Beyond Finding the Enemy: Embracing Sociocultural Intelligence in Stability Operations

Beyond Finding the Enemy: Embracing Sociocultural Intelligence in Stability Operations

David F. Eisler

Introduction

On the bright and sunny morning of June 4th, 1942, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was commanding the Imperial Japanese Navy on its way to lay a trap for the United States fleet near the small atoll of Midway. In the weeks prior to the attack the Japanese fleet had observed strict radio silence to avoid the detection of its carrier groups. But the commander of the U.S. Navy, Admiral Chester Nimitz, already knew where Nagumo’s carriers were heading, the result of decrypted communications gathered by intelligence analysts in Hawaii. Within twenty-four hours, four of Nagumo’s six carriers would be destroyed and the Japanese fleet would retreat in tatters, forever altering the course of the Pacific Theater of the Second World War.[i]

The Battle of Midway is often regarded as the ideal triumph of military intelligence, a case when “one side was privileged to know the other’s intentions, capabilities and plan of action in place and time—how, where, what and when—while its opponent neither knew as much in return nor that his own plans were uncovered.”[ii] From the attack on Pearl Harbor until the destruction of the Japanese fleet at Midway, U.S. intelligence analysts had been consumed by the quest to learn as much as possible about the capabilities and intentions of their enemy to gain an information advantage that could be transformed into a military victory. But the success of this approach during World War II had unintended consequences for future conflicts in which knowledge and understanding of the local population—not the physical destruction of the enemy—would have been key objectives for stability and support operations.  

Classical Military Intelligence

Wartime military commanders have always thirsted for information about their enemy that they could use on the battlefield. Early intelligence collection was limited to warnings of impending attacks by invading armies, offering practically no real-time tactical information to commanders engaged in battle other than what they could see with their eyes. The “intelligence horizon” prior to the invention of electricity depended on how quickly information could travel—about as fast as a galloping horse.  Thus, commanders relied more heavily on strategic intelligence, what John Keegan describes as “the character of the enemy, the size and capability of his force, its dispositions, the nature of the terrain in his operational area and, more generally, the human and natural resources on which his military organization depended.”[iii]  Tactical intelligence regarding the real-time movement of enemy forces was of little use in an environment when its value was measured in mere hours.

The “classical” role of military intelligence in conventional warfare was to gather and analyze information on the capabilities and intentions of one’s adversaries.  Keegan, in his book Intelligence in War, notes that “from the earliest times, military leaders have always sought information about the enemy, his strengths, his weaknesses, his intentions, his dispositions.”[iv] By combining multiple intelligence sources—signals, images, human reporting, and so on—an analyst could produce a more complete picture of an enemy threat. But no matter where the war was fought or against whom, knowledge of the enemy was the primary focus that commanders believed would lead to military success.

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

By separating military intelligence into the two broad categories of tactical and strategic, wartime commanders could incorporate components of each while developing operational plans. The responsibility of an intelligence staff in the classical military decision-making model is to assess the enemy’s most likely and most dangerous courses of action. These actions occur at all levels of military planning, from tactical operations to strategic decisions. At the tactical level, classical intelligence collection specifically focuses on reconnaissance of enemy positions and threat assessments. 

In the United States Army, military intelligence officers conduct a broad analysis called “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield” (IPB) prior to engaging in combat.[v]  During this process, analysts integrate all sources of intelligence to form the most complete picture of an enemy threat for the commander.  The steps, outlined in Army Field Manual 34-130, are 1) Define the Battlefield Environment, 2) Describe the Battlefield’s Effects, 3) Evaluate the Threat, and 4) Determine the Threat Courses of Action. The result of this staff exercise is to produce an evaluation of the threat posed by enemy forces within the constraints of the operational environment. 

For most of the history of warfare those constraints were largely based on factors that hindered an enemy from using the maximum amount of force at a specific time and location against friendly forces.  Elements like terrain, weather, obstacles, and other known information about the enemy’s forces were the main focus of the analysis.  Although civilian considerations were eventually added to the framework, broadly depicted in a “population status overlay,” they were thought of more as an operational constraint for friendly forces rather than part of the tactical environment. 

Classical military intelligence in conventional war must determine the enemy’s strengths and weakness in order to gain a tactical or strategic advantage.  Focusing on the enemy is logically consistent with the objectives of defeating the enemy’s military forces in order to destroy his will and capacity to resist. The United States, despite beginning the Second World War with limited intelligence capabilities,[vi] quickly adapted and developed the tools needed to prevail alongside their allies beginning with the dramatic victory at Midway. 

But the classical military intelligence philosophy turned out to have a significant flaw when applied in an unconventional conflict. Only two decades after the Japanese surrender, the United States found itself engaged in a conflict that, despite the efforts of many military commanders to the contrary, would become far more complicated than fighting against a traditional enemy.

