Small Wars Journal

Enemies Wanted: No Experience Necessary - The Army’s Addiction to Enemies Inhibits Analysis of the Operational Environment

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 6:21pm

Enemies Wanted: No Experience Necessary - The Army’s Addiction to Enemies Inhibits Analysis of the Operational Environment

Scott Stanford

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 do4 (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.

End Notes

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. <>

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

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. <>

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. <>.

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.

About the Author(s)

Major Scott Stanford, U.S. Army Reserve, is a civil affairs planner for the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade in Riverdale Park, MD, and CEO of The Engagement Group in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the Stability Decision Support Framework that was trained to USMC operations and tactics instructors in the Tactical MAGTF Integration Course at the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group in Twentynine Palms, CA. Stanford was an infantry platoon leader and a combined arms HHC company commander in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005-2006 and served as a Civil Affairs team leader on the Paktya, Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2008-2009. He was a provincial stabilization director for USAID’s flagship stabilization program in Afghanistan, and taught the District Stability Framework at the Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul. Stanford has a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and earned an MA in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He was the Distinguished Honor Graduate of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School’s Civil Affairs Qualification Course.



Mon, 05/18/2015 - 7:54pm

I would like to add in the vain of the excellent exchange between G Martin and BillM in the comments below...

PMESII-PT and ASCOPE are good shorthand tools for assessing the impact of civilians on military operations, and for planning efforts to minimize or leverage that civilian-military interaction. I am sure SDSF is a an improvement on the type. But they are at best superfluous and at worst subversive when used in situations where control of the civilians IS THE MILITARY OPERATION.

Defeating insurgents by winning hearts and pockets is still about defeating the insurgents. Defeating the insurgents is a necessary but not sufficient condition for gaining control of the population........the true aim of "stability operations". I say it is a true aim because denying the enemy control of the population is of limited value, constrained in time and space. Once you leave, you create a political vacuum that will be filled. And if it isn't filled by something you shaped then it will be filled by something you didn't. Ergo, if something you shaped is to take control, you have to transfer or at the very least enable that control.

Having worked the stability question for several years and being a Army maneuver type myself, I have yet to see how any analytic framework can be of any value in a stability operation beyond cataloging and counting. Put it another way...if you find an analytic framework that allows you to effectively understand a population for the purpose of gaining political control, you will have found the Holy Grail of political science. If you think you have found such a tool, then apply it domestically and see what it tells you about your own countrymen. Your own intimate knowledge of your fellow citizens should offer just enough insight to see if the tool is of any value. I hazard to say, such a thing does not exist.

IPB is something that happens before the operation in order to guide the operation. It is not, in and of itself, an operation. Civil Affairs, to be something more than just a fancy non-combatant intelligence tool, needs to have a meaningful operational expression. That expression is currently mired in the legacy of Effects Based Operations (think the Lines of Effort nonsense), and lost as an annex to an appendix to the real cajuna, the maneuver fight. Perhaps in Phase III that is as it should be. But from Phase 0 - II and IV-V, it is everything that is wrong with our ability to "Secure the Victory".

The enemy matters when he exists. But his existence isn't necessary for a military operation to have purpose. That is the enemy vs. not enemy dilemma that this article evoked in me. Controlling the population, especially when there are no meaningful domestic organs of state control around, is a military function and has been since approximately the time of Gilgamesh.

My comment immediately below stated another way:

1. MAJ Stanford's thoughts would seem to suffer from a failure to address the very specific operational environment within which the Army operates today; driven as our contemporary Army is by our nation's dominant national security objective of (a) democracy and market expansion and (b) policies, positions and actions undertaken in this dominant national security objective's name.

2. Herein, democracy and market expansion to be understood, by the United States/the West -- and by our allies, opponents, friends and enemies alike -- to, ultimately, require the full and complete transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

3. This requirement, stated another way, is to demand and facilitate (a) the disconnection of the population from its time-honored way of life (and associated values, attitudes and beliefs) and (b) the connection of the population to our very different way of life (and associated values, attitudes and beliefs).

4. It is in this very specific "interest" context, I suggest, that the Army -- correctly it would seem -- (a) sees that there will be those who are more/most likely to be "with us" (the commonly called "liberals" or "progressives"), (b) sees that there will be those who are more/most likely to be "against us" (the commonly called "conservatives" or "guardians"), and (c) sees that there will be those that may be undecided/uncommitted/unsure/waiting-to-see -- re: the fundamental state and societal changes that we demand and require.

5. Consider, in this regard, the observations of Linda Robertson and Stephen Kinzer -- re: Nicaragua during the Cold War -- when the shoe was on the other foot so-to-speak. That is, when the communist dominant national security objective was, much like our dominant national security objective today, outlying state and societal transformation:

"Blood of Brothers" is a graphic account of a country torn in half over the Sandinistas' efforts to build a new political and economic order."

"Early on, Mr. Kinzer saw that Sandinista policies were alienating ordinary Nicaraguans."

" ... by trying to transform -- the existing system of food production -- so completely and so suddenly, they were underestimating the deeply ingrained conservatism of Nicaraguan peasants."

