Warrior Diplomats: Civil Affairs Teams and Security Force Assistance
Nicholas Rau and Jonathan Bleakley
While the United States and her allies have made great progress, particularly against non-state actors hostile to their interests, threats to American national security survive in Afghanistan and dozens of other nation-states and military leaders must mitigate and eliminate these threats to be successful. “Economy of Force” is being defined with increasing rigor in the post-Iraq and drawdown-Afghanistan environment, and commanders at all levels face increasing constraints, compelling them to make the most out of the experience, equipment and funding that they have on hand. In Afghanistan, these constraints combined with the importance of building Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) capability and capacity, have resulted in relatively small Security Force Advise and Assist Teams (SFAAT) becoming the norm.
Committing months and years at a time to mentoring the individuals and organizations that make up the armies that lie at the center of U.S. strategic objectives takes a specific set of personality and character traits. Many of these traits are found within the Civil Affairs teams of the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade, two battalions of which have recently served back-to-back tours in Afghanistan, chiefly in an ANSF civil-military advising role. The Soldiers of the 85th Civil Affairs “Warrior Diplomat” Brigade have proven their effectiveness at civil-military advising on the battlefield and around the world. With their experience, training, unique set of attributes, and with the proper manning, authorities and employment, they can be a valuable commodity to commanders through every phase of the full spectrum of operations.
The attributes that make these uniquely qualified Soldiers desirable and effective in Afghanistan have placed them in much higher demand in other strategically important regions around the world. The “Civil Military Advise and Assist Company" (CMAAC) and Team (CMAAT) were formed to conduct Civil-Military focused Security Force Assistance (for the purposes of this paper, CMSFA) and to parallel and enable the SFAATs. The intention of this paper is to offer some insights from the CMAAC experience in Afghanistan that may inform future similar advising efforts.
CMAACs were created by deploying the most experienced half of a 32-Soldier Civil Affairs Company—typically SFC and above, in two-Soldier teams. In many ways CMAAT objectives are similar in concept to those of their SOF equivalents, the Civil-Military Support Elements (CMSE) that operate to address critical civil vulnerabilities throughout the world under US Ambassador endorsements, and the Foreign Internal Defense Civil Affairs Teams (FID CATs) that train Afghan special operations forces in Afghanistan. CMAATs in eastern Afghanistan are advising and assisting conventional security forces, working to prepare the Afghan security formations for future ISAF and American troop withdrawals. They have mentored Afghan leaders to be more aware of the civil environment, to minimize the negative impact of security operations on the populace, and to mitigate the impact of civilian activities on military operations. These teams have also worked to enhance connections between the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), their civilian non-security ministry colleagues, and international and non-government organizations (IGOs and NGOs). These are the same objectives that U.S. strategic policy documents like the National Security Strategy and the Guidance for Employment of the Force call on the U.S. military to achieve in pursuit of stability and security cooperation around the world.
In both Afghanistan and Iraq the U.S. made Security Force Assistance (SFA) pivotal to its “exit strategy.” However, this is not the only—or even the optimal phase in which SFA can occur—SFA has a place in what is commonly referred to as “left of zero” activities as part of the broader “prevent, shape, win” strategy outlined in the 2012 Army Strategic Planning Guidance. Those strategic guidance documents that paved the way for the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade to activate and will guide our national security policy and actions for at least the near future put heavy emphasis on SFA within that “prevent, shape, win” construct. The National Security Strategy, the Guidance for Employment of the Force, and any number of joint and service-specific doctrinal publications[i] tie civil-military operations and security force assistance together to build capacity within at-risk nations, counter a wide range of threats, expand partnerships, and shape future national security measures. Accordingly, there is a growing doctrine and policy shift toward bolstering friendly security forces around the world as a way to hedge against inter- and intra-state criminal and terrorist networks. The Civil Affairs Teams of the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade are postured and prepared to achieve these objectives through CMSFA worldwide.
