04 Dec 2009 @ 2:17 AM 

COIN and Stability Operations


I run around training, mostly the militaries of the various nations present, in counterinsurgency. There is a fair amount of traveling as well. So far it is rare to find a unit actually implementing the most basic of population-centric tools to get to know the people whom they operate amongst. We teach a framework called ASCOPE/PMESII (usually called ASCOPE for short… long “a”). It’s frustrating. ASCOPE is just a framework for gathering information. It helps a unit to organize information across much of the society and the main influencing factors as possible. Many leaders that I’ve met in my travels say, “Oh, yeah! I took the COIN course. Good stuff!” So I suggest that we look at their ASCOPE and see how they’re doing on it, where they are having problems identifying key players, etc.

“Oh. Well, we don’t have time for that.”

Really? No time for the steppingstone behavior to not only learning about the operational environment… but to actually passing it on to your successor? No time for that. Great. So, the thing that units have been complaining about for years… that they come in with no real understanding of the people and key systems in place in the local communities… will simply continue. Some of the other instructors say that they have run into units who are actually documenting their environments, but I personally have not.

The ASCOPE also a document where the prerequisites for insurgency should begin to disclose themselves; a vulnerable population, leadership available for direction, and lack (or perceived lack) of government control. It’s where, by grouping the information, the unit should begin to see patterns emerge. Still not interested.

I’m actually astounded by the massive proportion of American military officers who have never cracked open the manual, FM 3-24. We are averaging 3 out of every 25-30 who come through here who have actually read the doctrine, the methodology by which they are expected to work. There will sometimes be one who has read Galula. These are informal hand-raising polls, but the results are fairly consistent.

There has been an influx of civilians. I don’t know that I would call it a “surge,” but it has certainly been an influx. Lots of USAID, State Department and contractors that work for such entities and others. They are focused on governance and development issues. A USAID contractor developed a tool called “TCAPF” (Tactical Conflict Assessment Planning Framework) to measure popular opinion. It starts with four questions asked to random citizens in isolation (meaning not in the middle of a crowd, not hustled into a soundproof booth). From that, trends analysis, problem set identification and program design can be done… if the tool is used properly from front to back end. It is meant to help identify and set a methodology for addressing the root causes of instability. If the questioner leads the interviewee even a little it can horribly skew the output, so it is a sensitive tool, but it is showing promising results and a number of areas are using a lot of TCAPF data to good effect. It provides a way to include local input that doesn’t come strictly from leaders who may be biased in their own motives.

We teach that TCAPF is to be used in conjunction with ASCOPE information to correlate to and to help identify what are referred to in Stability doctrine as factors of instability. To my mind, these factors are parallel to the prerequisites of insurgency. However, the evangelists of TCAPF have gotten some units using it before they even received any COIN training, and while that may not be disastrous it is certainly not optimal.

Civilians and military working together is proving challenging. There are preconceived notions on each side. You can imagine. Yes, the civilian preconception is that the military is full of knuckle-dragging linear thinkers who would prefer to drop JDAMs rather than figure out how to unscrew a corrupt sub-governor. Yes, the military preconception is that the civilians are granola-munching, Birkenstock-wearing flower children wannabe’s with naive ideas about what they are in for.

Those preconceptions are being challenged every day. There are some really good relationships being formed out there. There are places where Fusion Cells are working extremely well.

There are challenging people on both sides. We do, apparently, have a knuckle-dragger or two. The civilians have people such as Hoh, the poster child for civilian idiots… even if he is/was a military officer. He was here functioning as a civilian and epitomizes the Ugly American in action. Fortunately, there are a lot of really good people who are doing the best that they can. Hoh and is ilk are anomalies. Granted, we cannot yet call them rarities. I’m aware of a few Hoh’s in the making, just as I’ve spotted a few knuckle-dragging gravel angel-makers. But, the good ones outnumber the poor ones by a goodly percentage. At least they are thinking right.

Civilians often don’t view themselves as counterinsurgents, but they can get along with the Stability idea. Okay… so let’s teach them Stability Ops and dovetail it in with the COIN the way that it should be. It seems to be working okay. Unless, of course, you put a group through training, but they somehow have the idea that it’s a working group to improve the training instead of actually taking the course where feedback is welcome. You can imagine the clash of paradigms. This is where I got a rather negative impression of a person who also blogs, whose writings I had appreciated before, but who I had no idea was at the course.