Military Intelligence in Vietnam

Finding the Enemy

In the summer of 1965 the Chief of Staff of the Army sent Brigadier General Joseph McChristian to Vietnam with instructions to “find the enemy.”[vii] His new position would be the senior intelligence adviser to the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MACV) headquarters under General William Westmoreland.  McChristian immediately began building an organization that would enable combat troops to not only find the enemy, but “fix and fight him” in order to win the war. He wanted to ensure that they would be able to “know enemy strength, capabilities, and vulnerabilities as well as information on the weather and terrain. Such intelligence had to be timely, accurate, adequate, and usable.”[viii]

McChristian, a West Point graduate and career intelligence officer, had served under General Patton during World War II and was well-versed in the objectives of classical military intelligence in support of combat operations.  But he had also served as an adviser in Greece during the counterinsurgency campaign against communist forces in 1949-1950.  His experience taught him to think of the conflict not only in terms of a conventional battlefield in which field commanders need timely and accurate information on enemy forces, but also in terms of a stabilization mission where “access to the populace is essential.”[ix]

In the early days of the Vietnam war the conventional philosophy worked well, and the U.S. won a number of tactical victories against the North Vietnamese military forces. But it didn’t take long for the North Vietnamese and Vietcong insurgents to adjust to the Americans’ overwhelming firepower advantage, shifting to asymmetric tactics like blending in with the population and fighting in more limited engagements where firepower provided a tactical advantage but did not lead to strategic progress.[x] The military, however, continued to measure success with the language of attrition—kill as many enemy fighters as possible and kill them faster than they can replenish themselves.[xi]

Until the war in Vietnam the role of military intelligence analysis was simply stated, if often difficult to execute in practice: determine the number and locations of enemy troops, how they were equipped, and what they intended to do next.  But Vietnam proved far more challenging, and it slowly became apparent that body counts were not the proper measure of strategic effectiveness for this kind of conflict.[xii] President Lyndon Johnson realized that tactical military victories would not be enough to end the war and developed a strategy alongside his adviser Maxwell Taylor that was built on three offensive components: “limited bombing in the North (and enemy-held areas in the South); defeating Communist forces in pitched battles in the South’s hinterlands; and ‘nation-building’ in the South’s core.”[xiii] Two out of these three components were overtly enemy-centric. Several years later and with no tangible results, Johnson’s presidency was in tatters and his successors in the Nixon administration spent three more years managing a military effort whose effectiveness “languished in doubt and uncertainty, overwhelmed in a sea of statistical gabble.”[xiv]

Even years after the U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended scholars still couldn’t agree on the true nature of the conflict and what exactly went wrong. Two competing explanations, originally detailed in Harry Summers’s On Strategy (1982) and Andrew Krepinevich’s The Army and Vietnam (1986), both stated that the U.S. military fundamentally misunderstood the strategic environment in Vietnam and concentrated too heavily on the Vietcong insurgency.  But where Krepinevich argued that the Army under Westmoreland tried to turn a guerrilla conflict into a conventional one by killing as many of the “enemy” as possible, Summers argued the opposite, believing that the Army should have concentrated its firepower to attack the North Vietnamese military forces and ignore the Vietcong insurgents altogether.

Both of these visions understate the role played by military intelligence in Vietnam.  Confronted with an elusive adversary, classical military intelligence became exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.  It was no longer relevant to collect information on the numbers and locations of enemy forces—the enemy was everywhere and nowhere all at once. Debates between military and CIA analysts about the enemy’s strength were deadlocked as neither side could agree on how many enemy “units” were in the field.[xv] Thus, under the classical military intelligence philosophy that persisted in Vietnam, it fell to officers like General McChristian and his subordinates to “find the enemy,” even when finding the enemy ultimately proved to be the wrong strategic approach.

Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development (CORDS)

While senior leaders demanded body counts and continued to concentrate their efforts on killing a regenerating enemy, others were developing systems and tools to address what they saw as the root causes of the insurgency. Early in 1967, President Johnson had become frustrated with Westmoreland’s attrition strategy and doubted its potential to deliver a decisive victory.[xvi] In May he sent Robert Komer, who had been serving on the National Security Council, to South Vietnam to lead a program called the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development System (CORDS).  The program “specifically matched focused intelligence collection with direct action and integrated synchronized activities aimed at winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the South Vietnamese…CORDS was premised on a belief that the war would be ultimately won or lost not on the battlefield, but in the struggle for the loyalty of the people.”[xvii]

One of the key features of the CORDS program was collecting information that “focused on the factors essential for the promotion of security, economic development, governance, and the provision of needed government services.”[xviii] Such an approach to intelligence collection was not at all new—more than two thousand years earlier while presiding over the Macedonian court, the young Alexander the Great would ask foreign visitors about the “size of the population of their territory, the productiveness of the soil, the course of the routes and rivers that crossed it, the location of its towns, harbors and strong places, the identity of the important men…assembling what today would be called economic, regional or strategic intelligence.”[xix] That the relationship between this type of intelligence and success on the battlefield was not easily recognized underscores the influence of classical military intelligence doctrine on the senior Army commanders of Vietnam, many of whom were veterans of the Second World War.[xx]