A Brief History of the CMAAT Concept
Afghanistan was the first combat test for the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade. The Brigade activated in September of 2011 to provide U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) a flexible, active duty Civil Affairs force with five regionally-aligned battalions, comparable in manning, equipment and capabilities to the existing 95th CA Brigade (ABN) within U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). The 81st CA Battalion deployed to Afghanistan only thirteen months after its activation. Bravo Company, 81st Civil Affairs BN was the first 85th unit to deploy to Regional Command – East, the strategically and operationally important Pashtun homeland and the most operationally active area for Taliban and Al-Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan. B Company’s Civil Affairs Teams (CATs) originally deployed as organic four-Soldier teams and were soon heavily involved in accessing and influencing the population. SOF and USAR CA forces, active in RC-East since the war’s start, were still present when B Company, 81st CA Battalion deployed. Adding to what those CA forces were already doing, B/81st managed stability-enhancing projects, liaised with U.S. Government (USG) and host-nation (HN) development and governance entities, and to some extent advised Afghan leaders to coordinate security and stability objectives. They brought SOF selected and trained CA Soldiers to the conventional effort as the mission began to evolve from combined action to security force assistance.
In early 2013, the RC-East Headquarters issued an order that refocused these CATs from executing civil affairs operations to building capacity in all pillars of the Afghan National Security Forces. Acting on this order, B/81st transitioned from doing to advising--mentoring ANSF to expand cooperation with local and national government, and focusing their advising efforts on the geographic and political centers of their assigned provinces. The order made the CATs’ primary advising focus the provincial and regional Operational Coordination Centers (OCC), with the goal of making the OCCs the primary physical and conceptual coordinating bodies for both security and stability operations. Until this order was published, CATs were deployed and operating as standard four-Soldier teams, consisting of a CA Captain, a MOS 38B Sergeant First Class, a 38B Staff Sergeant, and a junior enlisted, Civil Affairs Medical Specialist course-qualified MOS 68W medic. The new order directed Bravo Company to send its junior Soldiers and NCOs back to Fort Hood, leaving the Captains and Sergeants First Class to carry on as “CMAATs”. As understanding of the OCC’s civil-military potential grew, a subsequent order expanded CMSFA to increase the scope of advising to the Afghan Army and Police units operating in the provinces. B and D Company, 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion inherited this construct when they conducted a relief in place with B/81st and A/426th (USAR) in August of 2013, B/83 taking the provinces north and east of Kabul and D/83 the provinces south of Kabul.
At the same time as this evolution in focus, the U.S. Department of State (DoS) began reducing its personnel numbers in many of the provinces, as did other USG agencies. All but three of the Coalition-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) closed in the summer of 2013, with the remaining closing within the year. Because of the Coalition’s diminishing capability to conduct direct civil outreach, the importance of building Afghan coordination capacity increased. Key tasks for D/83 included increasing liaison between Afghan civil and security entities, identifying gaps in CIV-MIL linkages, instilling confidence in and use of Afghan systems, and enhancing ANSF understanding of civil affairs concepts such as civil information preparation of the battlefield, populace and resource control, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response. Higher headquarters still had a thirst for atmospherics and reporting, and the hope that the OCCs would become the primary locus of coordination for all things security and stability remained. What was now lacking were the touch points into the Afghan civil system and the mechanisms for receiving and analyzing reporting related to the civil environment.
Outside of Afghanistan, Civil Affairs Teams have often been called upon to serve as advisors. Usually, these missions fall under a Theater Special Operations Command (TSOC), a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF), a Special Operations Joint Task Force (SOJTF), or some other SOF element focusing on a specific problem, organization, or national threat. Across all five Geographic Combatant Commands, CATs advise and assist alongside their Special Forces, Military Information Support Operations, Marine Special Operations Team, and SEAL colleagues with great effect. They bring general security and stability knowledge, medical skills, engineering and development training, and professional links to a universe of academic and technical knowledge around the world that helps their advisees build capacity and make important social and political connections.[ii] This capability, combined with cultural savvy and regional awareness, serves to reinforce U.S. policy efforts by strengthening the networks of positive influencers and delegitimizing negative actors.
