‘Mission support’ refers to cooperation extended to any civilian component of the mission or any international civilian agency by the military component of a peace operation, e.g. when the military component provides an armed escort for a humanitarian relief convoy.

When mission support operations are undertaken, CIMIC Officers are typically responsible for planning, coordinating and facilitating the actions of the military units responsible for executing the task.

It is thus important for CIMIC Officers to understand what mission support is, and where it fits into the role and function of CIMIC in the context of U or UN peace operations.

What is Mission Support?

We refer to mission support whenever a military unit provides support to a civilian component of the mission or to any international civilian agency, for instance:

  • when the military component provides an armed escort for a humanitarian relief convoy;
  • when a military unit provides transport, and participates in a joint civil-military assessment mission; or
  • when the military component supports the component/agency responsible for organising an election with security, logistical and communication support.

If the military is providing support to a national, local or internal civilian agency it is called community support, and this is covered in the next chapter.

The Four Stages of Mission Support

1. Identifying the Common Objective

It is important that all the components and agencies that may participate in a joint action have a common understanding of the objectives they want to achieve. This often means that there needs to be agreement on identification of the problem, and on what needs to be done to address it. Each component or agency is likely to have different interests, priorities and entry points, because of their different mandates and responsibilities. However, if they have a clearly identified common objective it will be possible to cooperate. It is the responsibility of the CIMIC officer to make sure he or she understands what the objectives are of the civilian counterparts, how they understand the problem, and what they think needs to be done to address the problem. It is also the responsibility of the CIMIC officer to explain to the civilian counterparts what the objectives of the peacekeeping force is, how the force or unit understand the problem, etc.

2. Joint Planning

The second step is to plan the intended action together. It is important to do the planning together, because the planning process will assist in developing greater understanding among the participating partners of their respective mandates, roles, strengths and weaknesses.

It is imperative to plan for contingencies before they happen. For instance, in the case of an armed escort for a convoy, discuss beforehand and agree how the convoy will respond to different eventualities, e.g. attack, breakdown of vehicles, or roadblocks. There is often no time to discuss the principles at stake in the midst of an incident, so in joint actions of this nature it is important to discuss the various principles, SOPs and other issues beforehand.

For the same reason it is necessary to clarify the respective roles of the partners beforehand. For example, in the case of a convoy, it is generally agreed that the commander of the military escort is responsible for security-related decisions while the most senior humanitarian agency representative is responsible for decisions relating to goods, vehicles and personnel. However, there are circumstances where these two persons may have directly opposing views on what action to take, and it is thus necessary to discuss such contingencies as far as possible in the planning phase.

3. Tactical Coordination

During the execution of the joint action, there will be a need for ongoing tactical coordination. It is unlikely that CIMIC Officers will be involved in tactical coordination in relatively small joint actions, like a convoy, so it is important that those that will carry out the task are part of the planning and are fully briefed on how to ensure smooth coordination during the operation. It should be clear from the outset who the persons are that are responsible for tactical coordination, and what communication channels will be used.

At battalion HQ level and higher, it is likely that the CIMIC Officers themselves will play an important role in operational coordination. In most cases, the same coordination mechanisms will be used as were discussed under ‘Liaison and Information Management’ (CIMIC Centre, UNHOC, UNJLC, etc.), but the intensity of the coordination is likely to be higher when a specific joint action is being planned and executed. For instance, during the run-up to an election, the frequency of coordination meetings is likely to increase, and on election day there are likely to be several meetings.

4. Joint Evaluation

It is important that joint actions be concluded with some form of joint evaluation or ‘After Action Review’ (AAR). The evaluation should make an assessment of whether the common objective was achieved, identify problem areas that need to be improved on in future, and identify best practices and lessons learned so that they can be captured and shared with others that may undertake similar joint actions in future.

Principles and Guidelines

Mission support operations need to be guided by the principles and guidelines for CIMIC highlighted in the policy section of this online course. The specific circumstances of each operation need to be taken into consideration. If the military peacekeepers are in an operational environment where force is being used to maintain peace and security in a given area, it is unlikely that there will be much room for mission support outside of the security realm. However, in situations where the fighting has stopped and where the use of force is infrequent and exceptional, mission support operations are likely to be a daily operational reality.

The key to successful mission support operations is respect among the components and agencies for each other’s mandate and role. Such respect can only flow from a thorough understanding of each other’s mandate in the context of the larger peace process. In some cases the partners would have been working together for a while, and they would have learned from each other in the process. In most cases, however, the partners will need to make a special effort to educate each other about their respective mandates, roles and operating procedures. One of the most common mistakes in the field is that people assume that their counterparts understand their role, constraints and principles. The reality is that most people have a very vague understanding of the work of the other components and actors in peace operations. As a result, one of the key aspects of any coordination initiative is educating each other about your respective mandates, roles, operating procedures and the principles that determine your operational space.

