Small Wars Journal

Reducing the Dependency on USSOF: The Kosovo CACOY Example

Sun, 06/09/2019 - 1:57pm

Reducing the Dependency on USSOF: The Kosovo CACOY Example

James Bond

United States Special Operations’ core activities include executing Foreign Internal Defense.  In recent years, Foreign Internal Defense has manifested itself into Institution Building and long-term support to Allied and Partner Nations as they build their special operations units. This enduring role in partnership and institution building often develops into a dependency on SOF Soldiers to execute the programs. The USSOF’s current experiences in the Middle East lend validity to this dependency and offer the opportunity to learn lessons from their examples. In Iraq, the Iraqi SOF units have struggled to develop their independence and self-sufficiency as they continually sought out US guidance to problem solve their issues, exacerbated by USSOF tendencies to control their processes from planning to execution.[i] Likewise, many of the operations conducted by the Afghanistan National Army SOF (ANASOF) were so dependent on the U.S. intelligence or planning, that they were unable to develop their own support processes to coincide with the tactical training USSOF provided.[ii] However, this dependency is not limited to the Middle East as even the European NATO nations recognize the importance of reducing dependencies on the U.S. partnership as the primary leader in building European SOF capacity.[iii]

We could look to the Balkans and U.S. Special Operations Civil Affairs units who have been working with the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) to establish its first Civil Affairs Company (CACOY).  In March 2019, with minimal support from its USSOF Civil Affairs partners, the Kosovo Security Forces successfully conducted the second KSF Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection (KCAAS) as part of its establishment of the first KSF CACOY. The Civil-Military Support Element – Kosovo (CMSE XKS) with additional US Civil Affairs (CA) support from Fort Bragg, North Carolina planned and executed the first iteration in October 2018. Within only six months after that first selection, the two KSF Officers in charge – Captain Agron Murati and Captain Nysret Buzhala – were able to plan, recruit, resource, and execute the second selection course with minimal to no help from CMSE XKS or other US Civil Affairs support. Now, they are prepared to execute the first KSF CA Qualification Course (KCAQC) in June 2019 with nineteen selectees from both selections, and finally complete their transition to the KSF CACOY.

The second KCAAS selection was successful despite the limited amount of time, energy, and resources that Special Operations Forces applied. As mentioned previously, this is an anomaly compared to the effort United States Special Operations Forces (USSOF) typically expend to develop allied/partnered nations (A/PN) SOF elements within Europe and other regions of the world. The second KSF-led KCAAS was successful despite limited USSOF assistance due to the timing of implementation, a supportive command, and competent US-trained KSF officers; which, given USSOF focused efforts, can potentially be replicated with other USSOF partners.

The Road to the CACOY

US Embassy (USEMB) Pristina personnel including the Deputy Chief of Mission, Defense Attaché and CMSE XKS first introduced the KSF Civil Affairs Company concept to the KSF Commanding General LTG Rama in early 2018. The establishment of Civil Affairs within the KSF was an effort to engage the minority enclaves within Kosovo and eventually serve as Kosovo’s first expeditionary force within the international community. As a result, LTG Rama signed the order initiating the transition of the former Crisis Response Liaison Unit (CRLU) to become the CACOY. Additionally, the vote to change the KSF mandate from a security force to an armed force, which would initiate the transition timeline, was set to take place in December 2018. Therefore, in fall 2018, CMSE XKS and two KSF officers began to plan the path that would create the first KSF Civil Affairs unit.  The path to transition would start with the first KCAAS.

