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POLICING THE ARMY

Every American ought to be disturbed by emerging evidence that a small number of U.S. Army peacekeepers brought terror instead of security to Kosovo last year. There is no excuse for their actions, and the ongoing review of the Army's own investigation ought to ensure the punishments meted out send a clear message that such transgressions will not be tolerated. And that goes for any officers who might have known of these incidents and failed to act accordingly.

The Army also must follow through on its early findings that the soldiers involved were primed for high-intensity conflict and untrained for the peacekeeping they were actually called upon to do.

Bad planning worsened a bad situation. It led to something far worse for Merita Shabiu, an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl who was raped and murdered by an American sergeant now serving a life prison sentence for the crime. That this occurred at all is a tragedy; that it occurred under the shield of American protection is a national shame.

The investigation ruled the killing "an isolated incident." Much of the other complaints do seem to center on petty thuggery, not on crimes of that magnitude. It's also worth noting that the complaints involve one company of the 82nd Airborne Division, a group of only about 200 of the 6,000 Army peacekeepers sent to Kosovo - and that only nine men, five enlisted and four officers, were singled out as transgressors.

The bulk of the American troops embodied the service's self-defined "Seven Army Values," which include respect, honor and integrity. Serving in a difficult and chaotic situation where simply discerning the enemy was a major problem, they acquitted themselves well.

But even petty thuggery deserves punishment when the thug represents a nation. The fast-track Forces Command review that has been ordered owes America an explanation for the transfers and relatively mild administrative actions that took place, despite the investigators' unheeded recommendations for at least some courts-martial.

The Army also owes this nation assurances that its most combat-ready and hardened troops, if they must be sent into situations where an uneasy truce could spiral quickly back into warfare, are adequately trained in peacekeeping duties and know when and where to use force.

The soldiers and their superiors should be called to answer for their actions. But the Army is responsible for those actions as well, and is accountable for putting poorly prepared troops in a bad place where bad things could happen. That must not be allowed to happen again.

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