Small Wars Journal

Reconsidering the Operational Approach to Phase IV Stability Operations, Part II

Thu, 05/17/2012 - 5:44am


In Part I, I argued for a reexamination of our operational approach to Phase IV Stability Operations.  My fundamental suggestion was to link together our lines of efforts (LOEs) around decisive (DO) and shaping operations (SO) which tie as many LOEs together as possible.  I suggested it in contrast to the more typical approach where our LOEs stand apart, and the goals and objectives within the LOEs have few cross-linkages.  This change would be a good start in making greater substantial progress in our stability operations.  Linking our Phase IV LOEs together around a single DO would have a positive, transformative effect on our organizations, creating a true unity effort which would make great strides in helping us to achieve unity of effort with our partners within the operational environment (OE). 

This change, however, should occur alongside other important changes.  In this article, I will address one of those important additional changes -- namely, the restructuring of the relationships between higher and subordinate headquarters.  In Part I, I advocated taking our current one-dimensional operational approach where our LOEs are independent, separate, and linear models, and adding a second dimension, linking the linear LOEs horizontally to each other.  In this article, I advocate adding a third dimension to our operational approach.  This third dimension would link our LOEs vertically to our higher and lower headquarters.  We talk a lot about this vertical linkage in terms of nesting.  I would argue, however, that in general, our operational headquarters fail to provide two important functions in Phase IV Stability Operations.  These functions are the execution of deep, non-lethal fires, and the coordinating of non-lethal fires among their subordinate tactical headquarters.  First, however, let’s define the current approach. 

The Company Commanders’ War 

It has been said frequently over the last 10 years that our Phase IV operations in Asia were company commanders‘ wars, or others would say sergeants‘ wars, and others still would talk about the strategic corporal.  Beyond the possible counterargument that every war is indeed a company commander’s war, I would offer that this mindset has contributed significantly to a stalling of momentum and progress within our Phase IV stability operations.  Because we adopt this company commanders’ war mindset, all too often at the operational command levels (aspects of which can be found within the brigade combat team [BCT] headquarters) we find very large staffs doing not enough to set the conditions for success for their subordinates.  In large part, this is because the higher headquarters believes itself to have much less importance in the Phase IV fight.  As an illustration, imagine a typical subordinate headquarters communicating with its higher headquarters, especially if those headquarters are along the blurred tactical to operational boundary.  This subordinate headquarters will more often than not be asked by their higher headquarters, “What do you need from us?”, rather than to be told from their higher headquarters, “This is what I need you to do.”  The mindset is that the lowest level understands the problem the best.  Let them solve it.  The problem with this (no matter how tempting and enticing it may seem to a subordinate to have his higher headquarters off his back) is that many, if not most, of the Phase IV goals are much more complex than something able to be solved at the tactical level. 

It can be highly counterproductive when we raise to the level of a universal axiom that the lowest levels best solve Phase IV problems.  Many of the goals and objectives within Phase IV are extremely complex.  Even something as seemingly simple as increasing the level of electricity within a particular area involves working within a complex network.  This network involves nodes and influencers which span outside the AO.  Effectively solving this problem requires both fires controlled exclusively by the operational headquarters, as well as coordination of fires among the adjacent units by the operational headquarters.  Without this from the operational headquarters, the tactical headquarters are left solving complex problems with overly simple tools.      

Forcing overly simple solutions to very complex problems.  Battalions and companies routinely attempt to address complex goals within their LOEs, and in many cases, they do outstanding work and make solid progress.  Rarely, however, do we achieve what seems like long-lasting results and irreversible momentum.  This is because many of these problems have networks of contributors and influencers located well outside that company, battalion, or even brigade commander’s spheres of influence.  Who within the Phase IV stability force is mapping out, coordinating fires, and reassessing progress of these complex networks which span brigade and even division AOs?

In the previous article, I referenced two typical goals within Phase IV LOEs -- specifically the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the reestablishment of dairy industry.  Both of these goals are extremely complex problems.  As stated in the previous article, they have contributors, influencers, and friction points which cross all the standard Phase IV LOEs.  They must be addressed holistically, working on a cross-functional basis spanning all the LOEs.

