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.
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.
We know that we want to move the internal struggles inside a country away from violence (warfare) and into (or back into) the political realm. We’ve had a general look at what insurgencies consist of, why they start and what fuels them. We know that the existence of sanctuaries don’t ensure insurgent success, but are practically necessary for insurgents to have any hope of success. We know that the military/security line of operation is only one of three main lines of operation. We know that a well-developed insurgency is, at its roots, a competition to govern. So how do we resolve the insurgency without the collapse of the government and the complete take-over by insurgents?
Counterinsurgents cannot stand still and wait it out. They cannot simply continue upon their course without continuous movement and adjustment to conditions on the ground and in the population. They must choose actions and take them. Every counterinsurgent chooses actions and takes them, but a significant number of them (3 or 4 out of 10) are unsuccessful. Is there a pattern of behavior that counterinsurgents establish that is successful versus those that aren’t?
First, the counterinsurgent must understand the roots of the conflict. Usually, insurgencies don’t carry a head of steam where there is effective governance and plenty of it. The counterinsurgent must take a really good look at what the weaknesses are of the system he or she is trying to support. Sun Tzu pointed out that a combatant must understand not only his enemy, but also himself. A counterinsurgent must understand what his strengths and weaknesses are and he must be honest about it. The counterinsurgent must also understand the environment, both physical and societal, in which he operates. Finally, understanding insurgencies in general, he must understand the insurgency he faces.
While there are commonalities in insurgencies, every insurgency is obviously different. A counterinsurgent must understand the particulars of the conflict. In Afghanistan, for instance, we created a vacuum in government followed by the construction and installation of a government from, more or less, scratch. This was done in a nation where the society had been existing amidst conflict for decades. The previous “government” was scarcely a government at all. There was ongoing warfare from 1979 to the present. The only thing the previous government maintained was law and order, administering swift, often brutal justice for any offense. The economy was a shambles. Infrastructure that had once existed had largely crumbled. Electricity was scarce. Education was minimal for boys, nonexistent for girls. Communications were horrible. Local warlords still held sway in parts of the country. Remnants of the old regime still held out in isolated areas.
While Afghan society had enough coherence to hold its basic fabric together, it was often at the most basic levels of that fabric; the family. Traditional resiliencies, the influences that kept Afghan society flourishing, were severely damaged at each local level. At the national level, there was very little coherence. The fledgling government took years to push influence out into areas that had been, at least nominally, cleared in 2002 of the influence of the previous regime. In the meantime, those influences seeped back in or never completely left.
Being a politically-motivated internal war, the goal is political, and all politics is local. Therefore, insurgency is local. Counterinsurgency needs to be localized, and cannot be adequately performed at a national level in the absence of acceptable local governance. That is why we have so many problems measuring nation-wide progress. In order to measure things, we need to choose and analyze metrics.
National metrics are exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to choose and measure. Metrics indicating success in one discrete area may or may not indicate measurable progress or loss in another discrete area. Afghanistan is a patchwork of valleys and villages. This insurgency is more localized than most, not less. Leadership at the national level needs to look at each area and measure it by the metrics that are meaningful for that particular area. It is difficult to put the pieces together at the national level to create a mosaic that makes sense. There are various and sundry depictions of the conflict, many varying wildly from others. These are constructed by utilizing whatever metrics support the argument of the individual making the argument. It’s difficult to impossible to know which depictions to trust.
This difficulty in producing a coherent picture does not lend itself to centralized command and control. That is why COIN doctrine talks about something called, “Mission Command.” Mission Command means that the local commander, at the lowest level possible, has command over the decisions made at the local level. He is most likely to understand how the pieces of the puzzle are arrayed locally. He is most likely to understand the complex, three dimensional chess game being played against the influences of the insurgent.
We know that the local commander, given Mission Command, must come to understand himself (including his allies), the insurgency and the local dynamics (terrain and society) that set the situation he must deal with. This is a tremendous amount of information. In Afghanistan, we have seen a number of initiatives designed to help the commanders gather and analyze this information. The Human Terrain System, for instance, is an effort to bring the science of anthropology to bear on understanding the intricacies of local society. But a military commander has the largest number of information gathering assets of any of the counterinsurgents in the area; foreign counterinsurgents, anyway. Local Afghans will already possess most of the information that the rest of the counterinsurgents will find helpful, but they usually do not know what to do with it or don’t have the resources.