"As years passed, the nature of the contra force changed. Most of its members were young Nicaraguan peasants and workers, driven by Sandinista policies to the point of rebellion."

" ... Mr. Kinzer's own critique of what he calls the (Sandinista) regime's "colossal misjudgments" suggests that the Sandinistas' policies were not just tactical responses to outside aggression but reflections of their deep political convictions."

6. Thus, in the context provided above, we can, I believe, see the common problems (re: the communists then and we capitalists today) associated with (a) a dominant national security strategy/objective of outlying state and societal transformation and (b) policies and practices undertaken in this dominant national security strategy/objective's name.

7. These such common problems helping to explain, I believe, why our Army today might proceed with and present -- in various publications -- such ideas as:

a. A population group that is most likely be "with us." (Our "natural allies:" the liberals/the progressives.)

b. A population group that is most likely be "against us." (Our "natural enemies:" the conservatives/the guardians.) And

c. A population group that might go either way; this, depending on how our state and societal transformation policies positively or negatively impact both their belief systems and their daily lives.


Mon, 05/18/2015 - 5:30pm

Bill M wrote,

‘Our national level decision making processes has a long history of ignoring ground truth, as most OSS, CIA, and military operatives can testify to.’

This observation is something many folks find very difficult to believe. The sheer foolhardiness of ignoring ground-truth compiled by trusted USG operatives is a judgment call most sane observers consider as extremely unlikely for those holding high office.

Unfortunately it is deeply rooted in the upper echelon of our chain of command and the the average Joe's incredulity to its existence compounds the danger.

Alarmingly the folly of leadership's disregard to ground-truths is not limited to lowly advocates such as Doolittle, Mark Felt, Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, Doolittle, the Deer Team (OSS) of the world. Pillars of the military establishment such as Gen Ridgeway & Gen Shoup’s were actively victimized and demonized by those in high office for speaking ground-truths in the public domain.

The absence of any motive for ignoring the ground-truth espoused by trustworthy US officials and the embrace of subjective opinion forwarded by the most unlikely of proponents has preceded every US overseas disaster since the end of WW2.

The public record pertaining to AF prior to 9/11 (and any subsequent political strategy) is still in the grips of this choke-hold of deceit. The blatant disregard for reality prior to the invasion of Iraq is much better understood – no doubt in no small way as it was so blatantly crass and totally factually baseless that it is impossible to conceal.

A searing dissection of the sentiment can be observed in the documentary -

Despite it being compiled by such an unreliable source as the BBC I know people who were physically sick during the two years prior to the Iraq invasion because of reasons alluded to in this piece and even more ridiculous counter-facts that are not in the public domain.

It is interesting to reflect upon the French and German source of 'first-hand descriptions' and their subsequent reluctance at joining the ‘coalition of the willing’.

The bottom line for the US military is if we choose to promote senior personnel into this orbit of political opportunism we need to ensure they respect the importance of truth above everything – especially their personal careers.

If we continue to apply an Operational methodology that ignores tactical realities (the ultimate ground-truth) and embrace blatant counter-factuals, it should surprise no-one that our strategic failures will not only continue, but avoiding defeat will remain impossible.


Rather than talk generalities, for example, the broad category of "interests," let's talk specifics.

In this regard to consider, as articulated by former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake:

"the second imperative for our strategy ... to help democracy and markets expand and survive in other places where we have the strongest security concerns and where we can make the greatest difference."

In the specific interest scenario offered immediately above, one might find, within the subject/targeted foreign states and societies:

a. Individuals and groups, who we'll call the liberals/the progressives; who, traditionally, are thought to be more likely to both consider and embrace radical and rapid state and societal change (of various and sundry stripes).

b. Individuals and groups, who we might call the conservatives/the guardians; who, typically, are seen to be opposed to such radically different and often profane changes in their way of life, way of governance, and values, attitudes and beliefs. (Items which they often feel have been entrusted to their care.) And

c. Individuals and groups who hold no great desire or interest -- one way or the other -- re: such fundamental state and societal changes as we require.

In this exceptionally common -- and highly contemporary "interest" scenario -- one might suggest that some form of subterfuge (deceit: used in order to achieve one's goal) might have been the better approach for the United States/the West to use, post-the Cold War, in various parts of the world, to achieve democracy and market expansion?

This, given the negative outcomes of our many recent, shall we say, "straightforward" approaches to achieving this goal (in, for example the Greater Middle East)?

Thus, in this cold, hard, sharp, contemporary and highly focused "interest" light -- of (unwelcome?) Western post-Cold War efforts to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines -- rather than in some vague, ethereal and general "interest" light -- to better/best consider, analyze and discuss MAJ Stanford's thoughts and observations. Such as:

"Population groups slide quickly along the enemy-(neutral)-friendly (and vice versa) continuum based on their perceptions of (and agreement/disagreement with) U.S. forces’ objectives and actions."

(Items added in parenthesis -- in the above quote -- are mine.)


