Enemies Wanted: No Experience Necessary - The Army’s Addiction to Enemies Inhibits Analysis of the Operational Environment
A boxing match is not a punching contest. In any bout, there is a wide range of skills on display. A fighter wants to land punches, but there is no telling how the match will unfold even after he lands them. So he trains to defend, to avoid, to counter, to clinch. Between every round, he makes an assessment of his opponent’s strategy and tactics, and draws upon his hard-learned skills to find the right way to fight this fight. He doesn’t stand flat footed and punch away because he’s stronger. He doesn’t train only to perfect his own strengths irrespective of what else may happen in the ring. That is a recipe for defeat. And it is exactly how the U.S. Army approaches modern conflict.
The Army knows the future fight will be waged among the people, but has been unable to adopt the correct toolkit for that fight. Recognizing that adversaries are unlikely to meet U.S. forces in a country-sized engagement area, as Iraq’s forces did in 1991, concepts such as Full Spectrum Operations and Unified Land Operations clarified that punching hard will not secure the victory. Below the level of the operating concept and senior leader speeches, however, the idea that “the population decides who wins,”1 to quote retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has not taken hold institutionally. The Army has a hard-wired preference for punching it out with enemies.
It will come as bad news to many in the Army that there is no longer any such thing as “the enemy.”
Modern threats are not simply the ideological opponents of the past looking for a new way to fight. Today’s enemy is just as likely to be yesterday’s or tomorrow’s friend. From a schoolyard brawl to a world at war, human conflict is the result of people’s attempts to advance or protect their interests. Those who never imagined themselves as combatants or America’s “enemy” will mobilize and fight U.S. objectives in ways assured to defeat those objectives if they feel that they must. Success or failure, tactical or strategic, depend on the Army’s ability to anticipate and shape how people and their identity groups perceive military missions in relation to their interests, and what they do about it.
Yet, enemy-centrism is more comfortable for the Army. It fits the age-old vision of battlefield glory. It is also intellectually easy, simple to measure in a culture dominated by quantitative metrics, and strategically catastrophic. Future outcomes depend on the Army’s willingness to apply the correct methods and more intellectual rigor to the way it goes about understanding the operational environment.
The Army’s view of modern environments usually reads something like this: We face the same enemy we’ve always faced, but he’s gone asymmetric and is hiding among the population. This pervasive thinking allows for only perfunctory references in doctrine and methods to the importance of “culture” or “civil considerations,” then a swift return to enemies, real or imagined.
Progressive rounds of doctrine publications betray this anachronistic preference for finding and fighting bad guys dressed in black cowboy hats. To be fair, it is a bias that has stood the Army well historically, and makes sense for a military force, to a point. In the 21st Century, though, this subconscious preference greatly diminishes the Army’s ability to understand the environment, frame problems for planning purposes, and translate strategy into the correct set of tactical tasks.
ADRP 3-0 Unified Land Operations reinforces this myopia. It notes enemies who “often choose to fight among the people” and “seek populations for refuge from, to draw support from, and to shield against attack and detection by U.S. forces.”2 According to the Army’s very operating concept, you have friendlies, you have enemies, and “populations” – absent of interests, capabilities, or independent will – are where the enemy is hiding.
ADRP 3-0’s nod to the influence of populations reads, “Land operations often prove complex because a threat, an enemy, an adversary, a neutral, or a friend intermix, often with no easy means to distinguish one from another.”3
This is the dangerous and faulty assumption that dominates the Army’s thinking: enemies, neutrals, and friendlies can be distinguished from one another because they are different groups, eternally bound to their color-coded designations. The reality is that they are very often not different groups, and many times military forces have a choice as to which way those groups decide to lean.
Population groups slide quickly along the enemy-friendly continuum based on their perceptions of U.S. forces’ objectives and actions. The institutional lack of preparedness to shape this reality is a cruel irony given the “total Army” successes in al Anbar. A National Guard brigade followed by an active counterpart were able to move a critically important population group from enemy to friendly by aligning their narrative and actions with that group’s interests.
