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 17 Feb 2011 @ 4:14 PM 
 

COIN Primer: Decision Support; Local Perceptions, Systemic Causes

 

It seems as if there is a lot to do just to get to the point of deciding on actions to take in support of counterinsurgency objectives. As we’ve seen, there is a lot to consider, a lot of information to be gathered, and a lot of disparate actors who need to be brought into the fold as much as possible. We know that we have limited time and resources, so we know that we have to work on the most pressing issues. We know that we are looking to identify the root, or systemic, causes of instability and the prerequisites for insurgency. But how does one look at all the information we’ve now become aware of and determine what is a systemic cause and what is not? How do we ensure that we are not wasting our precious resources on something that will make no real difference?

We can rely on human intuition, but our human intuition may fail us. What each of us would find unacceptable personally may not be the primary issue on the part of the local population. We need to understand their point of view. Unless we can magically put ourselves on their rung of Maslow’s hierarchy and in the same environment with the same experiences, how can we determine not just what they want, but what they need first? We need local input.

The approaches we have taken in the past have taken a number of forms. What we think they need, what we think they want, what they say they want, what they say they need. Who were “they?” Usually elders, district sub-governors, provincial governors, and shuras. Okay, the shura sounds pretty representative, but there are a couple of sticking points there. We are talking about securing or re-securing an area, along with stabilizing or re-stabilizing an area that is in the third poorest country in the world. Just to be clear, an area may be, by all measures, stable under insurgent control. We may destabilize an area in order to restabilize it under government control. Keep in mind that those residents who are successful, or relatively successful, in the existing order of things will seek to maintain their control over resources throughout whatever we do. They will possibly seek to gain in stature or influence through our efforts. We need to look past the evident and look for the systemic reason behind the perception of pain.

Just as a problem in your back can cause pain elsewhere, such as the leg, so can underlying conditions in a district in Afghanistan cause a perception that is slightly removed from the root. For example; in one valley, the drinking water wells began to run dry. Asked what they needed, the locals responded that they needed deeper wells dug. A hydrologist was brought in, and discovered that the there was a series of check dams in poor repair. So poor was their condition that the dams were not doing their job of slowing runoff water long enough for it to seep into the water table.

A combination of local labor and materials purchased with CERP (Commander’s Emergency Response Program) funds refurbished the check dams, and the water table rose. The wells began to produce again. The locals thought their problem was that their wells weren’t deep enough, but the real source of their pain lay elsewhere. The solution addressed the systemic cause of the condition, is sustainable by the local population and it had the lasting effect that was desired.

That example was an infrastructure issue, but each issue needs to be approached in a similar way as far as the process of determining what the root cause of the condition is. The approach utilizes local input, but the systemic cause is sought to target for solutions. This may not be targeting the perceptive source of the condition based simply on the complaint itself. The lasting effect is what is important, and we must be able to monitor not only what and how much we are doing, but also the effects that those actions are having on the issue. We try to anticipate the second- and third-order effects, but sometimes the local response to our actions may not be what we anticipated, so we must constantly reevaluate what we are seeing and doing. We adjust. Sometimes, that means that we stop doing things that are having second- and third-order effects that are negative and that we cannot mitigate. In order to adjust to unwanted effects, we must find a way to measure or otherwise monitor them. We must sense the object in our path in order to avoid or overcome it.

Left to our own devices, each of us would come up with a slightly different methodology to approach these problems. In military organizations, it is usually the Executive Officer (XO) who is tasked with being the good idea fairy who provides a methodology. Google is his friend, and several tools do exist. Some XO’s have developed their own tools. This is time consuming and unnecessary. It is not only an unnecessary usage of time and bandwidth, but it is actually harmful in the long run. The willy-nilly choice of tools interferes with coherence.

Unity of effort relies on a common operational picture, but that’s not the only aid to unity of effort. A common operational framework helps in developing a common operational language. These three things will do more to establish unity of effort, even in the absence of unity of command, than anything. And, those three things will improve and strengthen existing relationships.

USAID developed a decision-support framework called the District Stability Framework, or DSF. This framework not only includes the things that have been described above, but for our military friends, it is doctrinally sound according to FM 3.07 Stability Operations. It doesn’t provide an answer; it provides a logical route to reach our own conclusions, measure our outputs and the effects they are having locally, and adjust course. It seeks the root causes of the grievances or sources of instability (like the prerequisites for insurgency) in a discrete area, and seeks to act directly upon them.