Poorly established expectation, that. It set up an adversarial dynamic which pretty much derailed the learning environment and upset everyone. We’re working to fix that. One of the comments taken from the class written reviews on the training was, “Don’t have a working group and try to instruct at the same time.” That tells you where their heads were right there. They actually thought it was a working group, not a class. No, it was a class. I don’t know who told them it was a working group and that they were a bunch of SME’s whose sole intent was to critique the new POI (which had been taught to a similar group several weeks ago without the same outcome). We won’t be making that mistake again.

Granted, the same instructional techniques used for teaching ANA officers and NCO’s can’t be used with a group full of people with advanced degrees, but when very few of them have read the Stability Operations manual, it’s difficult to teach the doctrine when they want to argue with points that we cannot change and which require submission of suggestions through the proponent agency. Even if they are good ideas. But the dynamic that arose diverted the normal instruction into a series of defenses of doctrine and trying to provide examples to demonstrate the behaviors that have been observed in theater. It became adversarial and unnecessarily so. Everyone walked away exhausted, and the students actually became resistant to being taught.

They didn’t think that’s what they were there for.

It seems that we have learned from the experience. One suggestion was that if students had suggestions for improvements, they write them down and submit them at the end of the day or the end of the course. That would allow students to assist in improving the training without being disruptive. Secondly, it became clear that expectations need to be clarified on the front end. Students at a course must not be led to believe that they are part of a peer review of the material, even though we want their honest feedback on how to make the Program of Instruction (POI) better.

While COIN and Stability Operations dovetail with each other, Stability Operations uses a more civilian-friendly approach and language. In COIN, we talk about “Targeting,” which means targeting all kinds of effects, not just kinetic (lethal) effects. Civilians have a hard time with that terminology, even though back home we are all parts of someone’s “target demographic.” Civilians “target” things. They have target markets, target goals, fund-raising targets and programs that target specific issues or problems… but when there are guys in green suits around, suddenly “Targeting” means dropping a JDAM or aiming a weapon.

Okay. So let’s call it something nice and do the same thing. The end result is that we have to target specific problems that groups of people have in an area. These are things that are causing them to either not care or actually oppose the government. They are very often valid issues, with their anger directed against the government or the coalition who is here to help them establish a decent government so that they can govern themselves without having to put up with a bunch of terrorists coming around. We need to identify what those issues are and help them address them in a non-violent way. If we (the government and the coalition) need to use a little violence to rid the neighborhood of a particularly noisome troublemaker or to defend ourselves or the people because said troublemaker decides to interfere with governance kinetically (bad guys shoot at us), then that’s part of it, too. But, let’s come up with a name everyone can live with.

“Problem set identification” seems to be catching on.

Most of the problems here that prove most troublesome are not problems that the military can solve. Once we accept that security is a key in each locality, but that issues such as good courts and non-corrupt administrators are the essential keys to ongoing development and legitimacy, then we see that lots of civilian help is needed. Using terminology that works for them, as well as a methodology (doctrine) that provides a more well-rounded approach is important. Stability goes beyond counterinsurgency.

Tags Tags: , , , ,
Categories: Afghanistan, COIN, development, doctrine
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 04 Dec 2009 @ 10 03 PM


Responses to this post » (24 Total)

  1. Jean says:

    Suggestion: remember to wear your helmet when beating your head against the wall.
    To say you have a difficult job is putting it mildly.

    Take good care, Blue.

  2. OldSoldier54 says:

    “I’m actually astounded by the massive proportion of American military officers who have never cracked open the manual, FM 3-24.”

    I am surprised that is not a predeployment requirement. Seems a no brainer that it should be mandatory for anyone prepping to go there.

    May the Lord give you strength and wisdom. It sounds like you could use it when dealing with people who “don’t have time”.

  3. dennis says:

    I can see how this could be, a head banging experience. thanks for the backround.

