Small Wars Journal

The Future of Civil Affairs: Creating Regimental Order from Chaos

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 5:38am

The Future of Civil Affairs: Creating Regimental Order from Chaos

Assad A. Raza and Jerritt A. Lynn

Effectively expanding the competitive space requires combined actions with the U.S. interagency to employ all dimensions of national power. We will assist the efforts of the Departments of State, Treasury, Justice, Energy, Homeland Security, Commerce, USAID, as well as the Intelligence Community, law enforcement, and others to identify and build partnerships to address areas of economic, technological, and informational vulnerabilities.

 -- National Defense Strategy 2018[1]


History demonstrates that both state and non-state actors will exploit weak states, developing countries, and ungoverned territories to meet their strategic objectives. Recent examples include, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and ISIS’s recent attempt to establish a caliphate in ungoverned areas between Syria and Iraq, which at its peak included more than 10 million people[2]. While China is increasing its influence by exporting development projects like their Belt and Road initiative from Asia to Europe.[3]

Additionally, these examples demonstrate how adversaries are utilizing soft power to extend their influence beyond their borders, at a time when the U.S. is more skeptical about participating in nation-building and stability operations. For example, China has drastically expanded their financial and troop support to UN peacekeeping initiative, while the U.S. is decreasing support to the UN peacekeeping budget.[4] Also, within the past year, USAID and DoS assistance programs abroad have seen significant cuts to funding and their overall budgets. In July 2018, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper recommended eliminating the Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI), and the recently published Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR) proposes to reallocate authority for stability operations to DoS, with DoD only providing security and limited support.[5] It is difficult to imagine the DoS being able to adequately resource stability operations as their budget continues to be reduced. These recent changes to policy challenge DoD’s ability to quickly capitalize on their military successes across the range of military operations from the tactical level to a lasting victory at the strategic level. Considering these policy changes, DoD and its primary operational component, Special Operations must be prepared to fill resulting shortfalls from such changes.

Furthermore, DoD and Special Operations cannot ignore the realities that all military operations have a human aspect to them. According to ADP 3-0, dated October 16, 2017, “war is a fundamentally human endeavor, it is tied to the populations inhabiting the land domain.”[6] Similarly, in 1964 French military officer David Galula, in his book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, emphasized the importance of the local populations in warfare.  Hence, you cannot ignore that military actions will have an impact on the local populations and efforts towards understanding the populations across the range of military operations is just as important than ground combat operations themselves. Planning considerations for military operations are not only limited to stability operations but from steady-state activities, for example, security assistance programs, to large-scale combat operations. For Civil Affairs forces to better support a broader operational approach, they must be able to plan population-centric operations to support all ranges of military operations and integrated USEMB strategies.



To increase Civ-Mil cooperation in population-centric operations, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) should establish a subordinate joint command designed to plan Civil Affairs and Civil-Military Operation, enhance interorganizational cooperation with USG departments/agencies, and execute Civil Affairs/support Civil-Military missions worldwide to meet TSOCs, GCCs, and USEMBs requirements


Over the past 12 years, there has not been a unified command responsible for the planning, coordinating, integrating, and executing of Civil Affairs Activities to support USG objectives. In 2006, a division-sized headquarters, the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), also known as USACAPOC(A), transitioned from the United States Army Special Operations Command (Airborne), also known as USASOC, to the U.S. Army Reserve Command. In 2014, the only active duty Civil Affairs Brigade, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) in the Army was absorbed into the newly established division level command within USASOC, known as the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne). In 2011, The 85th Civil Affairs Brigade was created to support active conventional units. In 2017 the unit quickly deactivated, leaving only one active duty Civil Affairs Battalion, the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, who falls under the 16th Military Police Brigade for administrative purposes at Fort Bragg. This separation within the Civil Affairs Regiment increased the division within the branch, as each command has developed independently and no longer reflect the interests of the larger Civil Affairs Regiment.

