What does legitimacy mean to any of us? The “birthers” here in the US claim that President Obama cannot be the legitimate President of the United States. But they have not picked up arms. Most of them still pay taxes. There have been isolated outbursts, including at least one military officer who refused to deploy based upon his belief that the commander in chief is illegitimate. Other than that, the legitimacy of the United States government is not in serious question.
For most of us, the legitimacy of our government starts when we leave the door of our house and head out into the public areas of our world. For most of us, the first line of contact with our government is the police… and the tax column of our pay stubs. Both are reinforcement of the legitimacy of our government; local, state and federal. But the police that we see on our streets are not federal police. They are local police. Local elections have a greater impact on our daily lives than who occupies the Oval Office in a distant city. The point is that if we never had any contact with our government, how would it be legitimate to us?
Our government is not monolithic. Our paychecks demonstrate that the federal government can reach into our pockets to pay for the national-level services, such as defense. But it’s the local police who influence our daily behavior. When we are speeding, and we see a cop parked next to the road, we check our speed and slow down. That guy with a badge and a gun had an immediate impact on our behavior. That is, at a very basic level, legitimacy in our (American) context. Our government has the ability, whether we like it or not, to enforce its will upon us. We consider that will to be the will of the people. Our elected representatives set the speed limit that we are compelled to observe by threat of that police officer.
We have a national government, but we also have state and local government. Even our state laws are most often enforced by local government officials such as county, city or township police. When there is a question or a conflict, we find ourselves most often in local courts. Our perceptions of the local courts are overwhelmingly positive when it comes to issues such as corruption. While we believe that money does buy justice, we believe that boils down to being able to afford a decent lawyer, rather than in paying off a judge. Very few of us believe that the criminal courts can be bought through bribery.
We know that the government of Afghanistan (GIRoA) is beset by corruption. A massive and pernicious problem, it threatens the perception of legitimacy amongst the people. But, like us, Afghans decide upon the legitimacy of the government based upon their interactions with it. They are not interacting with the government in Kabul. They are interacting with the ANP, the District and perhaps Provincial governments, and the courts. Afghan legitimacy starts at the local level. This does not mean that corruption in Kabul need not be addressed. It means that more Afghans will be influenced by addressing issues at multiple local levels than by making fewer corrections at the national level.
Many military personnel who have experienced the maze of local corruption will tell tales of frustration in dealing with a governor or sub-governor who stubbornly clung to his network of corruption. Many of us experienced a lack of support from other international actors at the local level. The State Department and USAID were not often in evidence in 2007, for instance. One or two DoS representatives per province… in the provinces where they were present… just wasn’t getting it. We had very few USAID workers available in the provinces. We were working the military/security line of operation as hard as we could, but the governance and development lines were being defaulted on. The “surge” in Afghanistan didn’t just include a military surge, but a civilian surge as well. More civilians are needed, but there was still a great increase, and it has made a difference.
We see movement in Afghanistan. I saw it when I was there. GEN Petraeus’ latest reports indicate progress. I know that the official reports are taken with a grain of salt, but there is corroboration. The actions of the insurgents indicate growing weakness. Their tactics this year are aimed at making themselves appear to be larger than they actually are, focusing on areas where they are not necessarily strong, but where they would like to appear to have influence. This is an indicator that they have lost ground not only militarily but also with their ability to influence the population. My observation is that this is due to a greater balance in the application of effort across the non-military lines of operation on a number of local levels. This is the result of refocusing of efforts to the local level, a greater number of civilians present to work on the local level and a greater ability to work in some level of synchrony across the main lines of operation.
The use of consistent tool sets is becoming more widespread. Using ASCOPE/PMESII as the information framework makes it easier for units to to knowledge transfer during the Relief In Place / Transfer of Authority (RIP/TOA). This, combined with the growing use of the District Stability Framework (DSF), makes it easier for the military and civilian actors to synchronize actions across the lines of operation. Both tools are focused on the local level, and aimed at identifying, developing, increasing and protecting capacity at the local level. As indicated above, the local government makes the most difference in the lives of Americans, and it does the same in Afghanistan; only more so.
Afghanistan’s history is one of local governance loosely tied to a national government that is not very prone to micromanagement. The national government has not tended to be a strong influence in the daily lives of farmers and shop keepers in the little villages in the many valleys far from Kabul. This does not remove the pressure to fix what is wrong with the Karzai regime, often described as a kleptocracy. It does give some breathing room to the efforts to develop a national government that is capable of performing the basic functions required and as free of corruption as possible. With local governance improving incrementally, there is a cross-pollination of legitimacy that the national government benefits from. Coalition forces also benefit from progress on the local level, because they are then viewed as being supportive of a legitimate government, rather than tipping the scales in favor of one of two evils.
This year will be very challenging in Afghanistan. As described above, the insurgents are doing their level best to give the impression of being more influential than they are. There is a faint whiff of desperation in the air. There are most certainly areas where the insurgent is actually in better shape than he was two years ago; take the Korengal, for example. Whether or not the tipping point is near or has been reached will not be clear for some time. It is clear that there have been some important steps taken towards improving local governance, security and development. It is clear that the insurgents are under considerable pressure, and not just militarily. Local governance has a greater impact on the daily lives of Afghans than the national government, even a short distance from Kabul. The perception of legitimacy in Afghanistan is more predicated upon local government than the Kabul government.
The United States has been meeting with the Taliban’s Tayyab Agha, who is either one of Mullah Omar’s best friends or he is on the outs with him… depending on who you listen to. While the news was pretty much under the radar as far as news coverage, there has been plenty of opinion expressed by many Americans about the concept of a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Much of it is reflexively negative.
Why shouldn’t we be negative towards reconciling the Taliban with Afghan society? The Taliban have a miserable record as a government and as an insurgency. They are every bit as brutal as most pernicious insurgencies have ever been. Terrorizing the population in order to control them is an ancient insurgent tactic. It causes deep divisions and grudges that last for decades, if not centuries.
It has been pointed out how past insurgencies have ended in one of three ways. Either the government wins, the insurgent wins, or there is a “mixed outcome.” A mixed outcome keeps the government largely in place while compromises are made to resolve the issues that drove portions of the population into the arms of the insurgency. Insurgents are allowed to take part in the political process in exchange for laying down arms and rejoining the process.
What is there to compromise about? What do the Taliban have that GIRoA needs? Well, other than the fact that they use violence that the government needs for them to eschew, they do have some things that the people actually want. The Taliban were a horror by any analysis of what a real government is. During the Taliban tenure, infrastructure, education and health care all went to hell in a hand basket. Nothing there. However, while they were undoubtedly ineffective by most measures of governance, they were not widely perceived to be corrupt.
While the average American Joe cannot relate a lot of deep knowledge about Afghanistan, they do know one word that goes along with any real discussion of GIRoA; corruption. GIRoA is rife with corruption, and the average Afghan citizen is affected by it deeply. The average Afghan pays hundreds of dollars a year in bribes, this out of an income that may be less than $2,000 a year. Nowhere is this more deeply felt than in court. Criminal prosecution and conflict resolution are key issues in nearly every Afghan community, and both are seriously hindered by corruption.
For the average Afghan, access to justice relies on being able to pay the bribes. Often, there is a race for corruption that begins with the police and offers opportunities to short-circuit the system all the way up the chain. An honest judge can be done in by higher courts. An honest policeman can become seriously disheartened by the knowledge that his best work can be undone by a corrupt prosecutor or judge.
Insurgency in the Afghan context is about a competition to govern, and that competition is most often leveraged by the insurgents in the area of justice. The Afghan legal system is so corrupt that it is all too easy to supplant GIRoA courts with shadow courts. In 2007, the story was that the Taliban would arrive with a traveling court and force the residents to bring their cases before the Taliban court. Something sounded fishy about that. How do you figure out who has a grievance that needs to be aired? Well, it turns out that this was wishful thinking. The populace didn’t need to be coerced to access Taliban justice.
They sought it out.
The only thing that the Taliban ever brought to Afghanistan, and the only thing that the people actually miss, was swift and incorruptible justice. That’s just one idea of what the Taliban possess that GIRoA doesn’t. Would it be a bad thing if the one strength of the Taliban was assimilated into a future Afghanistan?
