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Editor's Note: Jack Midgley considers how the Army should prepare itself to accomplish partner nation capability-building missions. These missions are in increasing vogue today, both in full-fledged conflicts such as Afghanistan and in our day-to-day "Phase 0" operations. A key issue commanders must consider are the statutory authorities, or lack thereof, to conduct these missions. The growing appetite for security cooperation is not matched in all cases by Title 22 funds or Title 10 special authorities that permit true capacity building. As the focus shifts to building partner capacity, will the military seek additional authorities to conduct this mission?
How should the US Army organize, equip and position itself to accomplish essential partner nation capability-building missions? After ten years of continuous combat operations, no consensus has emerged on the best Army structures, policies or practices to accomplish a mission set that encompasses tasks as varied as building the Afghan Army and enabling alternatives to Taliban-based dispute resolution. The purpose of this paper is to identify the conceptual challenges that must be addressed to define the Army’s approach to future capability-building missions.
Introduction: The Essential Army Role in Capability-Building
US national interests demand an enduring ability to build the internal capability of partner nations, even as the resources available for national defense become increasingly constrained. President Obama succinctly framed the requirement in his January announcement of revised US national defense strategy:
“As a new generation across the Middle East and North Africa demands their universal rights, we are supporting political and economic reform and deepening partnerships to ensure regional security. In contrast to the murderous vision of violent extremists, we are joining with allies and partners around the world to build their capacity to promote security, prosperity and human dignity.” (Emphasis added)
While US Special Operations forces continue to make invaluable contributions to US security, and the emerging focus on China and the Pacific draws attention and resources toward naval and air forces, the essential role of Army general purpose forces in building partner capability cannot be overlooked. In his “Marching Orders”, Army Chief of Staff GEN Ray Odierno identified “Shaping” operations – including efforts to build partner nation capability -- as one of three elements of the Army’s spectrum of operations, along with conflict prevention and warfighting.
There is good reason for the Army to be positioned to conduct the nation’s critical capability-building operations. Only Army general-purpose forces can deliver a flexible combination of lethal and non-lethal combat power, massive logistical support and broad civil-military capabilities. So there is no question that capacity-building missions will continue to demand an Army response. The issue is – how should the Army organize, equip and position itself to accomplish essential partner nation capability-building missions?
The answer will not be obvious or easy. After ten years of continuous combat operations, no consensus has emerged on the best Army structures, policies or practices to accomplish a mission set that encompasses tasks as varied as building the Afghan Army and enabling alternatives to Taliban-based dispute resolution. The purpose of this paper is to identify the conceptual challenges that must be addressed to define the Army’s approach to future capability-building missions.
Four Conceptual Challenges
The “right answers” to Army requirements for capability-building mission sets will need to address four conceptual challenges that distinguish these missions from more traditional Army combat missions. These challenges are (1) The unique C2 environment inherent in capability-building missions; (2) The broad scope of potential capability-building missions; (3) The multiple types of operational environments in which these missions may occur; and (4) The need to define and plan toward end-states in which transition (rather than “victory”) is the objective.
Challenge 1: Conduct “C2” With Neither Command Nor Control
Wherever and whenever future capability-building missions occur, two important command and control problems are likely to face senior Army commanders. First, national and/or coalition guidance on the scope, course and outcome of the capability-building mission is likely to be vague. The reason for this is the inherent difficulty of defining operational-level objectives for these missions. This problem has plagued every senior coalition military leader in Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. While US policy guidance requires that military and civilian resources must develop an Afghan capability to govern the country, few authorities can agree on what ground-level conditions at national and subnational levels would constitute an acceptable Afghan government capability. When resources were basically unlimited, ambiguity about operational objectives for Afghan governance did not cause much concern. Commanders and international organizations simply “did what they could”, with the hope that an acceptable outcome would emerge. Of course, no such outcome has emerged, and as resource constraints begin to affect the scope and timing of capability-building operations, difficult questions are raised about required vs. desirable outcomes. National-level guidance does little to help operational commanders set priorities, make resource allocations, or (most important) decide when “enough is enough”. There is little reason to believe that in future contingency or stability operations, greater clarity will be provided to military commanders charged with capability-building missions. If this is true then the challenge for Army leaders will be to define, resource and execute capability-building operations that advance overall US policy interests without a clear top-down description of mission requirements.
The second command and control problem is also inherent in the nature of capability-building missions. The problem is that these missions will almost always be conducted in an environment characterized by loose and informal relationships among combined, joint and interagency organizations.
Capability-building missions – whether related to basic security assistance, partner-nation training, or more complex tasks – will generally involve host country participation. If these operations occur in a NATO or other alliance context, then resources from other troop-contributing nations will participate. There is no avoiding the “combined” nature of these missions, and the relatively loose C2 relationships that characterize combined headquarters. In Afghanistan, the reality that military and civil organizations were accountable to their national capitals was a constant factor in C2 arrangements.
