Building Partnerships in Burundi

Building Partnerships in Burundi

Wrote by 1st Lieutenant Scott Williams, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry

Two of my colleagues and I recently had the privilege of assisting a Burundian National Defense Force battalion staff train-up and preparation for a peace-keeping deployment. Our team was assembled from among the best of our unit’s available personnel to assist the BNDF in their training on the Military Decision Making Process.

In the U.S. Army, staff officers begin learning about the intricacies of the MDMP in their basic course while maneuver officers, such as infantry, armor and field artillery officers have their first in-depth exposure to the process in their advanced course. No such formal training exists for the Burundian forces. This is not, however, to say that the BNDF is not a seasoned military force. In fact they have seen quite a bit of action, but seldom have their operations been conducted above platoon level. If anything, the BNDF were a very humble, quiet and receptive group to work with when one considers how long they have been waging war in their own fashion. Their quiet reserve and dedication to learning whatever could be imparted to them was almost invocative of the U.S. Special Force’s idea of “quiet professionalism.”

When we began the exercise, several problems and special training considerations presented themselves almost immediately. These problems included a language barrier, a lack of formal military training and a lack of understanding of the responsibilities and roles of each section of the battalion staff.

We were able to work around the language barrier by employing those members of the battalion staff who had a functional grasp on the English language. This allowed us to communicate simple ideas and answer some questions. More cerebral ideas, like concepts and courses of action, remained outside of or just on the edge of our ability to communicate between French and English. In the end though, we were able to bridge enough of the language divide to make some contributions to the exercise.

The lack of formal staff training manifested itself as a lack of understanding of staff roles. Early on in the training we worked with the student’s to clarify what areas of the operations order the intelligence and operations sections were each responsible for developing. Central to this effort was our team’s military intelligence officer who worked diligently to improve the BNDF’s intelligence section’s understanding of course of action development. Simultaneously, as our team’s only maneuver officer, I worked with the operations officer to develop his understanding of what goes into a scheme of maneuver as well as what information the intelligence section owes him to facilitate that planning.

While we concentrated our efforts in with the S2 and S3 sections our mission commander worked with both their personnel and public affairs sections to develop responses to civil concerns that may arise from their proposed area of operations. Topics covered included child soldiers and sexual assault. Her worked with the personnel section centered on creating battalion level polices and ensured every soldier understood what they could and could not do as it related to the populace. These blocks of instruction drew from recent U.S. experiences with counter insurgency and Civil Affairs, ideas that are becoming increasingly prevalent in all U.S. military education and training.

In the end it is difficult, without seeing them in action, to measure the ultimate effectiveness of our training in terms of how it impacted the BNDF’s ability to plan and execute battalion level missions. What can be said with certainty though, is that we made some strides in both fostering and maintaining a professional faith and rapport with a regional ally. The Burundian’s were, despite language barrier and lack of training, eager to embrace and incorporate elements of our MDMP into their burgeoning doctrine. Our sustained relationship with this humble and dedicated force will likely provide us a valuable and willing partnership for our goal of fostering and supporting regional stability.

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