Even where the Army is trying to force open its aperture and think holistically about the environment, it can’t. Ft. Leavenworth’s University of Foreign Military and Culture Studies’ Red Team Handbook cites as its raison d’etre an excerpt of a Defense Science Board report that reads, “Aggressive red teams challenge emerging operational concepts in order to discover weaknesses before real adversaries do”4 (emphasis added). The purpose of representing the will of population groups, then, is to best “real adversaries,” not to understand human variables’ direct influence on plans and operations. The manual makes very little direct reference to populations as a variable in the environment, and usually includes population groups under the umbrella of “others.” Its treatment of culture is stated as an effort to avoid “cultural missteps” rather than any affirmative contribution to planning. The chapter on “culture” has very little to do with culture and is, in places, literally incomprehensible. As is common in the Army’s treatment of population-related disciplines, the Red Team Handbook prominently features misunderstood or discredited concepts like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
The handbook falls into the same trap as ADRP 3-0 noted above. It presupposes, before any assessment whatsoever, that the environment is composed of friendlies, enemies, and “others” and should be treated as such for planning and operations. The Army’s constrained, “you’re us or you’re not us” thinking is perhaps why the perspective of populations (and interagency partners, for that matter) is represented in the planning process by the “Red Team”5 to begin with (as opposed to the Marines’ Green Cell, for example).
This cognitive rigidity creates an emphasis on enemy-centric intelligence-driven processes that attempt to understand the operational environment based on an incorrect paradigm. Solutions such as Human Network Engagement/Attack the Network reflect the tunnel vision of enemy-focused intelligence and maneuver communities that place all people, prima facie, into the same faulty enemy, neutral, or friendly boxes, and predicate engagement of networks on that categorization. Built on garden-variety intelligence processes yet devoid of conflict theory or social science practices for population engagement, Human Network Engagement prompts soldiers to “support” or “engage” populations without any theoretical basis for understanding how communities work, why their current situation exists, or what interventions are likely to be effective for the purposes of the mission.
Adherents of Human Network Engagement/Attack the Network have often stated that there is nothing new about the method except the name, as if this is a benefit of the method. It is not. One would not suppose that using the same methods would lead to improved results. The Army must commit itself to being good at actual population engagement skills, not repackaging old processes in the interests of ease and simplicity. Techniques like Human Network Engagement will neither fill the population engagement capability gap nor provide “in-depth understanding of the operational environment,” as has been claimed.6 Despite good intentions, sound concepts and practical tools to help the warfighter achieve understanding of – rather than intelligence about – relevant population groups in the operational environment have not been accepted by the Army since FM 3-0 Full Spectrum Operations said, “Soldiers operate among populations, not adjacent to them or above them,”7 in 2008.
The importance of advancing tools to aid understanding of populations through the intelligence process, though, cannot be overstated. It is in intelligence preparation that the commander derives the understanding of the environment with which he visualizes the end state and, critically, the approach he must use to achieve that end state. If he does so without a legitimate appreciation of human variables in the environment, the plan is broken from the start.
Notwithstanding its inability to conceive of population groups’ acting in their own interests, rather than simply for or against U.S. forces, ATP 2-01.3 Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield correctly describes the requirement to perform civil considerations analysis in IPB:
Civil considerations help commanders understand the social, political, and cultural variables within the AO and their effect on the mission. Understanding the relationship between military operations and civilians, culture, and society is critical to conducting operations and is essential in developing effective plans. … The degree to which the populace is expected to support or resist U.S. and friendly forces also affects offensive and defensive operational design.8
The manual references civil considerations frequently and features a good-sized, if shallow, discussion of them. Time and time again, though, it turns back to the comfort and relative simplicity of preparing for the other factors of the environment:
Situation development is a process for analyzing information and producing current intelligence concerning the portions of the mission variables of enemy, terrain, weather, and civil considerations within the AO before and during operations. The process helps the intelligence staff recognize and interpret indicators of threat intentions and objectives. Situation development confirms or denies threat COAs, provides threat locations, explains what the threat is doing in relation to the friendly force commander’s intent, and provides an estimate of threat combat effectiveness (emphases added).9
Thus, the purpose of civil considerations analysis in IPB: indicators of threat intentions and objectives. Populations, by this way of thinking, are incidental to the plan and their end states or capabilities are not considered.
Civil considerations are confined to step 2 of IPB, “Describe Environmental Effects on Operations.” The manual does not actually call for any description of the effects of civil considerations, only the identification of those considerations. Step 3 (Evaluate the Threat) and step 4 (Threat Courses of Action) are where true analysis happens and IPB prescribes numerous tools and frameworks for a consideration of the enemy. By excluding civil considerations from those steps, populations become for planning purposes a disinterested factor of the environment, like rain.