So, using every source of information available, the commander, at the lowest level possible, must develop a “picture” of the environment in which he operates. He gathers information, but there is so much of it that it is hard to separate out meaningful information from the white noise of the information flow. It’s like trying to paint a picture of the rocks under a waterfall just by the way the water is falling. That’s why the commander needs to take a methodical approach to not only gathering, but also in organizing and correlating the information he can gather to put together a comprehensive picture of the operational environment and its challenges. It’s a job never ends, because while the terrain will change little or not at all, the society will constantly change. People will gain and lose influence. People will die and others will take their places. With the societal aspect in constant flux, the commander must track the changes and adjust as necessary.
Keep in mind that this commander is only on the ground for about a year. When he leaves, his successor needs to have the same information. Military commanders are used to organizing tactical information in certain ways. For instance, tactical graphics on a map are consistent. If one walks up to a tactical map in nearly any area, he can understand the tactical information on that map because he knows what those map symbols mean. There is an entire book on Operational Graphics. When it comes to depicting the things that affect societies, there are no standard map symbols. Commanders have organized this information as they have seen fit, but that doesn’t mean that it is easily understandable to those who follow them. A standard method of organizing and correlating the information is necessary. This not only makes the information easier to understand, but a relatively standardized format means that the incoming unit will be able to easily understand it as well. It will be what they are expecting to see.
Our doctrine lays out specific elements of information that are recommended for counterinsurgents to understand in order to obtain this grasp on the local situation. The COIN Training Center – Afghanistan has taken the two recommended sets of information and cross-referenced them. This system has now been signed off on by COMISAF, COMCENTCOM and the SECDEF. This system takes the analysis of ASCOPE (Areas, Structures, Capabilities, People and Events) and crosses it with PMESII (Political, Military/Security, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information).
Each column is referenced against the other. So, when we are looking at Areas, for instance, we look at Political Areas, Military/Security Areas, Economic Areas, Social Areas, Infrastructure Areas and Information Areas. What does an Information Area mean? In Afghanistan, it may mean an area of radio station coverage. It also means areas of cell phone coverage. Those are just examples. The end result is that people have a consistent way of painting the picture that is consistently read by others who see it.
How does the commander collect this mass of information? He uses all of his assets. If he has HTS available, for example, he discovers what they are best at and tries to use the information that they can give him. However, he does not necessarily control the HTS or any of the other actors. He does control his own troops, and so he generates PIR’s (Priority Information Requirements), IR’s (Information Requirements), and FFIR’s (Friendly Forces Information Requirements) based on where he sees information gaps and then he relentlessly pushes those out and gathers the results. This focuses troops on actually being sensors. If the commander explains why he needs the information, the troops have a deeper sense of purpose and a more realistic sense of what they are actually trying to accomplish. Plus, understanding the commander’s intent gives young leaders the chance to find ways to contribute. They can act more appropriately in the absence of orders as well.
Noncommissioned officers can then reinforce the things that are important to counterinsurgents. Discipline has one purpose; to ensure discipline on the battlefield. In a counterinsurgency, the battlefield doesn’t always include combat, but every action or inaction is combat. Drill and ceremonies, that visual example of military discipline, was initially developed to use directly on the battlefield. It was training. Now it is an outward symbol of discipline, but marching formations are not used in combat. Uniformity and other regulations are made to instill the discipline that can be put to use in combat, the only place where it really, really matters. It is how soldiers can do unnatural things in stressful, dangerous situations. We usually think of this in relation to kinetic combat, but it also has meaning in non-kinetic counterinsurgency operations. NCO’s enforce standards, and when the commander is generating standards based on his needs in counterinsurgent combat, the NCO’s can understand and enforce those standards. The sidewalk discipline of garrison life must then morph into the battlefield discipline needed to be successful on the ground. The appearance of uniforms means nothing in the face of failure in the valleys and villages of Afghanistan. Commanders and senior NCO’s who understand and focus military discipline in Afghanistan gather and organize tons of information.
