Small Wars Journal

Operationalizing the Decisive Point: Operation OQAB “Eagle” – Combined and Unified Action

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 12:06am


Operationalizing the Decisive Point: Operation OQAB “Eagle” – Combined and Unified Action

John C. Hale

“The fight against the guerrilla must be organized methodically and conducted with

unremitting patience and resolution. Except for the rare exception, it will never

achieve spectacular results, so dear to laurel seeking military leaders.”

-- Roger Trinquier. Modern Warfare—a French View of Counterinsurgency. 1964.[i]

Trinquier accurately assessed that a deliberate and methodical process must be conducted, to defeat an insurgency that does not present a single decisive battle that turns the tide of war. The development of a methodical campaign plan for Counter-insurgency (COIN) requires planners to use a new method of thinking in the way they approach their mission. Campaign Design for COIN incorporates many non-traditional aspects to planning that many have practiced in the field yet have not be codified into doctrine until recently.[ii] Design as a concept has been around military circles for decades, however recently the Army has incorporated it into our doctrine for both COIN and the operations process.[iii] In the development of 101st Airborne Division’s campaign concept for Regional Command East (RC-E), the planning team merged traditional MDMP and Design to develop a comprehensive non-linear campaign concept to address the challenges we are currently facing in Afghanistan. This campaign concept sought to provide Brigade and Battalion Commander’s a framework for the conduct of COIN in RC-E through describing how and where they should maximize effects on the battlefield, at the decisive point, to achieve the decisive operation.[iv] The decisive point in COIN is the cognitive shift of the population away from the insurgency and toward the government, encompassing a combination of factors and conditions composing the focal point at which resources are synchronized and focused to mass the desired effects on the population. The goal of the decisive point in COIN should be to gain irreversible momentum for the government against the insurgency, while denying the insurgents ability to maintain and sustain his base of support. The generation of this momentum begins slowly but can be conducted simultaneously throughout an area of operation to generate mass effect over time and indirectly affecting adjacent areas. The start point for the development of the 101st ABN Division’s campaign plan was the examination of the environment of RC-E and the ISAF / IJC orders.

Regional Command East

Regional Command - East is roughly the size of Virginia (twice the size of Bosnia-Herzegovina), has 450 miles of border with Pakistan, a population of over 7 million (3 times the size of Bosnia Herzegovina) and surrounds the national capital of Kabul (population 3 million). There are 14 provinces and 160 districts of which 45 are designated by IJC as Key Terrain.[v] The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in RC-E is composed of two Afghan National Army (ANA) Corps, two Afghan National Police (ANP) Regions and two Afghan Border Police (ABP) Zones. RC-E has seven coalition brigades, fourteen Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) and enablers totaling 28,000 troops.

With the population as the centerpiece of our COIN strategy, we recognize the Afghan population as a complex adaptive system.[vi] 45 of IJC’s 88 KTD’s reside in RC-E, and with that 77% of the Pashtu population in RC-E reside the KTDs. RC-E is a mixed urban and rural area with competing and complimentary interests centered on the age-old competition between traditional ways of life and the transition to a modern secular society. Although agriculture in RC-E comprises the income of 80% of the population, the urban centers of Jalalabad, Ghazni, and Khost represent cultural hubs and centers of commerce for the rural communities. The tribal and Pashtu influence in RC-E is significant, however it is not an all encompassing or unifying component within the environment.[vii] The root causes of instability vary in RC-E, however the lack of security, justice and opportunity dominate the reasons for the population to support insurgent versus Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). The lack of GIRoA capacity to provide government solutions or support traditional solutions to address these root causes of instability is a contributing factor to the overall instability in RC-E. This environment requires tailored solutions to the issues with-in RC-E, district by district, valley by valley and tribe by tribe. The population’s perception of the Coalition, GIRoA, the Insurgency and other actors is a critical component in understanding RC-E and its environment.

RC-E’s 450-mile border with Pakistan includes the FATA, and Waziristan. The presence of Pakistani troops in this region has grown from 30,000 in 2005 to 130,000 by 2010, indicating the level of importance the Pakistani government sees in this area.[viii] The FATA contains insurgent groups that threaten both the GIRoA and the Government of Pakistan.   

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Perceptions by the population that the coalition seeks to implement western solutions and institutions challenge traditional governance and culture in Afghanistan and form the basis of distrust of coalition forces by the people. The population’s perception that the coalition is kinetic/security focused, isolated from the Afghan people, traveling fast in large armored convoys, conducting night raids, and causing civilian casualties furthers the level of distrust by the people. Civilian casualties (CIVCAS) are a major influence in the population’s perception of Coalition ways and means in Afghanistan. Although the insurgents cause 90% of CIVCAS, the population perceives the coalition is causing the vast majority civilian casualties. Lastly, the perception that coalition forces are not in Afghanistan for the “long haul” in support of Afghan goals vs. Coalition goals. These perceptions foster an isolation of the coalition from the population in effect creating cultural casualties, thereby hampering effective engagement at the local level and effective COIN.

The population generally perceives GIRoA as being corrupt, ineffective and catering to Coalition and western desires vice those of the people. The people also see GIRoA as Kabul centric with little concern for the rural population and their challenges. Weak Afghan security institutions lack the ability to protect the people from insurgents; this feeling is particularly acute in perceptions of the ANP, and the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) specifically. The weakness and lack of professionalism in the AUP can be traced to the fact that 80% have received no formal training and lack the weapons and equipment to defend themselves against insurgents. The lack of development and governance further the population’s perception of a government separated from the people and lacks the capability to provide for basic services and dispute resolution.

