Targeting Challenges in the Advising Environment

Targeting Challenges in the Advising Environment

Brian Adams and Graham Williams

Field Manuel 3-60 (The Targeting Process) states that, “close coordination among all cells is crucial for a successful targeting effort”. This point aims to relay the importance of staff coordination and for units conducting joint targeting operations, but is also applicable in the current advising environment in Afghanistan. 2-22nd Infantry Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division recently deployed to eastern Afghanistan as a Security Force Advising Battalion (SFAB) to the current advising environment.  The Battalion’s mission was to transfer security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) while continuing regional economic and political development.  As the ANSF security transition began, an operational friction point revealed itself to the Battalion: how to conduct successful targeting cycles and how to advise the ANSF through a successful targeting cycle to provide focus for their tactical operations.  This article discusses the issues and challenges with targeting for an advising Battalion and how the Battalion’s leadership, staff, ANSF advisors, and Company Commanders developed an effective solution to targeting as advisors.

Advising Area of Operation / Mission

 2-22 Infantry was assigned an area of operations in southern Ghazni Province, a geographic region about half the size of Rhode Island.  This large area of operations forced 2-22 Infantry to focus operations on the populated and economically stable districts within the AO, specifically Gelan and Muqor District.  Although the two districts were in close proximity, they differed immensely. Both districts were bisected by Highway 1 with Gelan district bordering Zabul Provence in Regional Command- South. The two districts were relatively similar in population; however each had differences in tribal identities which proved to be sensitive when ANSF leadership discussed operational focus. Economically, both districts were predominantly agrarian with typical local retail business development along Highway 1.  Gelan district encompassed numerous independent tribes, which created conflict with ANSF and government support. The Taliban exploited these tribal fissures.  However, Muqor district was dominated primarily by one tribe which created a more cohesive district with regards to security and governance.   Security responsibility in southern Ghazni was shared by various security entities which separated operational focus and divisions of effort for the counter insurgency fight.  The Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP), Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), Afghan Local Police (ALP) and village security forces, commonly referred to the anti-Taliban Movement (ATM), provided a layered approach to security in the region.  In addition, each entity’s proficiency and initiative varied.  The ability of the ANSF to work cohesively with a common end state would prove to be a large operational obstacle for 2-22 advising teams.

The Battalion’s primary line of effort was to advise and assist the ANSF in southern Ghazni to become effective without advisors.  The end state: transfer security in the region with Afghans securing Afghanistan. 

The Battalion was made up of three Security Force Advise and Assist Teams (SFAAT) to address separate Afghan security forces in the area. The Battalion deployed at less than half strength and, separate from the advising mission, provided security and life support on the Brigade sized FOB, provided security forces (SECFOR) elements for advising teams, and eventually conducted the retrograde of conventional forces from the area. The SFAAT teams had twelve men, with a Major as team commander, and company grade officers and senior Non Commissioned Officers filling positions in the Warfighting Function to provide balanced advisement. The SFAAT concept was designed to support ANSF Kandak (Battalion) level advisement to its leadership and staff on all aspects of operations from mission command to sustainment. 2-22 Infantry’s three SFAAT teams advised the Afghan National Army, Afghan Uniformed Police, and Afghan National Civil Order Police. 

There were unique challenges for both the SFAAT Teams and the Battalion staff.  The ANSF elements varied in regards to leadership personalities and Soldier and NCO competency.  The different security entity’s ability to provide sustainment, and basic life support, as well as the ANSF’s willingness to be advised, were all issues that the SFAAT teams were designed to advise on.   The common theme to each SFAAT advisement was that no Afghan security entity maintained fully functioning systems. As for the Battalion staff, 2-22 Infantry deployed under strength, meaning that the robust staff and other enablers that would be on a standard deployment were not present.  In addition, the staff initially struggled to understand the Battalion’s role as an advising element rather than a land owning maneuver Battalion.

Phase I: Doctrinal Targeting

Immediately upon assuming advising duties following the relief in place, the 2-22 Battalion Commander, LTC Brett Funck, charged the staff and targeting officer with beginning targeting cycles. The Decide, Detect, Deliver, Assess (D3A) targeting methodology was used but the staff was unsure of their ability to conduct deliberate targeting; but attempts were made. Early targeting cycles relied heavily on weekly lethal and non-lethal target nominations from the staff. Initially, there was minimal involvement from the SFAAT teams and none from the maneuver companies.  The targeting process began in order to provide support to ANSF tactical operations as any maneuver Battalion would begin a Mission Readiness Exercise.  The Battalion Intelligence section provided quality research and products to answer intelligence gaps, history, and second and third order effects on influencing targets.  Staff elements discussed in detail the war-gaming of the desired end state for each target.  Course of Action recommendation briefs were prepared for the Battalion Commander on ways forward.  The first issue, which would remain consistent during the deployment, was the inability of the Battalion to provide action on nominated targets due to task organization limitation and having the advising mission.  Troop to task, as a result of deploying as a SFAB, hindered the Battalion’s ability to act on lethal and non-lethal targets separately. Also, the Battalion staff was unsure how they would be able to successfully apply the second targeting principle. Namely, how the Battalion would achieve the desired effects, drawing from all available capabilities (the maneuver elements). In addition, a strategic reality underlined the problem:  the main line of effort was to transfer security to the ANSF in the region.  Providing autonomous action would degrade the ability of the ANSF to achieve the goal of operating independently and providing viable security to the area.  Targeting cycles were quickly going by and there were no tangible outcomes from the “deliver” and “assess” phase. This was due in part to the lack of presence by the maneuver elements in the AO, as well as the minimal amount of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms dedicated to the Battalion. 