Arguably, CORDS might have been the reason for even the limited success that was achieved in certain areas in Vietnam. Statistics showed that “where CORDS was effectively implemented, enemy activity declined sharply.”[xxi] Nonetheless, senior military leaders were reluctant to commit their full efforts to the program, preferring to continue trying to find “the enemy’s big units.”[xxii] Intelligence staffs from major combat units stuck with the familiar methodology of constructing the enemy’s order of battle—the traditional product of conventional wars—at the expense of understanding of the underlying political dynamics that were driving the South Vietnamese insurgency.[xxiii] Army intelligence officers who were trained on Field Manual 30-5, or “Combat Intelligence,” were trying to fight the war the same way they might have fought against a mechanized Soviet force barreling through Western Europe.  According to Krepinevich, “while the efforts of CORDS foundered on the relatively low priority given these operations by MACV and the national police, the Army’s intelligence personnel suffered from the service’s preoccupation with its traditional approach to war.”[xxiv]

Sociocultural Intelligence

The Classicals Return in Iraq

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez took command of Combined Joint Task Force 7 in June 2003, just a month after President George W. Bush landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare the end of major combat operations in Iraq.  Within only a few months, Sanchez would find himself unprepared to confront a situation that was spiraling out of control as a destabilizing insurgency had begun to carry out guerrilla-style attacks against coalition forces across the country.[xxv]

Sanchez began to put pressure on his military intelligence officers to determine why these attacks were occurring and what he could do about them. An influx of detainees, most infamously at Abu Ghraib prison, led him to “push military intelligence officers to make their interrogations more productive…[by] extracting information from those prisoners that battlefield commanders could use to thwart attacks and save U.S. troops' lives.”[xxvi]

The classical military intelligence paradigm had made a few comebacks in the years since Vietnam. The 1991 Gulf War was entirely conventional, and many military planners believed that the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom would be similar.[xxvii] But after the initial success of the invasion, the conflict rapidly turned into something far more complicated, leading commanders like Sanchez to seek answers from military intelligence advisers without understanding the unconventional nature of the conflict, as in Vietnam. 

It took several years in Iraq and even longer in Afghanistan for military intelligence analysts to adapt to the evolving unconventional nature of the wars. An enemy-centric viewpoint “dominated both collection and analysis from 2003 through at least 2006 in Iraq, and from 2001 through at least 2010 in Afghanistan.”[xxviii] In an effort to stop the bleeding, the Army and Marine Corps collaborated on a new field manual for counterinsurgency operations that was published in 2006 under the direction of generals David Petraeus and James Amos.[xxix] The manual outlined a new role for intelligence in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations that included the civilian population more directly, stating that “the function of intelligence in COIN is to facilitate understanding of the operational environment, with emphasis on the populace, host nation, and insurgents.”[xxx] Even the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield process was slightly altered to place “greater emphasis on civil considerations, especially people and leaders in the area of operations, than does IPB for conventional operations.”[xxxi]A revised version of the manual published in May 2014 made the sentiment even more explicit: “Commanders and staffs must devote as much effort to understand the local population being supported as they do to understand the insurgents.”[xxxii]

Despite the doctrinal shift towards a population-centric approach to intelligence analysis, there was still a natural inclination towards focusing on the enemy.[xxxiii] Former Marine Corps intelligence officer Ben Connable writes that “the enemy-centric focus is also in keeping with the kind of traditional intelligence training and education that senior and mid-career analysts underwent during the early parts of their careers, and it synchronizes with the kind of contemporary counterterrorism intelligence operations that consume a great deal of military analytic capacity across the defense intelligence enterprise.”[xxxiv] This institutional inertia was showcased during the drafting and review process of the new counterinsurgency field manual as senior officers at the Army’s Intelligence Center initially protested its publication, objecting to the notion that “regular soldiers” could also collect intelligence from the local population as well as stating flatly that cultural analysis was not a part of their doctrine.[xxxv]

The influence of the classical intelligence philosophy went beyond just the military intelligence community. Many ground commanders continued to view their intelligence staffs within the enemy-centric framework that they’d grown up with. Even as late as 2009, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan “acknowledged that he’d been devoting all his intelligence assets to pinning down the locations of the Taliban fighters, and none at all to analyzing the Afghan people: their tribal allegiances, sectarian splits, or any of the other sociocultural tags that would have been vital inputs in a counterinsurgency campaign.”[xxxvi]

CORDS Reborn: The Human Terrain System

In 2006 the Army began to deploy small teams of social scientists to Iraq and Afghanistan with a mission to study the “sociocultural, anthropologic, and ethnographic data and other non-geographical information” relevant to understanding the complex operational environment.[xxxvii] These teams were formed under what was called the Human Terrain System and were originally designed to “provide the commander with experienced officers, NCOs, and civilian social scientists trained and skilled in cultural data and research analysis.”[xxxviii] In part, their function was to overcome the institutional and psychological barriers that led many commanders to keep their focus on the “enemy” by augmenting the existing intelligence staff in each unit and providing the capability to understand the local population with quantitative methodology. 