Masses of information need to be analyzed. The commander and NCO’s discussed above are at company level and below. The higher up the “food chain” you go, the more separated from the nitty gritty reality of the “eaches” you are. This is not how battalion and brigade commanders are trained to function. In maneuver warfare, the more information the higher level commanders possess, the better they can maneuver and influence the battlefield. We have developed magnificent tools for commanders to see exactly what is going on at the individual vehicle level. He can see where it is and he can check on what it is doing. He can control it if he wants to. In counterinsurgency, a battalion commander interjecting himself directly at the tactical level can be disastrous. At best, you have the least informed person in the chain making the tactical decision. The principle of Mission Command is critical. Violating this principle can have debilitating effects.
So what are higher headquarters good for in counterinsurgency? Platoons have nearly zero analytical horsepower. Companies have very little. Company level intelligence support teams (of various acronyms) were developed to help solve this problem. Battalions have more information crunching assets, and brigades have significant analytical capabilities. Lower echelons are awash in information, but creating a useful picture out of it is difficult at the lower level due to the lack of analytical capability. Higher echelons support lower echelons by providing the ability to analyze information and convert it to useful products for the lower echelons to make use of according to Mission Command. They help the lower level commander to visualize his operational area. The battalion and brigade commander need to be able to recognize poor counterinsurgency behavior when they see it and provide adjustments as necessary, but they should not be dictating the actions of subordinates in the same manner as they would in a maneuver fight.
Once a thorough understanding of the operational area is obtained, the counterinsurgent mission commander begins to decide upon his actions.
Much has been made of the provision of sanctuary to Afghan insurgencies by Pakistan. Whether it is completely voluntary on the part of Pakistan is open to debate, but there is no doubt that there is a certain amount of collusion on the part of, at a minimum, the ISI and the several insurgencies. Conventional wisdom states that an insurgency that has an external safe haven will win. Conventional wisdom is often roughly equal to pop-culture wisdom. It may have it right in general and still be deeply flawed.
It turns out that safe havens are certainly an enabler to insurgencies, but by no means a guarantee of success. In rural insurgencies such as those in Afghanistan, safe haven may be had one valley away from a relatively strong government presence. A more deciding factor in rural insurgencies is not whether there is a safe haven available, but if the government can actually assert its presence in these rural areas. In Afghanistan, it’s a combination of being present and being effective. Afghans love effective people. They refer to them as, “active.” If an Afghan says that a government official is “active,” he usually means that the official is effective, at least as far as that man is concerned. It’s effectiveness in a local context.
The failure to do this is more linked with failure for counterinsurgents than the ability of the insurgent to find safe haven.
We have been using data provided by Rand to explore why insurgencies end, and it turns out that they looked at the issue of safe havens as well. The Rand study examined 53 insurgencies that have been decided which included sanctuaries. Of these, 30 ended with government victories or mixed outcomes. That’s a 56% rate of a favorable or less than catastrophic ending with the existence of sanctuary. That’s opposed to 18 out of 21 when there was no sanctuary. What does this tell us?
This tells us that with the presence of a sanctuary, a successful or acceptable outcome resulted 8 percent less than two thirds of the time. This is a slight decrease from the overall outcomes discussed in the last post. But, in the absence of an insurgent sanctuary, the success rate of the counterinsurgents is much higher. The existence of sanctuary does not presage an insurgent victory.
Conventional wisdom busted.
The absence of sanctuary makes the counterinsurgent’s job much easier. So, lamenting the presence of sanctuaries in Pakistan is like crying because your car is the wrong color. It is what it is, but that does not mean that the insurgents will necessarily be successful. The presence and effectiveness of the government in rural areas is a much greater indicator of success or failure for counterinsurgents.
This does not mean that the Pakistanis should not be continuously pressured to step up. It means that safe havens are not a deal-killer. It also tells us where to focus our efforts. But, since we already know that insurgency is a competition to govern, it’s really no surprise that focusing on providing acceptable governance is really more of a key to success than whether or not the insurgents have a place to hide.
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?”
There were some questions and comments left in comments on the last post, and they deserved response. I’d like to answer these questions and add some observations to the comments.
This would be appropriate to ask….is what’s happening in Egypt and what happened in Tunisia, insurgency?
