In the Panchkhal Valley of Nepal, shadowed by the Himalaya Mountains, platoons of soldiers from 11 nations are being trained in peacekeeping tactics so that they can be ready to don the blue helmets of a UN peacekeeping mission.
This is not easy, because peacekeeping operations call for deep-seated changes in attitudes among soldiers who have been trained to use maximum force to defeat an enemy. In contrast, peacekeeping requires soldiers to apply only that force needed to separate adversaries and bring calm to a hostile situation.
Experienced peacekeepers have likened their work to police wading into a barroom brawl. First they separate the fighters, then stand watch to keep them apart, and finally seek to bring permanent calm to everyone affected.
For soldiers, this means learning and executing new rules of engagement, not an easy task when they have been trained to kill enemies. In a successful peacemaking and peacekeeping operation, there are no enemies and no one gets hurt.
Sergeant Major Gerald Cornell of the US Army, who has been training peacekeepers for five years, said: “Soldiers are often asked to do things for which we are not prepared. So we have to be flexible. We can do any mission we are given, but it is better if we are prepared for it.”
The sergeant major, who is assigned to the US Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu, Haiwaii, was speaking in a telephone call from the Panchkhal Valley.
“We train trainers” who then go home to train other soldiers in peacekeeping, he said, adding that restraint in the use of force was taught in every aspect of the course in Nepal.
The platoons of 30 to 35 soldiers being trained in the two-week exercise in the Panchkhal Valley came from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Paraguay and Rwanda. Instruction is in English, with each platoon having brought translators with them. Working with translators was among the learning points in peacekeeping, Cornell said.
Nepal, land of the famed Gurkha warriors, has had decades of blue helmet experience, while Mongolia, home of the 13th-century conqueror Genghis Khan, is relatively new to such operations. The same is true of Japan, long reluctant to be involved in military operations abroad after its devastating defeat in World War II.
The training centers hold field exercises in which civilians, played by Nepalese citizens, need to be protected. In the use of force, peacekeepers are trained to react, not to initiate, and apply only enough force to stop hostilities. In each drill, respect for basic human rights is emphasized.
Some drills are modifications of standard military tactics — guards in checkpoints examining documents, perhaps searching for weapons. Troops practice running convoys in which local customs are observed. Food and medicine are distributed fairly with troops preventing mobs from overrunning supply points.
This field exercise was preceded by a seminar on peacekeeping for officers from 10 nations in the Nepalese army headquarters in Kathmandu, the capital. Lieutenant General Netra Bahadur Thapa, chief of staff, said at the seminar: “UN peacekeepers are facing very complex challenges and are often required to implement intricate mandates.”
In particular, “protection of civilians, [preventing] sex and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and human securities are all matters of grave concern for the UN,” the general said.
For the US, training for peacekeeping can be divided into two phases. From 2005 through 2009, it did much of the training, both of US and foreign soldiers. In that period, 87,000 soldiers were trained, 77,000 of which were African.
From 2010 through to 2014, under the US State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative, the US has been supporting other nations that are engaged in preparing for peacekeeping missions. In this case, Americans have been assisting the Nepalese.
As of the beginning of the year, 14 UN peacekeeping operations were under way, mostly in Africa the UN said. Others were posted in India, Pakistan, Lebanon and Kosovo.
About 78,000 soldiers, 16,800 civilians, 12,500 police officers and 1,800 military observers have been deployed in hopes of keeping the peace.
Richard Halloran is a commentator in Hawaii.