There is another aspect to their complexity, however.  Not only are these and other typical Phase IV goals complex horizontally across LOEs, they are also complex vertically too.  This is where targeted fires from the higher headquarters, and especially the operational headquarters are desperately needed in order to shape the problem, and set the conditions for tactical success.       

Breaking Down a Complex Problem 

In the previous article, we saw how the reestablishment of the dairy industry required cross-functional work in the Security LOE to ensure farmers and processors have relative safety to go to and from work.  We saw how Civil Control must be established to be able to stop things like the illegal tapping of canals and other water sources, which cause the proper distribution of water to all elements of the dairy supply chain to be disrupted.  We saw how reliable electricity must be established to power the milk processing facilities.  Of course there are many other sub-objectives which would be found throughout the various Phase IV LOEs. 


There are, however, many other objectives essential to reestablishing the dairy sector which are located outside the horizontal plane of a given unit’s LOEs.  The objectives reside vertically above the tactical unit’s LOEs, and within the exclusive range of the “deep fires” of the operational headquarters.  These vertical objectives must be assessed and targeted in order to make real progress in the reestablishment of the dairy industry. 

These objectives must be flushed out with a thorough Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB), and through continuous assessments.  For the purpose of this article, I will offer a few possibilities.  At the 4-star headquarters, the pre-war dairy-related import/export relationships need to be re-established.  Or, perhaps due to changes in regional circumstances, new dairy-related import/export relationships need to be established.  At the 3-star headquarters, the Ministry of Agriculture, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, needs to approve and control the distribution of necessary cattle vaccines.  At the 2-star level the electrical power distribution problems affecting milk processing within one brigade’s AO may be caused by a lack of substations within another brigade’s AO.  There are undoubtedly many more such important deep targets related to the dairy subset of overall agriculture which would be discovered through comprehensive Phase IV IPB, and also over time through the assessment process.  The point which needs to be stressed, however, is that these issues have a direct impact on the success of the tactical objectives being targeted by the brigades and battalions; and these particular issues are almost impossible for tactical commanders to solve at their levels.  They need the deep, shaping, non-lethal fires controlled by their higher headquarters.      

Coordinating Instructions.  Complex Phase IV objectives require still more than just “deep fires” from the operational headquarters.  Higher headquarters involved in the assessment of complex problems will soon discover that they need to be actively coordinating fires among their subordinate headquarters.  These Phase IV objectives are complex networks which have nodes which spread across AOs.  One commander’s dairy processing problem is related to another commander’s water resources problem which is related to still another commander’s local police problem.  To add further organizational challenge to this scenario, two of those commanders may be part of the same higher headquarters while the third commander may border the AO and belong to another higher headquarters altogether.  Who is coordinating this fight? 

At the highest levels, if there is a common understanding of the problems, and a common staff organization to communicate and coordinate both up and down, then these lethal and non-lethal fires can be synchronized for success.  Through using their headquarters to conduct comprehensive Phase IV IPB, providing deep, non-lethal shaping fires, and synchronizing the fires at the subordinate levels, the operational commanders will find themselves dramatically more influential in the Phase IV fight. 

Division and Corps non-lethal and SWEAT-H updates with subordinate commanders will no longer be one-way, stove-piped updates from lower to higher.  Those senior commanders and staff officers will not be relying solely on subordinate commanders to explain the status and importance of various non-lethal nodes and networks.  The tactical and operational headquarters staffs will be both responsible for providing information, which pieced together as a whole, provide a comprehensive understanding of the Phase IV goals and objectives.  Through this, commanders at all levels will have a much more comprehensive visualization of the battlefield which will allow them to more effectively lead, direct, and support each other.    


Some may say that the higher headquarters do not have the resources to take on the scope of duties that I am advocating here.  I would personally question that argument.  Our headquarters are very large.  Perhaps they are not organized correctly.  Perhaps we need to break out a giant wire brush, and leaving no legacy section or office spared, reorganizing our headquarters to meet the circumstances of the Phase IV fight on the ground. 

I would never argue that anyone in any section of any headquarters during the last ten years of Phase IV Stability Operations was not working hard enough.  The question is were they doing the right things in a coordinated and synchronized manner? 