  4. anan says:

    How good of a job do ANA or ANP do with ASCOPE/PMESII?
    In view of the new embedded partnering strategy [or ISAF units physically collocating, embedding with the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), living with them, training with them, planning and executing missions with them. Embedded Partnering will occur from the Ministry of Defence down to the platoons and squads in the field.], might the type of information collected in a ASCOPE/PMESII be better kept and updated by the ANA and ANP?

    On a separate note, how much resistance is there from the various ISAF contingents (and different US contingents) to embedded partnering?
    Do ISAF/OEF soldiers fully absorb to meaning of embedded partnering, do they “buy into” the value of it, are they willing to live it?

    What is the response of ANA and ANP to embedded partnering?

  5. membrain says:

    Very frustrating for you Blue. In some ways this has got to be a far more difficult job than your first tour as an embedded trainer with the Afghan National Police in the volatile Tag Ab Valley.

    Thanks for the update. Stay as safe as you can.

  6. David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/07/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  7. kate says:

    Thank you so much for everything you do to keep us safe here at home.

    PLEASE be safe. You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. Ky Woman says:

    Still pulling your hair out I see…

    Keeping fingers and toes crossed that eventually there will be those ‘who get it’ and will use it to to the ninth degree.


  9. Elf says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays….

    And on a lighter note, I know Blue will appreciate this Fobbit action gear… http://www.rangerup.com/fobbit.html

  10. CARanger says:

    TCAPF was not developed by a contractor, it was developed within USAID to further enhance stability operations. It has been fully embraced by USMC. US Army is getting more on board. COIN Academy has adopted it, US Embassy/Kabul has mandated it for all US civilians under Chief of Mission authority, and both COMISAF and COMUSFOR-A have recommended it for ALL units deploying into theater.

  11. Bookworm says:

    I owe thanks to Greyhawk for bringing your blog to my attention. I may be a a civilian, but one of the things I really appreciate (perhaps because I am a lawyer) is communication and structural problems that people in the field need to overcome. Good luck with that.

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thank you for your service.

  12. Aurora says:

    Dear Blue,

    Think of you often and wish I could do more. Will revisit the COIN Amazon booklist in Jan and send you a few more; could you repost that link?

    Not sure how the Holy Quiet Season of Light into the Darkness plays out where you are; here in Oregon, at the 45th parellel, we are lucky in our celestial effects. Just now, the days are unexpectedly dry and cold, thought with enough marine cover for morning fogs. So the day dawns though muffles and the sun slowly dissolves the smoke layers of moisture and starts beaming down in mini shafts (yikes, I need to read more WB Yeats…)

    Well, just to say hello and well-wishing of heart and hearth, there across the seas and times and centuries and all…


  13. OldSoldier54 says:

    Merry Christmas to you, Blue, and all you guys at the pointy end! Praying 2010 sees a turn around.

  14. Code Monkey says:

    Merry Christmas Blue

  15. Rosemary says:

    Merry Christmas.

  16. Greyhawk says:

    Wishing you a safe, quiet, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  17. membrain says:

    Happy New Year Blue. I’ve put up a post that links to this one. Stay as safe as you can.


  18. RamblingRia says:

    Happy New Year Blue! New Year, new hopes, all the best for you and all the others in Afghanistan with you. Hope you’re safe.

  19. fnord says:

    You ok, Old Blue?

  20. Ky Woman says:

    Don’t make us ‘extremely dedicated readers’ come over to Afghanistan and check on you!

    ‘Twouldn’t be a pretty site when the hordes descend, ya know?

  21. C......... says:

    Blue is just fine. He’s home on leave spending time with his precious children and family.

  22. RamblingRia says:

    Thanks KyWoman! good phrase “extremely dedicated readers.” There are lots of us. For awhile, Blue, I thought you may be on a writing strike in honor of CJ Grisham. But … getting kinda worried. You ok, Blue?

  23. Rosemary says:

    Hi. Is it too late to say Happy New Year? I kept looking and you hadn’t written since the time. Been praying for your troops, you, and all those families. Stay safe.

  24. LTC Rejo says:

    Hey – back here again, just down the road at rish khvor – training and mentoring the Commandos – contact me there, have a lot to catch up on.

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