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Lt. Gen. Carlo Cabigiosu

Before examining the possible future outlooks, I would like to retrace the footsteps of the Carabinieri engaged in peace missions on the basis of my operational experience. At first the MSUs did not exist, as was the case for the IFOR mission in Bosnia where I first met the Carabinieri during my office as deputy commander of the ARRC. One of the first persons I met, on the roof of the Zedra hospital in Sarajevo where the Garibaldi Brigade was lodged, was the then Lieutenant Colonel Leso, behind a 12.7 machine gun aimed at what until a few days before were the Serbian lines. From that vision of a Carabinieri parachutist unit within the Garibaldi Brigade as an Italian military police unit, whose Commander was the Brigade’s main advisor as regards the contingent’s security, I then saw the presence of the Carabinieri in the various peacekeeping theatres turn into an MSU staffed prevailingly by Italians and then becoming more and more multinational and now I see it as a multinational MSU, but within a completely different operational environment such as that of Iraq today. On the basis of this experience I must say that it is indeed true that a doctrine of employment of the MSU has still to come (this also emerged from yesterday and today’s interventions). So far there has been a bottom up evolution, especially on the basis of drives within the MSU, thanks to the commitment of the different commanders in charge who shifted the stress from the initial function of the MSU as area control towards other more specific missions for a military corps having police capacities too.

The missions assigned to the MSU are generally defined by the operational plans drafted by the national planning authorities together with those of the Alliance. In fact the MSUs - except the one today in Iraq - have always acted within NATO, but the Alliance has never gone out of its way to try to acknowledge this force its main merit, that is the capacity to bridge the temporal and functional gap between the stage when territory control is carried out under the shield of traditional military units and the moment full responsibility of the management of security and justice is returned to civil organizations. The Balkan experience was undoubtedly an important test for the MSU but, to a certain extent, it was set to the demands and conditions of that particular operational theatre. We must bear in mind that as regards Kosovo, the territory the KFOR acts on, is half as big as Sardinia and has a population of 2 million inhabitants. I think that the Rome provincial commander’s task is far more difficult than that of the Pristina MSU commander and the Bosnian situation is almost the same. These dimensions have obviously made it possible to extend further the MSU’s initial crowd control mission. The case in which the territory the MSU is competent for has to be extended further is quite different.

It is thus important to better define the selection of tasks that the MSU can carry out because, obviously, there is an immediate fall out on the constitution of the unit and the interacting capacity of the different components. I moreover deem it necessary to go in depth into the differences, attitudes and operational capacity between the gendarmeries (as the Carabinieri Corps, the French Gendarmerie, the Portuguese Republican Guard or the Spanish National Guard) and those military police units prevailingly in charge of controlling the work of their own national soldiers. Military police, as intended in the USA, is again different for the Military Police battalions are an Infantry specialty that, besides carrying out military police tasks in general terms, also carry out - particularly nowadays in Iraq - combat tasks in urban areas and counter insurgency. Furthermore, as regards those Countries who have neither a gendarmerie nor a military police, but want to participate, we must also look into whether 194 there is a capacity for light Infantry to enter an MSU; in fact we already examined this issue yesterday regarding Hungary who assigned a mechanized company to the MSU.

However the MSU, during the years it has been engaged in various peacekeeping theatres, proved that there are difficulties linked to the very nature of its functions. When talking of an MSU engaged in MSU crowd control, everyone is happy to see it: all sector commanders welcome it very warmly because, especially in the Balkans, the most dangerous situation for a traditional military unit is when it has to oppose a hostile crowd acting against an opposing faction, an ethnic group or the military. Thus the commanders of all nationalities are very happy when the commander in charge of that particular mission, seeing what is going on, sends the MSU, places it on the bridge of the Ibar river in Mitrovica or in some hot spot in Bosnia and leaves the Carabinieri to pull the commander in charge of that sector’s chestnuts out of the fire. However, when the MSU starts to operate over the entire territory, overcoming the sector boundaries of the single brigades, as happens in Kosovo, it is quite a different matter. Here the various commanders start showing their sensitiveness by commenting: “Oh! Today I saw an MSU patrol in my sector. What is it doing there? No one has spoken to my battalion commander in charge of that particular area!”.

At this point co-ordination problems arise because a force that is competent for the whole operational theatre and that therefore overcomes the sector boundaries of the various brigades, etc., can inevitably upset the susceptibility of sector commanders who want to know what the unit is there for, what sort of investigation it is carrying out and to whom it is going to refer the outcome. In fact, as the MSU is a tool (see Bosnia and Kosovo) under the Chief Commander it is sometimes seen as an inspectional tool capable of underlining the shortages and lacks that have not been sufficiently investigated by the brigade commander in charge of the sector. This is not all, however. When an international police force within the civil chain of command is present in the theatre there is a need for a close co-ordination with this authority too. A further overlapping can arise when local police forces are activated. If all these possible synergies are not well directed, antagonisms that certainly do not favour the way tasks are carried out may easily arise.