An important factor in this process is the unfortunate reality of continuous personnel changes. Most military units rotate every six months, and some companies and platoons are likely to move around within their area of operations during this period. Military observers, staff officers and police will normally be in the mission for a year, but in most missions they go on a special leave every three months and they are also often moved around during their deployment. Many civilians may stay longer in a specific area, but it is not uncommon for the civilians to also experience frequent personnel changes. For any specific mission support operation, it is thus unlikely that the same group of people will go through the whole planning, execution and evaluation process together. The implication of this, is that the process of building trust and respect among the players on the basis of an understanding of each other’s mandate and role in the peace operation is not a once-off activity, but an ongoing process.

Challenges and Opportunities

It is easier to exchange information than to undertake mission support operations. Liaison typically involves people who have been tasked with coordination, and as a result of their frequent interaction they are likely to develop an empathy with each other and the organisations they represent. The people who will execute mission support operations at the tactical level will not necessarily have had the same level of exposure to their counterparts and their level of understanding for each other’s mandates, roles and operating procedures is likely to be limited. CIMIC Officers will thus have to make a special effort to brief tactical units on the role and mandates of their civilian partners as well as on the principles and guidelines they need to observe during any given mission support operation. This is one of the reasons why it is important to involve key tactical staff in the planning and evaluation process.

Oxfam GB Experience of Civil Coordination

In February 2006, Oxfam GB South Sudan Programme responded to a request from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to deal with an outbreak of Acute Watery Diarrhoea in Torit, Eastern Equatoria State. The UN Security Officer in Juba advised Oxfam GB to contact UNMIS for more information as they were based in Torit. Coordination with the military in provision of humanitarian aid is a delicate issue, as it has implications for Oxfam GB’s impartiality and position as an aid agency. Usually military assets would only be used as a last resort, but the security situation in Torit made this the only option:

Security information: UNMIS were the only UN agency on the ground, and therefore the only source of reliable security information for the team. The UNMIS leader in charge thus assigned one person to be a contact person for Oxfam GB in regards to security information.
Communication: The team conducted a rapid assessment and shared information with WHO and other agencies, to facilitate the provision of emergency supplies to Torit, via the only e-mail service in town: the UNMIS compound.
Transport: When UNICEF transport trucks were stranded, UNMIS provided a helicopter to transport chlorine to Torit to deal with the emergency.
Information sharing: A joint task force from the ministry, hospital and local health experts, MERLIN and Oxfam GB coordinated reports on the spread of the disease. UNMIS were also able to share information on the spread of the disease at military barracks.
Water treatment: As the only providers on the ground, Oxfam GB provided water treatment for the military barracks, even though this is highly irregular practice for an NGO.

(Awadia Ogillo, Oxfam GB, South Sudan Programme, 2006)

The overall command, management and decision-making structure of a mission support operation is a potential problem area that needs to be clearly defined. In some cases it may be useful to have a lead agency approach where one agency clearly has an over-arching responsibility and role – for example, the UNHCR in a refugee-related crisis. In most cases, however, it would be advisable to keep coordination and command and management separate. Coordination should be achieved through the four stages of mission support operations set out above. If there is a clear common objective and plan, each partner will carry out its own actions accordingly. Through operational and tactical coordination, the partners will share information about progress and setbacks and synchronise and adjust their actions accordingly.

Types of Mission Support

There are essentially three types of mission support: providing security, providing logistical support and joint initiatives.

Providing Security

Providing security is one of the most common forms of support that the military component will render to its civilian counterparts. It will typically be mentioned in the mandate of the mission and in the Rules of Engagement. This occurs most frequently in the form of armed escorts or through the provision of area security. Only in exceptional cases will the military component provide static security (guarding) for facilities (e.g. a warehouse or office complex).

The most common form of security provision is the armed escort, for example when a military unit provides an armed escort for a humanitarian convoy. The UN has developed specific guidelines for this type of mission support operation. In some complex emergencies the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) would have developed specific policies and procedures for military or armed escorts, and the CIMIC Officer needs to familiarise him or herself with the generic and mission-specific policies and principles that apply in their specific case.

Logical Support

Logistical support typically occurs in the form of the provision of transport (road, air or water), making recovery or other specialised equipment available to civilian agencies, or cooperation with the coordination of logistical services.

The military component will normally not use all of its transport capability because it would have been deployed with some excess capacity in anticipation of unforeseen developments. It can make this unused capacity or excess cargo space on its aircraft, ships and vehicles available to others. This is one of the most used support activities that takes place within a peace operation.