Tue, 05/19/2015 - 8:15pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M, I agree that my comments are not grounded in recent or even current reality, especially in the context of OIF, OEF, and the ISIS issue. They are aspirational and would take quite a bit of work at many levels from force providers at least up to the SES in DOD and DOS to make a reality. However, I don’t think they are out of the realm of possibility, at least in some form in the future and I feel it is worth bringing up the points if for no other reason than to promote discussion that might someday lead to progress. I also agree that I haven’t presented a road map in my comments on the article, but I think I’m flying nap of the earth more than pie in the sky

“Policy making is driven by domestic perceptions that will: impact gaining and maintaining political power, support the prevailing political philosophy, and of course address economic interests.” In my opinion, ARSOF’s efforts in the HD are most effective in Phase 0 to shape or decisively prevent. When sustained violence ensues and politicians and policy makers start caring, non-lethal shaping and influencing becomes less effective, for many reasons, including the very apt political ones that you stated. I would also say that such effort at the periphery of the AO remain a useful in shaping, though probably not decisive.
“SOF must maintain its door kicking capability, its technical edge, as well as pursuing ever greater expertise in the HD or special warfare. The idea that these should be competing ideologies/camps within SOF is disappointing.” I agree, if it seemed otherwise, I didn’t intend it that way. They should be properly balanced characteristics of every SOF Soldier.

“We have CATs and MISTs deployed around the world engaging local populations, and often to little effect. Why?” Sure there is room and cause for introspection, but in fairness to all of the tribes, many of the reasons for limited effects go well beyond the internal deficiencies inside each. CATs, MISTs, and various levels of ODs are all over the world, they are working for GCCs, TSOCs, and Ambassadors who have a choice of tools to use to address specific problems. Often, no single or even small combination of tools are sufficient to address those problem sets. When viewed as disparate elements within a greater organization, everyone appears to be a midget of varying height. While incompetence may be a contributing factor of limited effects, it is plausible to argue that tools are either being misapplied or mismanaged. I’m also not sold on the idea that these elements are operating with little effect, since desired effects are varied and take time, but taken in aggregate over discreet time frames, I understand your point.

“This is not the answer to our woes…,” There is room for improvement and that is why I believe that immersion experiences for career NCOs is a prudent if not fully developed recommendation. It is one of many that might improve the force's ability to prosecute national policy. Your right, the current personnel system, SOFORGEN cycle, and probably more factors make it unfeasible today. I’m recommending for what tomorrow should look like. Regarding relying on State and AID to better understand the local HDs, I can’t effect State or Aid. Furthermore, what I've seen is that they don’t get out much because they don’t have the budget or the personnel. They have implementing partners and local hires, who really don’t advance us any further than having local terps. I’m not saying NCOs with better understanding of specific HDs is a panacea, but it is an incremental improvement from our current state where much of a SOF Soldier’s experience in the HD comes from JCETS or combat operations. While still valuable, they are constrained environments where we bring a lot of extra baggage that further complicates understanding and relationship.

Thanks for your thoughts, I really enjoy the critique. I usually get more from these comments sections than from the articles.

Bill M.

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 5:48pm

In reply to by x61624

Your points are desirable, but they're not grounded in reality.

I tend to agree with your points about the article. The population of most countries is much more complicated than enemy, neutral, and friendly. Furthermore, wars are seldom limited to bilateral events where red is pitted against blue, instead there are normally numerous wars within wars. This was, and remains, true in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding your point about lip service, only time will tell. The new Army operating concept addresses the human domain at length, but the jury is still out on whether it is more than lip service. SOF, specifically ARSOF, has focused on the human factors in conflict since its inception (note that the first special forces qualification course was called the psywar course), but to what end? This is where reality gets in the way of our theories. In fact, reality prevents us from actually testing our theories in many cases.

Our national level decision making processes has a long history of ignoring ground truth, as most OSS, CIA, and military operatives can testify to. Policy making is driven by domestic perceptions that will: impact gaining and maintaining political power, support the prevailing political philosophy, and of course address economic interests. This is why human factors were largely ignored regarding Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a number of other countries we intervened in. While there are no experts in the human domain, those who had more knowledge on the relevant human factors were ignored. Those who questioned the viability of our policies in Vietnam were labeled communists, and those questioned our approach in both Iraq and Afghanistan were labeled as weak on terror. Sadly, it is the way we roll as a nation. We're the proverbial bull in the china shop. Unfortunately, having experts in the HD will not change this.

SOF must maintain its door kicking capability, its technical edge, as well as pursuing ever greater expertise in the HD or special warfare. The idea that these should be competing ideologies/camps within SOF is disappointing. If you put in an order SOF, you order mighty big egos, and of course every special operators approach is better than the other, right? I would hope by now that most in SOF realize that "local dynamics are complex and being able to understand them and plan operations and actions with those dynamics in mind can be decisive." CA and MISO have yet to demonstrate that level of understanding, so before they start pointing fingers at others they need to take a hard look at themselves. We have CATs and MISTs deployed around the world engaging local populations, and often to little effect. Why?