Multiple external actors influence the Afghan population; the predominant ones are Pakistan, Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) and the international media. Pakistan is a partner in the disruption of insurgent freedom of movement and sanctuary; however the flow of support to the Afghan insurgency has not stopped and tacit support from some rogue elements of the Pakistani security forces to the insurgency reinforces the populations concern about long-term coalition commitments to Afghanistan. The perception of various NGO’s goals and agendas is at times in conflict with local, national desires and coalition plans, resulting in mismanagement of aid, fostering corruption, contradictory messages and the failure to meet the requirements of the local population. 

The insurgency consists of a complex network of groups, with complimentary as well as, competing agendas.[ix] The threat in RC-E is not solely based on the insurgent, but by factors such as corruption, poor governance, and lack of opportunity. The insurgent focus on exploiting negative perceptions of GIRoA and Coalition forces is their main effort. The insurgencies attacks are supporting efforts designed to gain traditional and nontraditional media attention and to attack the will of both Western and Afghan populations to combat the insurgency. The insurgency’s ability to fill the void of GIRoA governance through shadow governments in certain areas / circumstances perpetuates the perception that GIRoA cannot provide for the people. The shadow governments lack the ability to provide long term or sustainable governance solutions and are vulnerable when they attempt to implement control of a geographic area. The threat in RC-E is not uniform. In the northern provinces of RC-E, it is a “toxic stew of insurgent groups” including Al Qeada (AQ),   Hez-bi Islami (HIG), Tehrik Taliban-i Pakistan (TTiP), Afghan Taliban, Haqqani and  Tehrik-e-Nefaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM).[x] The southern provinces of RC-E consist of Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network.

The Haqqani Network (HQN) operates almost exclusively in RC-E and has a developed network in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.[xi] Its origins date back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, indicating its resiliency and ability to sustain operations. HQN has developed into a bridge between several insurgent groups in RC-E, manipulating each group to increase its own strength and expand its influence.[xii] Traditionally located in the Khost and Paktya area, HQN has expanded some operations into Nangahar and Logar. Despite its failure to deliver a tactical victory in its attacks on coalition bases, HQN has been able to spread its influence through its ability to manipulate local populations through threats, intimidation and information.[xiii] HQNs heavy-handed tactics have resulted in some fissures within the populations previously sympathetic to it.[xiv] HQN remains an influential insurgent group despite these failures, primarily due its leadership living safely within the Federal Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan. HQN continues to be a significant threat to the Afghan population, primarily due to their use of suicide bombers and vehicular bomb attacks in urban areas.

The operational environment in RC-E is a complex and dynamic environment with GIRoA and the Coalition competing for the populations support against the Taliban and its allied groups. This competition is occurring in a region that lacks basic infrastructure and that in many areas has not changed in over 100 years. The terrain provides significant advantage to the insurgency including a safehaven across the border. Although there are significant urban areas, the population is primarily rural relying on subsistence agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. RC-E surrounds Kabul, and is therefore the first key area to consider in the expansion of influence beyond the capital. Cultural considerations for the population show strong tribal identities, a deeply religious connections, a strong sense of honor and desire for justice. Within this environment, the Coalition seeks to bolster and expand GIRoA to secure its own population and deny the insurgency and terrorists a sanctuary from which they can operate.

ISAF / IJC Strategy

ISAF and IJC developed an operational COIN strategy that is population centric as opposed to an insurgent focused strategy.[xv] The population is the objective and the insurgency is an obstacle to be overcome in achieving this objective. This strategy does not ignore the threat of insurgent forces but seeks to separate the population from the insurgency through the population’s protection, and the increased economic and development opportunities provided through GIRoA. The strategy focuses on establishing security in Kandahar as the main effort, with supporting and shaping operations in Regional Command-East, while conducting economy of force in Regional Command’s West and North.[xvi] IJC developed a construct of Key Terrain Districts as a method of implementing this population centric strategy.

IJC initially identified 41 KTDs in RC-E, which through improvement can provide a marked advantage to GIRoA and a marked disadvantage to the insurgency. The IJC operational concept links select KTD’s and populations to GIRoA and improves development and governance through improved security. The IJC Pakistan Focus area is designed to create synergistic effects on both sides of the border benefiting both Pakistani and Afghan populations through improved security and economic opportunity. Key Terrain Districts are districts that have significant population, sit astride key ground lines of communication, and possess economic / developmental potential. These areas were seen as the objective for both the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and the insurgency.[xvii] The KTDs represent source of power for both, via the population. In examining the terrain and environment of RC-E, several common factors became apparent. First provincial capitals accounted for 10 of 45 KTDs in RC-E. These capitals had a measure of successful security, governance and development due to the resources that had been applied to them over time. Second, the KTD’s generally followed the lines of communication between Kabul and the provincial capitals. Third, the KTDs were developed in coordination with GIRoA to ensure a synchronized focus for both coalition and Afghan efforts. The KTD construct sharpened the IJC campaign concept to focus on these key LOCs with significant population sympathetic to the insurgency, something the mission in Afghanistan had lacked since the beginning of the war.

