As our government ponders its next moves, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, our military is at a crossroads. Since the start of the war on terror we have seen a dramatic transformation in how war is fought. The training and focus on urban warfare at the turn of the century has paid off. Our combat forces enjoy tremendous success when in contact with armed insurgents. Where we have failed to adapt effectively, and risk failure in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, is in the utilization of nonkinetic enablers to consolidate the gains won in combat in order to win the ensuing peace.
COIN operations follow a cycle. (See Figure 1.) At the tactical level, adversaries first come into contact with each other. Following a kinetic resolution, there is an operational lull in which rumors and half-truths spread among the populace regarding the firefight and actions contained therein. During this lull, opposing sides are competing for favor among the population in the immediate vicinity to the previous contact. Finally, adversaries use newly won popular support (or try to circumvent a lack of popular support) to organize human intelligence (HumInt) collection, personnel, and logistics in order to build up, plan, and prepare for the next kinetic fight. Whoever wins the “battle of the first truth” that follows any firefight holds a distinct advantage in the stages that follow and lead into the next physical contact between adversaries.
“Counterinsurgency is armed social work; an attempt to redress basic social and political problems while being shot at. This makes civil affairs a central counterinsurgency activity, not an afterthought.”
—LTC David J. Kilcullen, Australian Army1
At any one time, units may conduct simultaneous missions that range from destroying insurgents to patrolling a city street to handing out humanitarian aid—Gen Charles C. Krulak’s “three block war.” All actions, when planned correctly, feed and enable the success of the others. When planned independent of each other, kinetic operations, civil-military operations (CMO), and information operations (IO) can be counterproductive. Our current problem is that we are habitually disjointed in our three operational areas and overly focus on combat operations while failing to properly nest it with CMO to support the IO end state. Therefore, we fail to win the lull that ensues after each firefight and significantly impair our ability to forward the COIN cycle of operations on our terms.
Traditional combat operations that involve suppressing and destroying enemy forces are extremely important. Without the proficiency to dominate each firefight, all other less than lethal and non-lethal measures lack a credible threat of force and will be ignored. However, we focus too narrowly on attacking without properly understanding the second and third order effects of such actions.
|An Iraqi interpreter assists in offloading medical supplies that were distributed by Team 3, 5th Civil Affairs Group in Saqlawiyah, Iraq. (Photo by Maj Chris Phelps.)|
Two main problems hamstring our drive to master the COIN cycle of operations—outdated force structure and poor understanding of CMO. The Marine Corps lacks any permanent integration of civil affairs (CA) with its maneuver elements below the division level.
2 Consequently, we train how we fight, with kinetic and CMO planning in stovepipes with little (and usually poor) integration. Because CA personnel are located primarily in the Reserves, and are not typically involved in the majority of active duty predeployment training, maneuver forces become overly consumed with killing, capturing, and interdicting insurgents, rather than seeing these kinetic tasks as one part of the COIN cycle.
Adding to this dilemma is a lack of understanding of CMO potential and what it yields. Too often CA carries a stigma within the active duty population of aiding people who are supporting (or are) the enemy (e.g., soccer ball distribution) and overall is “not what we (Marines) signed-up to do.” In the worst case, some CA personnel do not know how to integrate into and support the maneuver forces to which they are attached. Rather, they attempt to employ their trade in a way that feels like an additional duty to the maneuver unit, rather than an enabler. This leads to a downward spiral of further disdain for CA and a minimalization of CMO in mission planning.
As noted in Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3–33.1 (MCWP 3–33.1), Marine Air-Ground Task Force [MAGTF] Civil-Military Operations, CMO, through IO, sets conditions in which HumInt can gather actionable intelligence that drives future kinetic operations. Such information is the result of a cascading effect generated from CMO that improves quality of life, then yields to positive atmospherics tied to U.S. presence in an area and an ensuing willingness to cooperate with U.S. maneuver forces in order to interdict insurgent operations designed to undermine that balance.
To realize the potential of CA, and master the COIN cycle, maneuver units must first understand how CMO allow them to kill, capture, and interdict insurgents.
Uses of CMO
During combat operations. The nonkinetic assault team (NKAT), conceptually, is a nondoctrinal eight-man team used in an immediate support role. It is attached down to the company level and travels in the wake of combat forces. When maneuver units encounter situations that can potentially affect atmospherics (or public opinion), they call the NKAT forward to address the situation. (See Figure 2.) This turnover allows the NKAT to focus its expertise to support the IO end state and enables the maneuver element to continue on with kinetic operations. The NKAT is comprised of the following: two CA personnel (officer/staff noncommissioned officer (SNCO) and NCO), one psychological operations/IO expert, one driver, two security personnel, one combat camera, one corpsman/medical element, and one interpreter (if needed). NKAT capabilities include:
• Mitigating negative public opinion through Silesia payments for damages caused by combat operations and setting conditions for better atmospherics that may yield actionable intelligence.