Regarding this comment, "This is a lesson that the Shia Iraqi Government obviously did not write down in their leader books post Al Anbar." True, but it is also true that harsh leaders like the former Sunni leader Saddam could impose control through the use of state terrorism. Mao and Stalin did the same. While not advocating this approach, it is important to understand reality. When we decided to make PRTs in Afghanistan a so-called center of gravity, and then embraced the VSO program in a way that wasn't sustainable, we started down the road to ruin. The Taliban (and numerous other groups) could easily counter these approaches with terrorism and a little strategic patience. Hard power will always trump soft power at the tactical level for the short duration. Thus my point about some taking the argument to the point that war is social work, and there are no enemies. It is an extremist view that our COIN doctrine tends to generate. At the end of the day insurgency, terrorism, resistance, etc. is still armed conflict where opposing sides are attempting to impose their will upon the other. The pseudo-intellectualism that is often promoted by the COINdistas doesn't change that. Yet, to the author's point (perhaps), network targeting doesn't work either. This indicates there is a gap in our two dominant theoretical approaches to so-called modern warfare.

Your point about understanding can't be trained in Army schools is partially true, but training can provide an intellectual framework to facilitate understanding. However, regardless of how much training one has, if one is not curious or is stuck in a preconceived paradigm (missionary, democracy is the only answer, everyone wants to be like us, etc.) then understanding will be beyond their reach to begin with. Training is certainly required, but at the end of the day so is immersion in that culture.

This is not the answer to our woes, "Our NCOs must be trained in local dialects and pushed out into the hinterlands of the world to live among and truly get to know those populations they may someday be asked to fight for or against." Once again reality gets in the way of theory. We don't have a personnel system that will support this, and even if we could fix that they would largely be ignored by operational and strategic level decision makers. We would be better off putting civilians in these places that work for the State Department or USAID. Why? Their organizations are smaller and little flatter, so there is a greater chance their voices would be heard in the east wing. However, as I stated previously that chance is slim based upon the way our decision making system tends to work (or doesn't).

Assuming this concept of getting NCOs trained in local dialects did get approved, how would it actually work? Again we have people imbedded in countries that have a lot of knowledge, but their so called nuanced knowledge is very limited. By way of example, if you attend an university, your nuanced knowledge about that university's human domain will be limited to your classes and your social clique. Your knowledge about all the other actors will be very limited. That challenge is magnified exponentially when you scale up to a country. In the end, this is why we rely on engaging with locals when we do intervene knowing full well we're getting a biased account.

At the end of the day, continued language and cultural training is essential, as is developing more effective ways to integrate human domain into military (or hopefully interagency) planning, BUT there are real limits on what we can achieve. Coming up with pie in the sky concepts is not doing our nation any favors. Coming up with practical solutions and viable road map to achieve them is what we need.

MAJ Stanford,

I really enjoyed this read. I have no doubt that the nuance of the your commentary on "enemies" will confuse some or cause distress in others, but the historical record as I read it supports your thesis in many instances. Understanding and shaping the human dimension of the OE is is still something that few outside of SOF tend to pay more than lip service to.

Even within SOF, there are probably still many who wish away nuance in favor of being able to kick in more doors and get better equipment. However, local dynamics are complex and being able to understand them and plan operations and actions with those dynamics in mind can be decisive. I think this is especially true in UW and IW when the enemy is a non-state actor and winning relies on deftly dealing with locals within the context of their cultural and community dynamics. This is a lesson that the Shia Iraqi Government obviously did not write down in their leader books post Al Anbar. Or maybe they did but their neighbor to the East politely asked them to ignore it in favor of having a new crisis to take advantage of. Either way, your thesis is supported.

The understanding necessary for all this cannot be trained in an Army School. Herein lies the problem. It also probably can't be born within the Officer Corps given the current up or out timelines that Officers deal with. Our NCOs must be trained in local dialects and pushed out into the hinterlands of the world to live among and truly get to know those populations they may someday be asked to fight for or against. It is risky, but necessary if we are to continue fighting non-state actors in foreign lands. This is probably not a big stretch in the SOF realm... but I bet this idea is a bridge to far in the big Army, whose NCOs and formation could probably benefit most.

Keep up the good work.

Bill M.

Sat, 05/16/2015 - 10:03am

In reply to by G Martin

Thanks for the refreshing blast of common sense. Our population centric view of modern conflict fails in its attempt to redefine war as social work, and taken to its extreme it now asserts there are no enemies. I suspect this is a passing phase that will collapse upon itself after the theory repeatedly fails the brutal test of reality.

Nonetheless, the author makes several observations worth serious consideration. I remain suspect on our ability to develop a nuanced understanding of the human terrain based on our expeditionary way of operating. The Afghan hands and similar programs can help enhance our understanding if employed correctly, but even they will fall far short of our desired level of understanding. At the end of the day, if we go to war, it is less about social engineering and more about imposing our will on our enemies. We seem to be in this odd place, where we choose to pretend we're not at war, and yet we're not at peace.

If we are war, we will need to apply sufficient coercion to impose our will. If we're not war, then there is another dynamic at play, one where the military should probably play a much smaller role. Lots of ways to argue this, both pro and con, but regardless what side of the argument we stand on, we owe our tax payers an honest assessment of what works and what doesn't. Sometimes looking in the mirror objectively can be quite unpleasant.