In support of the ISAF and IJC Main Effort in RC-S, CJTF-101 focus is on IJC Supporting Effort located in the Highway 7 Corridor linking Kabul through Torkham Gate (IJC priority 1 Border Crossing) to Pakistan, this effort also links Kabul to Economy of Force operations in RC N and RC-W. The IJC Shaping effort along the Highway 1 Corridor links Kabul to the IJC Main Effort in RC-S and connects Kabul to Kandahar to expand GIRoA influence. This area is shaped through partnership with ANSF, while maintaining development and governance improvements in select KTDs. Highway 1 is also a principle interior GLOC for the expansion of GIRoA influence outside of Kabul, not only to Kandahar, but also to the Paktya and Khost Provinces. The IJC Pakistan Focus area is designed to create synergistic effects on both sides of the border benefiting both Pakistani and Afghan populations through improved security and economic opportunity and is focused adjacent to RC-E.

The challenge with the above strategy is that it is not truly population centric. The areas with the most potential for progress, expansion of GIRoA governance, and population are not in the main effort. It also focuses on a clear, hold, build, develop construct. The approach of “Clear, Hold, Build” is appropriate to RC-S, but these activities been occurring simultaneously throughout RC-E for some time and the area is more suitable for a Combined Action approach.[xviii] The level of development and maturity of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is significantly greater in RC-E further supporting a Combined Action approach to both develop those forces and secure the population. The Main Effort / Supporting Effort model used by IJC can communicate an all or nothing application of resources. It also fails to fully describe the larger context of the campaign and how different areas require different resources to achieve the desired effects. The environment and desired goals dictated CJTF-101 examine the ability of the government to spread its influence within areas where security forces have established conditions for governance/development while shaping areas for further expansion.

Campaign Adjustments and 45 Day Assessment

“This campaign plan revision does not mark a change in RC-E strategy. Rather, it recognizes the importance of governance and security provided by GIRoA at the local level, enabled by a competent police force and credible government officials…preserve the gains made with the Afghan National Army, and achieve similar results with the Afghan Border Police and Uniformed Police.”_

-- MG John F. Campbell, CJTF-101 Campaign Strategy, 31 July 2010[xix]

CJTF-101 initially developed its commander’s mission and intent during pre-deployment campaign plan development.  Following assumption of the mission in RC-E the leadership and staff realized the environment and integration of the civilian platform had not been fully evaluated.  This gap in knowledge required the staff to conduct a 45-day assessment to revise the analysis of the environment and integrate all aspects of the civilian platform into the campaign plan.  This assessment generated four main areas for revision.

The first was the mission statement. Initially the mission included a target date of July 2011. During a briefing to GEN Petraeus, he stated that the July 2011 date could cause uncertainty in both our Afghan partners and within the coalition. Upon review of the mission statement, the reference to July 2011 was deleted while retaining the goal of establishing conditions to begin transition to GIRoA. 

The second area was the commander’s intent. The intent was broadened and rebranded the “Unified Intent” to fully nest both the military and civilian component. The recognition was made also that our focus on the Afghan Uniformed Police was critical in establishing security, governance at the district level was also essential for sustainable stability. Our original campaign design had elements addressing neutralization of the insurgency. This aspect was present, but it was determined that the campaign design needed to focus on neutralizing the insurgency to set overall conditions for stability in the KTDs.   The final area within the intent that required additional emphasis was the progress on several strategic infrastructure projects, some of which had been begun two years ago and were yet to be completed (Gardez – Ghazni Road, Khost-Gardez Road, and National Electric Power System). These projects needed increased focus by the RC HQ, ANSF and the Task Forces to ensure they remained on schedule.

The third area is the overall campaign design. The original decisive point determined during pre-deployment planning was the Afghan Uniformed Police located at the District level. This determination came from the assessment of progress with the ANA, while the AUP lacked training and focused coalition partnership. Additionally, the Police were seen as the most visible sign of GIRoA to the population. Through focusing on AUP development and partnership, CJTF-101 saw the expansion of public confidence in GIRoA’s ability to provide for the populations needs at the district level, thereby expanding GIRoA influence. A larger holistic look at the District Level showed focus on AUP to only address part of the problem. There were significant gaps in basic governance and rule of law at the District level that could not be overcome through AUP development. Based on Civ-Mil integration and a better understanding of the operating environment, the CJTF identified the need to adjust our decisive point to be more holistic, broadening it to include civilian resources in addition to military resources. The restructuring of the decisive point allowed the application of a comprehensive approach to address the varied root causes of instability found throughout RC-E.  The campaign design itself was validated within the construct of four shaping operations to achieve a single decisive point, gaining the populations trust in GIRoA.

The fourth area requiring modification of the campaign plan was assessing RC-E force posture for the conduct of population centric COIN. Several friendly force units were located in low population areas and outside of KTD’s. In examining these locations, one could not use population as the sole metric. RC-E developed a relative ranking of both KTDs and force location based on three criteria. These criteria consist of 1) the assessment of current conditions in the area (Security/Governance/Development), 2) the value of that terrain to both friendly and enemy forces, and 3) the ability to affect the population. It was determined in this assessment several locations had been maintained over time simply because those locations primarily focused on the enemy. The challenge with these locations was that they did not possess sufficient combat power to effectively conduct COIN operations from those locations. RC-E also examined the role and employment of Brigade Headquarters. The southern area of RC-E has grown from having one US Brigade covering six provinces to four Brigades (3 US, 1 Coalition) since 2008. The northern area of RC-E saw a modest increase from one US Brigade to three Brigades (2 US, 1 Coalition) covering eight provinces. It was determined that over time the northern area of operation had not been resourced to fully address the complexity and pace of operations. Areas where friendly forces were unable to effectively conduct COIN were identified and through realigning these forces to KTD’s or consolidating them, RC-E can more effectively execute both the RC-E and IJC campaign plan.

