Small Wars Journal

The 800-pound Gorilla and Stability Operations

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The 800-pound Gorilla and Stability


by James P. Hunt, Major General,


Deputy Commanding General, MNC-I, April

09 -- Jan 10

Download the full article:

The 800-pound

Gorilla and Stability Operations

It's early 2010, Baghdad, Iraq.  At the New Embassy Complex, three Foreign

Service officers wait for the start of their meeting with officers from United States

Forces-Iraq.  It's a small room, seating about ten people, but with only three

Department of State representatives there should be plenty of room for the military

participants.  The door swings open, and twenty officers walk in the room and

scramble for seats.  One opens up a satchel and pulls out sets of briefing

slides—it looks like there are close to fifty slides for the briefing.  After

lots of shuffling around, an officer starts the presentation.  Today, he's

talking about how the military will support the Provincial Reconstruction Teams;

he goes through the entire military planning process:  Mission analysis, courses

of action, the results of the military's war gaming, and which course of action

the military supports. 

Throughout the hour-long meeting, the Foreign Service Officers listen politely

and ask a few questions.  They ponder the complex diagrams, troop-to-task calculations,

logistics concepts.   Their few questions are answered in sentences filled

mostly with abbreviations or acronyms.  It's as if questions or discussion

will ruin the rhythm and timing of the briefing.  At the end of the meeting,

the senior military officer comments, "Thanks for listening to us today.  We

think we've got a good plan here and are ready to support you.  After all,

civilians are in the lead for improving civil capacity in Iraq, and we're here to

help.  Please let us know what you think, but we're ready to execute right


After the military team leaves, the Foreign Service Officers look at each other

and sigh.  They've just attended a meeting describing the military support

they'll be receiving without being part of the planning dialog that led to the military's

support plan.   The stacks of briefing slides wind up in the burn bag. 

They'll meet with the military planners again in a week, but next time the military

will bring a 100-page operations plan full of objectives, metrics, and implementing

instructions.  The Embassy was not part of the process that led to the plan

and wasn't asked specifically what support it needed.  They don't necessarily

understand the plan, would spend staff hours they simply don't have to make significant

changes to the plan, and would probably rather just be asked "how can we help?" 

The military officers walk away frustrated because the civilians are not jumping

with joy over their excellent briefing and plan that took many man-hours to build

and sense their civilian counterparts would rather have no plan at all. 

Download the full article:

The 800-pound

Gorilla and Stability Operations

Maj. Gen. James P. Hunt was the Deputy Commanding General, I Corps, U.S. Forces-Iraq,

Baghdad, Iraq, from April 2009 to January, 2010.  General Hunt was second-in-command

and was responsible for the Corps' coordination and integration at the tactical

and operational level with interagency partners, including the U.S. Embassy-Iraq,

the U.S. Agency for International Development and non-governmental organizations.

Maj Gen. Hunt was born in California and entered the Air Force in 1976 as

a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has held staff positions at the numbered

air force, major command, Air Staff and Joint Staff. The general commanded an F-117

squadron, a U-2 operations group and three wings, including an air expeditionary

wing in Afghanistan.  He is a fighter pilot with over 3,000 hours in the F-4,

F-15, F-117, and U-2 aircraft.

About the Author(s)


David Spencer (not verified)

Fri, 09/03/2010 - 9:27am

This article is useful for portraying the way in which State views Defense. A key concept within is that State understands what DoD's "strengths" are, even if we lay those strengths on too thick for our interagency counterparts sometimes.

So, how do we move forward? In typical military style, I'll lay out some possible ways for further integration and cooperation.

1. The military plans well. It is very goal-oriented. Once a goal is identified, it is good at shaping and defining strategies to accomplish that goal. Additionally, besides having processes and matrices for just about everything, we simply have more people available to plan. This is just a natural advantage that DoD has right now in most geographic areas. So, it is true that the military may need to come to initial interagency meetings without slides and briefers, etc. It's also important to emphasize that the State's method of planning is not "worse," it's just "different." However, when some initial concepts, goals, and endstates are agreed upon, it might be useful for State to ask the military to go through the rest of a planning and analysis process. The military allows State to choose the path in their own way, but State "unleashes the Gorilla" when some manpower is needed for analysis.