I haven’t been tracking on Tunisia long enough to know if there was an insurgency there or not prior to the outbreak of popular demonstrations. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence and so they are not an insurgent group, although they have some of the hallmarks of being a nascent insurgency. One of these hallmarks is being outside of the normal political process; but Muslim Brotherhood candidates instead run as independents and hold seats in the Egyptian legislature, which makes them part of the political process.
Insurgency is where politics meets violence, but not all political violence is insurgency. For instance, Timothy McVeigh thought he was an insurgent, but he had no significant base of support and very little organized militant support. Instead of sparking a more widespread insurgency or, his dream response, a popular uprising, he was captured, charged, tried, convicted and executed as a criminal.
An organization like the Muslim Brotherhood could have developed into an insurgency quite easily, though. One of the reasons is because they have been banned by the Egyptian government on several occasions. This would push them towards not being able to participate legally in the political process. However, the members simply ran for Parliament as independents. The group still had political input and took part in the legitimate political process.
What appears to be happening in Tunisia and Egypt is every insurgent’s dream… sparking a spontaneous popular uprising. However, I see no evidence that either of these was sparked by insurgents. Opposition groups may have had a hand in their origins or propagation, but that is the difference between insurgency and popular uprising.
If the Egyptian uprising is quelled, especially by government violence against the people, without resolving the causes and conditions that sparked the unrest in the first place, an insurgency may (likely will) develop. If the government finds a way to address the grievances of the people and they return to their homes in a sign of acceding to the rule of the government, then change has been brought and the government survives. If the government does not succeed in assuaging the anger of the people, it may face either a popular revolt too powerful to quell or a launch into insurgency. This is a very delicate situation and could head in any of these directions based on the response of the government and particularly its choices regarding violence against the people.
Are insurgencies popular-led, or are they person-led?
Insurgency is that place on the political scale where one or more groups either fails to engage or is unable to engage in the “normal” political process and they become willing to kill in order to get their way. The willingness to kill is what separates it from just another opposition group.
Insurgencies must have leadership. The three things that exist to create an insurgency are grievances, leadership to direct that dissatisfaction into action, and a (real or perceived) weakness in governance. The weakness in government can be physical or ethical/ideological. Physical weakness is the inability to provide governance. Ethical/ideological weakness is the inability or unwillingness to govern in such a way that is acceptable to the people. This does not mean all of the people. It means that there must be a large enough portion of the people who are dissatisfied to support an insurgency. As we see in Afghanistan, that percentage can be quite small.
Most of the popular grievances will likely be based on ethical weakness, such as corruption or incompetence. However, the leadership of the various insurgencies are only taking advantage of these weaknesses in order to further their cause against the government, which is ideological. The higher up the insurgent strata we go, the more we will find ideological differences. Most people aren’t willing to kill over a bit of corruption in their local government. It can be brought to that point by leadership with either the promise of a new system that solves all of their problems (if those problems are severe enough) or a competing system that has the ability to dominate their lives on a relatively consistent basis. I believe that we see the latter in goodly areas of Afghanistan.
There are enough popular grievances against the existing government that some local residents are willing to throw in with the ideologically-based leadership. In Afghanistan, we find an ideological core that finds itself capable of competing for governance in many areas. This ability is often for lack of sufficient GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) presence to actually govern. In the lack of opposition or competition, the presence of that government may have been sufficient, but there is by definition competition to govern in these areas; they have designated “shadow governors” and administrations to varying degrees. Therefore, the weak government presence practically invites successful competition. Often the first organ of competitive government in Afghanistan can be found in the form of courts.
The leadership can be based upon one main leader and a lot of subordinate leaders, or it can be based on a disparate group of leaders who begin to cooperate. Local leadership is usually necessary, as otherwise the violence has no focus and becomes disconnected from the political goals. The thing that separates an insurgency from simple criminality is that the violence is performed in pursuit of a political goal, so that linkage has to be there. In any real insurgency, there will be leadership. That leadership will often be more ideologically driven than the part-time members or casual fighters.
Being ideologically driven, they will be students of insurgency, and so they will often study relevant materials (open-source warfare, anyone?). One of the things that Moa did extraordinarily well was to teach how to incorporate the real grievances of the people into the ideologically-based narrative of the insurgent. The number of “true believers” will be much smaller than the whole, but the rest of the whole needs to be mobilized. If you are an ideological insurgent leader, once you have mobilized more people, then you can work on their ideological “education.” They are already on your side at that point. But they are not overwhelmingly drawn to your cause initially by ideology; you mobilized them due to their personal issues and concerns.