Game Changers

During the original campaign design process and the 45-day assessment the CJTF identified several areas that both required command focus and offered the potential to significantly change the dynamics in RC-E. These Game Changers became the CJTF level fights, areas for direct influence and management by the CJTF. They offer the potential either individually or in concert with others to create irreversible momentum in favor of GIRoA highlighting the inevitability of its success.

The CJTF level focus within the security line of operations focuses on enabling the AUP through combined action while sustaining the ANA. Maximize the surge of coalition forces to enable the shift in focus to the AUP while increasing Afghan freedom of movement. Focus on District reinforcement to separate the insurgents from the population while providing a secure platform for the expansion of governance and development at the District Level. Extend the reach of GIRoA through support for the Afghan Local Police Initiative, expanding the security footprint from the District Center to surrounding villages.  Connect key populations to both centers of commerce and to their government through strategic infrastructure (G-G /K-G Roads). Support the Afghan Reintegration and Reconciliation Program to enable sustainable Afghan political solutions with the insurgency. Deny safehaven in Pakistan to insurgents through engagement with PAKMIL to conduct complimentary operations with ANSF. Reenergize our information and communications efforts focusing our partnership and commitment to Afghanistan, the inevitability of GIRoAs success over the insurgency and the fact that insurgents cause 90% of civilian casualties, These game changers all reinforce the ability of RC-E to impact the revised decisive point, the neutralization of the insurgency sufficiently so that it can no longer isolate the population from the legitimate government and that governance at the district level in KTDs is increasing the populations trust in GIRoA.

Unified Mission and Intent

RC-E as a unified team in full partnership with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and in coordination with other Afghan institutions, joint, interagency and multinational organizations conducts population centric, comprehensive counterinsurgency operations focused on key terrain to neutralize the insurgency, increase the competency and credibility of Afghan institutions, and facilitate development to set the security and stability conditions to begin transition to GIRoA.[xx]  We will protect the population in RC-E by, with and through Afghan institutions to separate the insurgency from the population. We will work with Afghans to gain the population’s trust in GIRoA officials using the District Centers in KTDs as the platform for establishing the conditions necessary to begin transition IAW with ISAF transition plan. Our measures of success will focus on the populations belief in the legitimate government, AUP and district governance represented by the district center perceived as capable, credible and secure, the Afghan people able to move freely, the ANA postured to assume security responsibility, the Insurgency neutralized allowing the population to support GIRoA, Strategic infrastructure projects unimpeded by security threats, indicators of business, agriculture and standards of living are rising, and that corrupt official in KTDs are held accountable.

RC-E Concept of Operations

“For it is in the nature of warfare…that the initiative must be maintained, that the

regular army must lead while its adversaries follow, and that the enemy must be

made to feel a moral inferiority throughout. There must be no doubt as to which side

is in the ascendant, no question as to who controls the general course of the war…”

-- C. E. Callwell, Small Wars, 1896[xxi]

The RC-E concept of this operation is to protect the population in Key Terrain Districts. The turning point in this conflict occurs when the people of Afghanistan reject the insurgency physically and psychologically and accept GIRoA as the legitimate authority in Afghanistan. As such, the decisive operation is to gain the Afghan people’s trust in GIRoA’s capability and credibility and their commitment to resist INS influence and activity in selected priority districts within each KTD corridor.  The decisive operation is conducted throughout the RC simultaneously with the organic resources each Task Force is assigned. RC-E achieves this decisive operation through synchronizing security, governance and development throughout the RC while neutralizing the insurgency in KTDs through combined action. This is decisive because no amount of economic growth, governance capacity, or security operations will have enduring effects if the population does not cognitively align with GIRoA.

The decisive point is when the population in the KTDs rejects insurgent activity and influence while accepting the legitimacy and authority of GIRoA. We will operationalize this by executing our operations along our six lines of effort: Protect the Population, Bolster Capacity and Credibility of Afghan Government Institutions, Support Socio-economic Development, Enable Afghan Security Forces, Neutralize Negative Influences, and Information. The decisive point is when the population in the KTDs views AUP as competent and trustworthy, and the ANP capacity is sufficient to handle threats to stability. This decisive point is measurable by survey data, and other indicators such as population cooperation WRT IED emplacement, where the people are turning for dispute resolution, and whom the population turns to when they have an emergency.

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Shaping Operation 1 is the expansion of governance and development in KTDs along Hwy 7 by neutralizing the insurgency through Combined Action with the ANSF and enabling GIRoA through Unified Action focusing on existing institutions at the District Level and protecting the afghan people’s freedom of movement, in order to gain the populations trust in GIRoA and increase their economic opportunities. Additionally, this area has already seen a great deal of development and has semi-functioning governance structures in place that will facilitate further expansion. Shaping Operation 1 is the IJC Supporting Effort along the Highway 7 corridor. Highway 7 is the principle revenue source for GIRoA through customs collection and links Kabul to Islamabad and subsequent export routes for Afghan goods. Torkham Gate is the number 1 priority crossing point for IJC and contributes through customs up to 20% of Afghan Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The area is also the most densely populated in RC-E comprising the largest population in RC-E’s KTD’s. The region has significant agricultural and economic potential, as well as facilitating the connection of Kabul to markets in Pakistan and India. The corridor represents a significant opportunity for the expansion of revenue and economic growth for GIRoA as well as, demonstrating GIRoAs ability to provide security, services and governance to the population. This opportunity influences the population in Pakistan also, as border traffic increases. This shaping effort focuses on development and governance to increase economic opportunity and increase GIRoA penetration and competence in the corridor, while continuing to improve the security situation. This effort also recognizes RC-E AO influences Kabul as the center of government.