• Triage and/or treating local nationals injured in an incident or as a result of previous operations. The ability to diagnose and refer to the nearest clinic is a minimum capability.
• Spreading IO talking points immediately following an incident to win the “battle of the first truth” and ensure our version of the incident is spread amongst the locals before insurgent spin takes hold of the local population. (This capability requires higher headquarters placing talking point release authority with the local area commander.)
• Conducting “cultural cartography” when not mitigating incidents by identifying local leadership for future population engagement and establishment of order/governance. This task also involves identifying and inventorying village and/or urban infrastructure to assess the area’s needs following combat operations. This will better focus the use of Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds toward providing essential services (food, water, medical, electric) that will positively impact atmospherics with a near immediate increase in the overall quality of life.
• With language capability (either from an interpreter or from U.S. personnel), the NKAT begins the tactical questioning process to aid overtasked HumInt personnel by vetting potential sources of information before passing them on for further questioning.
CA roles after combat operations.
• Local leader engagement. CA takes the lead in developing relations with local leaders to aid in rebuilding, security development, and the establishment of essential services. In the area of operations (AO) commander’s absence, the CA officer must be tied into his vision with regard to talking points and CMO focus. If the CA officer is not tied into the overall end state for the AO, he will likely strike deals that pit CMO and kinetic operations as enemies instead of enablers. CA officers must also develop a rapport with local leaders to find tradesmen and contractors who can accomplish quick-impact projects.
• Project identification and management. CA personnel manage projects through supervision and engagement of contractors from project identification through completion. They identify quick-impact projects for targeting through CERP to inject quality-of-life improvements and an economic boost in the local area to manipulate atmospherics in our favor immediately following an operation. The CA leadership assesses midterm needs and implements projects that focus on employment of military-aged males, jump-starting the local economy, reinstating and/or improving education, and developing enduring governance and security. CA also implements long-term plans that focus on the sustainment of security, employment, and quality of life (recreation, comfort, culture) after U.S. forces turn over the area to indigenous authority.
• Medical and veterinary civic action programs and humanitarian assistance distribution. These operations demonstrate good will toward locals through medical and/or veterinary care for an atmospheric output. Locals come to a centralized location where they can be processed and interviewed for HumInt use.
• Perception management. CA works directly with the IO effects cell to use quick-impact CMO to affect atmospherics where necessary. An NKAT remains on standby with the AO quick reaction force (QRF) to react to any perception damaging incidents during operations. Many maneuver elements will balk at the idea of a noncombat arms detachment traveling with the QRF. However, adding an NKAT gives the QRF the potential to not only affect the tactical situation through its firepower, but also to affect the strategic framework with its nonkinetic enablers. Additionally, if trained during peacetime workups, the concerns about lack of coordination and competence while in contact can be worked through.
• HumInt interaction and support. CA ties into the HumInt’s information sharing network and supports their gathering of actionable intelligence by using CMO as a carrot for local leader cooperation. CA personnel must understand and be willing to curtail CMO incentives if local leadership fails to cooperate with HumInt.
The Way Ahead
|CWO Cody Simpson stops to talk with a gas station director as part of a CA patrol in Barwana, Iraq. (Photo by Cpl Adam C. Schnell.)|
Fully understanding the capabilities of CMO and how they can quicken our manipulation of the COIN cycle of operations is only the start. CA personnel added at the last minute to deploying units without building cohesion prior to departure still exacerbates a lack of trust in nonkinetic enablers. This serves to relegate CMO to an afterthought rather than an enabler that is included from the initial planning stages through first contact until turnover of the area to indigenous authorities.
“CMO facilitate the collection of information from civilian sources in support of force protection, operational planning, and intelligence.”
To correct these deficiencies, we must create an active duty CA officer pool from combat arms officers during the augmntation process. Generating the active duty side of CA from the combat arms will provide a better understanding of maneuver operations on the part of CA personnel and will greatly increase coordination, as those with previous combat arms experience will better understand how to nest their daily operations with the maneuver unit without burdening them. Additionally, previous combat arms experience will help the new CA officer “sell” his military occupational specialty’s (MOS’) capabilities and build trust and understanding, rather than fuel some of the preconceived notions that accompany an attachment of a CA element. Increased understanding of CMO capabilities will help integrate mission planning and defeat stovepipe planning tendencies. In short, previous operational experience and MAGTF understanding will make the CA officer a better enabler.
Proposed active duty CA officer MOS positions.