Similar to CORDS in Vietnam, these individual Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) were developed under the guiding assumption that the challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from a failure to focus on the unique cultural environments, often extremely localized, in which security forces were operating. They would serve as sociocultural intelligence analysts and complement existing intelligence systems structured to support commanders in physical combat.

The Human Terrain System was not without controversy. A 2008 article in Newsweek claimed that the program had fallen short of what it had promised.[xxxix] The article stated that “of 19 Human Terrain members operating in five teams in Iraq, fewer than a handful can be described loosely as Middle East experts, and only three speak Arabic. The rest are social scientists or former GIs who…are transposing research skills from their unrelated fields at home.” To make matters worse, the American Anthropological Association publicly criticized the program in 2007, raising concerns about HTT participants violating their professional code of ethics since their data could be used in support of military operations.[xl]

Despite the controversy, the Army moved forward with the program, eventually deploying more than 40 teams simultaneously to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Whether or not the HTTs have been successful has been the subject of considerable debate.[xli] Most criticisms of the program like to point out that many of the people assigned to these teams—supposedly experts on local culture—were often thrown into situations with minimal training and no more expertise than common soldiers who had been in country for a few months.[xlii]

Strategic Narratives

One of the objectives of Human Terrain Teams deployed to Afghanistan was to conduct comprehensive assessments of local perceptions regarding security, governance, development, economic conditions, and education.[xliii] Teams conducted interviews with local villagers, elders, politicians, and religious leaders.  They presented the final product to military commanders and their staffs, but rarely went much further and almost never influenced operations. But the HTTs were bringing something far more essential to the conflict, even if they might not have realized it. They were providing the building blocks of a strategic narrative that could have dramatically affected the way intelligence worked in conjunction with tactical operations to control the message broadcast to the Afghan people and other global audiences.

The concept of a strategic narrative dates back at least as far as Carl von Clausewitz whose trinity concept of war emphasized that peoples’ emotions could affect the rational political objectives of the government as well as the creative plans of the military.[xliv] The outcome of a conflict depended in part on the will of the enemy population to resist. That population thus became the “audience” for whom battles were fought, and their interpretation of the results would be the context against which the clash of wills would be measured.

In his book, War From the Ground Up, British Army officer Emile Simpson defines a strategic narrative as “the explanation of actions” both during and after a conflict.[xlv] If strategy is the bridge between military operations and political objectives, then a strategic narrative “accompanies policy throughout the lifetime of the conflict (before, during, and beyond the period of actual fighting).”[xlvi] Perceptions play an important role in crafting an appropriate narrative to explain how military actions relate to political objectives, particularly in the context of stability operations with multiple strategic audiences. Understanding how each audience will react to these actions is crucial.  Tactical success may lead to strategic failure if the other actor has the ability to control the narrative, as has been the case in Afghanistan for the last several years.[xlvii]

In a commentary on Simpson’s work, historian Sir Michael Howard explains how the concept of a strategic audience has changed since Clausewitz:[xlviii]

In traditional “bipolar” war between nation states, the ultimate “audience” was the enemy population, which was assumed to be united behind their government and armed forces and therefore only likely to listen to reason once the latter had been defeated – or clearly would be defeated if they were brought to battle. In contemporary conflicts the audience is far more diverse. The adversary is no longer homogeneous, one’s own people may be puzzled and divided, and a significant element in the audience will be spread throughout the world. Under such circumstances a military operation intended to convey a message to one audience may mean something quite different to another.

Using Afghanistan as his primary case study, Simpson illustrates the importance of adjusting the strategic narrative depending on the audience. But consistency in the overall message, he argues, is also essential to avoid losing credibility.[xlix] It is in this area where acts of violence to kill enemy combatants become more complicated. While Clausewitz contended that the physical destruction of the enemy was the only permanent advantage in war,[l] circumstances in modern conflict have changed. Simpson believes that the importance of physical destruction has declined relative to how military actions are perceived by multiple audiences, several of whom are not the enemy, and therefore “beyond the range of physical violence.”[li] In such conflicts, strategic narratives are a necessary tool to explain one’s actions and overcome the negative emotions and perceptions associated with local acts of violence.