One of the strengths of insurgents is to identify these issues and concerns, real or imagined, and play upon those themes. They make it part of their narrative and work to convince the people of either the rightness of their cause or the inevitability of their victory.
Is an insurgency necessarily armed or can it be an action against, without again necessarily looking at a foreign power/ occupier or incumbent presidency (who by extension are supported by foreign powers)?
Insurgencies often do not start as armed movements. In Afghanistan, we have a previously armed group who were never dissolved. They melted away in the last days of the victory of the Northern Alliance, who were being assisted by American air power and combat forces, but they were never either annihilated or reintegrated in any way with the new government structure. Many did simply return to their homes or they never left them. Some, more recognizable to, for instance, American commanders had to flee. There a few FOBs built on land that is/was owned by absent Taliban leaders. One that I have visited several times, FOB Khogyani, was literally built around a Taliban commander’s house.
In any case, there was an armed cadre left over from the old regime. Some were “hiding in plain sight” and still intimidating their neighbors. Others fled to Pakistan, from whence some have returned and some find it more useful to remain safe. But they pre-existed the current government. After a period of latency, they reasserted themselves. The insurgency, like the counterinsurgency, has evolved.
But, by definition, insurgency opposes a government or other “ruling force,” like an occupation (which our forces in Afghanistan are not). The Afghan insurgencies oppose GIRoA and seek to overthrow it in favor of their own form(s) of governance. As opposed to an opposition group (which may grow into an insurgency), an insurgency has crossed the line into violence. Must they be armed? At a minimum, they must be armed with a fist. Upgrades are often necessary to compete with the government asserting its monopoly on violence, however. Our modern insurgents have graduated from fist to RPG, AK, PKM and IED.
Last, is popular-people-power the new future of war and how are governments prepared to settle these conflicts, if they are?
This is a little more of a higher-level question, but it goes to Stability, so let’s take a shot at it a little.
The short answer is yes; at least for the foreseeable future… but it isn’t really a new problem. It’s a problem as old as governments themselves, but with the added capabilities that globalization has provided to sub-national or trans-national organizations.
People will take a lot of crap in order to maintain the status quo, but they can only be pushed so far or kept down so long. When there is enough popular disapproval, or pain, they will potentially explode at the slightest spark; like what we have in Egypt right now. Popular-people-power is how we believe, as Americans, that government should be established. What we seem to forget sometimes is our commitment to “self-determination of peoples.” In other words, if popular-people-power rises up and takes down a government, and the majority of them want to install a king rather than elect a president, as long as the people consent to be governed in that fashion, isn’t it in our best interests for that government to actually govern?
In any case, popular-people-power has been the ascendant power for centuries. Stable governments are cautious of it and actively address the concerns of the people. At a minimum, they don’t make them miserable. Instability can occur where there are either ideological or ethical issues with the government. In areas where there are both, all hell can break loose. A sitting government can actively address the concerns of the people and potentially remain seated, but by the time there are revolts such as the one in Egypt, it may be too late. The key figure in that government may have become personally reprehensible to the people. Such situations are rarely successfully salvaged.
So, the “new future of war?” No, we see this throughout history, such as our own history, or say, the French Revolution. However, if we look at the future of war in the near term, do we see large peer-competitors looming in the immediate future who seem bent on taking actions such that we would have to oppose them with armed might? I submit that the only potential competitor of such a nature would be China, and there is no real evidence at this point that they will embark on a scheme of world domination by force of arms.
North Korea is another potential flash point for conventional war, but South Korea is much more capable than most give credit for, and I don’t believe that North Korea could successfully attack South Korea. I feel that this is unlikely to occur, though constant saber-rattling is to be expected.
We are currently faced by an ideological outbreak that is fueled in part by political, social and economic factors that drive people to look for answers. This is not an isolated instance of this. For some throughout history, the answer has been religion. For others, the answer was more secular; like Communism. Regardless, there are a bunch of people who are looking for answers as to why their situations suck; and what can be done about it. For this particular outbreak, the seekers are Muslim and for many, the answer found is in religion. For the hardcore ideologues, their interpretation of the religious basis for their solution includes a couple of ideas that make them remarkably poor world citizens… and a danger to the citizens of nations whom they deem to be a part of their problem; like us.