What if the Taliban were allowed to be a political party? What if they ran for office? What if they won a few seats in parliament? Would it be the end of the modern world? No, clearly not. Our own revolution had to do with the inability to redress grievances. Taxation without representation; a lack of ability to participate in government. What would have happened to the American revolution if the king had made concessions that removed this issue?
Would the revolution have been forestalled or even completely avoided? We will never really know. But it is very possible, especially given the number of hardcore loyalists in the thirteen colonies, that the revolution would have lost steam. Another good example would be our own civil rights movement here in the United States. Had the various laws and executive orders not been put in place, is it possible that violence related to the civil rights struggle would have become widespread? Is it possible that greater access to participation, to redress of grievances, even as halting as it was, was enough to prevent more people from seeking to express these frustrations violently?
Is the American civil right movement a good example of a latent insurgency that was derailed by compromise?
History shows us that insurgencies often end with compromise. Afghanistan is not some imponderable morass of humanity where the eternal verities of man are suspended. Job number one is to stop the shooting. That requires a combination of security-related actions, improvements in governance and socio-economic development that remove the prerequisites of insurgency; the key drivers of instability. Then the serious work of developing the capacity to govern and grow begins. Part of the governance work may very well include some compromises that bring the now-distant factions close enough to stop shooting at each other.
The previous posts described a lot of concepts and activities. Granted, that information alone isn’t going to enable anyone to fully execute a District Stability Matrix and perform any kind of program or operational design. It’s an outline, provided in hopes of improving publicly available knowledge of what counterinsurgency and stability operations are. All too often, COIN and stability are described in the few terms that have caught on in pop culture. They are trendy to use in the media, but the reality is misrepresented or mythologized. Misunderstanding of COIN is practically viral. This breeds a separation of the American people, and more than a few academics and think-tankers, from the reality of what is actually being attemted on the ground. COIN and stability operations are grinding, difficult tasks carried out, in the case of Afghanistan, in a land and among a people that appear to be very alien at first glance. Misconceptions hinged on such misunderstood but trendy terms as, “hearts and minds,” makes the whole endeavor unfathomable without a deeper understanding. It’s a big subject, so it’s not easily described in one posting.
With all of the previous posts tied together, what does this look like in practice? When we arrive in, say, a district in Afghanistan, how do we begin? There are a lot of factors that will determine where we start, such as what has already been done by our predecessors. Not every place is like Marjah, where the entire operation started with little or no GIRoA presence or authority in that area. Most of us will land on a work in progress. We still have to start with as complete a grasp of the local environment as we can get.
These days, there is nearly always legacy documentation of what has been learned and done in most areas we could find ourselves in. Often it is not readily retrievable and may be a shotgun pattern of disconnected information. Afghanistan has been called the “graveyard of databases.” So many different repositories have been established over the years that we have, collectively, forgotten what we have learned. Foreign assistance personnel are transitory. We work there for awhile and then we leave, replaced by others after a brief hand-off. That knowledge, that visualization, leaves with the outgoing person or organization. From experience, I know that some efforts become enduring and others end as soon as the personnel leave and are replaced. That is often not based on the merit of the action or program. Sometimes it is due to overlapping funding that has already been vetted and committed. Each rotation of personnel develops its own flavor, its own focus. Because of this, continuity of effort is sometimes lost.
Unity of effort is important, but continuity of effort is undervalued. It actually doesn’t appear on the doctrinal list of “COIN Imperatives.” It is recognized as a problem, though; particularly in the military/security line. The methodology and logistics of handing-off to a follow-on organization have been worked and re-worked for years in attempts to overcome the jerky nature of operations caused by these reliefs. State and USAID personnel change out less often, and being smaller, the hand-off is often more personal.
Many things affect handing over an area to a follow-on person or organization. Time is often a critical factor. There is a finite amount of overlap, sometimes none at all. Many organizations and personnel arriving in Afghanistan right now are getting information presented to them in a non-standard format that is essentially proprietary to the individual or organization on the way out. The rational decision-making processes that the outgoing personnel used may not be documented so that we can clearly understand the intended effects and why those effects were sought as part of an overall plan.
Is this a show-stopper? No, but it is a show-slower and a potential source of discontinuity. This has happened many times in many places, and makes Coalition and GIRoA efforts appear to be haphazard. Haphazard is ineffective in general, but it is definitely viewed as such by the majority of the population. Giving this impression is a great way to fail to gain support or even acquiescence. More and more often, we are seeing units arriving on information organized in a way that can be easily understood. When time is limited, quickly acquiring the situational awareness attained by the previous organization or individual is critical. Momentum, a key political concept, is lost. If the information is not organized in a way that we can anticipate, then we have to organize it so that the “next guy” gets what we didn’t. If we can anticipate how the information is organized, we can practice managing it and visualizing it (difficult tasks) in training. It’s all about visualizing the problems and solutions and maintaining steady and sustainable efforts to move things in a positive direction.
Wherever we find ourselves in the phases of operations, whether we are Shaping, Clearing, Holding or Building, we need to understand the history and thought processes that preceded ours. When deciding to modify or terminate an existing program or effort, we must first understand why that was being done in the first place. We need to understand how it is being measured in both outputs and effects so that any decision that we make is based on a logical approach and not gut feel or initial impressions. Sometimes the “Afghan way” is actually a good thing but looks very strange to a westerner at first glance. When we make decisions and choose courses of action, we document our decision making processes so that it is available and easier to visualize by our successors. We need to reach this level of understanding quickly, and so will they.
If we are lucky enough as a person or group to fall in on such information, organized in a way that we quickly understand, we will have a lot more continuity of effort. Our transition will be more seamless. If we are not so lucky, we have to resolve that our successors will have it easier. Once we have ascertained where we are, then we can apply the techniques appropriate to that phase to make progress. Some things, such as continuing to learn more about the people, places, conditions and events in an area never end. Reconnaissance, as we call it in the military, is constant. Continuous evaluation of our chosen activities and the effects they have on the local situation is also absolutely necessary. We cannot continue unchanged on a course of action that is producing negative consequences.
There is no canned formulaic solution that works in every situation. We strive to learn from the successes of others. We learn from the experiences of others, but we do not just automatically apply solutions because they worked elsewhere. We use our understanding of our discrete area to anticipate, as best we can, how such an action or program will impact the area that we work in. We understand the particulars, the personalities and the realities that will influence the enduring effects that our actions will have on the community. We recognize quickly when waves are made, including how the enemy responds, and we adjust our approach based on the success or failure of any endeavor. We choose metrics that reflect the actual effects of what we do, not just measuring our activity. We do not reinforce failure, and we don’t fail to recognize and redouble success.
We identify, protect and support resiliencies we find in the community and seek to identify and develop undiscovered resiliencies. We are imaginative, collaborative and receptive. We listen, and we interpret input based on knowledge, not impressions or a reliance on intuition. If we don’t know, we use all of our assets to find out. We listen to our enemy, and we separate the lies and half-truths from the truths. Elements of all of the three will be present. We learn to understand why and how his message appeals to the people. We are honest in accepting the truths and seeking to address them to resolve issues that truly do concern the population, such as corruption and injustice. Throughout all of this, we document all of what we learn, what we decided and what we based our decision on so that everyone from our supervisors to our replacements can visualize and understand, assist and continue on.
We have a consistent message, or conversation with the people, that is reinforced by every action we take and is based on enduring themes that have significance to the local population. It is a centerpiece, not an addendum, and is just as pervasive as reconnaissance in everything we do. We think very seriously before taking any action that is contrary to or dilutes our message.
Progress in counterinsurgency and stability is incremental and slow. It is frustrating and sometimes painful. It is difficult to continue in the face of systemic corruption and abuse of power. It is difficult to overcome the negative impression left by a unit that approached the problem as a counter-guerrilla operation. It sometimes seems hopeless where illiteracy is rampant and the people appear inscrutable at first glace. Counterinsurgency is also dangerous. Courage is required, but often that means the courage of conviction to keep trying in the face of adversity and danger coupled with frustration, the combination of which is a powerful demotivator. Keeping our eye on the ball and recognizing subtle shifts is how we cope. Even a little bit of change can make a big difference, and the chances are good that if we reach the tipping point, the Holy Grail of COIN, we will likely not realize it until later.