Shifting the Level of Strategic Intelligence

Strategic Landpower and Stability Operations

In the October 2013 issue of Army Magazine the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, General Robert Cone, wrote that “the greatest lesson we learned from Iraq and Afghanistan is that conflict remains a human enterprise: a clash of wills involving governments, militaries, and peoples.”[lii] Winning the clash of wills in the “human domain” of war, Cone argues, is the fundamental goal of what has been labeled as strategic landpower.

Phrases like “human domain” and “strategic landpower” might appear novel, but the concepts are the same as previous generations of conflict, especially in stabilization missions. They call for a sociocultural intelligence capability to understand the perceptions of strategic audiences, and applaud the creation of Human Terrain Teams as an essential component of their success.[liii]

But military leaders continue to see sociocultural intelligence and tactical intelligence as entirely separate functions when they should combine to form a more holistic approach to intelligence analysis for stability operations. Although military staffs in Iraq and Afghanistan formed an Effects Cell designed to “[pull] together all nonlethal resources on a brigade staff…to evaluate and plan nonlethal operations,” there was still a chasm between intelligence analysis for lethal targeting operations and sociocultual intelligence.[liv] The relationship between the Human Terrain Teams and the brigade intelligence section was “sometimes antagonistic and sometimes cooperative depending on the culture of the brigade, its mission, individual personalities, and the local environment.”[lv] In an ideal case, the social science and survey techniques organic to the Human Terrain Teams would be combined with population-centric military intelligence analysis to develop strategic narratives for audiences at multiple levels.

Instead, controversial and allegedly mismanaged programs like CORDS and the HTS make it easier for the military intelligence community to ignore the call to focus their efforts on the population and instead continue to search for enemy targets of questionable strategic value. A RAND study on military intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded that it “often fails to provide commanders and policymakers with an effective understanding of complex counterinsurgency environments.”[lvi] At least part of this failure comes from the misapplication of enemy-centric intelligence analysis and the lack of a coherent strategic narrative.

Despite the demonstrated need to understand the attitudes of local populations in stability operations and develop appropriate and effective strategic narratives, military intelligence operations continue to fall into the trap of searching for whatever enemy they can find. In Iraq and Afghanistan, intelligence analysts have tended to leave population assessments to the civil affairs teams, preferring to focus their efforts and metrics on targeting individual insurgents within broader networks.[lvii] Human intelligence reporting, however reliable, was layered with signals intelligence triggers that led to targeted special operations raids to kill or capture “High Valued Individuals,” or HVIs.[lviii] Yet even today, after more than thirteen years of killing and capturing hundreds of insurgent leaders, facilitators, financiers, and bomb-makers, the Afghan insurgency continues.

An enemy-centric focus for intelligence analysis is misguided in the context of a stability operation since the local population is the strategic narrative’s primary, or at least most immediate, audience.  The people are, in Clausewitzian terms, the conflict’s center of gravity.  Targeting insurgent leaders, though still an aspect of counterinsurgency operations, will only delay the insurgency’s ability to continue the conflict, and in some cases may even work against the counterinsurgent’s strategic narrative when local populations develop a negative perception of these operations. As an example, night raids[lix] in Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan, while effective from the standpoint of an enemy-centric targeting model, have led to outrage and anti-American sentiments among the people whose support is most needed.[lx]  

In classical military operations, strategic intelligence analysis looked at “echelons above corps” that formed the macroscopic level of a conflict. Tactical intelligence was primarily a function of battlefield units and was only relevant in a more limited context.  However, in modern stability operations where the battle is not a kinetic clash between armed forces but rather a fight to sway a population against an insurgency, the level of strategic intelligence shifts downward to what was previously considered only tactical.  Individual actions can now have consequences at the strategic level, particularly in an era of mass communications and broad availability of information to fragmented audiences. 

Conclusions

Clausewitz famously wrote that “everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”[lxi] Of course, the wars he studied—where the military objective was to destroy the enemy’s will and capability to resist—were themselves simpler than what we have come to know as modern stability operations. But war has always been about more than killing. War is politics. And politics can be messy, especially when operating in “kaleidoscopic conflict environments” as Emile Simpson has put it.[lxii] As such, the benefits of sociocultural intelligence may be constrained by the complexity of the environment and the accuracy of the information. Successful counterinsurgency operations will require more than just adding sociocultural intelligence to the commander’s update brief.

Still, as the wars of the last decade have shown, finding, fixing, and finishing the enemy is not enough. Without addressing the sociocultural components that can inform the development of strategic narratives, military intelligence analysis will be stuck trying to answer questions about numbers of enemy fighters and orders of battle. Although the U.S. Army attempted to build the capability to conduct quantitative assessments of local perceptions during the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, each program suffered from administrative problems and ran into significant institutional resistance. If concepts like strategic landpower and the human domain are to yield any lasting results, sociocultural understanding and strategic narratives must be embraced by the classical intelligence philosophy that has dominated the military intelligence community since the Second World War.