Stripped of population end states and capabilities, indicators and collection requirements based on population actions are not included in the intelligence preparation. Branch plans related to qualitative assessments of population groups’ dispositions are unheard of. And so, recent history has seen commanders confused and surprised by population actions and capabilities in the exact way the IPB process is intended to prevent with respect to the enemy. If a river or mountain were going to move during the operation, resources would be devoted to trying to anticipate specifically where and when. Every effort is made to know the weather three days in advance. Yet there are no DOTMLPF10 supported methods for anticipating and shaping the reactions of groups of thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of human beings.
The only civil considerations processes in ATP 2-01.3 are civil information management processes that rightly should be performed by Civil Affairs soldiers as one of their core tasks. CA forces also should contribute a civil preparation of the battlefield as an input to design and mission analysis, analogous to IPB. Yet, Civil Affairs doctrine and training do not include any tools to enable this contribution.
The accepted civil considerations tool of CA forces is the ASCOPE/PMESII-PT crosswalk. The civil considerations (areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, events) are evaluated with respect to the operational variables (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, information, physical environment, time) on a matrix that, in practice, usually results in a catalog of raw data.
Done perfectly, the ASCOPE/PMESII-PT crosswalk does not help to anticipate population reactions. It does not lead the planner to understand why a certain condition or perception exists, which is a prerequisite to course of action development. Civil Affairs forces must get away from advancing ASCOPE/PMESII-PT as a tool of any value to the plan, though recent graduates of the Civil Affairs qualification course for enlisted soldiers lament that civil considerations analysis training at the course begins and ends with ASCOPE/PMESII-PT.11 It is a useful starting point to organize information about the environment, nothing more. To add value, mission-focused analysis must follow from it. As Matyók, Mendoza, and Schmitz wrote in the summer 2014 edition of InterAgency Journal, “When conflict analysis frames are outdated or insufficient, they can have serious unintended negative consequences.”12
A useful tool would also help highlight what information about culture, history, politics, and other factors the staff does not need to know. In a time-constrained environment with planners who are neither trained nor inclined to distill these factors into operational inputs, this is as important as anything else. Without an explicit effort to filter the information against mission requirements, ASCOPE/PMESII-PT becomes a repository of an overwhelming number of data points of dubious relevance to the mission.
Civil Affairs Planning (ATP 3-57.60) advances a couple poorly described uses of ASCOPE as the method for civil considerations analysis. Civil Affairs Engagement (ATP 3-57.80) features a lengthy and uninformed section on the District Stability Framework (discussed later), but is similarly tone deaf to the need for civil preparation of the battlefield. Instead of contributing a method for understanding the civil component of the environment as a precursor to engagement, it describes in detail how CA forces can counter the radicalization process.
Recognizing the need for effective assessment, the active duty Civil Affairs community has, in places, tried to appropriate other tools. USAID’s Conflict Assessment Framework (CAF) 2.0 was a worthy choice to help soldiers achieve better civil considerations analysis. Though it is based on solid conflict analysis, CAF 2.0 nevertheless has limitations as a military tool. First, the unit of analysis of CAF 2.0 is a country13 rather than the community within which a brigade or battalion operates.
More critically, though, CAF 2.0 is a development framework created by and for a development organization. The Army is not a development organization and has very different operational methods, intents, and goals. This distinction is key. “Often several [agencies] are studying conflict, viewing it through different lenses with analysis tools appropriate to their organizations, and being influenced by desired outcomes,” Matyók, et al, said. “Prejudice and bias are built into these frameworks, and organizations’ patterns of behavior influence actions.”14
The Army also is trying to predict15 population behaviors. The Athena project of TRADOC’s Intelligence Support Activity (TRISA) uses multiple mathematical models to project civil responses to U.S. interventions. This computer-based simulation is intended “to help skilled intelligence analysts anticipate the likely consequences of complex courses of action that use our country’s entire power base, not just our military capabilities”16 from three months to five years in the future. Complete with a NASA logo on the white paper, Athena is a powerful tool that goes far beyond “analysis.” Using terminology like “concerns,” “goals” and “relationships” to describe its approach to understanding human populations, Athena is a quantum leap from the Army’s usual way of thinking.
But planners need to anticipate and shape population reactions in the immediate term. And very often those planners are well below the joint task force for which Athena is intended, such as a company commander who has to execute a mission in three days and cannot plan based on predictions three months hence. Moreover, it is a dubious proposition that there would ever be enough “skilled intelligence analyst” support for all the company commanders in a campaign.