Phase II: Mirroring Doctrinal Targeting

Shortly after beginning doctrinal targeting cycles, the Battalion Commander and staff realized the obvious failure of their approach.  If the ANSF and advising was the primary line of effort then they should have been fully involved in the targeting process.  Identifying targets to influence in the area of operations without SFAAT buy-in would prove unsuccessful.  Attendees to the targeting cycle quickly expanded to include SFAAT Commanders and the Company Commanders of the SECFOR elements.  Broadening the working group audience immediately caused a change in the thought process which allowed the staff to mirror the ANSF leaderships with regards to active targets.  The Battalion staff was practicing analytical mirroring; the thought process that causes subjects to think like the analysts themselves.  The problem was obvious in the definition of mirroring; Afghan Military leaders, or Afghans in general, do not think like American leaders. 

The American professional education towards counter-insurgencies focused on economic development with an increase in security and the understanding that strengthening one supports the other.  American military leaders’ common fault was the inability to see between the complex tribal lines of neighboring villages, a trait at which Afghan leaders excelled. The Battalion staff nominated all the correct doctrinal targets to support denying insurgent safe haven in populated areas.  Education, commerce, and Governance development targets, support which would improve the populace, were identified accurately.  However, when, or if, these targets approached the Afghan Military and Governance Leaders they garnered little interest. 

A key point added to the failed targeting cycles developed by the Battalion.  Of most importance to the Afghan Military Leaders were tribal differences between ANSF elements. This was a fact not identified by the Battalion during targeting cycles.  Tribal identity drives ownership of problems, and ultimately creates a caste system that reduces responsibility and compassion amongst Afghans with different identities.  Without an operations order to direct an Afghan security force to conduct an action, planning stages of operations needed to continually discuss a separate security line of effort to act.  The layered security elements, and separated chain of commands, created a “pass the buck” atmosphere among supporting Afghan Security Forces.

The second factor, and generally the most frustrating for advisors, was the Afghan leader’s lack of initiative.  Ideas, operations, or battlefield opportunities failed without ANSF higher headquarters involvement.  Each Afghan security leader, regardless of the ANSF element, required approval from his senior Commander for nearly all actions.  Operationally, and in Afghan Military Doctrine, this was not mandated.  At the tactical level, unless self-preservation or financial gains were possible, ANSF leaders repeatedly erred on the side of caution and received approval from higher headquarters to conduct operations.  If the ANSF did not conduct any active patrolling then the Battalion, through the SFAAT teams, completely lacked any way to affect the “deliver” function of the targeting cycle.

Phase III: Reinforcing Success

The Mirroring Targeting Cycle continued to drive the Battalion’s targeting process until redeployment.  As a Battalion, 2-22 Infantry was initially unsuccessful in targeting, with success being defined as influencing an identified target as desired.  Staff and Commanders continued to work at finding targeting victories and getting the ANSF to action with no avail. As 2-22 Infantry continued targeting, the ANSF continued daily operations. The ANSF’s daily battle rhythm of local patrols, bazaar visits, and sustainment patrols provided meeting engagements with the enemy. As the fighting season continued, and ANSF strength increased with recruitment and the ANSF expanded in furthering its operational reach, due in part to SFAAT advising.  The populace observed this growth and extension of security and began to shift its favor to the ANSF.

The largest impact was on the Afghan Local Police (ALP). The ALP were recruited, trained, and then returned back to their residing village.  A relative comparison for the ALP would be a deputized local militia that had lived in town for generations.  The ALP provided the local Afghans with an inherent sense of ownership and responsibility to the populace because of tribal and family connections.  The two friction points aforementioned in this article of tribal differences and the need for senior ANSF Command advisement, had no influence on the ALP.  Afghan Insurgents identified the ALP as the most threatening Afghan security force even more so than the American Battalion in the area of operations.   The ALP, more than any other ANSF element, knew the residents and understood the populace. Major tactical operations in Afghan villages by the ANA were slow and lacked the intimate knowledge of those who resided within the villages.  The ALP eliminated that aspect and they also provided an answer to how the Battalion would be able to detect targets more effectively.