They are driven by an ideology that includes, as have some interpretations of Christianity that have been accepted down through the ages, the concept that God has commissioned them to conquer the world for Him. It is their duty. Does every Muslim subscribe to this theory? No, clearly not. But the ones who do are transnational ideologues who are not constrained by national identity. In fact, the weaker their host, the more they like it. Good examples of excellent host entities would be the Afghan government under the Taliban, the largely ungoverned spaces in western and northwestern Pakistan, Yemen and various African nations. Ungoverned or under-governed spaces are good havens for global insurgents.
You asked about the nature of warfare, but it’s not just a warfare challenge. It could also be considered a foreign policy challenge. We are learning in Afghanistan that these challenges are not always best dealt with militarily. Fully two thirds of the effort in Afghanistan is actually civilian in nature. Stability is not simply reliant upon security or the ability to project force effectively. It also depends upon governance and economic capacity.
Stability is a good thing for other nations, particularly well-developed nations, because we get blamed for the perception of “being in control.” That makes us a target, because we are seen as part of a system that keeps the governments in place that many consider to be oppressive, such as that in Egypt.
It appears that the future of conflict in the next couple of decades will be driven by non nation-state entities who have the ability to project violence on what was formerly a nation-state scale. But that doesn’t mean that it is just a military problem. As we are learning in Afghanistan, there are other tools of foreign policy that can be leveraged to avoid conflict altogether. Of course, cutting all funding for USAID, as proposed recently in Congress, is not going to make it any easier to deal with these issues through capacity building and raises the likelihood that the problems will progress to a scale where military intervention becomes more attractive.
The question is whether we choose to deal with potential safe havens for extremists via a shift in foreign policy oriented towards capacity building or whether we will depend on our intelligence community, the Department of Homeland Security and eventually punitive or regime-changing military action. Our recent experiences with regime change demonstrates how difficult, expensive and dangerous that can be.
I still cannot understand, even after seeing it firsthand in OIF, the ability of a small number of violent insurgents to cow whole villages into silence. It’s not like weapons are scarce in either Iraq of AFG, so why does it take so much for the people to fight back?
A good parallel to the situation in places like Afghanistan or Iraq is what happens in a neighborhood here in the United States when the neighborhood is beset by drug-related gang violence. As a matter of fact, police departments are studying COIN doctrine because there are so many parallels. The dynamics of insurgency are remarkably similar to the dynamics of organized criminality. The parallels even go to the point that strong drug-funded gangs sometimes actually compete for governance, becoming “the law” in discrete areas where even the police are intimidated, never mind the local population. Relatively small groups of armed individuals can cow entire communities with the threat of violence. Sometimes they can overwhelm local law enforcement with their capabilities.
The real difference between criminal drug gangs and true insurgents is that the gangs lack a truly political goal. This demonstrates the political nature of insurgency. But the dynamics are similar, and so we can see how a group of people can be cowed into submission by a much smaller group that is ready and willing to use violence as a tool.
Now add to that the conditioning that Afghan civilians have undergone in the past several decades. Survival strategies include avoidance of commitment. The average Afghan isn’t so different from the average American in a lot of ways, including a desire to just make it through the current troubles and emerge on the other side… whatever that may look like… still alive and with their family more or less intact. When the end result of taking a stand can include death, it may seem reckless to take that stand. Keeping those people on the fence is part of the insurgent strategy.
But none of that will work until you can clean out most of the corruption. Even clean cops won’t help if the lawyers and judges are dirty.
Great point, and very true. This is precisely the issue that causes the most heartbreak for GIRoA in many areas of Afghanistan. The Judicial system is a wreck, and you are right; clean cops who keep running into this wall of (in)justice get frustrated and often wind up taking part in this “race for corruption.” Every person who enters the system becomes a potential miniature gold mine. Those who can’t pay are eaten.
That is precisely one of the conditions that not only keeps the insurgency alive by convincing people, one family at a time, that the current government does not serve them. It is also that weak link that insurgents target to provide shadow government services, in this case courts. Courts that the people will willingly use because they are swift, enforceable and (relatively) incorrupt. Absolutely Maoist in strategy and behavior, the Afghan insurgency is finding that in this area they can easily out-govern the government.