Note that part of information we collect and keep as part of the ASCOPE/PMESII is the enemy message; their Information Operations (IO). We track their narrative, or conversation with the people. It’s not that hard to gather. We just ask the locals what the insurgent is saying about whatever. They will usually tell us, and they will look for a reaction. We make sure that we get it straight by asking as many people as possible, right down to the casual encounter on the street. This is something that we can include our sensing of the effects that we are having. We can also gather a lot of information about the way that the people react to insurgent IO.
Is the insurgent message hitting home with the populace? Why? There will be a mixture of truths, half-truths and outright lies. Our job is to determine which is which and from there figure out why the insurgent message either appeals to the people or freezes them in place on the fence; unwilling or afraid to commit to supporting or even acquiescing to government rule.
An example of a lie that hit home is an experience in The Tagab Valley, Kapisa Province in August of 2007. At the appearance of Americans, the local Afghan women would turn away, squat and remain motionless, as if they were pretending to be a stone. Men would also behave strangely, but would still step forward to have contact. This was uncommon, and so the interpreter was engaged to figure it out. In the end, it was learned that part of the insurgent narrative in that area was that the ballistic eye wear of the Americans was purported to be able to see through clothing. This was apparently plausible in the minds of the locals, so they responded to the risk of being shamed by concealing their bodies as best they could.
The overall effect was to keep an artificial barrier between the Americans and the Afghans. Many did not believe the story, but enough had their doubts so that the “I will make myself a stone” behavior was widespread. This story was localized, but has been repeated often in a number of other areas. It is not believed by more educated Afghans, but among illiterate people who believe that Americans can do impossible things with technology, it is just plausible enough to warrant caution. Though the effect that it achieved was partial, it would have to be described as successful.
Countering the message involved removing the eye wear and at times addressing the situation directly. If an older Afghan man had heard the rumor, he was offered to try the glasses, and when he saw that the lenses offered no additional capabilities, he was then able to share this with others. Meanwhile, it was stumbled upon that Afghans appreciate the removal of sunglasses in conversation, anyway. This knowledge is now included in COMISAF’s guidance on the wear of ballistic eye protection.
This was a simple example, and by no means an exhaustive description of the complete insurgent narrative in that area. It was just one aspect of it.
Since we know that an insurgency is a political war, we know that the conversation we have with the people is necessary. Each agency or organization, down to the individual level, has a conversation with the local population. The insurgent does the same thing.
We see national-level conversation, such as the rules regulating the behavior of insurgents released by the Taliban. These narratives make international news. In each area, however, the narrative is tailored and refined to appeal to local perceptions, issues and sensibilities. These are the insurgent narratives you are unlikely to hear on the nightly news back home. These messages are also tailored to expand upon the failures of the counterinsurgents on the local level in the specific area. The ultimate goal is obviously to discredit the government, but there are generally messages specifically targeted towards each of the counterinsurgent agencies and often directed at specific individuals.
The insurgent chooses his overall themes and then breaks them down locally. His actions are taken in order to support or further these messages. Insurgent commanders have been fired for getting off message or taking actions that did not support the overall message. An example of this is the insurgent commander replaced after ordering the acid attack on Afghan school girls. The point is that the actions that insurgents take are in support of their narrative, not the other way around. A weakness of counterinsurgents is that they often reverse this equation and try to work their narrative as an adjunct to their efforts, instead of making it a main feature of their operations.
We are at the point where we are selecting actions. At this point, it is absolutely necessary to develop a dialog based on our local issues that rings true with the local populace. Otherwise, we are ceding control of the information war to the insurgents. The national narrative by the government, NATO and all the implementation partners is broad and very general. Simply mouthing the words of GEN Petraeus or the ambassador will not suffice. The local farmer does not hear anything specific in these messages that applies to him. A local narrative is demanded, tailored to the specifics of the local area.
In the end, the goal is to support local government legitimacy; but that doesn’t mean that our narrative lies about government effectiveness. If the government is struggling in a particular area, the best choice is probably to acknowledge that. It will likely be something that you are going to target for improvement, anyway. The local people may not be educated, but they are not stupid, and they already know what works and doesn’t work for them. The counterinsurgent/stability course or courses of action must identify and target these inadequacies in order to have a lasting effect locally. The insurgent narrative is probably quite harsh about these failings. Trying to gloss over things that the locals find objectionable will not improve matters, and only reinforces insurgent relevance.
Each main logical line of operation, Military/Security, Development and Governance, needs to support each other’s messaging. It should all dovetail into a seamless narrative aimed at competing for the ear of the farmer and shopkeeper against the insurgent narrative. Because it is backed by action consistent with the narrative, it is reinforced in the eyes of local observers. It’s a relationship, and as in any relationship, say what you mean and do what you say. Nobody cares about airy promises and trite sayings. They want to see action that supports what you say. This, more than any other thing, is what builds trust among the people.
So part of each working group’s agenda needs to be the conversation with the people, distilled from a thorough understanding of the local area and their issues, including what the insurgent is saying. Then, once the local message of each actor is established, it is consistently carried and not deviated from significantly. Commanders ensure that their narrative is carried by every soldier, and NCO’s enforce this standard.
Proposed actions are compared against the narrative and either the action is altered or the objective of that action is incorporated into the narrative. If a proposed action is contrary to the narrative, it is given great scrutiny to determine the appropriateness of that action. Rarely will we take an action that does not directly support our narrative. This is the key to effective information operations, which are the audible evidence of our conversation with the local populace.
Now the counterinsurgents are gaining a pretty thorough understanding of the local area, with so much information that it’s hard to manage it, much less remember it. We have to form a picture out of it. The concept is getting to know the area the way that a beat cop knows the neighborhood that he works in every day for years.
Except that we don’t have years to get to know the villages in the valleys and the people that inhabit them. Simplistic viewpoints such as a belief that, “It’s the tribes!” is the answer to every question about Afghan society won’t help us get to know them any quicker.
We must use what we have available to discover this information as efficiently as possible and use your resources to manage it. Also, keep in mind that very little of what we will learn from this is actually intelligence. We are learning what the local population already knows, so it is information. Intelligence officers and others must be careful not to over-classify information and mistakenly call it intelligence. Over-classification of what should be simple information is counter to the first requirement of creating unity of effort; communication. Communication starts with the sharing of basic information. This is how counterinsurgents partner to develop a common operating picture; seeing what each other sees and filling in the gaps in each other’s vision.
A good example of how this common vision was short-circuited is the way that Human Terrain System information was forced to be transmitted over the military’s secure information network, classifying the information by default. While it was an effective way of transporting information, it was not an effective way to disseminate it, and is a great failure to achieve a common operating picture using shared information. Again, very little, if any, of the information gathered by Human Terrain Teams needs to be classified, because information about how a society works is already known by its members.
The insurgents use “open-source” warfare because of necessity and adaptability. For us, it is actually a requirement; but we can do much better in so many ways.
If Google could search Afghan society, all that information would be there, and not because of Wikileaks. It’s practically open source; except there are no search engines that will tell you who the Malik of this or that town is, no listing of mosques or schools with their grid locations, no listings of teachers and where they live. You can’t Google who owns what land, who is involved in a land dispute and what families gravitate to which side in that dispute. You have to find that information out, document it, make the information retrievable and share it with all of the other actors involved so that they are aware of it. Blunders are avoided in such a way; the types of blunders that can spoil relationships.
Many act as if it is some kind of revelation that Afghan society works through relationships, but that’s nothing new, even in the age of internet social networking. In fact, the rise of tech-driven social networking is proof that American society works through relationships. The most successful people are great networkers. They remember details about their friends, relatives and business associates. Golf courses would struggle to survive if it weren’t for the business of business that takes executives to the courses to form and strengthen the relationships that keep businesses intertwined.
American society is as networked as the qawms of Afghanistan. The weave is different, but the fabric is very similar. The end result is a need to understand the various threads and how they are interwoven. It is as important for the development and governmental capacity builders to understand these intertwined relationships as those involved in security and military operations.
