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Operation Silver Sabre shows full force of multinational capabilities

By Sgt. Erick Yates | Multinational Battle Group - East (KFOR) | November 25, 2015

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CAMP VRELO, Kosovo -- When a peaceful demonstration erupts into a violent protest, local authorities and international peacekeeping forces will work together to quell chaos and protect safety.

This was one of the messages of Operation Silver Sabre, a massive multinational exercise held Nov. 18-20 at Camp Vrelo outside Pristina, Kosovo. In the three-day exercise’s culminating event, members from the Kosovo Police, European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, Kosovo Force and NATO Operational Reserve Forces came together in unified response to a crowd of unruly and dangerous role-players.

Silver Sabre is a biannual training event for KP, KFOR and EULEX forces serving in Kosovo, regularly testing and refining the security professionals’ ability to ensure a safe environment throughout Kosovo. In addition, this iteration of Silver Sabre welcomed more than 120 multinational soldiers from NATO’s ORF to augment the combined crowd riot response.

Facing airborne tires and Molotov cocktails, the forces from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Portugal stood strong, working alongside KP and EULEX to hold their line against the role players. As the crowd grew, the ORF soldiers arrived on the scene via Ukrainian Air Force and U.S. Army helicopters to provide further assistance.

With the ORF serving as the fourth tier in a generally three-tier emergency response structure in Kosovo, Silver Sabre tested the participants’ abilities to communicate across organizations in order to perform a seamless operation.

“This event was KFOR’s Super Bowl,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jonathan Laton, who planned Silver Sabre in his role as a Multinational Battle Group-East operations officer. “This is putting every piece we have into the mix to execute a plan, and to highlight the things that we do well.”

“Silver Sabre incorporates KFOR, EULEX and the Kosovo Police,” he said, “and the ORF’s participation is significant because it’s the first time they’ve come to Kosovo in a couple years. They’ve been training in Kosovo for a couple weeks, and [Silver Sabre] was their main focus.”

This year’s exercise featured realistic scenarios, and emphasized the combined participants’ ability to communicate between and relieve one another in the middle of an operation.

“We tried to make this educational and practical,” Laton said. “These forces train on crowd riot control all the time, so Silver Sabre focused on the things we don’t get to do all the time, with everybody training together in one place.”

“Training events of this scale are conducted to practice and improve understanding among the different forces,” said U.S. Army Maj. Michael Ariano, an operations officer assigned to the KFOR headquarters. “It is important to be flexible when it comes to learning from other international forces who are very proficient when it comes to dealing with protesters.”

“Contingents within KFOR acted as third responders,” Ariano said. KFOR’s mission is to restore safety, security and freedom of movement when requested by KP and EULEX officials.

The exercise’s violent crowd was acted out by KFOR soldiers from Hungary and the United States, respectively assigned to the KFOR Tactical Reserve Maneuver Battalion and the MNBG-E Forward Command Post.

The opposing force’s goal was to make the exercise as realistic as possible, said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Billy Greene, the senior noncommissioned officer for A Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment, whose Soldiers served as role-playing rioters.

“Sometimes you don’t realize how your small role plays into such a big picture,” Greene said, describing his team’s experience in the multifaceted training event.

Training with other forces proficient in crowd and riot operations definitely adds a new level of experience and readiness for the U.S. Army Soldiers serving in KFOR, Greene said, emphasizing that these lessons will stay with his Soldiers for the years following this deployment.

“After participating in this event and all the other CRC training events since being deployed to Kosovo, I think we have better understanding and knowledge of how to apply the tactics and bring the useful information back to our state,” said Spc. Nathaniel Allen, a North Carolina National Guard Soldier from the 1-252nd’s Alpha Company.

Before the culminating event, Silver Sabre began with two days of round-robin training to give the multinational soldiers a common framework in fire phobia, crowd riot control, communications equipment, explosive ordnance disposal, and casualty evacuation.

“There was a lot of exchange of techniques and procedures between forces,” Laton said. “Every one of these units conducts crowd riot control a little differently, and the goal of Silver Sabre was to learn how everyone does these things, and find a way to understand them and work together.”

This iteration Silver Sabre was unique because it also included active-shooter response training led by MNBG-E’s Military Police unit, Laton said. This training set the stage for future training events between KFOR and the Kosovo Police, in order to prepare more police officers to respond to dangerous situations.

“Every second that goes by [in an active shooter situation] is another second that someone could possibly be injured or killed, so the first person on the scene needs to know how to respond,” Laton said. “Our Military Police Soldiers used active-shooter lessons, and tailored some scenarios for Kosovo,”

Elements from the training sessions were incorporated into Silver Sabre’s final face-off between the role players and peacekeeping force.

“Our task for conducting the fire phobia training was to demonstrate to other international Soldiers how to defend against live Molotov cocktails,” said Hungarian 2nd Lt. Mark Nemes, a platoon commander for the KFOR Tactical Maneuver Battalion. To reinforce their fire phobia classes, Hungarian role-players tossed live Molotov cocktails at the line of crowd riot control authorities.

Silver Sabre was an opportunity to build interoperability and respect between the organizations that protect Kosovo’s security environment, Laton said.

“I think we all learn from how other people do things,” said Laton, who has worked on multinational teams while deployed to Iraq and Egypt. “There’s a cultural piece, and pride, and you can’t make any assumptions about what one organization can or cannot do. Everyone’s very capable of doing their job, and putting many heads together helps you learn planning, communication, and structure.”

After three hours of intense confrontation, the multinational Soldiers expressed relief and excitement as they wrapped up one of the year’s biggest training events. KFOR’s leaders acknowledged that all participants had put forth a strong effort throughout Silver Sabre.

“I am sure that all Soldiers with different units from different nations have proven that they are able to fulfill the task if it’s necessary,” said Hungarian Brig. Gen. Ferenc Korom, KFOR’s deputy commanding general, who encouraged all forces to stay focused and ready to perform their mission.