The DSF is a four-step, iterative process. The four steps are; Situational Awareness, Analysis (hello, brigade staff extra analytical muscle), Design and Monitoring and Evaluation. It is repeatable, and used as a common framework, can provide continuity of effort. Just as any military commander can walk into any operations center and read the military symbols on a map, having a common framework means that it can be readily passed on, like a sector sketch to a relieving unit. It works the same way for civilians as well. It, like the ASCOPE/PMESII, becomes a continuity document. It saves time later, and avoids perpetually “reinventing the wheel.” It also shows follow-on units or organizations what we were thinking about when we chose the path we left them on.

The idea is to avoid chasing phantom pains with money, time and lives. It’s the old blood and treasure thing; but this is not some academic or politician crying out about the concept of it. It is where if/when we spill blood, it is on the ground right there in front of us. It’s where treasure translates into concrete and actions. So you have to make it count.

We’ve developed all kinds of situational and cultural awareness through our continuing ASCOPE/PMESII information gathering. Now we will need to plan for gathering local input about what they think their most pressing problems are. USAID fielded the DSF with a survey based on four now famous questions. It was called TCAPF, or the Tactical Conflict Assessment and Planning Framework. The survey was never as simple as four questions, because it delved deeper. A useful tool in concept and in certain practices, TCAPF has acquired a bad name. Initially TCAPF was attempted by troops, and the results were not what was expected. The Brits were the first to sour on TCAPF, and for many British officers it poisoned the whole concept of the DSF. Stand on TCAPF with a British officer even casually versed in the British Army’s experiences with it in Helmand and you have lost that officer’s confidence. It turns out that soldiers really aren’t the best to be asking TCAPF questions. It skews the results and they have the tendency to re-canvass the same people over and over again. They also missed 50% of the population right off the bat; the women. No input from 50% of the population is a problem, as is a skewed and narrowed data stream.

Afghans are the best to do TCAPF questioning. There is a national student organization that actually trains and fields TCAPF canvassers. They can be contracted, and the results are remarkably different when Afghans are polled by native Afghans rather than by armed foreigners. We also avoid an unintended follow-on effect; when foreign troops, who are viewed as very powerful by the average Afghan, ask an Afghan what his problem is, it is viewed as a promise to solve that problem. It has something to do with the psychology of extreme poverty. Regardless, disappointed expectations become grievances in their own right and prove difficult to resolve.

TCAPF data is useful, if the data stream isn’t skewed by, say, armed foreigners. It can provide the ability to do problem set analysis and also trend analysis. The idea is to gather information slowly, over time, and watch the trends. They will indicate whether the local perceptions are being changed by actions taken. Trend analysis is enormously helpful and in reality necessary for what we need to do.

TCAPF is only one tool, and while it was fielded with the DSF, the DSF will not break if another effective tool is used. There are other ways to gather local perceptions. One thing that should be considered; a strength of TCAPF is that it doesn’t rely upon elders, shuras or government officials. In fact, those people need not be surveyed, because it’s all too easy to get their opinions. The idea is to discover what the shop keeper and the farmer think. Whatever tool or method we choose, this is a feature that we want to have. We want to understand what the little guy thinks. The powerful guy may have reasons for the solution he is seeking from us.

Some areas have used “radio in a box” and call-in shows hosted by Afghan DJ’s. For instance, the Afghan DJ has a AF500 phone card available to a caller who wins the contest. As part of this, the callers are casually and informally polled about specific conditions in their local area. This is checked against other information and used to contribute to the understanding of the perceptions of the locals. Just an example of another method that may confirm or deny information gathered otherwise, be it TCAPF or some other method.

Whatever tool is ultimately used, gathering and measuring local perceptions about the issues that affect them directly is absolutely necessary. As mentioned early on, there has to be a conversation between the counterinsurgent and the populace, just as the insurgent carries on his narrative. What is being described here makes that conversation a two-way conversation. Again, the results of all perception gathering is shared with every partner. Each one needs to understand the perceptions of the local community. It is our way of compensating for our weakness (insurgent strength); knowledge of the issues that affect the local population and what they think of it. The insurgent seeks to exacerbate these issues and replace the government as a solution. We seek to resolve the issues and remove that traction from the insurgent.

