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COIN Symposium, Part I

Dave Dilegge of Small Wars Journal and I were invited to attend a panel discussion at the end of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Symposium: "Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: an Azimuth Check."  Over the next day or so I'll post a few pieces about the discussion, and particular points of interest; I imagine Dave will do so as well.

Dr. R. Scott Moore of the Center for Complex Operations spoke early in the panel discussion about the problems of the "whole of government" approach to Afghanistan.  Sometimes people assume that the arrival of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) with civilian experts will take substantial weight off the military operating in the area; that is not the case.  The PRT will not be of the size necessary to take over major civil tasks.  Dr. Moore said, rightly enough, that the military will need to train and prepare to "handle the full range of civil tasks for at least some time" in a conflict like Afghanistan, or when entering new regions of Afghanistan.

I asked the panel a question about this, because we encountered many of the same difficulties in Iraq, especially during the period when we were first pushing out into what had been no-go areas.  The Iraqi government was not able to extend services quickly into rural areas, and certainly our civilian agencies -- meaning no disrespect whatsoever to them, especially not the ePRTs who began to be out in the field, at least at the brigade level -- were not able to support logistics, civil capacity, or these "full range of civil tasks."  For that matter, the Iraqi army we were building couldn't do its own logistics well, especially at first.

The solution the military hit upon was to hire contractors.  The term is pejorative, but these hired truck drivers (many from Turkey) were running dozens of convoys a day on Iraq's IED-infested roads.  When we wanted to throw up a new combat outpost, it was some contractor -- KBR, perhaps -- who shipped out the T-walls and assembled the modular gun towers so that we could harden an Iraqi house or government building enough to put soldiers out there without them being overrun.  The military has to handle these tasks, but lacks the training, equipment, and personnel to do so:  so it has hired it done.

In Afghanistan, General Flynn's report on intelligence ends up pointing at a different problem that echoes:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the intelligence community is only marginally relevant.  Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.  Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious... disengaged...

You get the idea.  The vast intelligence apparatus isn't present on the field where the war is being fought.  As the Flynn report notes, a lot of relevant data is being generated -- "terabytes" -- by battalion-level and lower officers.  A lot of this information isn't coming through intelligence channels, but begins to enter the military's information stream at about the brigade/regimental level, through the S7 (information operations) or S9 (civil military operations) channels, which are drawing in reporting from enablers like PSYOP or Civil Affairs teams or by Human Terrain Teams; or by the ePRTs, where they exist.  There are also law enforcement professionals hired to help with rule of law issues, and so forth.

The military can and does produce much of the information that General Flynn wants internally.  Where it doesn't, it has largely not gotten "whole of government" assistance.  It has instead created the capacity to do so through hired assets.  Even the ePRTs, which I've praised as State's best contribution to the war effort in Iraq, are likewise composed mostly of hired contractors or other short-term government hires.  Most of the rest of these have been DOD hires:  the Human Terrain Teams were contractor until about a year ago, when they became GG (not GS) short-term employees  [UPDATE:  The GG category is broader than short-term employees like those on HTTs; see comments].  There are endless numbers of linguists who are brought in on a contract basis.  

If the military is to handle "the full range of civil tasks," the problem is the same for creating the intelligence capacities that it needs, but that the 'vast intelligence apparatus' are not providing.  It's something the military has to do internally, or it has to expect to create through civilians that it hires and directs itself -- either contractors or, if preferred, through short-term government employees like the HTS employees or DOD civilians.

Given that need, I asked the panel if there were plans to create doctrine and training to support the direction of civilians by military officers.  It's plain that this is the solution we've adopted, and that the "whole of government" approach isn't going to step up and fix the gap that requires this solution.  Therefore, we need training and doctrine that teaches commanders and staff officers how to integrate civilians into their operations as a normal condition of deploying, say, a battalion or a brigade or a division.  You're just going to have to know how to do it effectively, with discipline and order.

COL Roper said that he felt the doctrine in FM 3.24 does not adequately handle the issue, not to speak of doctrine more broadly.  In a COIN environment the 'full range of services' issue, and the cultural intelligence issues are especially relevant.  Dr. Moore said that there is a new effort underway to deploy teams of DOD civilians, and to ensure that such DOD civilians are more involved in the efforts at the ministry level "rather than contractors."  This is still an experimental effort, he noted.

This is an area where thinking and doctrine still need to evolve.  Whole of government is a limited fix.  The military will be left having to do it, either with internal assets or externally hired ones.  How that is managed in a COIN environment shouldn't be ad hoc, but should have established standards, with officers trained to know how to manage and discipline such civilians effectively.