Used initially to understand foreign policy decision making, concepts brought forth by Dr. Graham T. Allison’s can be utilized to understand better how the Civil Affairs Regiment is disadvantaged by its current bureaucratic placement. In Model III: Bureaucratic Politics, Allison states that the leaders who sit on top of organizations are not monolithic entities, but each has their right, as a player in a central, competitive game in which they are placed hierarchically.[7] Allison goes on to write that the players focus on intra-problems with no real strategic objectives, but make decisions based upon various conceptions of national, organizational, and personal goals. These key individuals, then have the power and capability to advocate, jockey, and politic for themselves and their organization.

Applying Allison’s Model III concept to the Civil Affairs Regiment exposes how it is currently disadvantaged. The Civil Affairs Regiment does not have a leader or key player sitting atop an organization bargaining on its behalf. Instead, the only two active duty brigades were placed in a position where the key individuals within the Civil Affairs Regiment are devoid of the power necessitated to compete with other players. Allison describes power as being comprised of three elements: bargaining advantage (formal authority and institutional backing), skill and will in using bargaining advantages, and other players’ perceptions of the first two.[8] Currently, Civil Affairs does not have individuals with the formal authority or institutional backing (highest rank is O6 in active duty), nor do they have the perception of being able to use their position to yield power. At this point, it is based heavily on the individual’s skill and will to use what little authority and backing they have. 

Further Political Scientist Francis Fukuyama’s book, State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, offers insight into organizational conflicts that occur as a result of differing interpretations on how to achieve a common goal.[9] Fukuyama’s book suggests that most organizational conflicts arise due to self-interests, authority, and disputes over who truly represents the interests of an organization.

The Civil Affairs Regiment has fallen victim to these organizational conflicts due to competing interests (funding, manning, and resourcing) and conflicting interpretations of what Civil Affairs does. Moreover, individuals within the different organizations continue to learn different interpretations of Civil Affairs due to their informal norms and group identities, which shape their perceptions and continuously increases divisions within the branch over time. These divisions have contributed to the fundamental problem that there is not a shared understanding throughout the regiment, which magnifies the institutional and operational challenges Civil Affairs has to support operational requirements.  

Unfortunately, the competing interests between all these organizations have increased the stovepipes within the Civil Affairs community. The establishment of these stovepipes was out of survival within their specific commands, which drastically impacts the greater Civil Affairs Regiment. Fukuyama in his book used an example of stovepipes when the Navy and Army both resisted the creation of the Air Force in 1948, in fear of their own survival, rather than considering what was best for DoD overall.[10] We are witnessing something similar within the Civil Affairs community, as each command continues to promote their interests, which may not reflect the interest of the greater Civil Affairs Regiment. These competing interests cause confusion within the different Civil Affairs units and the supported commanders as there are always uncertainties on how to best integrate Civil Affairs capabilities. 

Nowhere else in Special Operations does this uneven approach to training and manning exists. U.S. Army Special Forces, whether Active or National Guard, attend the same assessment and selection, the same training pipeline, and meet the same requirements. U.S. Navy SEALS approach training and manning similarly, so as to create a known and consistent product. This allows GCCs, TSOC CDRs, and GFCs the ability to know exactly what capabilities they have at their disposal. This is not the case with Civil Affairs. The training differences between Active SOF Civil Affairs and Reserve Civil Affairs allow for a disparity in product. While SOF Civil Affairs forces must attend assessment and selection, reserve soldiers do not. SOF Civil Affairs soldiers must go through language training, but reserve soldiers do not. The current SOF Civil Affairs pipeline takes about 12 months from assessment to graduation, whereas Reserve Civil Affairs soldiers complete their training within thirty days. This is not to disparage Civil Affairs soldiers in the reserves. However, there is a wide discrepancy in the capabilities of Civil Affairs soldiers that must be formally addressed and rectified. Otherwise, the disparity makes it easier for commanders to continue to dismiss the Civil Affairs asset at their disposal, as their capabilities and authorities aren’t known or consistent quantities.