Shaping Operation 2 secures Freedom of Movement through combined and unified action along HWY 1 in order to facilitate economic opportunity in these KTDs with a focus on Ghazni. This area of KTD’s represents the second highest population density for RC (E) and supports the IJC ME in RC(S). FOM along this economic corridor is critical for three reasons. First, it is the primary flow of people, guns, and money to the INS in RC(S). Second, it is a principal artery for commerce generating in the Kandahar area and flowing north to Kabul. Because of this, FOM along this HWY will provide the greatest likelihood of development and growth for the population in these KTDs. Shaping Operation 2 is the IJC Shaping Effort along Highway 1. This corridor is an area of an agrarian population with several key urban centers. The importance of the corridor is the facilitation of GIRoA connection to Kandahar, and influence of GIRoA beyond Kabul. This corridor is also an avenue used by the insurgency both to affect the IJC ME and the Capital in Kabul. As a corridor, there is significant opportunity to increase development and spread GIROA influence through demonstrated progress.

Shaping Operation 3 is to secure Freedom of Movement through combined and unified action along the economic corridor from the Ghulam Khan Border Crossing Point (GK BCP) to HWY 1 in order to increase stability and provide opportunity for the population in these KTDs. KTDs in this area represent the greatest challenges for security and growth. The GK BCP and the Khost- Gardez Pass road have potential to significantly increase the economic opportunity for the population here. Additionally, connecting this region with the economic center in Ghazni via the Ghazni-Gardez road, and on to Kabul links this area of significant population to the government. This corridor is a component of the IJC shaping effort from Ghulam Khan to Highway 1 and Kabul. This corridor is primarily agrarian but has several key urban centers with the potential of increased economic opportunities with improved security in the KTDs. The ability to develop both economic and governance opportunity is linked to infrastructure and the populations freedom of movement. This area is also a source of insurgent flow and shadow government competing with GIRoA. This corridor provides an opportunity to tie Highway 7, and Highway 1 into a comprehensive engine of economic development and governance for GIRoA while demonstrating GIRoAs commitment to the population.

Shaping Operation 4 sustains progress made in Bamian, Parwan, and Panjshir and to expand the gains in security and governance and development. These efforts will continue to prepare these provinces for Transition. These provinces are relatively secure, and the Afghan National Police are the primary means of conducting security operations. Security partnership is focused at the Provincial Police Headquarters to solidify ANSF capacity and capability. ANA presence is limited and used primarily for quick reaction force operations and targeted raids in partnership with coalition special operations forces.  Governance and Development efforts are enabled through civilian led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). The PRTs focus is on establishing sustainable long-term development opportunities for the population while reinforcing the GIRoA capacity to govern and provide rule of law. Briefing LTG Doug Lute, on this concept brought this positive feedback, “There is clarity of your analysis that is not present in your Higher Headquarters.”

Scheme of Maneuver

The RC-E scheme of maneuver was developed to further hone the concept of operation and describe how each shaping operation linked to the decisive operation through the decisive point. The primary focus of the scheme of maneuver was to codify actions both in the KTDs and in non-KTDs area. It also described our goals in relation to the campaign plan for accomplishment by May 2011 and necessary conditions that must be in place for the further accomplishment of the expansion of GIRoA influence. Lastly, the scheme of maneuver links the persistent presence of security forces in the KTDs to the repetitive raiding of insurgent targets and lines of infiltration in non-KTDs.[xxii]

Reinforcing the campaign approach of combined action, RC-E seeks to neutralize the insurgency by, with and through ANSF (Shoulder to Shoulder) while reinforcing areas that have shown progress.  This is to be by the conduct of offensive shaping operations to set conditions for the expansion of security from select areas. We achieve this by attacking the network in the KTD’s to neutralize and attacking the network to disrupt the insurgency in non-KTDs. RC-E continues interdiction of cross border infiltration routes from Pakistan and protects Afghan freedom of movement along major highways. These operations outside the KTD’s establish conditions for future expansion of GIRoA beyond the KTDs.

RC-E expands and reinforces areas that have shown both a willingness to support GIRoA and established conditions that facilitate development. This expansion is conducted simultaneously from Kabul into districts of Wardak, Logar, Sarobi and Laghman. In Nangahar, the gains in Jalalabad are expanded west to link into the Kabul Security Zone. From Ghazni the focus of expansion is to the east toward Sharan and Orgun. The expansion of governance from Khost seeks to link in to Gardez and then into southern Logar. These focus areas create clusters of progress connecting the population to GIRoA from the sub-national to the national level along those corridors that present the greatest potential for sustainable progress along all lines of effort.

Through these efforts, RC-E establishes key conditions for future growth and expansion. These conditions relate to the development of infrastructure, enabling the ANSF, and development of GIRoA institutional capability for governance. The condition-setting component of the scheme of maneuver allows for the continuation of expansion and key enabling programs beyond May 2011.

Critical infrastructure projects that allow for the expansion of GIRoA influence include the Khost-Gardez Road, Gardez – Ghazni Road, Salang Tunnel, Electrification, and Border crossing point development at Torkham Gate and Ghulam Khan. Road construction is a vehicle for the expansion of security and governance to these populations linking clusters of districts to the provincial capital and to Kabul.[xxiii] The ANSF will continue to be enabled through planned expansion and alignment within the force structure, expansion of the ALP Initiative, and the coordination between Coalition, ANSF and Pakistan military for complimentary border operations. GIRoA is enabled through coalition assistance in establishment of rule of law programs and centers, the coalition civilian uplift focused on District Reinforcement, and support of the Afghan reintegration program.