Afghans Informing Afghans

As the ALP expanded, the local Afghans approached the ALP stations with information on the Taliban.  Unlike the ANA and police, the ALP Stations were not located in the district centers and they were embedded with the Afghan people. The ALP occupied houses donated by villagers which served as an ALP station within their hometown.  Geographically, ALP stations were located in the outer rings of the collective security between ANSF elements.   These stations were closest to the enemy, minimally manned and resourced, and not advised by the Battalion. Immediately, loyalists and neighbors to the ALP began reporting information on Insurgent activities.  Mostly due to self-preservation, the Afghan Local Police acted on that information from informants.  The AUP SFAAT team began to report numerous direct fire contacts on the newly established ALP checkpoints.  While Afghan reporting was generally vague and inaccurate, it led to a sense of doubt among 2-22 Infantry leaders and staff while receiving Battle Damage Assessments (BDA). There was an obvious theme to the reporting: the ALP was winning and delivering the desired effect on the enemy.

The reporting of the ALP success was overwhelming.  For several days the ALP were in direct contact with the enemy.  ALP officers did not leave those conflicts unscathed and both the enemy and ALP took losses.  As 2-22 Infantry received reports from the AUP and ANA concerning these conflicts, it was apparent that the information concerning the enemy was coming from the Afghan people.  This discovery led to a tipping point with the advisement of the Kandak and with the district level Afghan leaders.  The cycle of mirroring Afghan targets and producing releasable intelligence to the Afghans produced minimal action.  A sustainable opportunity presented the way forward for Afghan Operations.  The ALP program and tactical gains drove the increase in the desire of the local populace for sustainable security.  Advisement shifted from disseminating American-produced releasable intelligence to advising AUP and ANA leaders about how to process information from the populace into intelligence.  This process, common to leaders and a foundation for Intelligence professionals, is elementary to our doctrine.  Teaching the Afghans to put together the Common Intelligence Picture (CIP), based on a human network, became sustainable.  2-22 Infantry forced not only the “so what” that presented itself from the face value information, but also the tactical gain of the ALP and AUP.

ALP as the Main Effort

The Battalion staff made two new target nominations: one being the plan to sustain the ALP and the other being a reoccurring ANSF/Afghan military and government working group headed by the Battalion Commander.  Both target nominations were intertwined and possessed a common theme: Afghans securing Afghans. Separately, with each ALP engagement, the AUP and ANA were increasingly helpful in providing maneuver and sustainment support.  The Afghan villagers’ desire for an end of violence became obvious.  With successful SFAAT advisement on how to layer security over the course of the fighting season, the ANSF worked efficiently together.  By embracing Kandak and district level perceptions about what each leader thought his responsibilities included, 2-22 Infantry was able to derive a successful formula.  The ALP became the main effort.  Information processed to an intelligence picture by the ALP through the AUP, focused the immediate tactical way forward based on the enemy and actions.  The AUP, with their increased sustainment and personnel numbers, provided reinforcement to the ALP.  The ANA, due to their capabilities, served best as clearance forces for operation as well as to provide outer security, blocking positions, and support by fire.  The AUP and ALP were given the task to follow and assume, and to engage the populace after the clearance.  By embracing the outer security task for an operation, the ANA were on the battlefield, and by providing support for the ALP, their actions were observed by the population and ALP were considered a viable security force.  This approach was used each time the ANSF conducted security operations and with increased repetitions during the fighting season, this plan of action became the standard battle drill.  For the Afghan citizens, it provided observables of the ANSF unification by providing increased security in the area, a strategic goal.

Lessons Learned

The doctrinal targeting process was complex and each maneuver Battalion across the United States Army transformed targeting to whatever worked for their leaders and staff.  Common themes for success in targeting included understanding the Commander’s mission statement, defined lines of effort to achieve that mission, and an operational focus to achieve the end state; characteristics that the ANSF thought void.  The ANSF focused on defeating the enemy. They lacked the institutional knowledge to frame the complex problem of security in Afghanistan.  That is not to insult the Afghan Leaders; America’s most senior Military officers and academic professionals varied on the proper way forward in an approach in Afghanistan.  Successful advisement of any Afghan security force must be founded in an approach that enables their perceptions on their role in the security picture and the way for which to tackle the security picture with their intelligence capabilities: the human intelligence network.   Advisors need to focus the Afghans’ ability to develop their own Common Intelligence Picture, and to create a forcing function to bring separate ANSF entities together in order to discuss the “so what”.  Operations that included the layered security of the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Defense resulted in an extension of security and created a win for the Afghan People. 

Future units deploying to Afghanistan must understand that the Afghans perception of their responsibilities cannot change, and that the units will not be able to change the way the Afghan people see themselves.  These perceptions must be embraced. Units must advise in a way that best brings success to security as completely an Afghan solution even if it deviated from doctrine.

Leaders and officers from the Afghan Army 2nd Kandak in COP Muqor conducting an operations brief.

ANCOP leadership at FOB Warrior congratulating members of an SFAAT Teams after conducting training.

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