- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

An Army report into abuse of civilians in Kosovo by soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division illustrates a fundamental flaw in the peacekeeping missions that have become a frequent tool of U.S. foreign policy. A principal finding of the Army report was that the paratroopers "experienced difficulties tempering their combat mentality."
Paratroopers, like the nation's other "tip of the spear" formations Rangers, Green Berets, SEALS, Marines exist so that a "combat mentality" is their permanent state of martial being. It is imperative that it be maintained at a hard-tempered edge so that when committed to go in harm's way, their "learning curve" is not expressed in body bags. It is also one of the hardest chores of military life to instill and sustain such a "mentality."
To dispatch highly trained combat forces as peacekeepers and expect them to "reinvent" themselves, so to speak, into unaggressive beat cops is a disservice. This does not, obviously, condone several instances of abuse and the rape and murder of a young Albanian girl by a member of the 82nd for which he has been sentenced to life in prison.
The Army report was critical of the paratroopers' "overly aggressive tendencies," while noting that misconduct had been isolated. It cited the lack of training of the battalion of the 82nd Airborne before it was sent to Kosovo training "in the subtler arts of policing the streets and preventing violence between ethnic factions," as the New York Times softly phrased it.
The solution, it has been suggested, is to send less elite military units on these dicey missions. But by definition "peacekeeping" can instantly turn deadly, and any unit capable of reacting effectively to such a blowup must possess a "combat mentality" if it is to survive. To send the 1st Mess Kit Repair Battalion on such missions would be fatuous.
If missions similar to those in the Balkans will be a significant role for U.S. soldiers in the coming years, the military will have to rely as it always has on experienced and savvy noncommissioned officers and on junior officers with an uncommon blend of testosterone and emotional balance with commanders who can balance on the precarious policy tightrope on which they've been placed. It's a tough act tougher than seems to be generally appreciated by those who are sending these soldiers to the volatile corners of the globe.

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