In support of the KSF CACOY establishment, CMSE XKS coordinated with the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) within USEMB Pristina to send two young KSF officers to the US Civil Affairs Qualification Course in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. These two officers, CPT Agron Murati and CPT Nysret Buzhala, successfully completed the qualification course, and CPT Buzhala even earned the title of international exchange student Distinguished Honor Graduate. With CMSE XKS in the lead and the two KSF officers supporting, they began to coordinate and plan every detail of what KCAAS would look like. For better or worse, CMSE XKS planned the ten-day selection course to mirror the USSOF Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection, testing the candidates mentally, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. For three months, CMSE XKS coordinated with the KSF officers to create all planning documents including concepts of the operation (CONOPs) for each event, assessment requirements and materials, and any administrative supporting materials. CMSE XKS predominantly depended on the KSF officers to review materials to ensure the events met KSF objectives and to coordinate within the KSF chains of command for logistics and resources for the selection. 

Parallel to the planning process, CMSE XKS and the KSF officers conducted a recruiting campaign throughout the KSF units – the three Rapid Reaction Battalions (RRBs), Civil Protection Regiment (CPR), and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). The campaign included the unit commanders receiving the recruitment order notifying them of the new unit and the upcoming selection followed by information briefs at each unit by CMSE XKS and KSF officers. As a result, the total number of applicants for the selection was approximately forty KSF soldiers with thirty-one that qualified and twenty-nine that reported as candidates for the first selection in October 2018.

During the first KCAAS, CMSE XKS executed command and control of the entire event with the support of an additional six US Army Civil Affairs soldiers as assessors while Captains Murati and Buzhala acted as observers. The CMSE dictated every event, standard, and assessment to set an example for the KSF officers of how the course could run. After the final day of selection, the KSF selected only fifteen candidates to join the Civil Affairs Company. Following the end of the course, CMSE XKS, the USSOF support personnel, and the KSF officers conducted in-depth after-action reviews (AARs) to understand how they could adapt and improve the course to meet the KSF needs and CPTs Murati’s and Buzhala’s CACOY vision.

Upon completion, the date for the next assessment and selection was set for March 2019. For this course, the KSF officers took the lead in recruiting, planning, resourcing, and executing with CMSE XKS in support as advisors. It was still necessary for additional USSOF personnel to assess the candidates due to the lack of any CA qualified personnel within the KSF. The recruiting process began first in January 2019. The KSF officers repeated the process from the first iteration by submitting the recruitment order to KSF Commander and then disseminating it throughout the KSF units. This time, however, fewer soldiers were interested in the Civil Affairs Company. CPTs Murati and Buzhala conducted two recruiting campaigns, which included the dissemination of two orders and two recruitment briefings at each of the units, and even elicited the Land Forces Commander’s support in order to stress the importance of this selection.  However, they were still only able to generate nineteen applicants for the second selection event, and only eight reported on the first day. Despite the lack of interest in the selection, the KSF decided to execute the selection with the eight candidates.   

The KSF officers began to prepare for the event shortly after they began recruiting for the second KCAAS. CMSE XKS met with CPTs Murati and Buzhala multiple times to conduct in-progress reviews (IPRs) to understand their challenges and advise them as necessary. Throughout this process, the KSF officers sought to rely on CMSE XKS to execute the plan alongside them, but CMSE XKS constantly reminded them that this selection was theirs to implement. As a result, they assumed the leadership role CMSE XKS previous held and updated all previously CMSE XKS-created CONOPs in an effort to meet the second selection’s requirements such as the change in dates, personnel requirements, materials, and locations. Once again, they conducted the resourcing process for KCAAS within their command to reserve the land, supplies, and assets they needed to execute selection. The biggest adaptation they made was to shorten the schedule to facilitate the significantly fewer number of candidates expected to participate in the selection process. This change happened within five days of the start of selection, and the KSF officers showed great consistency and adaptability in maintaining the initial standards they had set for selection while modifying the schedule to best facilitate the execution of all events in a timely manner.