Another important element is the fact that the MSU is a unit that has so far had a strong national feature, an Italian feature. This obviously entails that an MSU must automatically have an Italian commander and this - considering other countries’ legitimate ambitions - may sometimes limit the desire to enter it unless one can acquire a relevant presence within the command nucleus and adequately take part in the decision making process. Consequently, this kind of Italian patent on this wonderful intention that is the MSU can sometimes cause difficulties in assigning the MSU a total mulinationality that the most important States expect within the operations going on in the world today. Another thing to be highlighted is that when the MSU operates in the field of true and proper police activities it misses a code of procedures and a set of laws acknowledged by everyone. Very often, when we go to these crisis areas, there is no law whatever and we have to make our own laws. In this case we can refer to the rules of engagement, adopting military references exclusively, covered by the faculty given to a Commander by the mission mandate, that is to guarantee in the widest possible terms, a safe and secure environment.

Thus, any person who may be a threat to the development of this principle may be arrested and detained. However, the key word “detained” determines another series of problems. If, instead, we want to carry out police functions in civil terms, we need laws to refer to. When someone is arrested we have to proceed according to criteria accepted by the civil codes of the respective nations forming the MSU. As Italians, we could also decided to deliver the arrested person to the USA brigade commander whose organization has a detention centre. At this point other nations may object, because according to their national laws one cannot deliver to a third party authority an individual who has been arrested, whatever the reason. A solution can always be found: in Kosovo, for instance, the international police had created prisons where those arrested by the MSU could be detained in respect of the rules accepted by the international community. However, the delivery to the civil magistrate (or some civil organization) of the person arrested requires judgement to be supported by evidence. At this point the problem may complicate further because the collection of evidence must be done in a certain manner, needs certain tools that are not always available in theatres of operations of this kind.

There is yet another aspect: the MSU’s investigation activity has to interface with the intelligence activity carried out by the competent bodies of the multinational contingent in charge of the area. And here, as the Carabinieri well know, it is not always easy to turn intelligence information into juridical evidence. We are still at this point because many of the things I mentioned so far have not yet been sufficiently examined as regards the normative - existing or still being developed - by the supranational bodies such as NATO, UNO and EU. We have now reached the Iraqi case. The Iraqi case opens a new series of perspectives. First of all, we have already mentioned the reduced size of Bosnia and of Kosovo, which allowed a certain concept of MSU employment. In Iraq, however, we have to face an operation theatre that, without considering the deserts, is almost as big as Italy, has 25 million inhabitants and is subdivided into 6-7 sectors. On the basis of the present dimensions of a MSU, at regiment level, with about 6-700 people including our Portuguese and Rumanian allies, it would be senseless to place this force under the Commander of the operational theatre.

There are choices to be made, decisions to be taken and, in our case, it was decided to keep the MSU in the province assigned to the Italians with the great advantage of having a unit that could be almost entirely dedicated to flanking and controlling local police forces. However, if we wish to extend the concept and strengthen existing ideas according to which the MSU’s ideal position should be that of a tool under the theatre Commander, we have to take into serious consideration the dimensions, the possible contribution of other countries and a doctrine providing for the MSU to become a rather more complex body than at present, both as regards organization and employment. Moreover, in Iraq there is also the force protection problem. Police activity should be carried out in small nuclei otherwise it becomes more of a para-military activity, but nowadays it is unthinkable to carry out activity with a Land Rover and 3 Carabinieri who speak to shop owners to collect information or who drive down to a certain village, because the threat is much too high. We thus have to establish nuclei of forces that move on the terrain with some self-defence capacity. This limits the activity the MSUs can carry out. Moreover, the protection of the bases also acquires a new dimension; it is no longer a marginal fact, as in Kosovo and in Bosnia where the MSU’s quarters have almost the same defence as our barracks in Italy.

In Iraq parametrical defence, observation of the surrounding territory, patrols around the area to prevent the possible placement of remote controlled explosives on access routes are all existing problems. This means a heavy commitment. Who is supposed to carry it out? If the MSU does, with its present dimensions, there will not be much operational capacity left over for other tasks. The very contact with the local population becomes extremely difficult because anyone can be an enemy ready to carry out hostile actions: thus patrols, even when on foot, must move with great caution. Once, in Baghdad, military vehicles, jammed in the traffic, had to stop and while an armed soldier got out to give security, a man from behind another car pointed a gun at his neck and killed him. Of course, this does not happen everywhere. Episodes such as this are exceptional, but here nothing can be compared to what we are used to seeing in the Balkan theatre. I believe, however, that the concept of MSU with the capacity of carrying out the entire range of possible police tasks is a valid and important concept but must be accompanied by the flexibility often mentioned by the various speakers in this seminar: that is, wherever there are particular situations, the tasks must be defined on the basis of the local situation. Perhaps, under certain circumstances, the MSU’s most important task may be to train local police forces, in which case their formation will have to meet this requirement.

Other demands will have to be carefully assessed so that the MSU’s specific capacities are not dispersed in tasks easily carried out by normal infantry units. The MSU will always have to monitor, mentor and train local police units because this is a specific task than can be carried out in an ambit guaranteeing determined conditions of security. Investigation activity must, instead, be better organized. The role special units can play, as GIS elements, is all right because people who have to be arrested can be arrested only by that tool, which performs it better than infantry patrols. In conclusion, I wish to insist on the fact that every operational situation presents vast opportunities for the use of MSUs, but it is likewise important to define, on each occasion, the priority tasks its resources must be designed for. Thank you.


(*) - Transcript from an audio recording corrected by the author.
(**) - Lieutenant General of the Italian Army.