End Notes

[i] Keegan, John. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to al Qaeda. 2003, p. 211

[ii] Keegan, 371

[iii] Keegan, 21

[iv] Keegan, 10

[v] US Army Field Manual 34-130, “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield”

[vi] Kahn, David. “The Intelligence Failure of Pearl Harbor,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 5 (Winter 1991-1992), p. 138-152

[vii] McChristian, Joseph. “The Role of Military Intelligence, 1965-1967”, pg. 3

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] McChristian, Joseph. “The Role of Military Intelligence, 1965-1967”, p. 65

[x] Krepinevich, Andrew. The Army and Vietnam. 1986, p. 167-172

[xi] Daddis, Gregory A. No Sure Victory: Measuring US Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War. 2011, p. 91

[xii] Mushen, Emily and Jonathan Schroden. Are We Winning? A Brief History of Military Operations Assessment. Center for Naval Analyses, Sep. 2014, p. 6

[xiii] Rose, Gideon. How Wars End. 2010, p. 165

[xiv] Daddis, 207

[xv] Lowenthal, Mark M. Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy. 2012, p. 23

[xvi] Krepinevich, p. 187

[xvii] Kipp, Jacob, Lester Grau, Karl Prinslow, and Don Smith. “The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century.” Military Review, Sep-Oct 2006, p. 10

[xviii] Kipp et al, 11

[xix] Keegan, 10

[xx] Ricks, Thomas. The Generals. 2012, p. 217

[xxi] Kipp et al, 10

[xxii] Krepinevich, 229

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ricks, 414

[xxvi] Ricks, Thomas. “In Iraq’s Guerrilla War, Army Intelligence Faces a Tough Job.” The Washington Post, 26 August 2004

[xxvii] “Rumsfeld foresees swift Iraq War.” BBC News, 7 February 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2738089.stm

[xxviii] Connable, Ben. Military Intelligence Fusion for Complex Operations: A New Paradigm. RAND Corporation, 2012, p. 9

[xxix] “Army, Marine Corps unveil counterinsurgency field manual.” Army News, 15 December, 2006. http://www.army.mil/article/1005/

[xxx] US Army Field Manual 3-24, “Counterinsurgency.” 2006, Section 3-1

[xxxi] FM 3-24, Section 3-2

[xxxii] FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, “Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies.” May 2014, Section 8-2

[xxxiii] Connable, 11

[xxxiv] Connable, 12

[xxxv] Kaplan, Fred. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. 2013, p. 213-214

[xxxvi] Kaplan, 302

[xxxvii] Kipp et al, 9

[xxxviii] Kipp et al, 9

[xxxix] “A Gun in One Hand, A Pen in the Other.” Newsweek, 12 April 2008

[xl] American Anthropological Association’s Executive Board Statement on the Human Terrain System Project; http://www.aaanet.org/pdf/EB_Resolution_110807.pdf

[xli] Vanden Brook, Tom. “Army Plows Ahead with Troubled War-zone Program.” USAToday, 28 February 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/02/17/human-terrain-system...

[xlii] Gezari, Vanessa. “When the Eggheads Went to War.” Newsweek, 16 August 2013. http://mag.newsweek.com/2013/08/16/the-human-terrain-system-sought-to-tr...

[xliii] Much of this section was informed by the author's personal experience working with HTTs in Afghanistan in 2010-2011. They are not necessarily representative of the entire theater, though most of the points coincide with official statements about the employment of HTTs in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

[xliv] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Book 1, Ch. 3, p. 104

[xlv] Simpson, Emile. War From the Ground Up: 21st Century Conflict as Politics. 2012, p. 179

[xlvi] Simpson, 180

[xlvii] Ahmed, Azam. “Taliban Keep Up Campaign to Win Public Support.” The New York Times, 13 May 2013

[xlviii] Howard, Michael. “Narratives of War.” The Times Literary Supplement, http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1239841.ece

[xlix] Simpson, 181

[l] Clausewitz, Book 4, Ch. 4, p. 232

[li] Simpson, 187

[lii] Cone, Robert. “Building Strategic Landpower.” Army Magazine, October 2013, p. 75

[liii] Cone, 78

[liv] McFate, Montgomery and Steve Fondacaro. “Reflections on the Human Terrain System During the First Four Years.” PRISM, Vol. 2, No. 4, p. 70

[lv] Ibid., 72

[lvi] Connable, 1

[lvii] Katz, David. “Fitting Intelligence to the Fight: Lessons from Afghanistan,” Small Wars Journal, July 2013

[lviii] Flynn, M, Pottinger, M and Bachelor, P D “Fixing intel: A blueprint for making intelligence relevant in Afghanistan.” Center for a New American Security. p. 7

[lix] “U.S., Afghanistan work toward deal on night raids.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/11/19/afghanistan-us-secur...

[lx] Afzal, Madiha. “Drone Strikes and Anti-Americanism in Pakistan.” Brookings Institution, http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/02/07-drones-anti-americ...