Therefore, this ambiguity within Civil Affairs guarantees that this unique capability will never achieve its full potential. The only option to better align Civil Affairs interests is to establish a joint command who is responsible for providing a specially trained and organized Civil Affairs force to support DoD mission requirements.  


The Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 2000.13, Civil Affairs, states that USSOCOM acts as the joint proponent for Civil Affairs and “trains and organizes assigned Civil Affairs forces, and monitors their preparedness to carry out assigned missions of special operation forces.”[11] However, USSOCOM must coordinate with all branches of the armed services to ensure the completion of these Civil Affairs requirements before they support GCC/TSOC mission requirements. Hence, USSOCOM is dependent on the different services (Army/Navy) to recruit, organize, train, equip, mobilize, and sustain all Civil Affairs forces available with minimal oversight. This would work well if there was uniformity and set standards for training and equipping forces, but the lack of a shared understanding across the Civil Affairs community makes the forces available not as optimal. Additionally, this dependency causes USSOCOM not to have much input on the training and equipping of Civil Affairs forces, which contributes to the ambiguity on the type of support commanders receive.

Within each service, Civil Affairs units must compete with other military units for funding and resources to support training requirements. Yet, Civil Affairs units are usually struggling to secure the resources necessary to train effectively. With limited resources and funding, Civil Affairs units are left to train at a subpar level compared to other SOF partners. The reason behind this may be because component commanders assume risk on not training Civil Affairs units to a higher standard because their capability is difficult to measure compared to traditional military units. This puts Civil Affairs at a disadvantage, as they are competing with other groups whose outputs/effects are easier to measure in combat compared to influencing IPIs (Indigenous Populations & Institutions) that support USG objectives.  A good example is the lack of population-centric scenarios at the Combat Training Centers (CTC)[12] that could feed into the overall Unified Land Operation scenarios to increase the complexity and realism of the exercises. Hence, Civil Affairs units cannot effectively integrate with other military headquarters to demonstrate their value, which contributes to the lack of priority from higher echelons to invest in Civil Affairs training.   

One of the major challenges Civil Affairs forces have compared to other forces, is the difficulty in measuring their outputs. To better describe this, we apply a modified version of a framework developed by public policy experts Woolcock and Pritchett used to measure public sector outputs.[13] In the graph below, the y-axis refers to the output amount, and the x-axis is the transactions by branch. An example of a high output service is that of mechanics because you can measure if the equipment is serviceable immediately, like a tank or helicopter. An example of a low transaction with a high output service is that of medical personnel. A medic may not use his medical skills for months or years, but the day a mass casualty situation arises, he is prepared and saves lives. Even U.S. Army Special Forces activities are easier to measure, because their outputs are based on the number of indigenous partners recruited, trained, and equipped to conduct operations.  In comparison to Civil Affairs, you can have hundreds of engagements within the population and written thousands of reports, but the overall output is still difficult to measure. This is not to say Civil Affairs activities do not contribute to the overall operation, but it may be difficult to articulate your impact to a higher command that appreciates more physical and immediate data. The difficulty of measuring outputs can influence component commanders to take a risk on training and equipping Civil Affairs Forces.


In an effort to get optimal output from Civil Affairs, SOCOM should establish a joint command, not only to measure output but flatten and professionalize the force. A joint command can be the organization that develops a shared understanding of Civil Affairs throughout the regiment and synchronizes efforts to increase performance for the employment of this unique capability. A formal organization like this would provide Civil Affairs an active duty one-star command that can focus solely on optimization without the distractions of other capabilities influencing the use of Civil Affairs. Hence, Civil Affairs will be better prepared through training, education, and resources to integrate with interagency and SOF partners. 