A member of NATO C3 familiar with the use of Athena and other predictive models said of these models that they produced “no shortage of information, but we didn’t know what it meant. It didn’t affect decisionmaking.” (Personal communication, March 24, 2015.) The idea of predictive modeling begs several questions. What would be the implication of such predictions on decisionmaking? If there is value in trying to predict the behavior of population groups, why is there no attempt to predict the behavior of the enemy? Would a commander accept a plan with no branches? Unlike populations, enemy forces often come packaged with a generally known doctrine and order of battle. And concerning the enemy force there is an infinitesimal number of variables by comparison to population groups. Predictions of enemy actions are much more likely to be accurate than they would be in the case of millions of people.
The Army applies tested, relevant analytical frameworks to help understand the enemy’s various aims, capabilities, and possible courses of action. There are no such frameworks institutionally supported for understanding populations, though their ability to derail or defeat operations is at least as robust as any enemy’s that U.S. forces are likely to face. The Army misses no opportunity to give credit to a “thinking enemy,” and uses a professional opposing force to model one. Populations think, too.
A seventh warfighting function called Engagement is the Army’s most holistic effort to understand the tremendous influence of the human factors of the operational environment. Its intent is to “institutionalize into Army doctrine, training, education, and leader development, the capabilities and skills necessary to work with host nations, regional partners, and indigenous populations.”17 In describing the concept, TRADOC PAM 525-8-5 references a future environment characterized by the political, economic, and social concerns of groups of people – not the activities of enemies.
The concept is exciting but there may be reasons to be skeptical. For example, the proponency for Engagement is at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg. Special operations forces certainly have the most experience with populations, but to call the special ops community insular would be an understatement. It may be wishful thinking to suppose that Engagement’s population-focused concepts, being preached by soldiers who already practice them, will gain sufficient momentum to cross the threshold into the conventional Army that resists them. Engagement will contribute no added value if Special Forces and Civil Affairs buy it but Intelligence and Infantry do not. And if the Army continues to produce manuals that repeatedly state the requirement for civil considerations analysis without providing the tools and training to enable forces to perform that analysis, the larger Army cannot buy it.
The Army needs a civil considerations analysis tool that enables either rapid or detailed planning by a soldier from any discipline at any echelon across the range and spectrum of military operations. It should not be a stand-alone process but should integrate seamlessly into IPB and MDMP. It should compel functional collaboration on a Napoleonic staff and work as a system of a warfighting function. It must be deep enough to provide a meaningful basis for design, yet elegant enough to be employed by the more junior soldiers, O3s and E6s, who are responsible to feed the process and execute its outputs. And it should be able to be deployed without years of development and auditioning. There are soldiers conducting operations across the globe at this moment, and the Army has not adequately supported their success without that tool.
The correct application of such a tool is not easy, but the adoption of one should be. There are many conflict assessment frameworks and beyond a certain accepted intellectual basis, one need not be regarded as preferable to another. The Army’s tool could be any one of these adapted in purpose and lexicon to fit neatly into MDMP. But for a few, but critical, limitations, District Stability Framework (DSF) served this purpose well. It is a counterinsurgency tool, basically, and an interagency tool. The modifications needed to make it flexible and functional for military missions were not extensive. Unfortunately, though, with DSF the DOTMLPF process ended somewhere in the middle of “D.” Without sufficient training support from the Army, DSF was poorly understood, and therefore poorly accepted.
The Stability Decision Support Framework (SDSF) is a scalable, streamlined, effective solution for planners at different echelons, from different disciplines, and with different levels of ability. It was used at the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group (MCTOG) last year, with encouraging results. A collaboration among an Army Civil Affairs officer, USMC doctrine writers, the Marine Corps Civil Military Operations School, and Tactical MAGTF Integration Course instructors, SDSF resulted in planners’ rejecting notions of “the population” and “the enemy” in favor of a nuanced, textured, and more complete analysis of the environment. It also resulted in high levels of integration across staff sections that enabled Human Network Engagement/Attack the Network and other intelligence tools to be used effectively in civil considerations analysis.
SDSF is built on doctrine and military planning processes to be a fully integrated OE assessment and COA development mechanism. It is a modification of DSF, and as such preserves the extant base of knowledge in the Army about that framework. It incorporates principles of IPB, the targeting methodology, and the CA methodology. Unlike ASCOPE/PMESII-PT, the process emphasizes the incorporation of only the information most likely to be relevant to the operation, and enables the planning of branches and sequels that reflect understanding of population goals and capabilities. SDSF gives planners permission not to analyze every population group they encounter or to attempt to learn every aspect of their cultures and histories.