[lxi] Clausewitz, Book 1, Ch. 7, p. 120

[lxii] Simpson, 203

 

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In an ideal case, the social science and survey techniques organic to the Human Terrain Teams would be combined with population-centric military intelligence analysis to develop strategic narratives for audiences at multiple levels.

Instead, controversial and allegedly mismanaged programs like CORDS and the HTS make it easier for the military intelligence community to ignore the call to focus their efforts on the population and instead continue to search for enemy targets of questionable strategic value.

I believe it was the Newsweek article this author mentions that had an example where the HTS member was queried by a reporter about the Hazara ANSF Soldier who was slaughtering a goat making comments about how Hazaras often are given menial, degrading tasks and are considered low-man on the ethnic totem pole. The HTS member did not know anything about the Hazaras or their perceived place in the Afghan caste system of sorts. Given this example and that of other HTS members, it is hard to envision them offering much value regardless of the survey techniques employed. Would they know what proportion of the populations to survey that was Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen, or Baloch if all were present in an area? Would they know how their ethnicity, tribe, or family group affects their answers? Could they trust the interpreter to be unbiased and accurately interpret answers?

But this presents a larger issue. How can local understanding of the population by an HTS team or local Army or Marine company advance a strategic narrative that presumably seeks to win the hearts and minds of an entire nation. Every province, district, valley, and village is unique in Afghanistan just as it is in most of the world. If as in the case of Wanat, the villagers were being told by the central government that they cannot sell their gems to Pakistan or the Korengal valley residents could not cut and sell lumber, how is loyalty to the central government going to be possible? If Nuristanis are a unique ethnicity that tends to isolate themselves and be xeonophobic towards other Afghans and foreigners, how is a local company or HTS going to change centuries of opinions?

This past weekend, Fareed Zarkaria compared the EU assistance to poor Greece to Connecticut’s taxes going to support a poorer Alabama. Well imagine that all of Europe was a single country, about five times the size of Afghanistan and Iraq but currently with many more than 40 countries within that area. By comparison then, if Iraq and Afghanistan had similar numbers of countries as Europe for its area, each would consist of eight different countries. How would you go about convincing the Greeks that they should listen to a German-dominated EU single government given the past history of WWII and their relative economic strengths and weaknesses?

This dilemma would be similar to an Afghan government dominated by Northern Alliance ethnicities or Iraq government dominated by Shiites. What strategic narrative can possibly win over the Greek population or the Pashtuns or Sunnis/Kurds who feel underrepresented?

But getting back to Fareed Zakaria’s lousy comparison, Connecticut is the third smallest state and fourth densest in terms of population yet it has less population at 3.6 million than Alabama’s 4.9 million. At 70 x 110 miles it doesn’t take more than one to two hours to cross the state in any direction. Contrast that with Alabama where it would take 5 hours at Interstate speeds to travel north to south to hit Florida’s beaches for instance. Lots of northerners make that trek and highways must be kept up to support that traffic. The federal government finances most of those highways which is where Connecticut taxes help support Alabama’s interstates and U.S. Highways. Alabama also has numerous military bases (two of which are the state’s largest employers) which also require federal revenue whereas Connecticut has only Navy activity, and no doubt the locality adjustment for that northeast area is far higher than what the civil servant or service member needs in rural Alabama.

Compare job opportunities and income between the states. Connecticut has the 4th highest median household income in the U.S. (compared to Alabama’s 46th) just as incomes in Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat are probably considerably higher than those in rural Afghanistan. What single strategic narrative would work on both the people of Connecticut and those in Alabama? They both consider themselves Americans which binds them together, but little else is shared in common in terms of lifestyle and culture. So do you send a HTS-member trained in Connecticut to Alabama? Will the Auburn-graduate in HTS understand and influence Connecticut?

In the next paragraph is his article he says this:

Despite the demonstrated need to understand the attitudes of local populations in stability operations and develop appropriate and effective strategic narratives, military intelligence operations continue to fall into the trap of searching for whatever enemy they can find. In Iraq and Afghanistan, intelligence analysts have tended to leave population assessments to the civil affairs teams, preferring to focus their efforts and metrics on targeting individual insurgents within broader networks.[lvii] Human intelligence reporting, however reliable, was layered with signals intelligence triggers that led to targeted special operations raids to kill or capture “High Valued Individuals,” or HVIs.[lviii] Yet even today, after more than thirteen years of killing and capturing hundreds of insurgent leaders, facilitators, financiers, and bomb-makers, the Afghan insurgency continues.

How do you potentially train the future now defunct HTS, civil affairs, SF guy, S2X, or CoIST analyst in terms of language and culture when you have no idea where you next will fight? Even if you know you are going to Afghanistan what happens if you studied Afghan tribes around Khost but end up in Nuristan or Helmund at the last minute? If you are HTS and are confined to Kabul every night and go to a different part of the country routinely, how will you be effective? How many cultures and languages can you learn before a war commences?

