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 19 Jun 2010 @ 9:04 AM 
 

Answer To A Comment On “RC South”

 

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.
ASCOPE/PMESII Crosswalk.  This .BMP can be downloaded for easier reading

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.

This works.

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.

 

Responses to this post » (8 Total)

 
  1. elf says:

    Good stuff. Just be careful…sometimes local tools work better for the task which they were designed locally. I am speaking from the Corporate technical world…but our locally developed tools give us better customer service than the tools imposed from 10K feet above. Mind you, we were bought as a legacy network. However there may be a lesson there as well.

    Not to knock this at all. Just a note of caution. Could have really used this in Iraq 06 when there were question marks next to “Who is your sheik? Who is your Iman?” etc..

  2. Old Blue says:

    That’s a good point, elf. Local solutions are needed to local problems. These tools are provided so that the locally designed programs can be designed locally. They are more like a common operating system, language and database so that anyone who’s been trained in them can understand why the locally designed program was designed in such a fashion. These don’t specify what to do, but more a logical approach of how to choose what to do.

    What we find currently is an array of units who are all doing their best to do what they interpret the mission to be. COMISAF says that this will be a population-centric COIN approach across three lines of operation, two of which are not primarily military-controlled. Units try a variety of techniques to manage this information using organizational systems that were often designed for enemy or terrain-centric maneuverist warfare. Sometimes, academic officers research and find tools or frameworks that are similar, but then they are talking a different language from their governance and development partners. No common operational language means a difficulty in developing unity of effort, which is critical.

    Also, when you are training, but you’ve yet to discover your operational language, how do you train it? Standardized frameworks that do not specify the solution, but give a logical approach to determining them yourself allow training to be consistent and focused. They also not only enforce intellectual rigor on the user end, but they also provide the commander a way to understand if the subordinate units are doing well or need help. It’s not what to think, but how to approach your thinking about the problem.

  3. elf says:

    Very Good Answer!! I take heart. Common O/S, kernel all day…could also be compared to OSI model or DoD’s 4 layer model for Inter-networking.

    Meanwhile hopefully I can cheer you up in return, I thought you might appreciate this from AM…

    “Get rid of the puzzle palace, you’ll see a lot of ship shaping up across the board. Someone pointed out a couple of years ago we haven’t won a war since it came about. For God’s sake it’s first Boss – Forrestal – went Mad and jumped out a window screaming about Commie plotters all around him.

    They weren’t Commies Mr Secretary. They were Fobbits. I’m not judging you. They drove me mad as well.”

  4. OldSoldier54 says:

    I know you were cautiously optimistic before the McChrystal fiasco. Has that changed?

  5. elf says:

    It’s over Dude. Hunker down and wait it out. Not worth it now.

  6. LTCZ says:

    If it works, by golly stay with it.

    Just remember to calibrate the aiming points because the tool is a little off target.

  7. [...] Responsibility (AOR) regarding the people and what was important to them using a framework called ASCOPE/PMESII. “That’s great!” they all said as they completed the course. Weeks or months [...]

  8. CAT652 says:

    Old Blue, I am in agreement with you. You must first understand what you want to achieve and how that will affect the local populace. To do this, units must train using a framework that strengthens their critical thinking skills, or at the very minimum identifies those who have the skill and those that do not. Additionally, cultural awareness and knowledge of history, current politics and sources of instability are not enough. The unit must identify that it is only viewing the environment from a specific point of view or “lens”, if you will. By understanding our lens and how it skews our perceptions we can then try to look at what the LN sees.

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