Now ask me how that can be overcome.
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.
I have recently returned from a 15 month tour in Afghanistan working for the Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan. I traveled extensively over the East and Southwest Regions, including a fair amount of time spent in Helmand Province. I found it to be expeditious not to blog during most of my tour, as it would have interfered with my full time job and prevented me from being able to accomplish some things that I am very proud to have been a part of. I am returning to the conversation regarding Afghanistan having witnessed and learned much.
COL Gentile has (nearly four months after the fact) commented on my last post. Here is what he had to say in comments:
Insurgencies may be local, but STRATEGY should determine if our response to it if any, should be local. By stating such things like “all” Coin must therefore be local too you commit us to an operational template of clear, hold, build in expeditionary form and along with Old Blue the promise of reenacting David Galula and his counter maoist template in the modern troubled spots of the world.
You guys still dont get it; I am not talking the tactics of Coin, I am talking about the Strategy that should decide if and when and how it should ever be put into place.
Sure Blue, deploy the E card; but just remember Hans Delbruke had no military experience whatsoever yet provided one of the most cogent criticisms of the Prussian military of his time. Yet for you, in how you assert the fact that you have been to Afghanistan therefore know more than others, and the rest of us should just shut up and bow to your experience when we dont agree with you.
Come on my friend, get a clue.
It’s as good an invitation back to the fray as can be found at this point. So here I go…
I agree that strategy determines whether or not to employ counterinsurgency as the approach for resolving an issue. However, if you are faced with an insurgency while working with a developing country, it’s a little hard to justify a different approach, even if your role is simply an advisory one. Just as when a partner country is attacked conventionally, as in the Gulf War, the response is then conventional.
That is, assuming that you choose to respond. We could have chosen to tolerate the fall of Kuwait to Iraq’s invasion and just shrug it off. We found this to be unacceptable and so the response was a forcible eviction of the Iraqi forces from Kuwait. COIN would not have been an effective approach to resolve this issue once the decision was made to evict the Iraqis. Just so, once the decision has been made to support the host nation in defeating an insurgency, COIN would be the methodology of choice. So, yes, strategy does determine the employment of COIN. Once that course has been selected, in COIN it is a short throw between strategy and tactics, as there is not a lot of operational art in COIN.
In maneuver warfare, brigade commanders tell battalions where to go and what to do. Battalion commanders tell companies where to go and what to do. Neither usually dictates exactly how to do what they are tasked with doing, but the subordinate elements have pretty precise direction about what they are to achieve as part of the larger plan. For years, we have worked to employ technologies that give higher commanders more and more ability to see and control to the minute level should they choose to. Blue Force Tracker, for instance, gives higher echelon commanders the ability to see to the individual vehicle level what is going on and, if desired, to direct the movements of individual elements. We have seen this in Afghanistan, such as when individual illumination missions have been overridden by a Colonel over 100 Km distant.
I stand by my assertion that insurgency is a political problem. It is the spot on the political scale where the social contract breaks and politics turns violent internally. This is as opposed to an open insurrection (the French word for insurgency is “insurrection,” but in English we do not use the words interchangeably), where there is a popular revolt. An insurgency is typically a smaller political element, the members of which refuse to submit to what we would describe as a legitimate government. We could devolve at this point into a discussion regarding legitimacy, but that would be a digression, so we will skip it. The point remains that insurgency is a political situation turned violent.
That being said, we all accept the statement that, “all politics is local.” If we accept that, then it is manifestly true that, since insurgency is a political problem, then all insurgency is local. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take it to completion; then all counterinsurgency is local.
While the Joint world does not accept, doctrinally, that COIN is a subset of Stability Operations, the Army and Marine Corps seem to understand that it is. In other words, you can do Stability Operations in the absence of an insurgency. I would submit that, applied properly and in a timely fashion, Stability Operations may forestall the progress of a nascent insurgency. By addressing the grievances of a population, fewer people will be willing to kill over them. It’s not what you are willing to die for; it’s what you are willing to kill for. Failing that, an insurgency develops. More people are willing to kill over their perceived grievances. Now all you need is leadership to direct that willingness and… voila… insurgency.