From the picture that begins to emerge from all of the various elements of information that we have gathered, we start to see three things emerge. We will find that there is some kind of grievance/unmet need, unfulfilled expectation or vacuum in authority that affects the people in their daily lives. Secondly, we will find that there is local leadership that is available to channel this into a willingness to commit violence, at least among a few locals. Finally, we will find that there is a weakness in the government, or a perception of weakness, instability or corruption. These are the causes and conditions that will exist in the presence of an insurgency. Sometimes they will seem to be glaringly apparent, but a methodical approach will help in identifying what the most pressing issues that demand action are. There is a methodology to help keep this analysis organized, but we know that the answers for each area are unique to that area. This is why we don’t just apply a methodology and ignore local information. Quite the contrary.
Note that as we gather information to create our mosaic picture of the local conditions, we do not ignore the terrain, nor do we ignore the enemy. We don’t include intelligence in our sharing unless that member is cleared to possess the intelligence. But a lot of information about the enemy will be “open-source” information, because the enemy often lives among the population. Even if a key figure is not native to the local area, the people know who he is and often where he hangs out and how many fighters he can gather. They know who the shadow sub-governor is, what he has said and who transmits his messages. So all of this is included in our operational picture. The point is that this picture is holistic.
Through this development of a common operating picture, all of the counterinsurgents and stability actors can begin to have a dialog that can synchronize efforts towards a set of common, sometimes very incremental goals. Each logical line of operation supports the other. If these lines of effort intertwine, they are as strong as rope. If they don’t, they are three relatively easily broken strands that may rub against each other and weaken each other.
Assume that most of the other individuals and groups are acting in good faith, trying to do the best that they can. Understand that each will approach the problem set that begins to emerge from their own background and experience, with a view towards whatever “lane” they fall in. Each should share the common picture, but each is oriented towards one of the main three lines or a piece that falls under one of them. Some will be very specific, such as rule of law or agricultural development specialists. Each brings something to the table. A locality may not be ready for all of the good things that the some members of the effort will wish to do. And, gains made in one area that are not supported by gains in other lines of operation will be temporary at best, eventually ceding ground due to a lack of follow-through. Each agency or individual will take some sort of action in an attempt to achieve the effects they desire; to accomplish their jobs. Dozens of people moving separately with good intentions is still along the line of the thousand monkeys with typewriters probability of success; eventually, somewhere, Shakespeare will emerge. Unity of effort is key.
How does a group of counterinsurgent/stability actors get synchronized and stay on course? Efforts must be “linked and synched” at each level of operation. ISAF, USAID, the State Department and the UN maybe linked at the national level and completely de-linked at the provincial level. In fact, this has been the case fairly often. Military commanders will have no realistic idea from day to day where the various and sundry individuals working for good are in the operational area he is supposed to be providing security for. However, there is no “requirement” for everyone to check in with or “be cleared” by the military commander. In the past, American units working separately with the ANP and ANA were often oblivious to each other’s presence only a short distance from each other. Working groups, sharing as much information as possible without compromising security, are necessary. This should be done to the lowest level possible. This may mean an Army platoon, an ANA company, and solitary representatives from various agencies such as USAID, the PRT, the district ANP chief, the district sub-governor and various elders working together to synchronize efforts.
At some level, everyone needs to be engaged if possible. There may be a higher-level working group that involves key actors and makes decisions and coordination, but each agency or individual needs to be involved in the larger group. You can never have too much collaboration, but care must be taken not to let the sea of voices degenerate into cacophony.
In the past and continuing into today, projects have been selected (often pre-selected) for various areas. The first answers that come to mind in relation to development, for instance, are, “Build a road, build a school, build a clinic.” These seemingly default answers may or may not be what is needed first. Based on our understanding of the picture we’ve developed, the counterinsurgents must determine what is needed first. Just as we have applied a methodology to gather and manage the information that has built a picture for us to understand the area, we now apply a decision-support framework to solve the issues we have begun to identify.
We need to understand where we are starting. We talk in terms of, “Clear, Hold and Build.” In Afghanistan it has become, “Shape, Clear, Hold and Build.” These are a way of phasing operations, like setting checkpoints along a route. They also describe the overall effect that is desired for that phase. The concept of, “Shape, Clear, Hold and Build,” is a military concept based upon who published COIN guidance referencing these phases of operations (COMISAF). You will find plenty of civilians speaking in these terms, but some civilian organizations don’t really buy off on it. That does not mean that they cannot be synchronized into a plan, but it may provide communications challenges. Each logical line of operation has a contribution and tasks that they need to accomplish in order for these operations not to degrade into a cycle of periodic clearing with scant or failed efforts to hold and build which always melt away into worsening security; a pattern which many of us have witnessed repeatedly in Afghanistan.
Each actor must agree realistically to what they are to accomplish and when. There must be accountability each to the other, and through solid relationships, each can respond to needed support or adjustments due to setbacks. It is still a war, and then enemy still gets a vote. There will be delays and disruptions. Each must adjust and work around these; as long as it does not prevent progress.
In order for all of this to occur, there needs to be a plan. There is commonly no one person “in charge” of the efforts. Of the three main logical lines of operation, Military/Security, Governance and Economic Development, none of three “food chains” culminate in the same person in the country of Afghanistan. The principle of “Unity of Command” is broken; if you think of it as a strictly military effort. But it isn’t. Unity of command is a military principle and there for one reason; to attain unity of effort. Unity of effort can be attained without unity of command, but it requires tact, patience, understanding and good will on the parts of the several actors involved.
In the end, the correct answer would be for the Afghan official involved to be in charge. That is the goal, anyway. But, in practice that takes time and a lot of mentoring (often not provided) to attain. So we have to operate by some sort of mutual understanding. Personal prejudices come into play and must be overcome. Military viewpoints on civilian aid workers will lead to assumptions being made (flower-munching, Birkenstock-wearing tree huggers). The reverse is also often true (linear-thinking knuckle-draggers who say, “Clausewitz!” if you sneeze near them). These are human failings that professionals must recognize in themselves and work through, because they are completely counterproductive. Professionals override these knee-jerk reactions and work through it.
There are a number of frameworks that have been proposed and used for decision support in Afghanistan. USAID has developed one that has been accepted by the Army and approved by officials ranging from COMISAF to the Secretary of Defense; the District Stability Framework. Through seeing a common operational picture, we attained a degree of unity of vision. Now we begin to speak a common operational language by organizing and speaking of information and decisions using a common operational framework.
Insurgencies do not usually end with a bang. They usually end in a whimper. Statistically, according to Rand, out of 73 concluded insurgencies, 47 ended with either a government win or what Rand calls a “mixed outcome.” Rand considers a mixed outcome to be a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Government victories and negotiated endings are almost always whimpers. Insurgent success is usually with a bang. Almost exactly two thirds of insurgencies end in whimpers.
Galula described this effect, and described the political win as rendering the insurgent “irrelevant.” Galula pointed out that the goal of the counterinsurgent is to make the insurgent irrelevant and then the “true believers” are reduced to the level of violent criminals. When this happens, it is eventually a “win” for the government. But, I would consider a negotiated settlement a win as well.
Why would a negotiated settlement be a win? Let’s narrow down the bang and whimper thing. Insurgencies end with either the reintegration into the (non-violent) political process of the greater part of the insurgency, they end with a total changeover of the government (insurgent win), or they end up with the annihilation of the insurgent. Annihilation of the movements themselves are rare. The most recent example is the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan government. But there are few similarities and significant differences between the Tamil Tigers and Afghan insurgencies.
From what we see, nearly two thirds of insurgencies that have been decided ended either with reintegration of enough of the insurgency into the process to make further insurgency irrelevant or the total destruction of the insurgent. Let’s look at the first case, since the second is much rarer. Reintegration sometimes happened by the government responding to the legitimate concerns of the people and reducing the level of dissatisfaction (grievances) while simultaneously protecting both its own employees and the people themselves from insurgent influence. It sometimes happened through negotiating to bring the insurgents back into the political process. Either is acceptable, so long as the core values of the government are not breached. A combination would also work. The point is, when the political violence ends or ceases to be a serious threat to the government, the issues and contenders exit the realm of warfare and enter the realm of domestic politics. That is success, because the insurgency is effectively over, and it has not completely unseated the legitimate government.