Therefore, on March 5, 2019, the second KCAAS began. The KSF officers had a white cell composed of a logistics officer and prior selectees that aided in the resourcing, setting up, and facilitation of each event. In addition, the US provided the support of one Civil Affairs Team to act as cadre/assessors, two USSOF psychologists, and two USSOF audio/visual (A/V) technicians, and CMSE XKS was able to decrease its involvement due to the leadership displayed by the KSF officers. Throughout selection, CPTs Murati and Buzhala maintained command and control of all operations through update briefs, battle tracking, and assessment criteria. They conducted event rehearsals and nightly briefs to facilitate the following day’s activities. They often looked to the US support personnel for input and decisions, but slowly recognized that they possessed all decision authority as the support personnel only offered considerations, leaving the decisions to them.

Though the selection had eight candidates (down from twenty-nine during the first iteration) and selected only four, the second KCAAS was an overwhelming success for the future of KSF CACOY. CPTs Murati and Buzhala conducted a difficult and professional selection course that would set the standard for future KSF CA or special operations courses. With limited USSOF involvement, the KSF officers conducted the assessment and selection independently. Once these nineteen candidates pass the future qualification course, the KSF CACOY will be able to conduct their own KCAAS without any needed support from CMSE XKS or USSOF.

Factors of Success for the CACOY

The US allied and partnered nations’ dependency on USSOF support in the establishment and maintenance of A/PN SOF units remains a constraint on USSOF operations. Thousands of US Special Operations service members that could be executing myriad other special operations tasks around the world find themselves constantly involved in the “requirement” to fully manage our A/PN SOF institution building. A look at the KSF CACOY shows that within only two years since its conception, the KSF has been able to recruit, plan, execute, and establish a Civil Affairs Company within the force structure.  Moreover, they have been able to do all of this during a time of transition for the KSF as they establish their ministry of defense and begin to move from a regional security force to an armed force.  The Kosovo CACOY development had multiple factors that could provide an example that USSOF can potentially replicate to reduce that A/PN dependency for their own SOF institution building.

There are three main factors that led to their unusual success and non-dependence on USSOF – the unit development timing within the overall KSF transition, the undeniable support from the KSF Commanders, and the competence and motivation of the two KSF officers.

1. Introducing the civil affairs company concept to the KSF command at a time when the Government of Kosovo (GoK) was planning to transition the KSF to a national defense force provided a natural mechanism for CACOY creation. The mindset surrounding the transition allowed for the adoption of a unit specifically designed for minority outreach in an effort to further diversify the KSF as well as promote inter-ethnic cooperation in Kosovo as a whole. Therefore, as USEMB Pristina and CMSE XKS proposed the CACOY development plan to LTG Rama, the KSF commander was extremely receptive to the concept. As the KSF was considering the future structure of their military, the command welcomed the implementation of a unit that would not only engage the minority enclaves in Kosovo, but also lead to a future special operations contingent within the KSF and potentially Kosovo’s first expeditionary force.

2. The willingness among the higher-level commanders to adopt this new idea developed into their unwavering support of the CACOY establishment, specifically with the initial KCAAS courses. KSF Commander LTG Rama and the Deputy Commander/Land Forces Commander MG Cikaci have shown their support from the beginning, including having CPTs Murati and Buzhala report directly to them on the unit status. After the concept was initially briefed to LTG Rama, he stated that he did not fully understand how the CACOY would look and how it would develop, but that he trusted CPTs Nysret and Buzhala. This trust has been the foundation that the two young KSF officers have built the unit on, and they have used this as their motivation to succeed. MG Cikaci is a key influencer behind the two KSF CA officers allowing them to leverage MG Cikaci’s influence when they faced challenges. This unique relationship with the two most powerful officers within the KSF has practically eliminated any organizational bureaucratic or culture change challenges for the CA unit development. With their support, CPTs Murati and Buzhala have been able to operate autonomously fully knowing that whatever they say or request holds the weight of both generals. This has allowed them access to the time, resources, and personnel that is all required in not only running an assessment and selection, but also establishing a new unit. Without this unbridled access to the highest chain of command, the CA company development would have been a long and arduous process. 