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The scheme of maneuver depicts the actualization of the decisive operation and decisive point through the simultaneous expansion of governance through shaping with combined action. It highlights the role of enemy focused operations within the campaign to not only neutralize the insurgency, but also develop capacity in the ANSF to combat local threats to stability. The expansion of security from Kabul and provincial capitals links GIRoA to the population over the main lines of commerce facilitating the development of economic opportunity. The strategic infrastructure projects identified in the scheme of maneuver are not just roads, but avenues for the expansion of security, the extension of GIRoA influence, and for freedom of movement for the population. Conditions that must be established and monitored for long-term expansion and maintenance of security gains highlight the enduring aspects of the fight in RC-E.

Combined and Unified Action[xxiv] [xxv]

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably

than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it

for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical

work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”

-- T.E. Lawrence, 27 Articles[xxvi]

Combined and Unified Action are means to achieve our decisive operation through the decisive point. Both actions are inherently tied together and complimentary. Neither alone can produce decisive results. Combined and Unified Action are a comprehensive coordinated effort to get the right resources across our Lines of Effort to the right place and at the right time to set conditions for success in KTDs. RC-E seeks to establish good enough conditions to enable expansion of governance and development. The synchronization of Combined Action and Unified Action to achieve decisive results is by with and through GIRoA, synchronized with IJC IAW the road map for development. Comprehensive application of both military and civilian resources is necessary to directly affect the population in a positive way. This close partnership serves to reinforce those institutions and individuals performing well while shoring up faltering ones and marginalizing those working against GIRoA. The application of Combined and Unified Action is conducted broadly throughout RC-E, maintaining a focus on key terrain and maintaining the ability to focus combat power to neutralize the insurgency in non- key terrain districts. [xxvii]   

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CJTF-101 partners with both GIRoA governance and security elements to increase capability and capacity, and tie tribal and local concerns to GIRoA. Combined Action focuses on ANSF with priority to AUP elements in KTDs.  TACs mentorship focuses on 202nd / 505th AUP in conjunction with supporting ANA and Border Zones 1 and 2.  Priorities to improve ANSF Combined Action are through the District Centers, Provincial Police Headquarters, Operational Coordination Center – Provincial (OCC-P), and OCC – Regional (OCC-R).  The security focus assists local governance efforts to secure the populace and puts the most visible form of GIRoA, the AUP, up front. 

CJTF-101 Leaders focus on improving leadership and management from the local to Provincial level. Combined Action focuses on ANSF in priority, specifically expanding the CJTF 101 TAC’s mentorship to focus on 202st / 505th ANP and Border Zones 1 and 2 to affect our decisive point and developing Combined Action (ANA/AUP) mechanisms to address local security concerns. Vehicles to improve ANSF Combined Action are through the District Police HQ, Provincial Police HQ, OCC-R’s and OCC-P’s. This security focus demonstrates initial GIRoA capability to secure the population and puts the most visible form of GIROA, the AUP, up front; however, synchronization of Unified Action to deliver improved governance and economic activity demonstrates both GIRoAs long term commitment and that of the international community. With limited resources in both IJC and RC-E, select KTDs are the priority. Setting conditions for introduction of Afghan programs to demonstrate capability. This however, does not change the RC-E focus in all KTD’s along our lines of effort within our resource constraints.

This effort at synchronization with all coordinating elements is essential to success. RC-E remains nested to IJC priorities, while assessing progress in other KTD’s. Coordination between SOF and PAKMIL is also essential at achieving synergy between Unified and Combined action to improve the condition of the population.

The synchronization of Combined and Unified Action is critical in the demonstration of GIRoAs commitment and its improved ability to govern displacing insurgent mechanisms and separating the population from the insurgency.

District Reinforcement

“Internal Warfare within a population, particularly in cities, generally involves an

extensive police operation. There is also an intensive propaganda effort, destined

primarily to make the steps that are taken understood [by the population]. A broad

social program follows, the objective of which is to give the people the material

and moral assistance necessary to permit them to resume their normal activities

quickly after operations are over.”

-- Trinquier, Roger. Modern Warfare—a French View of Counterinsurgency, 1964.[xxviii]

The purpose of District Reinforcement is to neutralize the insurgency by with and through Afghan institutions while increasing capacity of those institutions to function. The District Center will be the platform for GIRoA officials to gain the populations trust thereby separating the insurgency from the population. District Reinforcement is conducted across all lines of operation. Coalition forces will provide a CIV/MIL capability that facilitates daily engagement with Afghan Officials at the District Center (DC), a persistent presence of the combined and unified team.[xxix]  They will conduct Combined and Unified Action at the lowest levels with forces and enablers to mentor and improve the capacity of the AUP and District officials in KTDs. Through a constant presence, they will provide security for the DC to allow it to operate free from INS influence, day or night.  Combined and Unified Action at the district Center creates enduring partnerships that seek to improve GIRoAs ability to provide local security, rule of law and economic opportunity to the population generating the populations trust and confidence in the government.

Coalition forces will immediately begin conducting Combined Action with the AUP to secure the DC and ensure Freedom of Movement for the government and population of the district.  The Unified Team will provide mentorship and training on a daily basis to assist Afghan officials at the DC to provide government services, rule of law, and other administrative functions.  Development projects are to be handled in the DC while incorporating the traditional governance structure in decision-making, eventually giving the responsibility for local development to the GIRoA district government. Information flows through the DC to the people with support from the Unified Team.  The purpose of this is to focus our mentorship, projects, and combat power at the district level to develop GIRoA’s ability to govern and connect them to the population.

