It’s hot, humid, almost sticky, and the early morning rain fall quickly evaporates into a cloud of steam lingering over an African city. The distant - and constant - zap of a mosquito trap hanging in the guard shack is drowned out by a throng of people approaching the international hotel where United Nations peacekeepers have established their base camp.
Hundreds of UN peacekeepers have deployed as representatives of the international community. Charged with consolidating peace and security, and to help set conditions for sustainable development, the mixture of police and soldiers are in the first week of their mission.
A 10-person security team quickly moves into position beyond the homemade barrier of old tires, fencing and sandbags. The team is concerned. They chatter quietly among themselves. Two police officers from Nepal wonder out loud to a four-person contingent of Mongolian soldiers whether the approaching group, now only a hundred meters away, are refugees or rebels. The four others – one Bangladeshi police sergeant and three female Nepali soldiers – hope for the former.
As the crowd enters the borders of the mobile check point, a Mongolian soldier calls out to ask their business. Two women emerge with children in tow. The group seem to be refugees, likely fleeing a scourge of radicals a few villages away. The peacekeepers begin to search the group.
This is a typical scenario the United Nations, and countries invested in the United States’ Global Peace Operations Initiative, must train for as more developing countries emerge from civil wars and poverty. It’s one of many scenarios being tested during Khaan Quest 2019, a multinational exercise co-hosted by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Mongolian Armed Forces.
The exercise consists of events focused on staff training, battalion-level command and control, company integration, and critical enabling capabilities as well as field training scenarios. Khaan Quest focuses on peace and security operations planning and execution in a way that no other multinational exercise does, says Ian Parker, the lead instructor for the staff training event and adviser for the U.S. State Department’s GPOI.
Parker explained that in “some missions, 50 different countries send 120 people or so, and they were all planning differently. It's difficult when there's no set standard, so what the UN has done is lay down a standard on how they want peacekeeping missions to be planned and so, we are training how to do it the UN way.”
Approximately 220 U.S. personnel and 900 Mongolian Armed Forces personnel are participating in Khaan Quest, along with 750 personnel from more than 30 nations. In his speech during the Khaan Quest opening ceremony, Mongolian Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Ayush Ganbat stressed that exercises like Khaan Quest are successful because of the partnership and interaction of different countries and the sharing of their military and peacekeeping experience.
Each country contributes to the success of the exercise. During the company training event, a company of U.S. Marines from 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion based out of Okinawa, Japan, are integrating themselves with a company from the Mongolian Armed Forces. They are conducting combined training based on scenarios developed during the staff and battalion level events.
“It’s important for the United States and Mongolian forces because it allows us to train together,” said Sgt. Alex Aberle, a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 3rd LE Bn. Aberle explained that working together ensures countries have a common baseline of procedures when supporting United Nations missions.
The Marines are just a piece of the larger joint effort from the United States. Dozens of soldiers from the Alaska Army National guard are also training alongside about 18 Fijian soldiers, while another group from Alaska have been assigned as trainers.
“I think it’s incredibly important to build relationships with other countries,” explained 2nd Lt. Joshua Wheeler, a platoon commander with the AKARNG. “Working with them, understanding where they come from, understanding what challenges they have and how they’re overcoming things brings us together.”
The U.S. troops are not the only trainers, however. Experienced peacekeepers from Japan, Mongolia, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal are all sharing their experiences.
Nepali Army Lt. Col. Surya Adhikari, who’s serving as an instructor during Khaan Quest, says sharing one’s know-how is the biggest benefit of multinational training.
“Learning is a never-ending process,” he said. “I expect Khaan Quest will be a milestone contributing to making peace.”
It’s this international experience that Parker says is the key to ensuring training for peacekeeping is not only realistic, but effective. Highlighting that some UN missions have seen ineffective peacekeeping tactics and occasional misconduct, Parker said peacekeeping must get better and Khaan Quest plays a role in that.
“We need to make peacekeeping better,” he stressed. “If peacekeeping is better, it’s going to save lives. We have over 100,000 peacekeepers deployed around the world. If we didn’t do it, the world would be a lot worse a place.”
As of March 2019, the United Nations has 14 separate peacekeeping missions spread across four continents, according to a UN report released on its website. To compound the seriousness of the scenarios playing out as part of Khaan Quest, a contingent of exercise participants will soon deploy to the Republic of South Sudan, as well as numerous other UN missions in countries like Cyprus, Haiti, Darfur and areas of the Middle East.
The bulk of the field training event is modeled on past UN missions and covers everything from the protection of civilians and rules of engagement to convoy escorts. Some training events focus on non-kinetic scenarios like providing medical aid or delivering food and water while others stress kinetic action.
Japan Ground-Self Defense Force platoon commander 1st Lt. Tadashi Nakanishi stressed the difficulty of the training, but said he’s been satisfied by how it will prepare his troops to be better peacekeepers.
“It is important that each member of the exercise puts forth the best effort,” Nakanishi said. “This will allow the most learning to occur. Training [during Khaan quest] is important for every nation to grow together as a team.”
Khaan Quest is but one exercise that seeks to increase the peacekeeping capabilities of dozens of United Nations countries, but is an important step that shows it takes the commitment of many nations to succeed in the most volatile areas of the world.
In very few venues are the soldiers of more than 30 countries able to train together. Whether engaged with feeding refugees or gridlocked with an adversarial force, Khaan Quest provides participants with a baseline for UN operations and better prepares them for all missions.
Mongolian Army Maj. Gan Tsetseg, who recently returned from the United Nations mission in South Sudan, knows firsthand the significance of multinational exercises. She says Khaan Quest will “prepare the peacekeepers [for] any UN mission and give them a grasp of the fundamental information and knowledge. [The] peacekeeping military mission is a unique mission, which involves the protection of civilians.”
It’s training that is of paramount importance. Of the 14 current peacekeeping missions under the United Nation’s flag, participating countries in Khaan Quest will serve in all of them. Now, better suited to do so.