But each of these potential insurgents has his or her own motivations. Those motivations are personal and therefore local. They are political. So, we have a partner country that is beset by an insurgency and we choose not to abandon them to their fate… for whatever our reasons are. The strategy is pretty much chosen at that point. Either you are or are not going to do counterinsurgency. Now the choice is to what extent do you employ your own forces. Perhaps this is what the Colonel means by “strategy.” You can do an advisory and assistance role, or you can engage in COIN operations with your own forces in addition to or in place of the host nation forces. In the case of Afghanistan, a developing government and lack of governmental security apparatus led us into committing more forces in direct action against the insurgency. What we didn’t understand was how to perform Counterinsurgency Operations, much less Stability Operations. You cannot do COIN in a vacuum. It simply doesn’t work that way. You must do Stability Operations as well.
Why must you do Stability Operations when you are conducting COIN? Because COIN is, by definition, to counter the insurgency. It is focused on reducing the insurgency itself. In order to address the fundamental causes and conditions that produced or fuels the insurgency, the grievances of the people must be addressed. These are political in nature, but include development and economic opportunity. Just as Stability Operations conducted effectively and early enough may forestall a full-blown insurgency, diffusing the progression of anger to the level of lethality, so in recovering from an insurgency the effective conduct of Stability Operations take the recovery to the next level. What needs to be addressed? Well, that depends on the causes and conditions in each locality. It varies. There is no fixed solution. It is a process that must be arrived at through knowledge of each local area and discovering what the people there need in order to not be willing to take up arms in pursuit of whatever it is that they are riled up about. And, for those who are not and would not be insurgents, to commit to actively supporting the government and not supporting or tolerating the insurgents in their midst.
Okay, so we’ve arrived at our strategy. Now, there are particular problems of command in COIN. One is that all of these wonderful technologies for micromanagement of tactical resources are available. But there is little or no operational maneuver occurring. Units are typically given an Area of Responsibility (AOR). The lower the element, the more local the AOR. The most important work in COIN is done by lower echelon elements. Companies and platoons make all the difference. You are not slamming a battalion or brigade into a breach in a line. You are sending squads and platoons into an area where some of the residents are willing to kill in order to gain or maintain control over their fellow residents. What those squads and platoons do make a ton of difference. They make all the difference.
Who understands the discrete AOR? Can a battalion or brigade commander understand what is happening at the village level, in detail, in each discrete AOR in his command? Probably not. So, for a battalion or brigade commander to dictate the actions of companies and platoons is generally counterproductive. All of this wonderful technology that enables a field grade officer to manipulate units to the lowest level provides a capability that is rarely productive in COIN… and yet it is often exercised.
So if the role of a battalion or higher officer is not to control the precise actions of companies on the ground, then what do commanders do? Supervise and enable. Supervise means that a higher echelon officer needs to recognize garbage when he sees it and how to direct that it be set back on course. Enabling means providing that which the lower echelon units need but do not possess on their own; like analytical horsepower. Decision support, not decisions (followed by support for decisions).
COIN is information intensive at the lowest level, and yet the lower down the chain we go, the less ability we have to organize and correlate large quantities of information. One of the most effective things I have seen was at Task Force 1 Lancs in Nad e Ali, Helmand Province. The 1 Lancs (1st Duke of Lancaster) Cultural Advisor (CULAD), a British Captain by the name of Ann Seton-Sykes, assembled large quantities of information and organized it into products that helped the company commanders to visualize aspects of their operational areas. She produced overlays that showed land ownership and the areas of influence of various elders, among other very useful information. This took raw data gathered by the type of constant, intensive reconnaissance that COIN necessitates and put it into a format that was most useful to the guys who were selecting and implementing operations on the ground. It helped the company commanders and platoon leaders to visualize the political realities on the ground upon which they operated every day.
The results that the Lancs were achieving were impressive. Perhaps I will do a post dedicated to what I saw achieved in that one area of Helmand. Regardless, they are a brilliant example of a higher headquarters enabling rather than controlling directly the actions of counterinsurgents on the ground. Perhaps that is what the good Colonel is referring to as strategy; command strategy. If so, he has raised an excellent point, and so I must thank him for the topic of a post.
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.