The “advise and assist” mission that B/81st and subsequently B/83rd and D/83rd Civil Affairs Companies assumed demanded the same capabilities, but unusually and perhaps for the first time, under the operational control of a conventional Division headquarters and tactical control of conventional Brigade and Battalion headquarters. Until this point, Civil Affairs forces in support of SOF and conventional headquarters in Iraq and Afghanistan have executed their core tasks toward doctrinal goals:
[…] influence the civil component of the operational area […] Fulfill responsibilities of the military under U.S. domestic and international laws relevant to civilian populations…Minimize civilian interference with military operations and the impact of military operations on the civilian populace. Coordinate military operations with the interagency, IGOs, NGOs, and IPI [indigenous populations and institutions]…Provide direct assistance in areas where HN or humanitarian agencies are not present in accordance with internationally accepted standards and principles. Provide expertise in civil-sector functions, normally the responsibility of civilian authorities, applied to implement U.S. policy and advise or assist in rehabilitating or restoring civil-sector functions.”[iii]
Soldiers implementing the doctrinal Civil Affairs core tasks seek to achieve these goals, which, with the exception of the small SOF-CA contingents in both Iraq and Afghanistan, have been carried out chiefly by U.S. Army Reserve Civil Affairs forces. The CMAAT mission presented a break from this doctrinal and historical precedent. It took the SFA Mission, which had primarily been a SOF function performed with a limited foot print and expanded it to a conventional force-led, region wide strategy by aligning CMAATs with the SFAATs that supported three different types and levels of ANSF headquarters. It also tasked them to stand in the important Afghan provinces as RC-East’s sole direct link to all things CIV-MIL. In a career field where success is often defined by establishing and maintaining access to influential civil and military leaders, these teams were asked to provide information about indigenous populations and institutions and coordinate between government elements with little to no physical access to the civilian sector.
Challenges and Successes
FM 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations, lays out goals for CA forces implementing the civil affairs core tasks. In execution, the CMAATs in Afghanistan worked to achieve many of these same goals entirely by, with, and through their Afghan security forces counterparts. In general, even before the CMAATs’ arrival, Afghan security commanders and staff were engaging with the local populace during operations and coordinating with local and national civil authorities as they identified civil needs. The CMAATs primary challenges were to demonstrate the value of deliberately planned CIV-MIL engagement and to institutionalize the relationships that would increase involvement with civilian entities and help fill gaps where local government was not ready to function effectively.
The Afghan provincial and district governments varied in their responsiveness and capabilities, but CMAATs in each province succeeded in connecting security leaders with civil leaders in ways that fit their particular environment. As governance and development initiatives improved government legitimacy, advisors successfully improved security force capabilities and willingness to cooperate to identify and respond to civil needs. CMAATs in every province expanded the scope of advised units’ civil engagement activities, developing their media and public engagements to build public support and improve perceptions of legitimacy of the ANSF and the civil government, guiding their responses to humanitarian needs, and facilitating liaison and planning with the Department of Information and Culture, Department of Women’s Affairs, and the provincial ‘Ulema (religious advisory) and Peace Councils, among others. The CMAACs also conducted Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) training at the two Corps headquarters. This training taught non-lethal staff officers and NCOs civil-military assessment, planning and coordination tools. These parallel efforts not only improved cooperation in the current environment, but prepared these institutions to increase coordination toward greater civil stability as civil and security organizations improve over time.
With the withdrawal of U.S. government civilian representatives from the Afghan provinces, CMAATs were often expected, by both U.S. and Afghan counterparts, to provide insight into civil sector functions and assist in improving them where possible, executing the civil affairs core task of Support to Civil Administration (SCA). In addition to army and police advising, CMAATs worked periodically with provincial government officials, peace and reintegration officials, elections officials, women’s organization leaders, health care agencies, and media and public relations representatives. Despite most teams’ limited contact with these offices, CMAATs facilitated increased communication between them and security leaders, increased their Afghan counterparts’ understanding of Afghan systems, and helped form the roots of cooperation that will likely bear fruit for many years to come.
While the CMAATs have seen successes within the current model, the elimination of half of the organic CA Team has limited their effectiveness. By leaving the CA NCO and Team Medic behind, each deployed team lost half its typical capacity, capacity its members have trained with and learned to expect. Because CA teams consist of only four Soldiers, each individual is responsible for many tasks. The removal of the Medic and CA NCO places the team at an operational disadvantage, hampering their movement and ability to provide for their own security and forcing them to rely on the few designated security platoons or “guardian angels” that are charged with the task of securing SFAATs.
Moreover, advisors often find themselves working with advisees who are in their position due to social, tribal, familial, or political relationships, not necessarily due to their personal performance or ability. Advisors must be able to work within this construct and influence often obstinate advisees who have little or no motivation to expand their scope of responsibility. Having an additional SOF trained CA NCO and Medic available to help form trust and gain access through the delivery of basic services not commonly found in the developing world can drastically improve the advisor-advisee relationship. Additionally, if the situation dictates, these two Soldiers would enable two simultaneous advising missions or enable part of the team to complete administrative paperwork and reporting while the others are advising. These sorts of adjustments increase advising hours over the course of a deployment. Additional Soldiers also means redundancy in case one member is injured, and enables split team operations. This flexibility is especially necessary if a team is working, for example, with an Afghan Army Brigade in one location and an OCC many kilometers away.
