Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Lessons from Rwanda IV: force discipline is essential

In any multinational mission, it helps if there is a clear chain of command and all the national forces are singing from the same song-sheet. Sadly, that all too often fails to happen. UK and Canadian and Dutch troops in Southern Afghanistan have taken the brunt of the fighting there because other NATO nations refuse to deploy their forces to the South, to engage in peace enforcement or (in the case of the Germans) to leave their compounds after dark.

One particular problem is when national contingents contact their home nations to seek clarification of (or over-ride) the orders of their commanders. This, and some simple cowardice, hamstrung UNAMIR’s efforts in the opening day of the Rwandan genocide:

“[Brigadier General] Henry [Anyidoho, deputy force commander of UNAMIR,] was totally frustrated with the Bangladeshi troops. Their APCs [Armoured Personnel Carriers] were either mysteriously breaking down (we later found out that the crews were sabotaging the vehicles by placing rags in the exhaust pipes) or they couldn’t be reached (a confirmed tactic by some of the crews was to move a short distance from the headquarters, shut down the radio and return later, claiming they had been held at a roadblock.) Those who actually arrived at the place to which they had been sent exhibited a lack of zeal in pursuing their missions.

“A mob of angry locals, fired up by extremists, were blocking the entrances to the Amahoro Staduim complex [which was the UNAMIR force HQ and main base, and] to which thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were attempting to flee. Henry kept urging the Bangladeshi [contingent of UNAMIR] to clear the area, but their commander was not responding to his orders and was seeking direction from Dhaka. The couple of APCs that had returned to the stadium were sitting idle while Kigali Sector was pleading for them to respond to calls for help from other UNAMIR personnel and Rwandans at risk. I ordered Henry to inform the Bangladeshi commander that he was contributing to the potential deaths of Rwandans and UNAMIR personnel and that he would be held accountable. That night I found out that he had received direct orders from his chief of staff in Dhaka to stop taking risks, stay buttoned down, close the gates and stop carrying Rwandans in the APCs. He did exactly as he was ordered, ignoring the UNAMIR chain of command and the tragedies caused by his decisions.” (Shake hands with the Devil: The failure of humanity in Rwanda, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, pp243-4)
Lest the reader think that this was a problem among the developing nation’s troops alone, however, Dallaire was equally scathing of aspects of the Belgian forces that were his most capable troops. Upon arrival the Belgian Para-Commandos, fresh from Somalia, were caught “bragging at the local bars that their troops had killed two hundred Somalis and that they knew how to kick ‘nigger’ ass in Africa” (p112). Later, during a visit from the Belgian army’s inspector general and the commander of the Para-Commando Brigade from whom the troops were drawn, Dallaire “broached the serious deficiencies in leadership, discipline and training of the Belgian battalion… Belgian soldiers were often frustrated by the patient negotiations required of peacekeepers… They saw themselves as the crème de la crème, as vastly superior soldiers to their UNAMIR colleagues. They seemed to view the mission as a sort of Club Med assignment…

“There had been dozens of incidents of disciplinary infractions. The Belgians were constantly being caught out of bounds in nightclubs that had been restricted for their own safety. They drank on patrol and got into barroom brawls…dancing and drinking in… the local hot spot, with their personal weapons… The Belgians often refused to salute or pay proper respect to officers of other contingents, especially officers of colour. There were Belgian soldiers who went absent without leave to Zaire and got up to heaven knows what until they were detained by the authorities…
“At the beginning of February, on of my Belgian patrols had roughed up [a senior Rwandan army officer and leading hard-liner, and later a] group of Belgian soldiers in civilian dress forced their way into the home of one of the heads of the extremist CDR party… assaulted him in front of his family… and, just before they left, one of them aimed a gun at his head and warned him that if he or his party or the local media ever again insulted or threatened Belgium, Belgian expatriates or the Belgian contingent of UNAMIR, they would return and kill him.” (ibid. p182-4)

Later, these men would order the murder of ten Belgian prisoners.

These contingents were not uniformly terrible: he describes both the Bangladeshis and the Belgians as “immensely impressive” for an operation they conducted before the conflict began (p195); Colonel Luc Marchal, the senior Belgian officer and Kigali sector commander, “understood and lived the mission” and stayed on for an extra six months following Dallaire’s personal request to the Belgian defence ministry (p205-6); and the Belgian troops who died during the mission “were and remain heroes of Rwanda” (p240).

But all too often a failure to treat the mission and its commanders with the same military professionalism that soldiers and officers would automatically show in a national operation hamstrung the mission, undermined the safety of UN personnel and abandoned Rwandans to their fate.


Kit said...

The problem is simply incentives - troops deployed on UN missions do not have any. The UN would be better employing a mercenary force.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Rwanda and Somalia should have taught that we can not simply swing like a pendulum between opposing ideas. Blackwater may have behaved inappropriate and criminally in Iraq but consider the benefits they could achieve in the Sudan where no one is willing to co-operate. Rather than simply dismiss the potential contributions of these "private forces" we would be better off ensuring that they operate under a UN Mandate with embedded UN Supervisors who monitor and regulate their actions.
The UN would be less hamstrung in its decisions because a dead mercenary evokes far fewer political problems than a dead first world contributed soldier. Plus they have the training to be a cohesive force and can be deployed almost immediately without the political wrangling.

Consider a situation whereby contributing money alone could concievably put a well trained, monitored force on the ground in areas that most require them.

Tom Papworth said...

The proposal to use mercenary troops has marit but also poses challenges. The challenges revolve around governance and politics.

Governance is essential in any armed force: a legitimate authority must retain overall control and oversight. This would be difficult (though not insurmountable) where mercenaries were involved.

Politically, "mercenaries" have a bad reputation (though in once sense all our armies are mercenaries as they are paid professionals rather than a citizen-militia) which private military companies in Iraq are often adding to. They also lack legitimacy. Finally, even more than Western "colonial" troops, mercenaries cause visceral horror among those who distrust the West's global reach.

None of this is insurmountable, but it is not easy and may create more difficulties than it solves.