G Martin

Sat, 05/16/2015 - 7:59am

Part of our problem is that we think we require analysis to understand humans and population groups. ASCOPE and PMESSIPT, etc. are simply categorical analyses. Replacing them with other tools of analysis assumes that that is the best way to understand, act, and learn about humans. I assert that there are many other ways of understanding humans- the sociological and humanities fields are good places to start.

But, I also would echo Dr. Demarest's comments- if you are going to war, then your concern for humanity has kind of taken a back seat by definition. This idea that you can or should be concerned with the populace at all times briefs well to the sheeple, but doesn't work well in real war unless you want to be there forever and spend tons of money (because those real people you are trying to understand will most likely bleed you dry of resources because... they can). If we are unwilling to get about the business of breaking the will of those we want to influence and unwilling to cut deals with the lesser of two evil sides- then we shouldn't go to war.

Geoffrey Demarest

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 9:31am

Scott, you write, “It will come as bad news to many in the Army that there is no longer any such thing as 'the enemy'.” This does indeed come as bad news to me, as I’m slowly working on a piece about how to take or hold a large city. If you’re reporting this out correctly, and the enemy to whom I refer in my exposition is but a passé bugaboo, then my arguments about what is to be done are gonna go completely dry. So, yes, your chiding about the Army's focus on the enemy is worrisome. I’m going to hope, however, that there is a simple semantic distance between us regarding the word, and that upon agreeing to terms, we could reconcile our understandings of what the Army is, and what it can and should do. Right now I can’t quite see the reconciliation and am stressed by your bad news. Plus, in the process of delivering it, you insulted me into the bargain. You make me feel like a glorymonger with anachronistic preferences, lacking intellectual rigor. I think maybe I’ve been microaggressed. Anyhow, I’m going to suppress the hurt and allow as how I’m just not as enthusiastic as you are about the potential power and appropriate role of Civil Affairs and PSYOP units. To me, if there exists a place wherein no enemy is to be found, that is, a place where there are no humans whose behavior we cannot abide (and by 'cannot abide' I mean that our government cannot tolerate their behavior such that is willing to issue some form of dead-or-alive warrant against them), then I’m of a mind that our Army should not go to that place. Sure, there are lesser missions of a humanitarian type for which we will be willing to apply our excess capacity and magnanimity. Without that enemy, however, our infantry has no raison d’etre, and without the infantry, your Civil Affairs and PSYOP units have even less than no raison d’etre. By the way, I disagree especially that “human conflict is the result of people’s attempts to advance or protect their interests.” Hell, commerce and sex are the result of people’s attempts to advance or protect their interests. Human conflict occurs when some schmucks advance or protect their interests in ways that should compel us to answer violently -- like their murdering folk and stuff like that. Shouldn't we call those murderers 'enemies'? Or at least not shrink to calling them 'people pursuing their interests'.? Would you not agree that to willfully aviod confrontation with evil (especially when we are uniquely equipped to confront it) can itself be a kind of immorality? That failure to stand and confront might begin or at least be encouraged through an error in theorizing -- for instance, if we were to suggest that it is somehow unsophisticated to call out dangerously bad behavior and bad people for what they are. Now-and-then appears a group of people whose feelings cannot concern us much, people we need to go kill. For that we have an Army. [[Enemy, therefore, Army.]] Can the Army do other things? Sure, but they are beside the point. Might other parts of our nation attend long-term to all the ill-feelings? Sure, but still beside the point.
Scott, you also trash a number of other current Army fashions that need trashing, so you’re no enemy to me. Drive on.

"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."

The statement above acknowledges -- as false -- our early post-Cold War conflict beliefs. Which were based on such ideas as "universal values" and "the end of history." And which suggested that the Army, in the 21st Century, would:

a. Only need to do "regime change." This, so as to:

b. See the populations,

c. Mostly via their own desires and efforts,

d. Transform their outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. (Same/same as our political objective for these outlying states and societies.)

Our post-Cold War experiences, however, and in such places as the greater Middle East, proved these early 21st Century ideas ("universal values;" "end of history") as dead wrong.

When you stop to think about it, that is, indeed, a very scary thought.

Why is this?

Because it causes us to acknowledge how amazingly weak our "soft power" (the appeal of our way of life, our way of governance, our values, attitudes and beliefs, etc.) actually is.

Herein to note that this weakness presents itself -- not in a time like the Cold War -- wherein we have both a great power and a great ideological rival.

But, rather, this weakness is revealed in the full 25 years -- the full quarter century -- of the post-Cold War, wherein, we had no such powerful rival (or excuse).

It is in acknowledgement of this new realization -- to wit: the actual weakness/failure of the appeal of our way of life, etc., -- which now causes the United States to have to retool and refit,

a. Not only its Army but, indeed,

b. Its entire foreign policy apparatus; this, so as to:

(1) Deal with a world in which foreign populations (regime change or no) are:

(2) No longer expected to voluntarily come over to our side.

[If you are looking for a "bottom line," I suggest that my items (1) and (2) above may qualify.]