The Conventional CA Team as the Force of Choice
Mentoring the individuals and small organizations that make up the Armies upon which U.S. strategic objectives hinge takes a specific set of personality and character traits. These traits are especially important when the advisor must influence not just military leaders but civil government, international government, and non-government organizations toward greater cooperation and unified objectives. We can find many of those traits within the Civil Affairs teams of the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade. From FM 27-5, the first Army Manual for Military Government used in WWII, to studies during the Vietnam War and numerous publications since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, the need for advisors with skills and training similar to those CA Soldiers possess and receive today is a point that has been made many times. In 1965 Rand Corporation completed a study to assess the effectiveness of the advising mission in South Vietnam. The study described some key attributes recommended for advisors:
[…] a careful screening process should be devised to test a candidate's suitability from the point of view of (a) professional equipment;(b) adaptability to foreign cultures;(c) a temperamental disposition, especially in the case of prospective field advisors, to share dangers, hardships, exotic food, and primitive shelter with members of an oriental civilization;(d) existing linguistic skills or the ability to acquire languages easily […][iv]
Before prospective active duty 38A’s and 38B’s enter the Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC) all must first successfully complete the Special Operations Forces CA assessment and selection course. This screens specifically for many of the attributes described above. Language aptitude, intelligence, psychological stability, adaptability, oral and written communication skills, and reactions during intense, multi-lingual scenarios are just some of the areas assessed during this selection process. If the candidate demonstrates the necessary proficiency in these areas to make it through the selection process, these skills are then honed and built upon during a nearly yearlong CAQC that includes foreign language training, regional studies, CA Planning, key leader engagements, and area assessments. Also unique to CAQC is that officers and NCOs attend much, if not the entirety of the course together, working in small teams and learning each others’ roles. This training design increases the flexibility of the CA team, allowing for split team operations with a SOF selected and trained CPT or SFC in the lead. In SOF-led operational environments CPTs and SFCs are often expected to coordinate numerous USG, IGO, and NGO entities during Civil Affairs Operations and to conduct large-scale FID, Unconventional Warfare, and/or Counter Insurgency operations. The four-Soldier CA team offers the flexibility to split and the ability, while together, to provide for their own local security during advising missions in close proximity to other elements. This became an issue in Afghanistan as the requirement for “guardian angel” security support increased in response to green-on-blue attacks during advisory missions. The CMAATs, with only half of their personnel, could not take advantage of this organic capability.
While junior in rank and not subjected to the USASOC selection and training programs, the medics of the 85th CA BDE are interviewed and selected, based upon strict criteria, for maturity and intelligence. After the screening process they attend the Civil Affairs Medical Specialist Course and paramedic school for additional training in basic veterinary skills, dentistry, medical capability assessments, and advanced trauma management training. In countries where even the most basic services are scarce, these skills are invaluable for building relationships and gaining the trust of counterparts.
Together, the CA team is a dynamic, multi-faceted unit with the skills necessary to enhance the SFA mission. The CA Unit’s pre-mission training (PMT) prepares each team well for the conventional CA and CMAAT missions. With SOF-trained and SOF-experienced leaders at the Company and team level, even the new Soldiers in the unit benefit from years of SOF experience and training during PMT. According to FM 3-22, Army Support to Security Cooperation, Chapter 5-44, “Unit training objectives are for developing capabilities to conduct internal defense and development activities for tactical operations…populace and resources control operations, and civil affairs and advisory assistance operations in the host-nation language.” Even for non SFA-specific missions, Civil Affairs unit PMTs are typically structured to exercise Soldiers’ proficiency in these tasks. Focused interpersonal engagements in a target language; in-depth area studies; advanced weapons training; mediation and negotiations; and information collection and analysis are just some of the skills a CA Team trains and validates during PMT.
Both the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) training for newly accessed CA Soldiers and each unit’s mission-specific training take advantage of the Civil Affairs Team’s and Company’s greatest asset: the vast amount of experience of its personnel. Because it only accepts officers and NCOs with years of experience, and because it has one of the shortest dwell times of any MOS, Civil Affairs Soldiers with only a few years of CA experience may well have exponentially more advisory experience than their conventional peers. D/83, for example, with only thirty-two Soldiers, is comprised of individuals with deployments to Africa, South Asia, SW Asia, Central Asia, South America, and the Caribbean; usually in host nation partnership or advisory roles. This level and type of experience is not often replicated in conventional forces and can be an asset to any commander.