Department leaders will adapt their organizational structures to best support the Joint Force. If current structures hinder substantial increases in lethality or performance, it is expected that Service Secretaries and Agency heads will consolidate, eliminate, or restructure as needed. The Department’s leadership is committed to changes in authorities, granting of waivers, and securing external support for streamlining processes and organizations.

--National Defense Strategy 2018[14]

Organize for Innovation 

In December 1980 the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was established, following the failed special operations-led hostage rescue in Iran. The failure was said to be caused by the lack of proper training, equipment, and interoperability between those units involved. JSOC was established to fix these issues by identifying special operations requirements, ensuring interoperability and equipment standardization, and coordinating training between different SOF partners in preparation to execute special operation missions.[15] A joint command, similar to JSOC, could be established to better organize, train, equip, and integrate Civil Affairs forces to meet DoDD 2000.13 and USSOCOM Directive 525-38 requirements. A joint command headquarters would also serve as a Joint Civil Military Operations Center (J-CMOC) to facilitate continuous coordination with key interagency partners (USAID/DoS) and other unified action partners. A Civil Affairs command at this level will ensure Civil Affairs can support TSOCs, GCCs, and USEMBs objectives worldwide appropriately.

The establishment of a Joint Information and Governance Command will provide SOCOM a subordinate command to have oversight of Civil Affairs training, validation, equipping, funding, and increased Civ-Mil cooperation to ensure Civil Affairs forces are prepared to conduct CAO across the range of military operations. This command will also require dedicated logistical support to coordinate movement of humanitarian assistance to increase responsiveness, and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) support to synchronize and coordinate with the overall Strategic Communication efforts.


The Joint Civil Military Operations Center would serve as an operational to strategic- level organization to maintain continuous coordination with interagency partners in support of TSOCs, GCCs, and USEMBs objectives. This operational center would facilitate cooperation with interagency partners in areas of common interest, promote a common civil operational picture, and enable sharing of critical information and resources to support population-centric operations.[16] All stakeholders who contribute to either foreign humanitarian assistance and stabilization activities throughout USG will bring their expertise and authorities to streamline solutions and resources to support USG objectives collectively. Ultimately, this provides commanders a unique capability to help resolve population-centric problems that could negatively impact military and civilian efforts.

Enhancing synchronization, coordination, and integration of Civil Affairs Operations to achieve unity of effort, requires the establishment of Civil Affairs Operations Centers (CAOC) focused on each geographic area of responsibility (AOR). This operations group would allow each CAOC to have situational understanding for all the CAO/CMO activities within their AORs with fewer distractions.  Moreover, it would better position Civil Affairs staffs to advise, assess, plan, and support each TSOCs/GCCs campaign plans and USEMBs strategies. The CAOC would monitor the employment of Civil Affairs forces and deconflict activities to mitigate duplication of efforts and facilitate unified actions in population-centric operations. Also, by working with the CMOC, they could identify requirements to establish ad hoc civil-military teams for both steady-state and contingency operations. An example of civil-military teaming includes the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) used in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the ad hoc coordination centers stood up for the humanitarian assistance disaster response in Haiti 2010.[17] The overall operations group would function as the primary coordinator and synchronizer of all CAO/CMO activities in all AORs, providing commanders a valuable resource to support their overall CMO goals and objectives.

In the age of acceleration, USSOCOM should prioritize a Civil Affairs education system to develop forces who can adapt to the ever-changing operational environment. Moreover, Civil Affairs is a unique capability within DoD who takes the lead with integrating civilian partners to complement military objectives. For that reason, Civil Affairs Officers and NCOs should have the opportunities to receive education outside of the traditional Professional Military Education (PME) model. Civil Affairs forces are directed to conduct interorganizational cooperation to synchronize activities with civilian agencies to leverage resources which support a commander’s objectives. However, Civil Affairs forces cannot effectively integrate with civilian agencies and establish a common understanding because tactical level military operations overshadow their knowledge of the problem. Civil Affairs forces must develop skills throughout their career to become strategic leaders to achieve unity of effort with interorganizational partners. Therefore, Civil Affairs should have more opportunities to attend masters producing programs in international relations, fellowship programs with USG departments and agencies, and courses offered by the Joint Special Operations University designed to prepare strategic level thinkers.  A training battalion at the joint level can manage and resource education opportunities for Civil Affairs forces to develop the skills necessary to integrate with civilian partners effectively.