• One captain at each maneuver battalion (tank, light armored reconnaissance, infantry, artillery*). This officer serves under the battalion S–3 (operations) and integrates with the fire support officer and S–3 to best synch kinetic operations, CMO, and IO. Prior to deployment, he is responsible for planning with the S–3 to train subordinate units in nonkinetic tasks that focus on perception management. Training at the lower levels and achieving buy-in for the utility of CMO will serve to better integrate kinetic and nonkinetic operations while deployed. Enlisted reservists are activated prior to deployment to provide the ability to employ the CA teams. These teams are the foundation of the NKATs that support company-level combat operations. (They must have organic vehicles in which to embed.) For long-term project management, each team manages their areas by synchronizing their efforts through the guidance of the active duty captain at the battalion level.
• One major at each Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) and infantry regimental staff who serves in the same capacity as the officer at the battalion level. The regimental-level CA officer is responsible for ensuring that battalion-level and below training and integration efforts are being fulfilled. Reservists are activated to provide the ability for the MEU and the regiment to man two NKATs in support of regimental or battalion operations. Reservists man a dedicated project management cell, consisting of 3 to 4 Marines, to provide administrative support to CERP projects and to develop and/or implement long duration and large volume projects not handled at the battalion level.
• One lieutenant colonel at the division and Marine expeditionary force level, respectively. This position was already addressed by CA planners and has been incorporated into the active duty table of organization for these units.3
Active duty CA officer educational path.
• Fluent (Defense Language Proficiency Test Level 2) in one of the following: Arabic, Persian, Farsi, Pashto, or Dari. Language proficiency allows him to serve as his own interpreter and without draining a dwindling pool of linguistic assets available to the parent unit.
• Self-study background in one “colonial” language (French, Spanish, German, Dutch), so he can communicate in areas where more than one language is spoken.
• Shows active progress (5 years from gaining the MOS) toward a master’s degree in one of the following: political science, international affairs, international development, or non-governmental organizations.
• Completed the following required schools: primary language training at Defense Language Institute; U.S. Army Civil Affairs Qualification Course at Fort Bragg, NC; and CERP and Department of Defense contracting ethics training prior to deployment.
The Reserve system that has provided the Marine Corps’ CA capability was developed based on a 20th century warfighting model. It is time to recognize that this model does not adequately meet the needs of 21st century warfare. Creation of an active duty CA officer corps is a step in the right direction. An active duty CA officer corps does not negate the need for Reserve CA personnel. On the contrary, the skill sets that many reservists bring from their civilian sector backgrounds are immeasurable when trying to rebuild infrastructure abroad. But without an active duty proponent who can sell these capabilities to the unit prior to planning its predeployment training, we will never realize the true benefit of calling these Marines and their skills to active duty. Instead, an already overwhelmed unit that does not have enough time to train its primary MOS skills will not truly make the time to integrate CMO training unless it has previously been sold on its benefits. Without this organic capability we will continue our disjointed employment of CMO and fail to master the COIN cycle of operations, not only in our current military endeavors, but in future conflicts as well.
The latest Israeli conflict in Lebanon taught us the dangers of focusing too much on COIN operations. Many people will mistakenly label CA as an enabler that is useful only during COIN conflicts and other “small wars.” On the contrary, with today’s media able to reach the most remote villages and our military’s dependence on local national support, CA is applicable to any conflict, whether conventional or unconventional. Any military scenario of the future, regardless of the technology involved or the tactics used, will see an end to hostilities. If we fail to nonkinetically secure the objective after a firefight, and win the peace that ensues after the last round is shot in a given AO, then any talk of future tactics, techniques, and procedures or emerging combat systems is for naught. It is time the Marine Corps recognizes the utility of properly executed CMO and gives it its just due in the manning structure of the active duty ranks.
* Artillery units were tasked in ALMAR 061/05, Assignment of Secondary Civil-Military Operations Mission to the Artillery Regiment Battalions, to maintain the ability to conduct CMO as a secondary tasking.4 This task is unrealistic, as any officer knows they will focus (rightly) on honing their primary MOS skills. All CMO training is then in danger of becoming check-in-the-box evolutions and resulting in a lack of proper expertise needed for deployed CMO. It is far better to staff each artillery battalion and regiment with a dedicated primary MOS officer who can devote the time to guide such training in concert with the unit S–3 to ensure it is carried out to standard. This allows personnel to focus on developing training inside their primary MOS, rather than devoting time and efforts to two MOSs. Additionally, during high-intensity conflicts where the artillerymen are performing their primary MOS, we need to have the ability to perform CMO immediately after the securing of the objective, not days after indirect fire support is no longer needed. Having CA assets traveling directly in wake of maneuver forces is the only way we can truly secure the nonkinetic objective—positive perception and the ensuing peace.
1. Kilcullen, LTC David J., Australian Army, “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency,” Marine Corps Gazette, October 2007, p. 59.
2. Meynier, Maj Joseph C., USMCR(Ret), “Civil-Military Operations: OIF II,” Marine Corps Gazette, June 2006, p. 42.