Kofi Annan's rush to judgment
Date: Thursday, July 27 2006
Kofi Annan's rush to judgment
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
On hearing the news that a United Nations observation post manned by four unarmed peacekeepers at the nexus of the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian borders was struck by an Israeli bomb, an uncharacteristically forceful Kofi Annan bolted out of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to proclaim his shock at the "apparently deliberate targeting" by Israel Defence Forces of the post. The UN Secretary-General went on to say the UN would conduct a full investigation. A curious statement, considering his comment that the IDF intentionally targeted the observers. Case closed, n'est-ce pas? Not quite.
The blast on Tuesday claimed the lives of Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener, a Canadian serving with the UN Truce Supervision Organization mission in southern Lebanon, and three other UN soldiers. On July 18, Major Hess-von Kruedener had sent a number of his colleagues, including regimental officers such as myself, an e-mail describing what the situation was like at his location since the Israeli attacks began against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"Based on the intensity and volatility of this current situation and the unpredictability of both sides (Hezbollah and Israel), and given the operational tempo of the Hezbollah and the IDF, we are not safe to venture out to conduct our normal patrol activities. We have now switched to Observation Post Duties and are observing any and all violations as they occur."
The penultimate paragraph of Major Hess-von Kruedener's e-mail is prophetic, to say the least: "The closest artillery has landed within two metres of our position and the closest 1,000-pound aerial bomb has landed 100 metres from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity."
I have served in another mission where one side constantly set up its weapon systems, including mortars, in and around hospitals, medical clinics, mosques and, yes, UN positions, knowing full well that, when it engaged its enemies and received return fire, it would make for compelling TV as the networks covered the civilian carnage. (When they took up positions around my soldiers, I advised their leaders that I would authorize my soldiers to kill them within the hour if they didn't withdraw. Fortunately, as I was not an unarmed observer, I was in a position to do that.) In many cases, the weapon systems were moved immediately after firing, and their positions around civilians were abandoned before innocents paid the price for their despicable techniques. You have to admit this technique helps to win the PR war, which often is as important as the fighting one.
Certainly, the Secretary-General is familiar with this technique, having been the UN undersecretary of peacekeeping in the horrific 1990s, when the UN was floundering in the Balkans, Somalia and Rwanda.
Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie was the first commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo.
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[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on July 28, 2006]