Once we understand the local perceptions, we look for the systemic cause of those perceptions. “The wells are drying up, and now I have to walk a mile to get my water.” Ouch. Well, the first answer would be to deepen the wells. That would work for awhile, until the water table was drained further. Then what? By discovering the systemic cause for the falling water table… the dilapidated check dams… the root cause was targeted. That’s just an example. There may be several systemic causes that contribute to a single perception. We seek to identify these.

We choose courses of action that we believe will attack these root causes directly. (We work to repair the check dams.) The actions of one line of operation will support the other lines of operation as much as possible. For instance, for any governmental or economic action, there must be security provided. As security improves, governance must improve or the security gain will prove temporary. Economic development supports both actions, as economic prosperity (or even progress) has an enormous calming effect.

In one village in Nad e Ali, Helmand Province, an alternate truck route was sought using an existing road with a bridge over the main canal. The usual main route required a bypass due to needed repairs on its bridge over the canal. However, the town immediately adjacent the canal on the desired alternate route was rife with Taliban. The town saw the economic growth occurring just a few kilometer away in the villages where the hold and build phases of operations were already in progress, and they wanted that type of economic opportunity. Once the decision had been made by the local leaders, the Taliban were ousted within 24 hours. Trucks began to pass through the town, and the increased traffic brought more customers to the shops in the town. Government began to reach out to the town, and the local elders reached back. That is a dramatic example, but it is real and indicates how actions along one line of operation create opportunities along other lines of operation and must be supported by follow-on effects from these other lines.

The final question that must be asked is whether or not the issues identified are actually systemic contributors to instability. We subject each issue to three questions. First, we ask if the issue decreases support for the government. Second, we ask if it increases support for the insurgents. Last, we ask if the issue disrupts the normal functioning of society. If the answer to each of these questions is, “No,” then it is likely to be a development issue which can be addressed later.

The issue of the wells above is an example of something that may not be a systemic cause of instability. It is a good example of a problem-solving approach, though. It is also possible that it can be a source of instability if one of the effects of the dry wells is to give some form of artificial power to a malign actor, or if it causes the local population to feel as if the government isn’t interested in actually solving their problems; a disruption to normal function. It may cause conflict. It would require more information than that provided above to determine the relevance to stability, but it may be there.

Another key that we look for is not weaknesses, but strengths; forces for good. Almost every community has key people who are effective and who can be reinforced to good ends. These are called resiliencies. We seek to identify, mentor, and reinforce these resiliencies. We look for people and organizations who can have a stabilizing effect. We look for existing traditional frameworks that can be strengthened or reestablished which support local sufficiency. Working around local resiliencies while failing to engage them is potentially disastrous. We may also seek to assist in creating new resiliencies, such as Community Development Councils.

We begin to construct a matrix of the information and analytical outcomes. In the DSF, it is called a Tactical Stability Matrix. It is a chart of the information and decisions, allowing everyone to understand how we are arriving at our conclusions. It shows the logic flow of our decisions and guides us to use this logical flow. Each partner has a part in this process. It is not done in a vacuum.

This is an imprecise process, as much art as it is science. Mistakes will be made. That is why we work to anticipate the effects that our actions will create. We also need to constantly monitor not only our outputs (are we doing what we said we were going to do?), but we also measure the effects themselves. If we chose actions (we thought) would work to lessen police corruption, but the systemic causes don’t respond or actually get worse, then perhaps we chose poorly or missed something. We need to readjust.

So, just as we choose actions to take (which we will, of course, use a metric of activity on our part), we anticipate the affect that our actions will have on the systemic cause of instability we are seeking to resolve. We leverage and reinforce local resiliencies. We find ways to measure those effects. This always includes some measure of public opinion. We want to know if the perception that led us to what we believe is a systemic cause is actually impacted by what we do. What we are seeking in the end is the desired third-order effect; the lasting impression left in the minds of the people.

As we chart our course, it includes the counterinsurgent narrative that it will support.

Tags Tags: , , ,
Categories: Afghanistan, analysis, COIN, doctrine, Stability Operations
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 22 Feb 2011 @ 02 08 PM

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