The joint nature of capability-building operations seems likely to continue and deepen in the future. General-purpose Army units may be called upon to support specialized Navy and Air Force resources as specific host-nation capabilities are enhanced, and other services may be required to provide a broad range of support (from fires to logistics or specialized technical capabilities) to Army units engaged in governance or rule of law operations.
Perhaps the most challenging C2 reality is the requirement to operate within an interagency framework. Capability-building operations in Afghanistan proved difficult to direct, or even coordinate, because a range of independent US and international organizations (from the US Justice Department to United Nations entities and NGO’s) asserted interests in contributing to Afghan capability building, and put people and resources into the theater to conduct nominally-independent operations. There is no reason to believe that future operations will allow Army commanders to wield authority – or even influence – over these non-Army actors. Yet if these operations are uncoordinated, resources may be wasted and lives lost, so there is a common interest in creating an appropriate C2 environment to provide (at minimum) shared situational awareness and a basis for coordinated planning and performance measurement.
Challenge 2: Achieve Results Across a Broad Mission Space
Future capability-building missions may occur in environments where civil government is functioning (for example, Phillippines), or Army resources may be tasked to build capability where the civil order has collapsed (as in Afghanistan or Horn of Africa). The security situation may require that commanders address both an ongoing security requirement (e.g. “Defeat the insurgency”) and a requirement to support the re-emergence of civil order. These difficult and complex missions will require Army commanders to work across a broad set of civil-military missions. The “mission space” within which capability-building may occur might be characterized on two dimensions, as show in Table 1 below. The two dimensions reflect (1) the array of governance and development capabilities which the Army may be called upon to establish or develop; and (2) the level of government (national or subnational) at which these capabilities will be created. (Entries in the table are illustrations of the types of programs the Army may be required to deliver.) Army leaders and resources must be organized and prepared to operate anywhere in this option space. When security conditions dictate, Army operations may be required to lead or support establishment of basic governance, rule of law and humanitarian conditions.
Table 1: Capability-Building Mission Space: Illustrative Examples
The illustrative tasks in Table 1 may be performed by Army organizations, by other military or government civilians, or by international organizations. In any case, the Army ground presence invites an Army capability to secure, coordinate, set objectives for, and measure progress toward, capability-building activities. Clearly, no single permanent military structure could own the range of knowledge, skills, capabilities and resources to deliver this range of outcomes. Yet the Army must be prepared to operate effectively within this mission space. Perhaps most daunting, commanders must be equipped to analyze the costs and risks associated with multiple options, to be implemented by organizations over which commanders have little direct authority.
Challenge 3: Multiple Operational Environments
Civilian capability-building organizations (contractors, NGO’s, country teams and government agencies) require some level of security to work and move within the area of operations. However, their functions may need to be performed whether or not the environment is secure. For this reason, Army approaches must include readiness to perform capability-building tasks in permissive environments (likely civilian led) as well as non-permissive environments (likely military-led, or even entirely military).
A recent example of this challenge is provided by programs to build secure prison capacity in Afghanistan by equipping the Central Prisons Directorate with the skills and resources required to hold convicted insurgent prisoners. Although this capability-building program was conducted largely by civilian contractors, the security situation in some areas did not permit contractors to travel to, or operate within, key prison facilities. After a well-publicized large-scale prison break by Taliban prisoners in 2011, this capability-building program was modified to add substantial military resources as both security and direct service-providing staff. The outcome was that prison capability was enhanced and contractor personnel were better able to conduct their assigned tasks.
The Army should expect to conduct capability-building operations under non-permissive conditions because these operations are essential for security objectives to be reached. In the Afghan prisons case, districts and provinces could not be considered secure unless the prisons could reliably hold convicted criminals. Yet the prison capability-building program, while civilian led, depended on military resources for transportation, on-site security, logistics and some service delivery. Unless this requirement was planned for and resourced, the overall capability-building task could not be carried out, even though the primary role was played by civilian contractors.
Future Army capability-building operations will need to account for the implications of a non-permissive environment on military and civilian resources. Forces engaged in counter-insurgency or traditional offensive operations are unlikely to divert resources for capability-building, even if these resources are essential to set the conditions for the security mission to be accomplished.
Challenge 4: “Transition” as an End State
Traditional military operations by general purpose or special operations forces are oriented on achieving “victory” over enemy forces. But commanders responsible for capability-building operations are likely to be focused on a different outcome. These operations will need to be oriented toward accomplishing two key transitions – the first, to civilian-led development operations, and the second, to host-nation control. The order of these transitions may be different, depending on the nature of the capabilities being built, and the overall security situation.