Since were on the subject of manning, its worth noting that the military has a lot of manpower compared to State. Combine the militarys relatively high level of manning in places like Afghanistan, with the strong work ethic possessed by many staff officers (not to imply that States personnel dont have strong work ethics), and that translates into the ability to get after a problem in a short amount of time from a number of angles. When State identifies an issue during an cooperative effort that it doesnt have the time or manpower available to tackle, it should consider leveraging the abilities of its military partners. It may take some time for State to start considering this as part of "normal" interagency operations. However, when State gets more comfortable working with the military, this may begin to come naturally.

2. The military can organize operations well. Some of this is, again, based on manning. Some is based on the current environment in Afghanistan, where the military has more personnel and infrastructure than State. Yet, even in other operating environments--when an operation or plan has been agreed on--it might be useful for State to leverage the ability of the military to orchestrate a plan. Ideally, this has been worked out in the planning phase, but perhaps not.

The various agencies within the U.S. government are slowly but steadily starting to understand the need to work together. A critical part of working together effectively is identifying which agency has strengths and capabilities that can be leveraged during cooperative interagency efforts. Until these are codified in general terms, this will need to be done continuously between DoD and State (and other agencies) effort by effort. On the militarys part, it is important to let State be in charge when it is in charge, and also understand that States processes arent "worse," but just "different." On States part, they should be willing to leverage the militarys ability to plan and organize.

This will get us started. But there is a long way to go.

David Spencer
CGSC ILE Student

LongTabSigO - I don't disagree that we are viewing everything from the CENTCOM lens and can, and should, take a wider approach to how we view civ-mil ops.

The current fight, and hence the focus of the article, lends itself to Kinkers assessment.

I don't think there is anyone who would disagree that this is the essence of Phase 0, nor would anyone disagree that the more that can be done during Phase 0 to mitigate the use of military force/limit the scope of operations - the better.

However, I believe it is an issue of Phase IV/V transition and planning that leads to this situation. Moreover, the resultant overlap of these phases lends itslef to confusing the situation. Again, how do we enable civ capacity to operate in a less than ideal security situation (ideal being no threat resulting in security being provided by HN security forces/police)? Who determines when the security situation is good enough for the civ capacity to take the lead? I believe that our 1) inability to effectively come to a consensus on criteria to transition from mil to civ lead; 2) the clearly defined roles of each prior to and following that transition; and 3) a supporting civ structure/capacity to effectively assume responsibility is leading to the dilemmas highlighted in the article.

Brett Patron

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 9:47am

In reply/comment to Kinkers: <blockquote>"...This is a two way street and the reason the military make a huge number of the decision and often take the lead (hence arrogance) is because current COIN operations are still very kinetic and as such we, the miliary, are the only ones who can provide security and indeed apply lethal force..."</blockquote>

While this is true in the CENTCOM area, this is not the case in other Theaters. Methinks that whatever balance between Military and Civilian sources of National Power is to be struck will occur there.

Isn't that the essence of "Phase Zero?"

Commando Spirit

Tue, 07/06/2010 - 9:27am

John M,

I agree. We, in the military, are spending great amounts of time, and indeed money, attempting to inculcate ourselves with cultural training (of our adversaries, indigenous population, civilian and coalition partners) at various levels throughout the PME and Mission Specific Training. Concurrent with this, our civilian couterparts simply label 'our' culture, or military ethos, as "typical military arrogance" or "Gungho"...

This is a two way street and the reason the military make a huge number of the decision and often take the lead (hence arrogance) is because current COIN operations are still very kinetic and as such we, the miliary, are the only ones who can provide security and indeed apply lethal force.

Rant over, thank for indulging me; I feel better now!

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 07/06/2010 - 9:25am

Thus, while we may not agree with these ideas and notions re: invading and occupying other countries, this is what we have been told we will be required to do in the 21st Century. And we should plan and prepare accordingly.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 07/06/2010 - 9:10am

From Page xvi of the Introduction to University of Michigan Press Edition of FM 3-07 (by Janine Davidson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans):

"Readers who see this manual as a mandate for imperialism, or a tool for invading and occupying other countries, seriously misunderstand the role of military doctrine. It is not the military's job to determine when, where or why it will be asked to fight wars, enforce peace, or save lives around the world. Such decisions are the perogative, rightly and jealously guarded, of elected civilian leaders. Rather, it is the military's job to determine how best to accommplish the tasks that it is most likely to be called on to conduct."