Some Future Considerations for CMFSA
Because Civil-Military focused SFA is likely to feature prominently in DoD deployments for the foreseeable future, PMT plans for units selected to conduct it must include scenario-based KLE training, and the scenarios should be designed to replicate the horizontal and vertical coordination difficulties that advisors will work through with their advisees. Examples might include negotiating with high-ranking indigenous officers to increase command emphasis on CIV-MIL efforts, meeting with skeptical NGO representatives to propose increased coordination, interacting with reintegrated insurgent leaders who are now government officials or social centers of gravity, and encouraging increased emphasis on planning for operations rather than always responding to crises. For this training to translate from tactical to strategic success once down range, CMSFA efforts must be aligned at every echelon of the host nations’ civil and military leadership.
Another key consideration is physical access. CMSFA teams, no matter what country they are in, will always work better in an environment in which they have regular, face-to-face contact with both advisees and the personalities they are working to enlist in cooperative efforts. Civil Affairs teams are trained to recognize civil vulnerabilities and to leverage personalities and systems to address them. Meeting those personalities once a month or talking on the telephone may possibly make for a successful CMSFA deployment, but the more they meet face-to-face the greater the chances for negotiating a desired outcome. With limited movement assets and heavy movement restrictions some CMAATs in Afghanistan could not meet their maximum operational potential, due to their inability to regularly meet with key advisees.
Toward the second half of D/83’s tour in Afghanistan, the company began to see benefits from national-level efforts to standardize Afghan CIMIC training and institutionalize cooperative relationships at the highest levels. This emphasis on gaining national-level support and guidance is an absolute must in militaries that are reliant on senior commanders to make what might seem to the advisor to be lower-level decisions. In many cases, we found that the non-lethal staff at the Afghan Corps and Brigade level was capable and willing, but their efforts were stymied by inefficient and unresponsive national policy and budgetary systems. We could argue that aligning the CMAAC and its CMAATs directly under the national-level advisory elements might have helped with this, increasing the efficiency of demand and feedback up and down the proper channels. But, while indigenous national systems are still inefficient, the command relationship is less important than the ability to leverage the “advisor network” to identify and respond to inefficiencies through advisees. This relies on interpersonal skills and the ability to look for creative solutions that will not undermine long-term capacity building efforts.
The dynamic training and significant experience that comes with an active duty Civil Affairs element prepares the CMSFA team to act as the primary conduit for CIV-MIL information to commanders on the battlefield and in non-combat operations. CMAAT’s are the commander’s best advising option for increasing a host-nation military’s civil-military capability, as well as the civil-sector capacity of a local government. Each CMAAT/SFAAT assignment will bring a unique set of challenges, but commanders must understand how to capitalize on a Civil Affairs Team’s ability to operate independently and to understand the distinct obstacles and solutions in each situation.
The Civil Affairs Teams in the 85th CA Brigade are ready-made Security Force Assistance elements. They are screened, selected and trained to execute this difficult, strategically important mission. As General Odierno, General Amos and Admiral McRaven recently stated in their white paper, Strategic Landpower: Winning the Clash of Wills, “Interdependent teams of conventional and special operations forces can build local forces capable of handling many situations that previously called for direct U.S. intervention, while maintaining a low-cost, small footprint presence almost indefinitely.” In a time of reduced funding and changing authorities, the Civil Affairs Teams that are the backbone of the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade can identify critical civil and government vulnerabilities, improve host nation and regional capacity, and establish priorities for efficiently focusing action plans. With the right organization, authorities, and assets, these Warrior Diplomats will answer the call.
[i] See JP 3-07, Stability Operations, JP 3-22. Foreign Internal Defense, JP 3-57 Civil Military Operations, DODI 3000.05, Stability Operations, FM 3-05.2, Foreign Internal Defense, FM 3-22, Army Support to Security Cooperation.
[ii] United States Army, FM 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations, paragraph 3-3, 2011
[iii] Ibid. paragraph 3-4.
[iv] Hickey, G.C. and W.P. Davison, The American Military Advisor and His Foreign Counterpart, The Rand Corporation, (Santa Monica, California, 1965), p. xxi.