The particulars of whether it is by reformation, negotiation or any mixture of both are irrelevant. The end result was the inclusion or re-inclusion of the formerly violent opposition into a civil political process, ending their participation in hostilities. That, truly is the goal of the counterinsurgent. Any other outcome is either indecisive or a loss for the counterinsurgent. Indecisive is when the fighting continues.
When the government wins, it is often not even apparent for some time. Governments usually win by a combination of factors that include some type of political reform. Either the government gets better, or it will likely lose. In a competition to govern, one path to success is to actually win in the area of governance. The violent component of insurgency can interfere with this to a great extent, so security is a key feature of success as well.
The most ideologically-driven insurgents will often “fight on” for years, but eventually become a criminal problem rather than a real political threat. Nonetheless, the apparent continuation of hostilities will often give the illusion of continued insurgency, but there is a point, which is very hard to describe or pinpoint, that insurgency degrades into a condition that looks more like Timothy McVeigh and less like Mao. That is the true tipping point, but it is often not clearly seen except in retrospect. That is a challenge for the government under threat of an insurgency, but it is even more of a challenge for the public support of international counterinsurgents; the home front.
National will is tested severely in counterinsurgencies. The will of the nation beset by an insurgency is severely tested, and the lives of its citizenry are at risk and often made miserable by the contest. The national will of nations assisting a counterinsurgency are also seriously tested, as we see in our own country. The significant delay in perception of when momentum actually shifts in a counterinsurgency is not a positive when it comes to maintaining public support for a course of action that includes active counterinsurgency by an international force.
The insurgency itself is also tested, and continuously so. Insurgents have natural strengths, such as the ability to remain largely difficult to detect. But they also have weaknesses or challenges to overcome, including morale, funding, recruitment, losses and sometimes even the basics like food and shelter. Weapons are not free, and neither is ammunition. In Afghanistan, it is remarkable that in many areas the insurgent can only afford to engage once every few days. This provides pressure on the insurgents to keep supplies coming. When governance improves and security is improved, local public support becomes harder to come by and information regarding the insurgents will begin to trickle in.
If things continue to improve, many pressures are put on the part-timers to quit showing up for ambushes. Finally, the local die-hards don’t quite quit at that point and probably never will. These long-term local engagements with insurgents are the real chess games in Afghanistan. They are like that weird 3-D game of chess on Star Trek, because each instance of the game will have three main components; military/security, governance and economic development. This game of 3-D chess is normally played out between locally savvy elder insurgents, generally one or more local GIRoA officials, and a series of Captains and Lieutenant Colonels who are on the ground for a year at a time. In the past couple of years, it has increasingly included USAID and State Department personnel. The insurgent competes in the military/security and governance lines and sometimes in the development line, although the insurgency itself provides little in the way of economic development.
By exception, in Afghanistan, poppy provides a significant example of how insurgents can provide development to serve their purposes. Of course, it’s not what we would like to see in long-term, sustainable development, but I submit that it is an example of insurgents manipulating the economy and providing employment opportunities. Insurgents may also control the access of humanitarian organizations to create the impression of providing services or development. However, there is no strong evidence that not providing social services has ever led to the failure of an insurgency. There is also no strong evidence that the provision of social services will result in a government win. Providing effective and acceptable governance, on the other hand, unarguably does often result in government wins. The provision of social services is a feel-good action that is not synonymous with good governance.
Statistically, the longer an insurgency is dragged out, the incidents of counterinsurgent wins actually increase slightly. But the loss or unreliability of foreign support has been a significant factor in a number of insurgent wins. Foreign forces engaged in counterinsurgencies are successful a little less than 50 percent of the time; if “government wins” is the measure of success as used by Rand. However, if we consider a success to include negotiated solutions that bring an end to insurgency, then the success rate of foreign active interventions is 12 of 17 or 70%.
As we’ve seen, about two thirds of insurgencies end with what could be termed success for the sitting government. While the outright collapse of insurgencies is included in that two thirds, more often it is by degrees and may include negotiated settlements. Quite often, it is months after the tipping point is reached before it is apparent that an insurgency is subsiding.
This describes how insurgencies have tended to work out, and a few examples of how these principles apply in Afghanistan. Obviously, we are trying to work this one into the two thirds of “successful” outcomes.
A success will sound more like a whimper than a bang. This doesn’t sit so well in a country that likes touchdowns, home runs and actually seeing someone win on “The Biggest Loser” or “American Idol.” Yet, that’s exactly what we are striving for. The next question is, “How do we fit Afghanistan into that successful, whimpering two thirds?”
From an email from a friend, MP, seeking input on understanding Afghanistan:
I’m missing a narrative for the war in Afghanistan. That certainly needs to start at the very top of the civilian leadership, be reinforced by military leadership, and be lived by all involved.
I mean, if you ask most people what it’s about they might be able to say something about denying the enemy (AQ, Taliban) a safe haven from which to operate and hurt us at home.
And I think many people who read milblogs might be able to tell you a story or two about individual courage and sacrifice amongst our warriors.
But what is totally absent is the whole middle part. In Iraq, the Army didn’t do a great job with that either, but they did put out some stuff that the milblogs were able to amplify with their coverage.
For example, where are the Travis Patriquins of the war in Afg? The COL MacFarlands? They brought Petraeus back but where is he? Where are the stories that Roggio used to cover so well, talking about the Anbar Awakening before it was called that? Or giving context to operations like those which severed the “ratlines” from Syria?
The military doesn’t even seem to bother with dopey stories about opening schools or helping farmers anymore. That’s pretty bad! Because if they did even that, perhaps some bloggers would publish them with commentary that could stimulate thinking and conversation.
What MP is actually looking for is that mid- to low-level narrative that describes what our Soldiers and Marines are doing on the ground. Of course, my response is to go on about statements of national strategy. But that’s where the narrative begins. I will tell you that the mid- to low-level narrative is stronger on the ground in Afghanistan… at least in some circles… than it is here. There is such a tremendous disconnect between the national conversation regarding Afghanistan here in the US and what is actually being done on the ground over there. That disconnect has left gaping holes in the narrative here, and those gaping holes leave broad spaces where there is no ability to connect with what our Soldiers and Marines are actually doing there on a day-to-day basis. This is where MP senses the lack of narrative; it is the narrative that MP looks for and wishes to connect with. And, sadly, it’s missing. From my perspective, that comes from the top.
The missing narrative starts with the civilian leadership and extends from there. The civilian leadership doesn’t know how to clearly articulate its goals in a simple and accurate message. Obama states some fairly nebulous goals that appear to be disconnected from our actions on the ground. I mean, for the average citizen, what does rendering al Qaeda harmless have to do with “nation-building” in Afghanistan? Isn’t al Qaeda mostly in Pakistan now? What about Yemen? The narrative is broken from the top down, from that first sentence. It’s a failure in leadership, leaving a vacuum that is filled with a sea of voices all shouting to be heard. People try to interpret the narrative from that sentence on down, and the lack of clarity in instilling a visualization of what it’s supposed to look like juxtaposed with actions that don’t seem to entirely suit the scant high-level narrative leaves a lot of room for that cacophony to grow. The individual voices in that sea are influenced by their own standpoints and goals. Most just repeat buzzwords and really can’t envision the problem they are trying to solve with any clarity themselves. It’s outside of their frame of reference, which often gets more rigid with age and not more flexible.
In warfare in general, but counterinsurgency in particular, there are always at least three narratives, but they respond to each other and bounce off of each other. There is the official narrative, the unofficial narrative (the media), and then there is the enemy narrative, which is compared to and contrasted against the official narrative. The unofficial or popular (media) narrative is critical of the official narrative; it questions it, explores it and hammers it when it is in any way deficient, false or inconsistent. The enemy narrative is often delivered unfiltered and without substantive critique.