3. Finally, the competency of KSF soldiers CPT Murati and CPT Buzhala is unparalleled. Jointly, the KSF, ODC, and CMSE XKS identified these officers early in their career as future KSF leaders, and they attended the Basic Officer Leadership Courses in the US within their respective branches (CPT Murati – Quartermaster, CPT Buzhala – Infantry). Additionally because of their intended role in establishing the CACOY, both attended the US Army Civil Affairs Qualification Course. Their time attending US Army training was critical to their ability to translate the requirements of US Army Civil Affairs units to the KSF. This manifested itself not only in producing the concept of KSF CACOY, but also in establishing the CACOY’s direction within the KSF. They are both motivated by their individual career progression within the KSF, but also by the future potential the CACOY has to branch into a larger KSF Special Operations Force years down the road. This motivation, as well as the trust from their commanders, has helped them develop what they desire to be the most elite unit within the KSF. With these two junior officers in the lead, they have conducted two recruitment campaigns, two selections, and are now preparing the nineteen selectees for the qualification course. They desire nothing but overwhelming success of a unit that sets the standards for the rest of the KSF and can grow to develop further capabilities in the future. 

These factors have led to the second KCAAS’ successful execution, and they will continue to shape the unit during its formative years. The overall timing for the development of this unit could not have occurred at a better time within KSF history. The support from the highest echelons continues to fuel the confidence of the young officers in the work they are doing. The adaptability, capability, and motivation of the junior CA officers creates the level of professionalism and confidence that a new unit such as KSF CACOY needs.

Upcoming Challenges

Though the unit has thus far been very successful, the CACOY will face three major challenges as they continue to develop and establish their utility within the KSF and Kosovo. First, as Kosovo creates their National Security Strategy and subsequent strategic documents, the importance of developing attainable KSF CA objectives and end state will determine the course of the unit. The original intention was to engage with the minority communities throughout Kosovo, but as the strategic goals of the country fall into place, the unit must be ready to adapt and address the country’s concerns. Additionally, the ever-changing political climate and tensions throughout the country will also require their ability to adapt. Unlike US Civil Affairs, they will be conducting their operations within their own boundaries. This will cause them to encounter many challenges not only operationally, but also organizationally.

Second, the KSF CACOY will face the challenge of changing the organizational culture of the KSF. The KSF has faced many challenges as they prepare for their ten-year transition to a defense force, and this extends to the CACOY establishment. As is evidenced by their struggle in recruitment during their preparation for the second KCAAS, the majority of KSF soldiers have become complacent within their current positions. The populace views joining the KSF as a stable, comfortable job without much risk. However, the Civil Affairs Company has developed a reputation of being very difficult and requiring much more work than the typical KSF units. This is not necessarily a problem as they need to be set apart as a unit with higher standards, but it is important how they develop the narrative of Civil Affairs and its mission within the KSF. This narrative will begin to manifest as they begin to conduct successful operations throughout the country. Once they can show their value to KSF and the GoK, they will be able to attract the types of soldiers they need to continue to build their force. In their current state, if they remain focused on creating a highly competent and effective unit, they will begin to change the mindset within the KSF.

Lastly, the unit must be patient in their initial years after they are established. Currently, they have the plans and desire to establish a special operations command that includes special forces and psychological operations type units. Though this is likely to come to bear in the future, they must remain set on conducting successful operations as a civil affairs unit. Under their current concept order, they planned to establish a special operations command within two years of the beginning of the KSF transition, which took place in December 2018. The KSF as a whole has allowed themselves ten years to transition, so to develop a completely new command within the first two years of that transition is highly optimistic and fundamentally unrealistic. Therefore, the CACOY must remain focused on their current task of conducting civil affairs operations within Kosovo, a task that is most needed within the country at this time. As they show success and continue to grow, they can begin to develop the capability to conduct influence operations.