Image 5

Key enabling capability employed in support of DR includes the positioning of Law Enforcement Professionals (LEP), Civil Affairs Teams, District Support Teams, Law Enforcement Trainers and communication infrastructure. LEP’s with the district investigatory and prosecutorial GIRoA official’s aid in training and development of constitutionally based rule of law programs. LEP’s also advise both coalition and GIRoA on best practices in marginalizing and neutralizing negative influencers. Civil Affairs teams augment coalition forces at the DC to develop district level economic opportunity and   infrastructure. District Support Teams are the Unified Action component of reinforcement. They include US Agency for International Development (USAID), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), US Department of State (USDOS) personnel to partner directly with the GIRoA leadership. Law enforcement trainer’s partner with the AUP at the district center to aid in the building of sustainable police capability focused at daily police operations, police management, and basic law enforcement. The expansion of communications infrastructure at the DC includes connecting the DC to the Provincial leadership through internet, and to the population through an FM/AM radio located at the DC.  These coalition-enabling capabilities are to enhance the ability of the district government to protect and provide service to the Afghan population.

Most of the population in RC-E lives in the KTDs and these District Centers are the critical link between the population and GIRoA for both the security and governance.  The District Centers also serve as a conduit between traditional authority structures and constitutionally based governance with regards to rule of law.  Combined / Unified action and mentorship with both government officials and security forces at the district level allows the local leadership to provide security to the population and gain their trust.  Economic opportunity provided through increased governance demonstrates GIRoA’s long-term commitment to the population.


The upcoming year represents a critical point in the war effort in Afghanistan.  Domestic political considerations make visible progress towards an independent, capable Afghanistan an absolute imperative.  President Obama’s guidance regarding Afghanistan is clear; we must deny al-Qaeda safe haven.  The agreed upon strategy at the ISAF and IJC level is one of population-centric counter-insurgency to accomplish President’s Obama’s goals.  Nested within the concept of “population-centric” COIN is the Key Terrain District construct, which identifies areas with a combination of concentrated population and physical infrastructure, which are critical to GIRoA success.  However, the implementation of this strategy is not truly “population-centric”.  To regain the critical COIN focus upon the population of Afghanistan RC-E must be reprioritized as the main effort for five reasons: location of Afghanistan population, economic considerations, location, domestic and international legitimacy, and demonstration of success.

If COIN is to be truly “population-centric”, the focus must be on RC-E.  RC-E controls territory that contains over seven million citizens compared only two million for RC-S; this is over three times the size of the current main effort.  Controlling the terrain associated with this massive concentration of population is critical to both the short and long-term success of GIRoA.  The KTD construct also supports RC-E as a main effort with RC-E containing 45 of 88 KTDs. In the implementation of the KTD construct, IJC is identifying RC-E as possessing all the characteristics of a main effort without resourcing it as such. Those KTDs represent locations with a critical concentration of population, physical infrastructure, commerce routes, and economic production.  Focusing efforts in the concentration of KTDs in RC-E will have a much greater synergistic effect than applying resources evenly over Afghanistan. 

From an economic perspective, control of the terrain represented by RC-E is critical to the short and long-term success of GIRoA.  Twenty percent of Afghan GDP and forty percent of the revenue of GIRoA comes from border customs revenue at the Torkham Gate.  From a transportation perspective, the commerce from this vital border crossing flows entirely through RC-E to Kabul along highway 7.  Additionally, a second major east-west corridor from Ghulam Khan to Kabul will further increase the economic importance of RC-E.  Finally, the majority of the economic corridor represented by Highway 1 from Kandahar to Kabul resides within RC-E.  Controlling these economic corridors will ensure that short-term economic gains from international contributions can develop into long-term sustainable economic growth for Afghanistan. 

From a location perspective, RC-E surrounds Kabul.  This location makes RC-E uniquely critical since it protects Kabul and is a logical starting point to expand the “oil-spot” of governance and security into the rest of Afghanistan.  An expansion of governance strategy must necessarily start with Kabul and spread from RC-E along the key lines of communication (Highways 1 and 7) to reach Kandahar and solidify any security gains made there.  The region surrounding Highway 1 as it travels south to Kandahar is another critical economic corridor.  Though the security situation does not currently merit the tipping point analogy used with Nangahar, this region has the potential for immediate, drastic security gains with the addition of Force Package 3 into Paktika and the repositioning of forces into Ghazni.  With this improved security situation and the development of the east-west corridor from the Ghulam Khan Border Crossing Point, the Highway 1 economic corridor through Ghazni could equal that of Highway 7 through Nangahar. 

