A South African perspective on Austria’s civil/military co-operation efforts


In the post-World War II/post-Cold War era, intra-state conflicts and climate and natural disaster related crises are on the rise. Sovereign armed forces around the world have retooled to where resources can be better used to address the intricacies brought up by these new challenges.

In the wake of catastrophes such as Somalia, the Balkan crises and the Rwanda Genocide during the early 1990s, United Nations (UN) mandated peacekeeping, enforcement and support operations have increased steeply.

In addition to these, a competency entitled Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) has been developed. This facilitates closer co-operation between military and non-military elements within post conflict/natural disaster peace support operations (PSO’s). In executing these operations, commanders of multi-national forces have to take political, social, economic, cultural, religious and environmental factors into consideration.

In April the Austrian Armed Forces International Centre (AUTINT), conducted its Civil Military Co-operation Course for Peace Support Operations (CIMICC-PSO) in Graz, Austria for members of the Austrian Bundesheer (literally German for Federal Army, or alternately in English; the Austrian Armed Forces, comprised of its Landstreitkräfte (Land Forces) and Luftstreitkräfte (Air Forces); with the German Bundeswehr, “wehr” stands for defence).

The course is designed to enable officers and non-commissioned officers of the Austrian Bundesheer both from its professional and militia ranks to carry out their duties as specialists who facilitate the support of a national or multi-national peace support operation in civil military co-operation. 2013 was a precedent for civilian participation in this course.

Participants are schooled to act as information gatherers and serve as experts in advising military commanders on all CIMIC issues within an area of responsibility. Austria is a member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme and has oriented itself towards standards in Civil Military Co-operation set by the these bodies. The NATO definition of CIMIC is “the co-ordination or co-operation in support of the mission, between the NATO commander and civil actors, including national population and local authorities, as well as international, national and non-governmental organisations and agencies”.

Austria has modelled itself on this NATO concept and has integrated the CIMIC competency into the military strategic concepts and doctrines of the Austrian Armed Forces. Additionally, AUTINT and its CIMIC branch work in conjunction with the NATO accredited CIMIC Centre of Excellence (CCOE) at Enschede in the Netherlands.

The three core functions of CIMIC are the support of the mission deployed on the ground as well as its force commander’s intent, support to the civilian environment and its actors, and the promotion of good civil-military liaison.

The objectives of the course convey core functions of CIMIC and CIMIC related concepts. To accomplish this, military course administrators as well as civilian experts contribute to Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) syndicates concentrating on theatre damage and threat assessments, familiarity with CIMIC assets, liaison and co-ordination architecture, functions as a CIMIC Liaison Officer, the establishment of CIMIC Centres, Influencing of Civil Movements, Projects, and CIMIC map Symbols and Databases.

These syndicates emphasise the importance of being able to conduct meetings effectively, as well as the good use of interpreters, negotiation techniques, and being able to work well with journalists in an area of operations.

Cultural and gender sensibility/competency/awareness are stressed as most important in the conducting of CIMIC tasks in the field. CIMIC officer and NCO candidates are also schooled in cooperation with own nation and allied Liaison Observation and Liaison Monitoring Teams (LOTs and LMTs). Emphasis is placed on the differences between International Governmental Organisations, Governmental Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisation in humanitarian affairs, and how best to facilitate cooperation with them.

In deployments, CIMIC personnel establish themselves in self-sufficient facilities (CIMIC Centres), which act as a point of contact where meetings and visits with civil actors and the military can be conducted. This is the base of operations for CIMIC Tactical CIMIC Teams (TCTs), where a liaison matrix is developed, documenting persons of interest from local community authorities and humanitarian organisations so the peace support commander is well informed of ‘who is who’ within the area of responsibility. This streamlines channels of communication, co-operation and sharing of information across CIMIC channels such as reporting of unexploded ordinance/landmine threats in an area, contamination of water supplies or agricultural/grazing land and the dangers of banditry or criminal activity, all of which can affect post conflict recovery and reconstruction.

The syndicates are supplemented by practical mission training in the formulation of briefings to commanding officers in a staff environment, to manoeuvres in the field involving “go and see visits” to interact with various civil, humanitarian and paramilitary role playing actors in a real community within a simulated post-conflict/post-natural disaster script and storyline.

Challenging objectives are set with role players who can impose heavy demands upon the military for assistance. Through this practical experience in concert with strong syndicate instruction, participants learn how to operate within the grassroots TCTs as a step to possible future operations in other CIMIC structure assets at platoon, company and group level, as well as in CIMIC Deployable Modules and Support Units. Additionally, these participants gain knowledge to join pools of functional specialists.

Austrian international deployments in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Golan Heights, Kosovo and Lebanon have all engaged in CIMIC operations to varying extents, with the greatest emphasis in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Austria’s participation in the NATO PfP and its specific focus on competencies like CIMIC seeks to create a competent Crisis Response Operations (CRO) and Peace Operations (PO) to exploit the Bundesheer’s long-standing experience with multi-national forces at battalion level.

The CIMIC capability is a humanitarian operations force multiplier that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) can use to great effect.

On the African continent, the SANDF has itself engaged in CIMIC style quick impact projects and assistance operations, most notably the support given by the SANDF and SA Air Force to the South African NGO Gift of the Givers in transportation of relief aid and humanitarian personnel to conflict ridden Somalia and flood stricken Mozambique.

In South Africa’s ever increasing involvement in peacekeeping, enforcement and support operations the expansion of any existing CIMIC competency, especially as a component of the Post Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) planning capability competency of the SANDF should find physical expression in its deployments in the DRC, Sudan and elsewhere where CIMIC troops co-operating with regular PSO troops and external and internal civilian role players can prove to be a winning team.

The author is concluding an Erasmus Mundus Global Studies Master’s degree in Global History at the University of Vienna in Austria, and as a graduate of the CIMIC-PSO course is focusing on military peace support operations and the cooperative role of the armed forces in disaster response and post-conflict complex emergency environments.”