Part of the answer may be to re-look how we deploy our division, corps, and theater separate units.  Why do these separate commands, brigades, battalions, and detachments often get a pass from conducting non-traditional roles in Phase IV operations?  Perhaps these separate headquarters can take on the additional role of specific planning headquarters for the operational commander.  They could be assigned responsibility for the planning, assessing and targeting of specific Phase IV goals.  For instance, the Field Artillery Brigade would likely be an exceptionally good headquarters for controlling and synchronizing various non-lethal fires across a division AO.  The various Support Commands from theater level down, could take on some additional planning and targeting responsibilities, perhaps within the Economic LOE. 

Commanders at the highest levels must wire brush the entire force and see how we can do a better job organizing to fit the mission.  I would advocate leaving no headquarters untouched, even at the component levels.  Perhaps we even look at something like the role of the JFACC in Phase IV.   Can the JFACC take on an additional Phase IV mission?  For instance, during Phase IV couldn’t the JFACC serve as the planning and coordinating headquarters for something like the development of the banking sector of the host nation?  I only raise the issue of the JFACC to suggest that at every level, we should leave no organization untouched from a potential reapplication of resources and responsibilities in Phase IV.

What I suggest here does not mean to diminish the roles and responsibilities of our partners across the United States Government.  My suggestions are intended to allow us to better augment, support, and resource those partners. 

Saying this is work that the military would be better off not doing is not productive in the long run for us.  Eventually, Phase IV operations will be upon us anew in some other area of the world.  It would be a tremendous shame not to have capitalized on our lessons learned over these last ten years, and thereby stand a chance in the future of not successfully conducting and bringing to conclusion a complex, post-major conflict stability operation. 

About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Andy Attar is an U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery officer, on active duty for 19 years.



Fri, 05/18/2012 - 10:53am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Can you provide a link to this document?

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/18/2012 - 1:46am

Reference this article---again displays the need to fully understand the latest buzz word, and not so really new idea of Mission Command (there is actually a long history behind the new buzz word).

If one really understands what is being driven by the concept of MC then articles like this would not need to be written---problem is that while many mouth the term MC many do not implement at their respective levels---strategic, operational or tactical as they really do not fully understand it.

I would suggest a deep read of the NATO document COPD v1.0 which goes into depth on topics WE the Army use to do well---while written in 2010 and accepted by 28 countries--- check page 225 on how they handle subordinate commands in the planning cycles.

MAJ Attar - I stumbled upon your two submissions and find them interesting and troubling. Particularly related to the following; (1) stove piping within the staff during "sustained stability operations" (ie, Phase IV), (2) a failure to adequately develop the "contributing actions" across each LOE with sufficient identification of linkages and relationships to other LOEs and actions and (3) a failure of mutual understanding and support between vertical echelons.

I won't speak to (1) and (3) because in my opinion they reflect a failure of the Commander and more importantly the field grade leaders to do their jobs.

That said, in regards to (2) which is tied to your argument about a failure to indentify a concrete decisive operation (DO) in Phase IV, a DO directly accomplishes the mission. In sustained stability the DO is the aggregate effect of all actions that ultimately "create the conditions for favorable conflict resolution" (see ADP 3-0, ULO definition). Each LOE and every action within the LOE could then be described as a "shaping operation" or "contributing action" to the DO. The challenge is to identify these contributing actions, organize them in a time/space relationship, translate these into "executable tasks and actions" at the lowest tactical levels and manage/assess these actions during execution across the breadth of the formation; horizontally and vertically. We have a mechanism to help us with these challenges called the operations process. I know we have co-opted targeting for this purpose but at the end of the day it doesn't matter. We need to ensure that every time a soldier goes outside their FOB or COP that their action is in fact "contributing" in some way to the DO as described above. Hard business and very challenging, but that is why our last ten years of operational experience has informed some rather thoughtful adaptations to our traditional doctrinal concepts.

We are exploring this "challenge" in A301 - FG Role in MDMP in the 12-01 class at CGSOC. Please find me if you are interested in discussing further.

Take care and God Bless - Andy Nocks (Office 4174, LCC)