Additionally, a training battalion could take the lead in developing scenarios and integrating population-centric injects into joint exercises to meet validation requirements for Civil Affairs Forces. As mentioned earlier in this paper, all CTC’s and joint training exercises are enemy-centric and lethally focused. A unit focused on developing a range of population-centric scenarios to complement military activities would benefit Civil Affairs forces and commanders participating in these exercises without putting the burden on them to plan and integrate. Integrating population-centric injects into training exercise will provide military commanders a better appreciation of the civil component and Civil Affairs capabilities across the range of military operations. Population-centric injects in exercises also offer USG departments and agencies an opportunity to train on ways to better integrate during military operations.

For Civil Affairs to quickly meet the immediate needs of the population to support a commander's objectives and create time and space until interorganizational partners take the lead, Civil Affairs forces must have access to a flexible funding source. Currently, Civil Affairs forces utilize the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) Appropriation which is DoD’s funds to support GCC’s use of humanitarian programs to meet security cooperation objectives.[18] Each combatant command annually requests OHDACA funds for each fiscal year and is managed at the GCC level once approved. However, the current management of OHDACA does not provide Civil Affairs forces the flexibility to reallocate funds to meet the immediate needs that arise. Another funding source is the use of the O & M funds conducted under Title 10, USC, Section 401, Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA).[19]

However, access to both funds continues to be a constant struggle due to bureaucracies and staffing from the tactical to operational level headquarters. A support battalion focused on support to CAO/CMO activities would centralize the process for all OHDACA and HCA requests, eliminating the bureaucracies and expediting approvals for funding. A dedicated support battalion for Civil Affairs forces would include a Resource Management Office (RMO), Contract Management Support, Movement Control Staff, and other specialized staff (Engineer, Medical, etc..) to provide overall management of Civil Affairs related funding to quickly support commanders on the ground. The Movement Control can also be the center point for coordinating transportation for USG departments and agencies, and non-governmental organizations humanitarian assistance cargo authorized under title 10 U.S.C., section 2561 and title 10 U.S.C., section 402, the Denton Program.[20]

To enhance USG strategic communications efforts, USSOCOM should also think to embed Psychological Operations (PSYOPs) and Public Affairs (PA) units to support CAO/CMO activities directly. Currently, information related capabilities like PSYOPs and PA are influenced by the commands they support. Hence, most PSYOP units are enemy focused, which makes requesting support for CAO/CMO activities strenuous at times. Having a unit dedicated to Civil Affairs forces would assist to effectively synchronize messaging and disseminate through all means (print, cyber, radio, tv) promptly. These forces would not be distracted by competing requests and messaging and provide them with a venue to synchronize population-centric messaging with interagency partners to inform and influence populations to support a commander’s or USEMBs objectives.


For Civil Affairs forces to fully optimize their capabilities and best support the joint forces, a centralized joint headquarters is necessary to alleviate the stovepipes that have developed over the years throughout USASOC and the Civil Affairs Regiment. A Joint Information and Governance Command would provide Civil Affairs forces educational opportunities to develop strategic leaders to better advise commanders on population-centric operations to complement tactical successes on the battlefield. This command would also have a Joint Civil Military Operations Center to enhance Civ-Mil collaboration and integration to achieve unity of effort worldwide. The command would also expedite the approval of funding and movement of humanitarian assistance to support commanders on the ground and buy time until other civilian agencies or local governments can take the lead. This operational headquarters would also be focused on population-centric problems with no distractions from other requirements, ensuring continuity for the implementation of Civil Affairs forces, resources, and long-term measurements of effects/outputs from these activities. The United States continuously wins the tactical fights to defeat the enemy, but to honestly win the strategic fight, commanders must set conditions for local populations to rebuild their lives and prevent the growth of extremists’ organizations and anti-U.S. sentiment in a hyperconnected world that could undermine military successes and overall U.S. foreign policy.