Overall, these challenges are not difficult to overcome if they remain focused on the present task. They must continue to focus their efforts on developing a well-trained, well-equipped, effective unit that can prove its worth to the KSF command and the Government of Kosovo. This will allow them to develop the proper objectives for the unit, create a narrative that people understand, and eventually grow to become a force with additional capabilities. Eventually, as the European Union (EU) or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) consider integrating Kosovo, the ability to provide an expeditionary force such as the Civil Affairs Company will demonstrate its value to the international community. A unit that is flexible and competent and can integrate within other military forces will produce confidence among the international community regarding the capability of the KSF and provide value to any mission.


The Defense Attaché, Office of Defense Cooperation and CMSE XKS within US Embassy Pristina have played a critical role in the initial development of the KSF Civil Affairs unit. From conception until the recent assessment and selections, the US military has guided the KSF in this previously unknown territory. As is evidenced by the second KCAAS, however, the two captains in charge of this company are more than ready and prepared to continue this process. The unit has quickly matured, and it is capable of operating unilaterally within the KSF. Going forward, CMSE XKS will remain partners with the KSF Civil Affairs as operations are likely to intersect. CMSE XKS can continue to provide recommendations to develop their capabilities to further both GoK and US policy. However, it is no longer necessary for a dependent partnership as it was in the past. As the CACOY grows and begins to operate under its own lines of effort, CMSE XKS will be able to refocus its efforts to conduct civil affairs operations in more critical areas while the KSF CACOY can maintain efforts elsewhere. While the KSF CACOY’s current accomplishments do not guarantee future success, the capability and progress that they have shown provides confidence in their future achievements.

As evidenced from the KSF CACOY example, It is critical that USSOF eventually relinquishes command and control of institution building and allows the A/PN unit to succeed, or even fail, on its own. Had CMSE XKS not enforced the importance of KSF officers conducting their own execution and problem solving, they would continue to rely on the US support. At some point, USSOF must be willing to assess the progress without interjection, and then provide advisement as necessary. It is better for this to take place while the US presence remain, than to be forced upon an A/PN when a USSOF mission set ends or changes unexpectedly. In the case of the KSF CACOY, when CMSE XKS stepped back, they rose to the challenge and performed exactly as was hoped. This was the major indicator that USSOF involvement was no longer a necessity, and the KSF CACOY would continue their maturation and success.  If USSOF can learn to reduce their role and encourage the independence of their partners, it will avoid a similar situation to the prolonged co-dependency in the Middle East.

The road to success for the second KCAAS was possible due to the unit implementation timing, a highly supportive command, and the US-trained junior officers’ competence and motivation. As USSOF continues to build SOF capabilities with US A/PN, commanders should seek to do so only when these conditions are set. USSOF teams can develop these criteria over time through episodic/persistent engagements to determine the appropriate timing, gain support from the proper commanders, and develop A/PN junior officers through security cooperation training. By focusing time and resources towards setting these conditions, USSOF can ensure a strong foundation for the successful implementation and establishment of A/PN SOF units and capabilities in the future reducing the dependency on USSOF to manage the selection process and qualification courses. 

End Notes

[i] Long, Austin, et al. “Building Special Operations Partnerships in Afghanistan and Beyond: Challenges and Best Practices from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Colombia.” 2015, 48-52.

[ii] Long, Austin, et al. “Building Special Operations Partnerships in Afghanistan and Beyond: Challenges and Best Practices from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Colombia.” 2015, 45.

[iii] Thiebes, Colonel George K. “Smart Defense: Significant Return Opportunity on U.S. SOF Investment.” Apr. 2013, p. 22-24.


Categories: civil affairs

About the Author(s)

Captain James Bond, U.S. Army, is a Civil Affairs Team Chief in the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion.  He received his commission as an Infantry officer and B.S. in Kinesiology from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2012. CPT  Bond currently serves as the Civil Military Support Element Team Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Pristina, Kosovo.