What if you are not confined to Kabul at night? If you live amongst the population in part of Ukraine trying to develop ties between that area and the Ukrainian government do you risk bringing in a massive rocket or artillery barrage on their citizens to simultaneously eliminate opponents to the separatists? What about future precision weapons that can take out your single SF house without killing others nearby? Will roads leading into that area be mined or emplaced with IEDs and vehicle-borne explosives? Will suicide bombers blow up in the midst of your shura or survey attempts? It illustrates that HVI and networks are still critical targets even if you also are interested in pattern of life and the influence of key employment sectors (to include drug growers/runners and other criminals), ethnicities, and tribes.

An enemy-centric focus for intelligence analysis is misguided in the context of a stability operation since the local population is the strategic narrative’s primary, or at least most immediate, audience. The people are, in Clausewitzian terms, the conflict’s center of gravity. Targeting insurgent leaders, though still an aspect of counterinsurgency operations, will only delay the insurgency’s ability to continue the conflict, and in some cases may even work against the counterinsurgent’s strategic narrative when local populations develop a negative perception of these operations. As an example, night raids in Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan, while effective from the standpoint of an enemy-centric targeting model, have led to outrage and anti-American sentiments among the people whose support is most needed.

Reference his frequent references to CORDS elsewhere in the article, isn’t it true that the CORDS and Phoenix programs in Vietnam were interrelated? That sounds a whole lot like the night raids, network-busting, RPA/UAS attacks, and HVI-attacks of Afghanistan and Iraq. In the case of F-15E air strikes of a stuck fuel tanker abducted by the Taliban (who beheaded drivers) near Kunduz in 2009 that had civilians surrounding it, at the time many locals did not object to such strikes because they knew the Taliban had captured them and participants around the tanker had Taliban leanings. 90 “civilians” died attempting to drain the stuck tanker at Taliban prompting.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8237287.stm

President Karzai objected as usual for political cover as he did anytime airstrikes killed anyone who could have been a civilian. In many instances such as the Kunduz tanker bombing, some killed by airstrikes tragically were civilians killed by mistake, some were insurgents, and some in other airstrikes have been simply inadvertent collateral damage. Likewise, populations of Pakistan affected by nearby insurgents have been quoted in news articles as being less averse to air strikes than those outside the targeted area who look for conspiracies and reasons to hate Americans.

The challenge remains, is it better to address sanctuaries and criminals running drugs and insurgent training camps in their sanctuary or let them cross into Afghanistan and create problems for that population. You often must choose to alienate one population in order to reduce disruption of another. That all too often is both the problem and potential multi-state solution of Afghan ethnic groups/tribes and Sunnis/Shiites/Kurds in Iraq. With a single country, a single strategic narrative often is impractical because it may involve the lie that the central government actually represents the interests and future of your substantial-to-small population group.

Others in another part of the “country” will continue to control your destiny despite any “strategic narrative.” We fool ourselves if we believe we can convince local Sunnis in both Syria and Iraq that Shiite or Alawite control doesn’t hurt them, or Kurds in those two areas as well as Turkey and Iran. Then try to convince vetted Sunnis to fight only ISIL and not Assad, or Syrian and Iraq refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon that we are doing all we can to rapidly defeat and degrade ISIL and overthrow Assad. But it is somewhat moot since our SF and non-existent ground troops aren’t on the ground in areas of Iraq or Syria to advance a narrative to locals, nor would any HTS, USAID, or NGO team likely keep their head or avoid barrel bombs if they tried to work in those territories.

Pretend that an in-theater commanding general is writing/speaking here:

"Given that the wars that we are embarked upon are wars designed to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines;

This, so as to adequately deal with the myriad of problems -- to both themselves and to the more modern world -- which present themselves from such "different" states and societies,

Then what I want from my intelligence officers -- and re: the populations affected by our "transformational" project here -- are:

A. The identification of those individuals and groups, in our AO, who are "against us," re: this transformational agenda. And

B. The identification of those individuals and groups, in our AO, who are "with us" re: our such transformational desires.

Our operations here will logically be designed to move as many of the individuals and groups in Category "A" above, as is possible, into Category "B."

So:

(1) Find a way to accurately obtain the information that I have outlined above (see "A" and "B"),

(2) Make me some charts/slides/whatever which illustrate this information. And

(3) Update these charts/slides/whatever monthly."

End of this pretend commanding general's commentary.

My point, re: this illustration, is to suggest that -- regarding the general's mission to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines -- socio-cultural information would not seem to be something that the commanding general, and/or his subordinates, would need know;

This, given the fact that, generally speaking, an individual or groups socio-cultural identity/status would not seem to, automatically, make them a friend, or make them an enemy, and/or bar them from embracing transformation -- either upon initial introduction -- or at some later date. (???)