Albania and Kosovo: A Platoon Commander’s perspective on a Short Term Training Team
Second Lieutenant T R Campbell-Schofield Officer Commanding Number Four Platoon Number Two Company
Over the period 3 -14 September 2015, I was lucky enough to be sent to Albania and Kosovo as part of a Battalion short term training team. This was designed as a Defence Engagement task within the Welsh Guards 100 Centenary celebrations, during which serving soldiers would revisit every location the Regiment had served in since formation in 1915.
The team’s task was to observe and mentor during Exercise BIZA 2015, a battle-group level test exercise for the Albanian Army, similar in scope to Exercises ASKARI STORM and PRAIRIE THUNDER. The intent was to prepare the Albanian Army’s 2nd Battalion for the country’s future North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) commitments. The main effort was to prepare Number Two Company for a NATO exercise with the Italian Army in summer 2016. In this article I focus on two areas. Firstly, the training team and the details of Exercise BIZA 2015. Secondly, the marathon in Kosovo as part of Welsh Guards 100.
The team consisted of the author, Major Dunlop (Support Company Commander) and Sergeant Davies 96 (Second in Command, Reconnaissance Platoon). Major Dunlop focused on the battle-group level planning whilst Sergeant Davies 96 and I worked at platoon and company level.
Exercise BIZA 15 and the Welsh Guards Short Term Training Team
The Albanian Army is still in a transitory period in terms of both understanding doctrine and putting it into practice. Whilst not part of the Warsaw Pact, its army was heavily influenced by Soviet methods of operation. Tactics based on mass firepower and large quantities of manpower were the order of the day. However, since the end of the Cold War and the drawdown of the troubles in the Balkans, the Albanian Army has been largely influenced by American doctrine.
Sergeant Davies 96 listens to a de-brief.
Many of their junior officers have attended American courses (most commonly the Infantry Basic Leaders’ Course and Ranger School) and more senior officers have been mentored by their American equivalents. Consequently, the Army is organised along American lines and now uses their doctrine. Concurrently, they are also still modernising in terms of weaponry. Light role infantry use Kalashnikov variants, RPKs, and PKMs. Support weapons consist of Moisin-Nagant sniper rifles (think Enemy at the Gates!), DShK heavy machine guns and 60mm, 82mm and 120mm mortars. However, Number Two Company has recently been equipped with American M4A1 rifles. It is this seam of transition, across the range of military areas, where the Albanians are working hardest to reconcile the old and the new.
Albanian troops stacked up to assault a ruined building.
Supporting the 2nd battalion were the Albanian Commandos who were conducting their own training and would eventually play enemy for the battalion during the combined training level three stage. Their battle exercises and rehearsals demonstrated good use of fire and movement, use of natural cover and many other vital basic skills. Our liaison officer was a platoon commander from this unit and was clearly adept and familiar with what we would consider to be normal and effective tactics. I believe the reason for the successful performance of this battalion is twofold. Firstly, they had an extremely enthusiastic Commanding Officer who pursued innovation ruthlessly and was eager to draw on external experience. Secondly, the Commandos had worked closely with 40 Commando Royal Marines during both Exercises BIZA 13 and 14 and had been exposed to modern doctrine for longer.
The trip was a valuable experience for me as a new platoon commander. I took away from it two key points. Primarily, change has to come from the top down. Careful mentoring of senior officers and non-commissioned officers seems to be the best place to start. Alongside this, junior officers should continue to be sent on American, British or European command, staff and leadership courses. Over time, I feel this could affect real change within the Albanian Army. Secondly, increasing our deployed time would have allowed us to delve further into the intricacies of Albanian tactics and help them prepare to assume their role within the wider international Defence Community.
We, as a team, also learned a great deal from our Albanian friends. While still a developing force, the turmoil across the Balkans at the end of the twentieth century forged a small country with a strong identity. Consequently, inter-corps animosity is very low and almost unheard of between their services. This created a powerful environment of mutual respect, selfless commitment to the improvement of the nation and a mindset of co-operation at all levels.
Second Lieutenant Campbell-Schofield with the mentored company’s junior officers.
Local Engagement and the Kosovo Marathon
Once Exercise BIZA 15 was complete, we drove to Kosovo in order to complete our tabbing marathon. In the Regiment’s centenary year, this event recognised the commitment made to peacekeeping by the Welsh Guards in Kosovo and in the wider Balkans during the 1990s and 2000s. The event took place 12 September and we were accompanied by several members of the Kosovar Security Forces who had attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The tab started ay 0730, deep in wooded countryside where we were met by a local news crew who recorded the event to be broadcast on national television that evening. The route took us from the valley up onto a plateau along which we travelled for the majority of the day. We descended only to travel back into Pristina upon completion at 1800. The British Ambassador and the Defence Attaches for both Albania and Kosovo were present at the finish where we were again met by enthusiastic local media interest.
Sergeant Davies 96, Major Dunlop and Second Lieutenant Campbell-Schofield during the Kosovo tabbing marathon.
The short term training team and Welsh Guards 100 trip to Albania and Kosovo proved to be a challenging and interesting opportunity for me as a young platoon commander. Given the drawdown from Afghanistan and the move to contingency operations, short term training teams are a chance for junior officers and soldiers to deploy abroad and gain wider military experience. Any platoon commander given the opportunity to go on a short term training team should embrace it. I felt it to be excellent exposure to the challenges of mentoring and also to aspects of battle-group planning and execution, crucial to the development of any junior officer. Furthermore, in a world which is not getting any more stable, it is vital to continue to engage with our allies across the world so that the burden of security can be shared as widely as possible.