Herein should we say that our enemies, also, see and understand our such soft power weakness/failure as I have described above?

Accordingly, should we not see their actions as being in direct relation to -- and in direct proportion with -- this such understanding of our, now-glaringly transparent, soft power weakness/failure?

"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."


a. Much like the fact that every regime may, based on circumstances, be considered a real or potential friend, a real or potential enemy or both.

b. Likewise, every population group may, based on circumstances, be seen in a similar light.


1. The Question: How to cause a regime, and/or a population group, to move from "enemy" status to "friendly" status?

2. The Answer (as per the author): Align our narrative -- and our actions -- with the subject regime or population groups' interests.

Works fine, one might suggest, for Round One (or some interim round) of this (using the author's analogy) "boxing match."

But what about, generally speaking, Rounds Two through Fifteen?

(Rounds Two through Fifteen finding us back at Square One; wherein, the interests of the United States/the West -- and those of the subject regime or the subject population group -- are, once again, diametrically opposed to one another.)

In these such classic and common circumstances (diametrically opposed interests; now with no clear and present common enemy to deter/detract from this reality), how then do we favorably move the again-"hostile" regime -- or population group -- along the enemy-to-friend continuum?

At this point (Rounds Two through Fifteen and, more specifically, re: the overall "fight"), we certainly are not going to abandon our interests in favor of theirs.

Thus, it is in this context, I suggest, (the context of the entire boxing match; with the contestants having, in general, diametrically opposed interests) that the Army (rightfully?) understands its "operational environment" and its enemies contained therein?


Thu, 04/09/2015 - 2:23pm

Bravo Scott! I applaud your article. Understanding the different layers of the operational environment is complex and there is very little instruction (training or education) on how to do it correctly. I know you have been immersed in foreign cultures, and also understand that it is about relationships through building that rapport that allows us to get things done. Regardless of opinions or politics the US has strategic interests around the world that link directly back to our survival as a nation. We will have to engage with foreign cultures, on foreign soil, whether we are fighting them or helping them recover from a natural disaster. This means we must understand the OE and the complexity of the overlays that make it up. It is like a game of 3-D chess, where each board and piece is connected in 100 different ways. Moving one piece has influence or effects on another. Again, great paper...good to know you are alive and well since leaving CTC-A.

J Bullock

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 4:32pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward......I'm not blaming the Army for failing to get cats and dogs to live together. I'm blaming the Army, for telling the Army, and the nation, that it cares about getting cats and dogs to live together....when in fact, it couldn't give a damn. I'm blaming the Army (senior leadership) for selling out to the power elites in this country, who make the decisions to wage war for empire.

"Didn't I hear something yesterday about 3 dozen barrel bombs being dropped on refugee camps that ISIS was partially controlling? Compare that to your examples of criminal activity and tell me which is worse, and which is business as usual vs. an aberration." Thanks, but I'll pass on the exercise in moral equivalence. This is like comparing Richard Speck to Son of Sam. Business as usual you say? The business of empire is ALWAYS bloody.

The cold, hard fact is, when the US armed forces conduct operations, they kill civilians. Most times inadvertently, sometimes not. Since 1945 the US has gone to war more than any other nation on earth. Pax Americana in practicum, no doubt. It is in deed quite possible, that since the Second World War, America has killed more civilians in its wars, than it has enemy combatants. Hell, we ended WWII with a head start, no? 300,000 dead Japanese civilians (deliberately targeted) in just 72 hours. Either way, the toll is undoubtedly high, and the civilians are just as dead. Either way, the US has absconded under the guise of morality. Vapid logic when comparing the lofty overtures to war, with the outcomes of our militarism, and the costs to the populations we "help". Attaching some sort of moral superiority to what is by nature immoral is pointless.

"War is insanity....and anyone who takes part in it is a psychopath."

Me included.


Fri, 04/10/2015 - 10:35pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Rough exchange. If I may offer a slight reframing of the conversation though...

The BCT/MAGTF and/or any other combat force, is a necessary but not sufficient condition to prosecuting a campaign to put down a rebellion. Call it COIN or whatever, a rebellion needs to be crushed for the central power to retain any semblance of legitimacy. If it cannot be crushed, then at least a settlement that doesn't look like a total defeat (e.g. unity governments with reconciliation and other fashionable ideas) is a bare minimum requirement. I challenge anyone to point out a situation where a rebellion was left deliberately unchallenged after erupting into violence, only to peter out and have the central government come out the better for it. That being said...coercive force, or at least its ready accessibility, is a prerequisite to governance.

Development, however, is categorically unnecessary, though occasionally useful. What is necessary from the non-coercive sphere is governance, which is not synonymous with development. A school without an infrastructure of policies, administration, and funding is a building. All those are functions of governance, which is not an event like development, but a continuous process.

That being said consider how a stable state functions. An effective governance structure, which has ready access to coercive violence, that is able to collect taxes, adjudicate disputes, and regulate commerce. Out of State, USAID, and the Military, only the coercive force bit is taken care of. Neither State nor AID know how to govern. Nor should they. One is in the business of diplomacy, nothing to do with governance. And the other is in the business of development, at best an enabler to effective governance. And neither will ever have ready access to coercive force (the real necessary but not sufficient condition) without going through the President.