Regarding domestic and international legitimacy, President Obama’s guidance regarding al-Qaeda necessitates a focus on RC-E since the remaining elements of AQ operate within RC-E along the border with Pakistan.  HQN has also begun to facilitate the operations of various insurgent groups, including al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The HQN operating bases are in the FATA and influence Kabul through RC-E. The focus of kinetic activities in Afghanistan must clearly reflect the president’s prioritization of defeating AQ and denying them safe haven; to accomplish the second part of the President’s guidance HQN must be defeated as well.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, RC-E can produce the “visible” progress that the American people and political leaders need to see.  Recently RC (E) has benefited by a greatly improved security situation in many of the provinces due to gains in local and provincial government structures and leadership.  The provinces of Bamian, Parwan, and Panjshir are ready for transition with a greatly reduced insurgent threat that can be handled by the partnered ANSF and coalition forces in the region.  Those provinces also possess good Afghan governmental leadership which is overseeing the genesis of organic rule of law linking traditional tribal structures to constitutionally based formal structures.  In addition, the beginnings of sustainable economic growth are occurring throughout these provinces due to the improved security situation and international donor contributions.  Nangahar province, the beginnings of the stability seen in Bamian, Parwan, and Panjshir are also occurring.  Though not as far progressed, the situation in Nangahar is quickly approaching a tipping point at which irreversible momentum will transform the province into the economic heart of post-conflict Afghanistan.  Nangahar’s improved security gains will translate into even greater economic gains for Afghanistan since it straddles the Highway 7 economic corridor from the Torkham Gate to Kabul.  In addition, the vibrant city of Jalalabad is quickly becoming an example of modernization for the rest of Afghanistan. 

RC-E is the most critical region in Afghanistan for immediate and long-term success. RC-E forms the confluence of population, governance, economic opportunity and threat. The current RC-E strategy will produce results in line with both US national interests and ISAF. The time required to produce these results is based on resourcing and prioritization by the ISAF Joint Command. The security situation in RC-S, although improving, does not contain the dramatic potential to show immediate gains.  This strategy must be resourced and prioritized fully to generate the irreversible momentum required in a counter-insurgency campaign where the population rejects insurgent activity and influence while accepting the legitimacy and authority of GIRoA. The entire region, which makes up RC-E, is poised and ready to show immediate success.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not reflect US Army or US Department of Defense policy.

End Notes

[i] Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, (Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College Ft Leavenworth, KS 1964), p65.

[ii] Department of the Army, Field Manual 3.24, Counterinsurgency (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, December 2006), 4-3.

[iii] Department of the Army, Field Manual 5.0, The Operations Process (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, February 2008), Chapter 3.

[iv] Department of the Army, Field Manual 5.0, 2-5.

[v] KTD Definition: They represent the agreed upon combination of concentrated population and physical infrastructure that the control of and support from provides a marked advantage to either the GIRoA or the insurgents, to include; population centers, commerce routes, production areas, border crossing points. The purpose of the KTDs in OPERATION OMID is to focus limited governance, development, and security resources for maximum effect for the Afghan Government in support of the Afghan people: to maximize effect on population centers, commerce routes, production centers; and to provide security to enable governance and development.

[vi] Complex Adaptive System: They are complex in that they are diverse and made up of multiple interconnected elements and adaptive in that they have the capacity to change and learnfrom experience.

[vii] 40% of the population in RC-E is Pashtun, 30% Tajik 10% Hazara, 8% Uzbek.

[viii] Department of Defense, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), April 2010, 33.

[ix] Insurgency: The insurgency in RC-E is composed of multiple groups including the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network, Hez-bi Islami, and Tehrik Taliban-i Pakistan.

[x] Stephen Townsend, Deputy Commanding General Operations CJTF-101, 1 Oct 2010.

[xi] Anand Gopal, Mansur Khan Mahsud, Brian Fishman,  “Inside the Haqqani Network,” 03 June 2010, (accessed 4 September 2010).

[xii] Institute for the Study of War, “Haqqani Network,” (accessed 4 September 2010).

[xiii]  Bill RoggioUS troops defeat Haqqani Network assault on base in Khost,” 22 September 2010, (accessed 4 September 2010).

[xiv] Seth G. Jones, Arturo Munoz, “Afghanistan’s Local War Building Local Defense Forces,” Rand Corporation National Defense Research Institute, 2010, 13.

[xv] Department of Defense, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” 11-18.

[xvi]  Department of Defense, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” 25.

[xvii] Department of Defense, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” 6.

[xviii] Department of the Army, Field Manual 3.24, Counterinsurgency (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, December 2006), 5-18.

[xix] John F. Campbell and Thomas B. Gibbons, Letter to Military and Civilian Members of CJTF-101 and RC-East, (31 July 2010).

[xx] Comprehensive COIN- FM3.24, Neutralize – JP 1-02, Transition(IJC) The point at which responsibility for security shifts to GIRoA (ANSF in the lead).

[xxi] C. E. Callwell, Small Wars, 1896

[xxii] David Killcullen, “The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One,” Oxford University Press, 2009,  96.

[xxiii] David Killcullen, “The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One,” Oxford University Press, 2009,  108.

[xxiv] Department of the Army, Field Manual 3.24, Counterinsurgency (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, December 2006), 5-23.

[xxv] Unified Action is the application of the military term Combined Action by the Civilian Platform with the HN government.

[xxvi] T.E. Lawrence, 27 Articles (The Arab Bulletin, 20 August 1917).

[xxvii] David Killcullen, “The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One,” Oxford University Press, 2009, 265.

[xxviii] Trinquier, 43.

[xxix] David Killcullen, “The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One,” Oxford University Press, 2009,  97.

[xxx] Dean Mitchell, “RC-E the Main Effort,” White Paper Bagram Afghanistan, 2010.

Categories: Afghanistan

About the Author(s)

COL John Hale has served at multiple command and staff positions since 1991. He is a VMI and SAMS graduate. He previously served in CJTF-180 CJ5 AFG, XVIII ABC G-5 IRQ, as CJ5 CJTF-101 AFG, and as ARSOUTH G-5 / CIG Chief. He is currently serving as the G-5 US Army North. He is deploying to Afghanistan for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel / Resolute Support this summer.