End Notes

[1] 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America. pg5 (Accessed 25 Aug 2018)

[2]BBC, Islamic State and the crisis in Iraq and Syria in maps. (Accessed 28 March 2018)

[3] Tweed, David, “China’s New Silk Road”, The Washington Post Online, 23 Aug 2018.  (Accessed 23 Aug 2018)

[4] Pauley, Logan, “China Takes the Lead in Peacekeeping”, The Diplomat Online, 17 Apr 2018. (Accessed 10 Aug 2018)

[5] Goodson, Jeff, Defense Department Wants out of Stability Operations, The Hill, opinion, 7 Aug 2018.   (Accessed 10 Aug 2018).

[6] ADP 3-0, Operations, dated 6 Oct 2017. pg 2 (Accessed 2 Sep 2018)

[7] Allison, Graham, “Conceptual Model and the Cuban Missile Crisis”, The American Political Science Review Vol. 63, No. 3, 1969.

[8] Ibid., pg 709.

[9] Fukuyama, Francis, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, (Cornell University Press, May 2004). pg 52.

[10] Ibid., pg 54

[11] Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 2000.13, Civil Affairs (CA), change 1, dated 15 May 2017.

[12] Combat Training Center Directorate (CTCD) facilitates the validation, administration and integration of the Army’s Combat Training Center (CTC) program and its three maneuver CTCs (National Training Center, Joint Readiness Training Center and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center) and Mission Command Training Program worldwide deployable CTC.

[13] Woolcock, Michael and Pritchett, Lant, Solutions When Solutions is the Problem: Arraying the Disarray in Development, (Washington, DC: Center for Global Development Paper 10, 2002).

[14] 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America. pg10

[15] The Joint Special Operations Command is a sub-unified command of the U.S. Special Operations Command. It is charged to study Special Operations requirements and techniques, ensure interoperability and equipment standardization, plan and conduct Special Operations exercises and training, and develop joint Special Operations tactics. (Accessed 31 Aug 2018)

[16] Joint Publication 3-08, Interorganizational Cooperation, dated 12 Oct 2016. (Accessed 2 Sep 2018)

[17] Joint Publication 3-57, Civil-Military Operations, dated 9 Jul 2018. (Accessed 5 Sep 2018)

[18] For more detailed discussion of OHDACA funds and FHA authorities in general, see JP 3-29, Foreign Humanitarian Assistance.

[19] For more information on HCA, refer to DODI 2205.02, Humanitarian and Civic Assistance, and JP 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense.

[20] The Denton program permits the Defense Department to provide transportation of privately donated humanitarian assistance cargo to foreign countries using military transportation on a space-available basis. The program is authorized under the Jeremiah Denton Amendment to title 10 U.S.C., section 402. There is no cost to the donating agency or organization for U.S. Government transportation-related costs.


About the Author(s)

Major Assad Raza is an Active Duty Civil Affairs Officer in the United States Army. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Tampa, a M.A. in Diplomacy w/concentration in International Conflict Management from Norwich University, and is a graduate of The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation Command and General Staff Officer Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter: @assadraza12

Sergeant First Class Jerritt Lynn is an Active Duty Civil Affairs Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in the United States Army currently serving in the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne). He holds a B.A. in History w/minor in International Relations in which he graduated magna cum laude from Columbia College and earned a M.A. in Strategic Security Studies from the National Defense University, in which he received honors distinction for his thesis The Proliferation of Space Activities and a New U.S. Space Strategy.