That leaves us with the Military. And mind you, the Military governing until governance is stable and predictable and coercive force can be devolved to policing, is the historic norm since approx. the beginning of written history of mankind. In fact, the capacity to maintain a government of occupation is a core FUNCTION of the US ARMY specifically. Necessity is in the power to compel, all else is about persuasion, resources, and trust. And both persuasion and trust are tenuous and corruptible in the absence of a fear of retribution. That is why it will always continue to be the case that in the absence of effective governance, the faction with the greatest capacity to compel will decide the course of events. And that is why the military must absolutely be the engine of restoring governance.

That we have allowed our officers to think like over-glorified NCOs (the true masters of the skilled trades of war) is our own institutional fault, not the fault of the nature of populations or COIN.

Move Forward

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 5:32pm

In reply to by J Bullock

<blockquote>The original post, and my reply especially, speak to the means by which America selects its enemies in an age in which American military leadership tells us the focus of warfare has shifted from enemy force centric to population centric.</blockquote>By your own and the article's admission, our enemies willfully hide amongst the population to try and create the rare mistake, and even more rare willful misconduct or negligence in the items of your second paragraph. The difference is our enemies in ISIS purposely commit atrocities as a recruiting and terror tool, not as a mistake.

Our Afghan enemies selected us on 9/11 due to the Taliban's welcome offered to al Qaeda. We had no beef with most Afghan ethnicities other than those Pashtuns and few Uzbeks harboring Taliban and al Qaeda. And in fact, the very breakdown of other nations supporting ISAF often were aligned with Northern Alliance areas for greater population centric ops vs. known Taliban-friendly areas that forced us to also consider the enemy. That already tells us that the State Department and NATO already recognized areas that potentially could have been part of a separate nation, with land swaps offered to Pashtuns who wanted to reposition.

Our Iraq enemies selected us when they invaded Kuwait, continued to fire air defense weapons at our Northern/Southern Watch aircraft, and made it seem like they had WMD to scare Iran according to the CIA interrogator who interviewed Saddam Hussein. The State Department also had to have realized that there were separate Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd areas. The fact that Israel, Northern Ireland, Berlin, and even Iraq constructed walls to segregate irreconcilable differences should have been a cue that the same approach could have split Baghdad and other mixed religion cities.

So once again as stated so many times, why does the Army get blamed for failing to make cats and dogs live together in peace, snakes and mongooses, lions and herd animals, and so on. We should have known a single government would not work in these areas just as we should have recognized that Assad's barrel bombs would create refugees and dead Sunnis. ISIS was created by our failure to stop genocide in Syria. Libya was created by a bombing campaign with no attempt at follow-on stability operations. Yemen was created by the errant perception that a few SF/SOF training weakly capable locals could defeat an industrial strength insurgency.

The major point being missed in this piece is that even if Shiite militias retake areas in Iraq, there will never be peace as long as Shiites rule Sunnis and Kurds. No amount of understanding the operational environment will alter that reality. No amount of understanding the Iranians will keep them out of Iraq or off the coast of Yemen. The enemy of my enemy often is still my enemy and no degree of engagement or understanding of the population is likely to alter that reality. Many conflicts are entirely due to the misguided belief that there can be a United States of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. Those were decisions made by Presidents and our State Department---not our Army.

Likewise the decision to ignore Assad's genocide proves that the option of doing nothing results in nothing good. Like Iraq, there is no hope of peace in Syria as long as Assad and Alawites rule majority Sunnis. Didn't I hear something yesterday about 3 dozen barrel bombs being dropped on refugee camps that ISIS was partially controlling? Compare that to your examples of criminal activity and tell me which is worse, and which is business as usual vs. an aberration.

J Bullock

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 3:44pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward....I believe you missed the point. The original post, and my reply especially, speak to the means by which America selects its enemies in an age in which American military leadership tells us the focus of warfare has shifted from enemy force centric to population centric. Yet that leadership pays only lip service to their own overtures. The doctrine indicates this. If my alluding to the savagery of America's frontier ethos strikes a note of anger within you, then I am successful.

Finally, one might ask if there were no kill squads from 2nd ID out there, selecting innocent Afghans to be murdered for sport; if there were no guys from the 101st kidnapping and raping Iraqi girls, and murdering their families; if there was no 172nd MP BDE torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib; if there were no Apache pilots gunning down unarmed Iraqis and laughing about it; if there were no MARSOF patrols shooting up intersections in Nangahar; if there were no dead and wounded children, struck by American ordinance. Folks easily reasoned with me might ask.....what??