No one here in the US has a clear grasp of what is going on there, but oh so many cry out to be heard. With the “official” narrative weaker than water, it’s easy to lose reality in the sea of voices who shout down each other in competition to become the main narrative. Again, it’s a question of leadership, and at the upper levels, our leadership’s message is weak. The mid and lower level messages will stem from the overarching narrative, but that overarching narrative doesn’t seem to describe what we are actually doing on the ground, and so there is a disconnect. It cannot begin with GEN Petraeus’ narrative. His narrative must support and inform the national discourse. Without the underpinnings of a clear statement that his narrative dovetails with, it is cast adrift and easily derided as being somehow unsupported and unsupportable. The last general who tried to command the narrative, unsupported by the civilian leadership, is now in unscheduled retirement.
Disconnects leave a vacuum, and politics (the narratives are all about politics), like nature, abhors a vacuum. Communications abhors a vacuum as well, and competing interests will always vie for influence over the narrative… especially when the narrative has no central theme. Afghanistan is more confusing than Iraq in many ways, and so the narrative is difficult to begin with, but our national narrative is so scattered that it almost seems not to exist. MP is not the only one who misses it and looks for it. Everyone does in one way or another, and so the dominant narrative here is a disjointed argument over bullshit.
For me, what is most troubling about this disconnect are the memes that arise from the cacophony and eventually become accepted as truths. Folks, a lot of our “talking heads” are talking out of the other end, but they sound so sage while doing it that when they further a meme, you wouldn’t know it. And they’re paid to know what they’re talking about, right? Yeah, in a perfect world. There are only a couple of journalists out there who know COIN from a hole in the ground. It’s like chewing broken glass to listen to them flail away at the concept. It’s stunning that some of most educated observers who do understand it cannot enunciate it clearly, and when they do they are shouted down by the mass of voices competing to gain control of the narrative left adrift, often for their own reasons. There is no room for a consistent mid- or low-level narrative to emerge from this. Military commentators like COL Gentile and politically-driven think-tankers like Michael Cohen wouldn’t be able to propagate their memes if the successes that do exist were properly documented and narrated. They would be forced to think harder and be more rigorous in their criticisms. Cohen and Gentile’s personal narratives haven’t progressed in over three years because they haven’t needed to. They, and others, can criticize a weakly stated strategy easily with broad and unsupported strokes and reduce the narrative to a squabble over tactics that could be put to bed readily with an accurate tactical narrative that didn’t look like a kaleidoscope.
What would our narrative look like? I don’t think that “feel good” type stories of the type that we saw in the early days would do it for me. Building schools always looks good, but it may not be the best thing for a given community at a given time. Stories that give the background of why a decision has been made, that show the details of really excellent stabilization activities would really grab me. I would love to see a narrative about the successes that Community Development Councils have achieved while our Soldiers and Marines helped to provide the requisite bubble of security, working hand in hand with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). A narrative that shows our young men and women, both civilian and military, engaging in reestablishing local capacity to manage their own affairs in a mode higher than basic survival mode would be awesome; because this is happening in discrete local areas in Afghanistan. A narrative that shows that the shift is happening from a centralized government focus to building the solid footing of local governance would be great. A strong narrative would show that these traditional local structures have in the past and can now be linked in an Afghan way to a central government, that this cross-pollination of legitimacy at the local and national levels is an Afghan phenomenon and that we are learning to foster this. A great narrative would put to rest the exotification of Afghans, showing them for the human beings that are more similar to our great grandparents than we are. A great narrative would show the progress that our Soldiers and Marines are risking life and limb to enable, and the hard work being done by smart people from USAID and State to assist. A great narrative would show the heroism not only of these best and brightest that America has to offer, but would also highlight the heroism of our Afghan allies (which I know is there, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes). Now that would be a narrative.
It would also be a narrative that would engender truly thoughtful and incisive criticism which would lead to sharpening the edge rather than being mere oppositional horseshit. A true dialog would be a lot more helpful than a bunch of shrieking voices all in opposition to each other, almost none of which really know what they’re talking about.
Information dominance starts with strongly and clearly stating your objectives and then ensuring that all of your actions are in support of that clearly stated goal. When everyone knows what right is supposed to look like, then they can recognize what wrong looks like and offer truly constructive criticism. A real narrative would look more like a steady stream of consciousness instead of a cacophony of geese staking out nesting sites.
Yeah, MP, we are all missing that narrative.
There’s an interesting article posted over at Small Wars Journal that brings up some thoughts I have on the subject.
In my experience in Afghanistan as both an embedded adviser and with the COIN Center, I had many and various experiences from the military side of the house with civilians of many flavors. In 2007, there was a dearth of US civilians on the ground. In 2009-2010, I witnessed the “civilian surge” and its effects.
My overall impression of Afghan government officials is that they are, to a man, in over their heads. From Karzai on down to the district Sub-Governors, not a one has managed so much as a township-sized administration prior to be being thrown into their current position. Afghanistan had/has no “institutional memory.” If I were put in charge of my state’s Highway Department, although I am unskilled, there is enough institutional memory present to keep things from becoming a total disaster for at least a period of time. People raised within that system know how things are done, and things will get done to a greater or lesser extent. Over a longer period, my incompetence at running a highway department would eventually put a lot of drag on the organization. But in the short to medium term, things would run.
Afghanistan, and many other countries which we would seek to provide stability assistance to, has no institutional memory. Their administrators and managers have long since been run off or killed. COIN does not function as a self-standing strategy for resolving instability, it is a methodology for fighting against an active insurgency, but it does not resolve the causes and conditions that gave rise to the insurgency to begin with. Instability is an incubator for insurgency. The military role in the stability operations required to remove these underpinnings is the lesser of the three main lines of effort.
I have seen a lot of dedicated people doing really great things; things that never get trumpeted or even spoken about here stateside. But 350 is not nearly enough good people to really make the stability progress needed to remove the underpinnings of an insurgency. The Afghan National Army is one of the greater successes in Afghanistan to this point, and its successes have been due to mentoring; being present. Money is not the solution, although it costs money. But these Afghan civil servants with no prior experience and no institutional memory to support them truly need mentoring. Without it, they fall back on the types of behaviors that are spawned as survival mechanisms in “conflict ecosystems.” We use their incompetence as further proof that they do not deserve our “blood and treasure.”
I echo those first two commenters at SWJ who have seen greatly capable people disabled by archaic management. The military has struggled with the massive paradigm shift of COIN Operations with wildly varying degrees of success (and failures that are inappropriately rewarded because Afghanistan is not worth a single officer’s career unless it is an infraction of political correctness… and we can’t punish what we ourselves cannot define as failure, anyway). All the while, the military has dealt with infighting and malcontents who simply do not want to fight this kind of war and dicker endlessly about a doctrine that has never truly been applied across the spectrum. Any argument about FM 3-24 that includes reference to its having taken over the military culture is fatally flawed from the start. Noise and smoke do not a takeover make.
In short, no one is truly leading the way. Everyone is making excuses ranging from, “FM 3-24 simply doesn’t work, anyway,” to “It’s not critical to our national interests,” to the equivalent of, “Afghans are alien creatures incapable of governing themselves and undeserving of our best efforts.” The battle for modernity is not being fought in the villages of Afghanistan so much as it is within our own institutions, and those comments above illustrate this. It is our internal struggle to adapt to the changes that globalization have wrought upon our world. Old world views clash with the concepts that are inherent with the realization that the world has irrevocably changed. Apathy driven by the urge to endlessly examine one’s own navel in a poor economy, the lack of direct impact on the greatest mass of Americans and blaming foreign policy for poor responses to a changing world economy exacerbates this and makes for some strange political bedfellows.
The absence of an obviously existential threat means that no patriotism is required, right? We are all in this for the money and our careers and there is no need for discomfort and risk. Our own tactical commanders often illustrate the resulting risk aversion and zero-defect mentalities (see MAJ Jeremy Kotkin’s recent article at SWJ). If this view is prevalent in the military, then why should civil servants not follow suit? Where is the requirement to endanger oneself or even suffer discomfort; isn’t that what a professional military is for?
I’m not sure that a Civil Service draft is the answer, but this article is a strong statement about the fact that, in a three-pronged approach, we are not doing very well. IF we achieve some limited success in Afghanistan, it will be because there are a lot of smart, energetic people out there (including Afghans) who are doing the best they can, largely unsupported by cumbersome and archaic institutions, and getting some good things done. I do know that on the ground, “Afghan good” is good enough… but we struggle to get to even that standard.