Does this not confirm that we are, in fact, doing imperialism, and invading and occupying other countries to that end?

The clarification seems only to say that this is not the military's ambition, idea or decision. Rather, this is the decision of our civilian bosses. And our responsibility (as military professionals) is simply to determine how best to accomplish the tasks that we will most likely be given within this imperialistic context.

By acting as the 800 pound gorilla in the room, are we not simply doing our job?

Great article, although I believe it to be a little one-sided in its argument. While we have all fell victim of the "might makes right" mentality, my questions would be is it really a case of ego and our inability to follow, or is it out of necessity? Civ-mil relations are a two-way street. While the article is quick to isolate those things that the military must do to enable civ-mil relations, what efforts are being made outside the military context to further civ capacity and their ability to take the lead in stability ops? Likewise, while I agree that we can always improve on our "cultural awareness" of the civ sector, what efforts are being made by our civ counterparts to understand the capabilities and function of the military? More importantly, who is ultimately facilitating the organization of operations to enable a civ lead? This is currently the albatross around our neck, but as the old saying goes "When in charge..."

g (not verified)

Sun, 07/04/2010 - 10:28am

The military has the lead because it has the resources. It has goals based on timelines. It has strategies. It has spent blood and treasure. It works more as a team than do the civilian agencies which are stovepiped and not unified.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 07/03/2010 - 12:38am

If the US military is the 800 pound gorilla in the room,

Then what is the elephant in the room re: stability operations?

Stated another way, what is the central, underlying issue or factor which causes the US military to hold the position of the 800 pound gorilla in this arena.

In this regard, consider the first sentence of the Introduction to my copy (University of Michigan Press; 2009) of FM 3-07:

"Today, the Nation remains engaged in an era of persistent conflict against enemies intent on limiting American access and influence throughout the world."

In circumstances such as these (United States seems to have declared war against those who would limit or deny our access and/or influence), would not the US military need to take -- and hold -- the lead?

G (not verified)

Fri, 07/02/2010 - 8:02am

Isn't State's S/CRS supposed to coordinate civ-mil planning? I believe they have military planners embedded there.

The problem is deeper than planning - it is a fundamental disagreement on how much "nation building" (capacity building/stab ops reconstruction) we should do at all. State's heart is not in this sort of thing, except via USAID, whose success rate is mixed.

Metrustry (not verified)

Fri, 07/02/2010 - 7:34am

Of course, the other side of the argument is that the Foreign Service Officers would do well to ask the military planners for help in the first place. There needs to be someone appointed to head up the planning - either Military of Foreign Service (probably Foreign Service) with a remit to coordinate the planning. Without this we do rely on personalities, many of whom have egos too large to think that another agency really has any value to add.

G (not verified)

Thu, 07/01/2010 - 5:51pm

Excellent piece.

How do we move past personality being the driving factor in successful civ-mil partnering and create interagency mechanisms that grow a cadre of skilled practitioners on all sides?

Brett Patron

Thu, 07/01/2010 - 9:25am

In fairness, when there is a good idea, it's found its way into doctrine.

A great example is the Interagency Conflict Assessment Framework that is now incorporated into FM 3-07.

However, are we to believe there are no DOD ideas/doctrine that are worthy of incorporation into State Dept planning doctrine (such as there is?).

Brett Patron

Thu, 07/01/2010 - 9:07am

How does State/USAID "plan"?

How do they train their people/teams to deploy?

When do they plan to actually "Take The Lead"?

EGAbraham (not verified)

Thu, 07/01/2010 - 2:43am

Rex said it - more than one PRT could benefit from a civ/mil jargon translator (or dictionary)! It seems that this is a key part of orientation/training missing on both sides.

Rex Brynen

Wed, 06/30/2010 - 7:23pm

Great piece! For all the "cultural awareness" training that gets done, it would be well worth investing in greater cultural awareness across the military, diplomats, aid, and NGO communities.