In training at MCTOG, the framework enabled a comprehensive IPB by providing specific methods to assess population groups and stability dynamics, which led, in turn, to greatly enhanced appreciation and problem framing.
Organizations skilled at working among populations use similar assessment frameworks intuitively. If the Army is serious about “engagement” and being an effective 21st Century force, it must follow suit. An NGO hoping to shape outcomes for communities knows that cooperation and collaboration with that community are prerequisite to success. For that reason, they use approaches based on an understanding of the goals, methods and capabilities of that community. Soldiers should take for granted that their approach to dealing with human beings must be the same.
The failure to deal realistically and effectively with human populations is fundamentally a failure of the Army to fulfill its role as but one tool of U.S. strategic interests, and not the determinative one. Conflict has a political basis, and is resolved (Dayton) or perpetuated (Versailles) by the success or failure of the political accommodation. The role of the Army is to create impetus and space for that accommodation, then transition the environment to the civilian instruments of national power. As is now clear to everyone, the 19th Century standard of victory is irrelevant in the modern environment. For a 21st Century force with no ability to operate in populations, taking the capital and tearing down a statue is more likely to signal the beginning of a conflict than the end.
Regardless of method, outcomes of operations among populations are not guaranteed. Human beings are too complex, and the external variables that play upon such operations are essentially infinite. A legitimate attempt to incorporate civil considerations into the planning process is at odds with the Army’s zero-defect mentality. Being a more effective force demands maturity and intellectual agility from commanders who must accept a great deal of uncertainty. The good news is that populations are not enemies. They simply stand for their own interests, and any approach that seeks to categorize them as enemies on that basis, before legitimate assessment and before engagement, is an ingredient of failure. The Army must institutionally accept the philosophy and tools for such assessment and engagement, and in so doing end its long love affair with enemies.
1. Rose, Charlie (Producer). (2014, January 23). Charlie Rose [Television broadcast]. New York, NY: Public Broadcasting Service.
2. Headquarters, Department of the Army, ADRP 3-0 Unified Land Operations, (2012), 1-3.
3. Ibid., 1-9.
4. University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, Red Team Handbook, (2012), 4. Online at the UFMCS website. <http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/UFMCS/Repository/RT_Handbook_v6.pdf>
5. Headquarters, Department of the Army, ATTP 5-0.1 Commander and Staff Officer Guide, (2011), 2-23.
6. Munch, M., Worret, C. (2014) “Filling a Gap, Network Engagement”, Military Review http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/repository/spotlight/Munch-Worret-Nov-2014.pdf.
7. Headquarters, Department of the Army, FM 3-0 Full Spectrum Operations, (2008), vii.
8. Headquarters, Department of the Army, ATP 2-01.3 Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, (2014), 3-6.
9. Ibid., 1-9.
10. According to the Army Capabilities Integration Center website, “DOTMLPF is a problem-solving construct for assessing current capabilities and managing change.” The acronym stands for Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership & Education, Personnel, and Facilities. <http://www.arcic.army.mil/AboutARCIC/dotmlpf.aspx.>
11. When I instruct civil considerations analysis to Army Civil Affairs soldiers, I ask them about the tools they learn in CA school. Over time, the answer consistently has been that they are not trained in civil considerations analysis, and that ASCOPE/PMESII is all they are taught. Most recently, I spoke with recent graduates of the course in March 2015.
12. Thomas G. Matyók, Hannah Rose Mendoza and Catherine Schmitz, “Deep Analysis: Designing Complexity Into Our Understanding of Conflict,” InterAgency Journal (summer 2014): 15.
13. U.S. Agency for International Development, Conflict Assessment Framework version 2.0, online at the USAID Website. <http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnady739.pdf>.
14. Matyók, 15.
15. For this purpose, the semantic difference between “predict” and “anticipate” is important. Simplistically, to predict is to foretell what will happen, whereas to anticipate is to consider an event as probable.
16. William H. Duquette and David R. Hanks, Athena Users Guide: Athena Regional Stability Simulation, V6, (California Institute of Technology, 2014), 12.
17. Headquarters, Department of the Army, TRADOC PAM 525-8-5 U.S. Army Functional Concept for Engagement, (2014), iii.