Did you find that any of the countries/services/types of units took to your training more readily? Do we have a disconnect across the whole spectrum, or are there pockets of willingness to adapt? Were the Brits more accepting of your methods than the US Army, or the Marines? How about the SF and airborne units?
My experience with State employees in Anbar was very similar. Lots of overpaid PhD contractors and political appointees who were grossly unprepared for the challenges they faced. Most seemed more interested in the money and writing their next thesis. With a few exceptions, we gained better results from officers and SNCOs with limited knowledge of a subject but open minds and positive attitudes.
That’s a great way to start the rest of the story. Of course, there a hundred topics in the overview of it all that bear deeper discussion, but that would be overwhelming for a single blog post. Later on those.
Yes, there were those who were more receptive. Many more, although the impression was constant that there were those who agreed with the attack dogs of intransigence but simply could not bring themselves to vocalize it. It was usually those who perceived themselves as alpha dogs who spoke loudly and often. Most often, but not always, they were combat arms field grade officers or Sergeants Major. That did not mean that every Infantry Lieutenant Colonel was going to be oppositional. Not at all. But those who were oppositional were often combat arms field grades. Probably 8 of 10 combat arms Sergeants Major sat through the course looking as if they were being force-fed a bowl of freshly microwaved cat dookie.
Our NCO Corps is miserably uneducated in COIN and, as such, is left out of a good portion of the fight except the actual fighting.
There were surprises, though. Civilians who wanted to focus on restrictive rules of engagement, combat arms officers (in many classes) who could discuss the finer points of COIN in detail (those who had educated themselves were not oppositional). There were trends, but no hard and fast rules as to who was going to be a challenge and who was going to bring the conversation in the classroom… or the field… to new heights. Some of the hardest to work with were actually those who were partially read, mostly articles and a few academic papers, and thought they had it all sussed.
Among the rest, there were those who found it complicated and frustrating, often those who liked empirical processes. They struggled and seemed concerned with failure at the practical exercises. Often those folks left with an appreciation for the processes designed to help with a highly creative effort. There were also those who had language difficulties and were challenged to keep up, much less engage as much as they would have liked.
By far, though, the greatest percentage of attendees had worked hard to get to the course and were eager to learn and open-minded about the material. They worked hard, focused well, brought their previous experience to bear and engaged in thoughtful conversation. In addition to particularly professional combat arms officers, non-combat arms branched officers and combat arms officers from branches like Artillery were eager to learn. They had fewer paradigms to break and more open minds. Many were being tossed into roles which did not precisely fit their branch or occupational specialties and therefore were just looking for education on how to handle the situation they were being thrown into.
The attitudes of partner nation military members was something of a mixed bag. There was often an underlying current of resentment as to why they were being taught American COIN doctrine. Sometimes the question was actually raised. The real answer was that the school is designed to be an Afghan school when all is said and done. It will be absorbed into the Afghan Defense University. There was an Afghan co-director. Success in bringing the Afghan staff along is another story, but we were teaching the doctrine that the Afghans had officially adopted. There is an Afghan version of FM 3-24, and it is based directly on FM 3-24, nearly word-for-word. Some of our partner countries still have no officially published doctrine for counterinsurgency. Others, like the French, have had COIN doctrine for quite awhile and perceive themselves to be more than adequate practitioners as it is. The British and Australians were particularly keen to learn the doctrine. The Brits in particular have taken to COIN with vigor, and having produced their own doctrine relatively recently, are eager to discuss principles.
A year ago, I would have said that the Marine Corps outstrips the Army in its overall grasp of COIN. As a service, this still may be true. But, there are still differences between units. The MEF that arrived in the summer of 2010 appeared to be much less interested in COIN than the unit that preceded it. One Battalion Gunner told me that his unit had received no COIN training to speak of, but did train the task of “Assault” to the battalion level prior to deployment. He immediately followed this information by proudly displaying the new hollowpoint ammunition that each Marine in his battalion had been issued six full magazines of. The Marines do have COIN trainers at Twenty Nine Palms, however.
Special Forces typically believe themselves to be natural counterinsurgents due to Special Forces training. We didn’t get a ton of them at the school house as students, but did find ourselves in contact with them frequently, especially concerning local defense-type initiatives, which they were becoming very active with. They are professionals and engage in COIN very pragmatically. Afghan Commandos, on the other hand, were frequent students and presenters at the CTC-A, I’m sure at the behest of their SF mentors and trainers. Afghan Commandos are well-trained and professional. They are thinking warriors who can explain complex concepts in detail. The Special Forces have obviously done a very good job of selecting and training them. Afghans in general pick up on COIN very readily because it makes perfect sense to them. It fits with what they know about their society and its needs much better than either the old Eastern Bloc tactics or the AirLand that Americans initially taught them. The Special Forces of Australia, New Zealand, Italy and France are also frequent students at the courses and all are among the “easy students” who are informed, engaged and communicative.
Civilians are a mixed bag. Generally well-educated, they come from many different backgrounds. Of course, the term, “civilian” is very broad and included journalists. It was always interesting to have journalists at the school. Some were doing stories on the school itself, while others were just trying to learn about the doctrine. Other journalists were invited but never attended. Michael Yon refused an invitation to attend because, “Time is money.”
The civilians were from many countries, but most were Americans. Many USAID employees and contractors attended, along with HTS (Human Terrain System), IGO (International Government Organizations), academics and various Afghan and partner nation government agencies. We began to recognize quickly that there were challenges. For instance, we talk about lethal and non-lethal targeting in program design for COIN, and many civilians took exception to this. When we focused on non-lethal targeting, they still found the term to be offensive. When a guy in a uniform says, “targeting,” we it obviously means putting steel on target. We have no problem being a “target audience” or being part of a “target market,” which are actually more akin to what we are talking about with non-lethal targeting. But, civilians still struggled with the term. Many were good sports, but many were truly uncomfortable with the uniformed personnel and our military comportment. This remained a challenge, and each class would hear its share of objections and expressions of offended sensibilities.
Military students, for their part, found the civilians to be an odd bunch. The prejudice was definitely a two-way street.
One oft-expressed sentiment was an expression of relief that Americans finally “got it.” This was most often expressed by Afghans, civilians and partner nation military. Many had witnessed our JDAM “COIN” just a year or two prior.
Attending the course and sharing close quarters and work actually seemed to help break down the barriers of nations and military vs civilians, along with another interesting phenomenon which repeated itself over and over again over the course of many CLC’s. The lights came on. Between day three and day four of the course, it all jelled. End of day reviews completed by students changed in tone and substance. Conversations exploded. Concepts began to be applied, and exercises began take on a whole new look. Often, those who had come in with oppositional attitudes became engaged and communicative. It was interesting to observe and the cycle repeated itself every CLC. The student who made it through the course with no change was actually a rare exception.
While this tendency was mildly encouraging, it was other developments that were to ultimately to bring a more buoyant spirit to the deployment.
One of the comments on the last post, “RC South,” brought me to realize that the ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk needs some explanation. Here is the comment:
Not that it matters much, but your Brit Brigadier’s approach, the ASCOPE/PMESII matrix, is based on futures research methods. The model is called Cross-Impact Analysis or Event-Impact Matrix Analysis. It is used to figure out what programs one needs to get from an unfortunate present to a desired future. It does fit the nature of the task in your world, doesnt it?
One thing, though. PMESII is a terrifically flawed way to define the operating environment especially for civic aciton. PMESII is designed to be a targeting method for the environment (John Waldron of USAF fame invented the method.) That’s why PMESII is associated with EBO (another bozo idea.) A better subsitute for PMESII in your part of the world would be to lay out the environment according to Social, Technological, Economic, Political, Environmental and Military (STEP-EM) factors. This latter approach is used in many non-US military cross-impact efforts similar to what the Brits are doing.
Hope this isn’t TMI (too much information.) Stay safe as the mission allows!
The ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk is a combination of two sets of information that are found in the FM 3-24. The manual doesn’t link them per se, but alludes to the linkage. What the Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan has done is create a crosswalk so that critical elements of information are not ignored when gathering information about the specific area of operations (AO). What this does is spur a commander to learn about the AO in-depth. The purpose is to get to know an area the way that the population… and the enemy… does. When teaching this to Afghans, they get the idea instantly when explained to them as, “You need to get to know your AO the way that you knew the village where you grew up.” For Coalition forces, the best way to explain is to compare it to the way that a beat cop gets to know the area where he operates. An Afghan growing up in a village develops this knowledge over the course of many years. A beat cop also takes years to develop this kind of knowledge. We, on the other hand, do not have this kind of time.
Another issue that we’ve had in Afghanistan is the “experiencing Afghanistan for the first time nine years in a row” effect. What having a detailed ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk completed for each area does to resolve this cannot be understated. What you are doing is creating a living, breathing document focused on the people, places and things that are important in the daily lives of the people who live in that area. Everything from the Social Structures (meaning things like mosques, schools and clinics, not the family tree) to the Information People (a lot of information is passed by word-of-mouth in Afghanistan). Being a living document, it changes as the people, places and things in an area change. People move, die, or become less relevant, for instance. Things change. For this reason, the document changes with them. But, as a snapshot in time, it can be handed over to the unit arriving on the ground, giving them the “brain dump” in a document and saving the precious time of the Relief in Place (RIP) for doing more important things… like handing over the relationships that drive so much in any human situation.
We like to say that “every Soldier is a sensor,” but we rarely tune our sensors. The result is that they pick up white noise or general atmospherics at best. When a commander is conscientiously focused on collecting relevant information for his ASCOPE/PMESII, he is reminded by the document itself of what he does not know. Therefore, he can generate Priority Information Requirements (PIR) and Information Requirements (IR). This then causes NCO’s to focus on the real discipline of war; focus on the mission. Instead of focusing on reflective belt wear, they become relentless about their Pre-Combat Checks (PCC’s) and Pre-Combat Inspections (PCI’s), ensuring that each Soldier can tell him exactly what the commander is looking for. Driven by the ASCOPE/PMESII, this is bound to be population-centric in focus. We no longer find our Soldiers conducting “Presence Patrols” (a term that does not exist in doctrine), but instead they are performing Reconnaissance (which is found in doctrine). We cease to violate our own principles, which we have and continue to violate due to not understanding what our roles should be. Instead of the oft-heard phrase, “We came to a war and garrison broke out,” now we are back to fighting a war which relies on information and ideas just as much as it does physical force.
The ASCOPE/PMESII also is the beginning of bigger and better things. From it, as we learn more about an area, we should begin to recognize the three prerequisites for insurgency as they emerge from the human mosaic that we are creating; a vulnerable population, a weak (or perceived to be weak) government, and leadership available for direction (insurgent leaders both military and political). If all politics is local, then insurgency is local and therefore counterinsurgency is local. There is no prescription that works in each area, and so each area must be examined in detail in order for these prerequisites to emerge. Oddly enough, these prerequisites are parallel to the factors of instability, where, for instance, the vulnerability of the population is the grievances they hold that keep them separate from their government. The information gathered in the ASCOPE/PMESII then becomes the basis for the Stability Framework (or District Stability Framework).
Designed at USAID as the District Stability Framework, this is a logical process which drives program design at whatever level it is employed. It can be applied at the village, district and provincial levels. It is often confused with the Tactical Conflict Assessment and Planning Framework (TCAPF) which can be applied as part of the Stability Framework. TCAPF, however, has gotten something of a bad name, as a key part of it is the four questions that have proven problematic in implementation. That could be the subject of a post all its own. Whether the four questions are used or not, local perceptions must be discovered and used during the design process. The intent is to avoid the behavior which has gotten us to where we are after having spent billions of dollars, often without any positive impact on stability. There have been successes, true, but there have also been dismal failures; and they are legion. Our standard answer to any question of development has seemingly been, “build a road, build a school, build a clinic.” However, what if the people in a given area do not need a road, cannot staff a school and have no doctor for their clinic? What if the real dissatisfaction with the government in that area has nothing to do with anything that can be addressed by a road, school or clinic? Often enough, this has been the case. We have built schools only to have them burned. We have built roads that only inspired strife over whose property was damaged and the fact that local communities watched workers from other provinces or even other countries make money building them, while their own people suffered unemployment. We have built clinics only to have the doctors intimidated into leaving, or having no practitioners to staff them and few medical supplies. All the while, the real causes of violence and instability in that area may be, for instance, land disputes due to displaced persons returning to find their land occupied by squatters who now refuse to leave their crops. We find people who are disgusted with their inability to gain access to justice unless they can pay the bribes. Meanwhile, our understaffed clinic does nothing to heal the wounds of neighbors coming to blows over squabbles that need to be adjudicated.
The Taliban can offer governance; courts that cannot be bought, justice that is impartial if harsh.
When the enemy offers a competing “product” that is preferred over the government services, you’ve got a real problem. Insurgency is a competition to govern. All the violence stems from that. Destroy the insurgent’s ability to influence and you’ve rendered him irrelevant, regardless of whether or not you’ve rendered him inert. There will be violence. If you are successful, the insurgent will become enraged and desperate. Military tactics will have to find ways to prevent the insurgent access to the population in order to prevent widespread intimidation campaigns from succeeding. But all the while, any appeal that the insurgent may have, you are addressing. You have learned about the people, places and things that are important in that community. You have listened to the insurgent explain to you your weaknesses as he pleads his case to the people. You have listened to the people (not just the “leaders”) and then analyzed what the systemic cause, rather than the perceptive cause, of the problem is. You’ve developed a logical program to address these systemic problems along with not only measures of output (which we are good at), but measures of effectiveness (which are more difficult). You are measuring and adjusting as you go.
All of this starts with learning about the area in which you are assigned the responsibility to operate. You did this by utilizing a simple framework which established a common operational language with your partners (because they’re using this, too). This, in turn, helped you to establish a common operational picture, which promoted unity of effort. By using a common framework, all of that is achievable. It is doctrinally sound, based on the principles of FM 3-24. The Stability Framework (or District Stability Framework), developed and used by USAID, is doctrinally sound by FM 3-07 (Stability Operations). They used military doctrine to their own advantage and it works when it is utilized in a holistic, partnered environment. But the first step is actually doing the ASCOPE/PMESII.
Is the ASCOPE/PMESII framework perfect? Simply, no. Nothing is. It is a pretty good tool, though. Pretty good is good enough. We can drive ourselves crazy shopping for the perfect tool that doesn’t exist. One problem is the endless series of “X is better,” or “we started using X, and we don’t want to change.” Many units and organizations, prior to being exposed to the ASCOPE/PMESII crosswalk, recognize the tool gap and either search for a tool or create one themselves. Once there is intellectual ownership, particularly among academics, it is difficult to get them to migrate to a standard toolset. However, there is tremendous power in using standardized tools, as discussed above. COMISAF has realized this, and we are expecting a FRAGO to standardize the tools. The benefit of having specific tools to train with and then execute on the ground is that units can share data… on a common framework… prior to actually arriving on the ground. This is not modeling software or simulation stuff. This is real world data about the area in which a unit operates or will operate. This is situational awareness. Most of the big rocks are covered in this framework, and if there is something that overlaps data “fields,” then you put it in each area where it could have pertinence. Think outside the box, but write your answer in the box… where you can find it when you need it.
It has been said that Afghanistan is the graveyard not of empires, but of databases. There is so much information out there that has been gathered and then lost in the morass of isolated (unlinked) proprietary databases. You can never find what you need when you need it. We have created the crazy cat lady garage of data, and you can barely find anything amongst all the cat feces and rubbish. The ASCOPE/PMESII can be done in any format, but it is organized. You can use A through E binders with PMESII tabs, or you can use the nifty Excel spreadsheet that the British developed for their Human Terrain Packs. Either way, when you talk about your data elements, all your partners will know what you are talking about and why it’s relevant. And, when you want to do an economic project, you will know who the Economic People are and where to find them.
This is the tool that is going to be used. Tool shopping time is over. Now it’s time to learn how to use them and then actually apply these principles on the ground.
That’s the short answer to a detailed, well-timed comment.