Move Forward

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:37pm

In reply to by J Bullock

<blockquote>But, the center of gravity OF the COIN force is the US Army BCT or Marine RCT. This is a combat force, trained and equipped to kill people, and when it is placed in live operational environments, that is what it is going to do. When it is placed in a live COIN environment, the commingling of "enemies" and populations, as MAJ Standford alludes to from ADRP 3-0, virtually guarantees the COIN force will kill the people it has been sent to 'protect'. History has proven this. For doctrine which purports to underlie operational practice that places local populations, the human beings present in the environment, as the operational priority, it is a curious outcome, yet one well known, even if undocumented by the DoD.</blockquote>
One could ask if there are no "enemies," who are those guys hiding amongst the population that want to kill us and subjugate the locals? Are we planting the IEDs that kill locals as well as us? Envision no use of force against "enemies" and putting USAID and other contractors into ISIS-controlled territory or Yemen without the protection of Big Army and Marines. It wouldn't be pretty. And at some point we must do the math and look at 24 million Yemenis, and 30+ million Iraqis and Afghans in Texas-sized desert territories and admit the challenge is too great for SF/SOF alone.

Our nation just experienced the first combat death of a U.S. Soldier in over 100 days and suspect a similar record exists in Iraq. If we had surged early to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequently left U.S. forces behind doing something about Syria, one could speculate that ISIS "enemies" never would have evolved at least in Iraq. If we had split Iraq into three nations and then held elections training separate militaries with adequate Big Army and Marines, perhaps the sectarianism witnessed now would have been far more benign in areas of self-rule with less Iranian influence.

Is the primary problem inadequate tools for big Army to try to make irreconcilable population groups coexist in peace? Should we instead perform more of an upfront peacetime analysis of the population and influence the National Command Authority to split up potential "enemies" before intervening? Would that better assist host nations without huge losses in blood and treasure? However, an adequate upfront investment in early forces for combat operations, subsequent stability operations, and transitions to security force training must occur.

If ASCOPE is not a tool for the Civil Considerations of METT-TC mission variables and the operational variables are inappropriate for short term planning, then it is difficult to envision anything better that is simple and useable at lower echelons. There isn't enough information here about the alternatives to assess their superiority or ease of use.

One could speculate that an upfront surge supported by maneuver unit COISTs and other adequate information collection on the ground and in the air, can evaluate and gain support of the population. But if the President slowly introduces troops or tries to fight on the cheap through SF/SOF and airpower alone, disaster may ensue that prolongs conflict and does nothing to "win in a complex world." I will say that some supported units have taught Army unmanned aircraft operators to use slant reports which do not match the doctrinal format but do deal with the population. It also is inaccurate to depict precision airpower as inherently dangerous to populations. If anything the opposite often has occurred where endangered troops were left hanging too long without a sufficient indirect fire and air attack response.

Failure to control borders can also lead to new enemies. Foreign fighters arrive and join the fight. Other nations support insurgents if we are slow to stabilize and do not adequately exert influence. For instance, the "100 man shura" of one commander influencing villagers near COP Keating became more ineffective when outside influences from Pakistan threatened locals and disrupted the peace. A later company commander was more reluctant to use mortar fire for reconnaissance by fire due population concerns allowing fighters to gain closer footholds.

Finally, one might ask if there are no enemies out there, who is sending the night letters, beheading locals, raping/enslaving their women, and destroying antiquities of past civilizations. No savages there, and folks easily reasoned with you say??

J Bullock

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 7:47am

The doctrinal manuals cited within, although passed off as serious and intelligent publications, are in essence blueprints for the militarization of American foreign policy, and serve no real purpose, other than to further entrench the Army's role in said policy. In John Tirman's book "The Death's of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars" (2011, Oxford Press), he discusses a "frontier" mentality permeating the American and American military ethos, as well as a belief in the regenerative qualities of violence to build a better, democratized, in deed civilized world. Component to these twin myths is inevitably, the creation of "enemies", often characterized as savages in need of civilizing, even if cast subtly as such in the miasmic, cognitive clutter of the INFO Age. After all, if the task is to bring civilization to a savage frontier, then there must be savages on the frontier to civilize. The disturbing and unutterable upshot being of course, that it takes one to know one. Have we made the enemy we wanted....and it is us?

Three current publications underscore the specious nature of Army doctrine. The COIN triplets, 3-24, 3-24.2, and the new arrival ATP 3-24.3, essentially cite the population as the center of gravity for the COIN force, the so-called 'hearts and minds' of late 20th Century, counter-insurgency lore. But, the center of gravity OF the COIN force is the US Army BCT or Marine RCT. This is a combat force, trained and equipped to kill people, and when it is placed in live operational environments, that is what it is going to do. When it is placed in a live COIN environment, the commingling of "enemies" and populations, as MAJ Standford alludes to from ADRP 3-0, virtually guarantees the COIN force will kill the people it has been sent to 'protect'. History has proven this. For doctrine which purports to underlie operational practice that places local populations, the human beings present in the environment, as the operational priority, it is a curious outcome, yet one well known, even if undocumented by the DoD.

Thusly equipped with such theoretical double edged swords, the operational force steps on to the human terrain, onto the new 21st Century frontier, where enemy centric intelligence merges friend and foe, amidst challenges to friendly force cultural values and norms. Where, despite the best intentions of America's sons and daughters, the enduring specter of the national mission transposes the savage nature of the old frontier, on to the new.