Defining the conditions under which these transitions will occur is a difficult problem. The transition to civilian-led capability-building operations allows military resources to move away from this mission, so commanders have an interest in delivering this transition at the earliest possible opportunity. However, civilian leaders engaged in operations must balance their interest in moving into full control against the advantages of continued logistical, transportation and security support by military assets. In Afghanistan, the operations of the Rule of Law Field Force (ROLFF) illustrated this tension. ROLFF’s military structure allowed the rule of law professional assigned to this unit to move within the battlespace with relative security. This autonomy allowed ROLFF to establish, or block, program priorities simply by providing or denying transport, communications or other resources. US Embassy Rule of Law staff viewed ROLFF resources as vital for their mission, and were reluctant to support a transition to fully civilian-led operations. More important, there was little agreement about the conditions under which this transition would ultimately occur, complicating efforts to program or budget the military resources assigned to rule of law operations.
The second capability-building transition -- from US-led to host-nation led operations – is difficult because it requires definition of an end state. This requirement presented planning challenges in Afghanistan which were never fully overcome. As resources became constrained, planner sought to identify a set of “minimum essential conditions” for US capability-building efforts related to governance and rule of law. The notion was that if these conditions were met in a specific area, then transition to Afghan leadership of the associated function could follow. On the other hand, if the conditions were not met, then continued US and coalition efforts would be required.
But planners were unable to identify a set of “minimum essential” conditions under which transition could be effected. Afghan authorities resisted the idea of transitioning the key capability-building programs, because they perceived that resources would disappear. International partners worked hard to have their programs identified as “minimum essential” requirements, because of the perception that this identification would improve the programs’ prospects for continued funding. In the end, no “minimum essential” conditions for transitioning key capability-building programs could be identified.
Future Army planners are unlikely to have this luxury. In the relatively unconstrained resource environment of Afghanistan, funding was generally available for properly-sponsored capability-building programs. In future conflict environments, tight budgets and short timelines may demand that Army commanders be able to explain to host nations and to US and allied funders the specific conditions under which transition to host nation ownership will be completed.
The Army must explain how it will conduct capability-building operations in future conflict environments which are likely to be characterized by loose and complex command and control, multiple mission sets and operating environments, and “transition” rather than victory as an end state. While a full solution is beyond the scope of this paper, some obvious implications for DOTMLPF can be offered:
Doctrine: Army capability-building doctrine should articulate the types of operations and programs the Army will conduct within each of the broad domains of the mission space, including security assistance, governance, economic development, rule of law and infrastructure development at national and subnational levels. Doctrine will need to embrace the combined, joint, interagency framework as the basic structure within which these operations and programs will be conducted.
Organization: No single organization could possibly be structured to address the full spectrum of potential capability –building operations facing tomorrow’s Army. Rather than focusing on special-ops vs. general purpose force debates, Army organizational approaches should seek to create highly flexible headquarters organizations able to deploy rapidly and sustainably with a tailored mix of combined forces and interagency partners. Flexible communications and planning structures will be essential. Task-organized structures – perhaps on the model of the Rule of Law Field Force – Afghanistan (ROLFF-A) – that rapidly assemble Army skill sets ranging from infantry and military police to engineers, finance, civil affairs, medical service and others will best reflect the likely future requirements for capability-building operations.
Training: COCOM-specific exercises based on a requirement to rapidly deploy a capability-building force would be an effective approach for building skills and reflecting the unique needs of the combatant commanders. These exercises could reflect different elements of the mission space (for example, an exercise might focus on planning and deploying a sustainable infrastructure-development capability, while another might focus on a mission to provide upgraded military skills to an indigenous Army.
Material: Interoperable, simple and flexible voice and data communications equipment useable by host nation, coalition and US military and civilian government and NGO partners would make an essential contribution to building the required capability. The ISAF “SAR” concept might provide a useful standard model for an operations center for Army capability-building operations.
Leadership: The Army could take the lead in creating mid-level and senior leaders from Army and other organizations who train together on a regular basis on interagency planning and execution of complex operations. We might find useful models for this type of leadership development in the civilian law enforcement and civil preparedness fields.
Personnel: Deep language and cultural skills, linked to repeated assignments with a specific COCOM, would advance Army capabilities to conduct capability-building. Broad understanding of basic financial and operational analysis would also support these efforts.
Facilities: Fixed facilities are not likely to be a requirement for Army capability-building operations.
The future Army will be called upon to conduct capability-building operations – not just security assistance missions – in a wide range of operational environments, with limited direct authority and a vast array of potential mission requirements. Current approaches will not do, and we can expect that resources will grow even more constrained over the next few years. We should continue to think deeply and systematically about the approaches, people and equipment the Army will need to carry out these vital missions.
 “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense” January 2012. Washington: Department of Defense