deterrent. Also in Kosovo, KFOR had to secure and has to secure many patrimonial sites of religious and cultural significance. Given the sensitivity of the parties in Kosovo to these sites, we think the use of military force for this purpose is appropriate, although manpower intensive, because it helps to calm emotions and the situation. 


At some point in time, we become ready for the mission handover. Normally, peace support operations follow a similar routine: preparation is first, deployment is second, then execution, and then redeployment. The center of gravity for us lies in the execution phase, which could be further split into a number of stages pending the specific situation. Based on the assessment of the overall situation in theater, leaders might decide to conduct a mission handover to other organizations. The best timing is foreseen at the end of the deterrent-present stage—which Mark Fitzgerald alluded to as well—just before moving into what we call minimum presence posture. The latest example of such a handover was in Bosnia-Herzegovina, when, at the completion of SFOR, NATO handed over to EU ALTHEA and left behind only a minimal footprint in the country. Our experience tells us that such a handover has to be planned very carefully, including the important tasks of the various organizations, the delineation of such tasks, intelligence sharing, and providing access to historical data. 


The last point is the need for cooperation with other organizations. International peace forces are not usually deployed alone; a number of international governments and non-governmental organizations are deployed as well. Each of these organizations addresses specific target areas and develops its own mostly independent lines of operation. Experience tells us that there is really a need to coordinate all these activities in theater, to deliver a comprehensive and even-handed approach to the conflicting parties. NATO commanders are instructed to routinely maintain good relations with the heads of other organizations in the area. Recently, we developed the concept of liaison and observation teams in Bosnia-Herzegovina and liaison monitoring in Kosovo. The purpose is not only to deal with representatives of the local populations but also to coordinate with other organizations working in the same area. That is of mutual benefit to all parties concerned. 

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