The military component usually also has an engineering capability with some additional capacity factored in, for the same reason. Again, this capacity can be used under certain conditions to assist with the emergency provision or maintenance of roads, water and electricity, or construction services. In some cases, a military unit may accompany a humanitarian convoy to assist it with recovery services on bad patches in the road. Although the military personnel involved are likely to be armed, this kind of support should not be confused with an armed escort. The purpose of the escort is not to counter any perceived threat, but to assist with the recovery of vehicles. However, the CIMIC Officer needs to be aware that from the perspective of the humanitarian agencies being escorted, the cooperation with the military unit involved will have the same implications as if it was an armed escort.

The military component will have its own independent means of communication and it can provide communication services to others in an emergency when normal telecommunications systems are inoperative.

The military component is also often the only institution with the capacity to provide specialist services, such as weather forecasting and air traffic control.

Joint Initiatives

Joint initiatives refer to any instance where military personnel participate in, and support a joint activity with civilian agencies – such as a joint assessment. In these types of activities, the military unit responsible is likely to provide security, transport and specialist personnel (for instance, medical personnel in the case of a health assessment or engineers in the case of a construction or related type of assessment).


Mission support activities are a critical part of the overall CIMIC function. It represents the sphere of coordination where the military component supports and cooperates with its fellow external civilian partners. These will be either civilian components of the peace mission or civilian agencies, NGOs or other civilian entities that operate in or visit the mission area. CIMIC Officers must be well briefed on the generic and mission-specific principles and guidelines that are applicable to mission support actions and make a special effort to educate themselves, and their military colleagues, on the roles and mandates of the various civilian components and agencies that operate in the mission area.

Convoy Escort Terminology

Escort: An escort is the force detailed to accompany and protect a column of vehicles from being scattered, destroyed or captured. It typically consists of an advance group that roves ahead of the vehicle column and proves the safety of the route. It can warn the close protection group of trouble and it can explore detours. Helicopters can greatly increase the effectiveness of the advance group. The close protection group provides immediate security to the vehicle column. The escort commander leads the escort and he or she is typically located with the close protection group. The reserve group provides a rear guard, reserve, recovery resources and perhaps medical resources. The escort is typically provided by a platoon or section and may be led by a platoon commander or senior non-commissioned officer such as a warrant officer.
Vehicle column: This is the group of vehicles to be escorted, carrying humanitarian supplies, refugees, IDPs, ex-combatants participating in a DDR programme, civilian agencies or VIPs. The vehicles could be grouped in packets (e.g. groups of ten), with escort vehicles in between each packet. The vehicle column should have one person, typically the most senior civilian agency person responsible for the movement of the cargo or passengers, acting as the column leader.
Convoy: This comprises the escort and the vehicle column organised for the purpose of control and orderly movement. A small convoy would typically consist of ten vehicles or less, while a large convoy would consist of 30 vehicles or more.
Convoy commander: The convoy or escort commander is responsible for security, while the column leader is responsible for all matters pertaining to the column vehicles and cargo or passengers. Security concerns override column concerns; hence the escort commander is normally appointed as the convoy commander.

Contingencies and desired responses should be discussed by the escort commander and column leader prior to departure as they are unlikely to have time to discuss and coordinate each situation they encounter en route. Once en route the convoy commander has command and control until the convoy reaches its final safe destination (or prior agreed to alternative destinations).

(Canadian Army Lessons Learned Centre, 1999)

Convoy Planning and Execution Checklist

• What is the mission/purpose of the convoy?
• What is the threat?
• What is the convoy destination and schedule? (alternatives)
• What route will the convoy follow? (alternatives)
• Are there safe harbours along the route?
• Are there any special needs of the cargo (perishable) or passengers (toilet stops) that need to be taken into account?
• Are the escort commander and column leader familiar with the guidelines for the ‘Use of Military or Armed Escorts for Humanitarian Convoys’ of September 2001, or their mission/country specific guidelines?
• Has a convoy commander been appointed?
• Are the column leader, group – and packet commanders familiar with all the plans and contingency arrangements?
• Have all the vehicle column drivers (and passengers, where relevant) been briefed prior to departure (command and control, radio procedures, vehicle distances, contingency arrangements, etc.)?
• Have all the relevant units, agencies and coordination mechanisms been informed of the convoy’s schedule, route and call signs/frequency (reaction force, units en route, belligerent parties where relevant, UN/agency security offices, receiving agency, etc.)?
• Have radio communications been established and tested?
• Have the vehicles, cargo and passengers been verified prior to departure (confirm number of vehicles, confirm numbers and identity of passengers, confirm type of cargo according to manifest)? This serves to avoid discrepancies between departure and delivered manifests and limits potential for illegal or undesirable cargo or passengers.

(Canadian Army Lessons Learned Centre, 1999)

A UNHCR worker checks the ID of an Angolan returnee mother and her children waiting to be registered at a transit camp in Huambo in Angola.