Small Wars Journal

The Village Engagement Center

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 8:18am
The Village Engagement Center:

Stabilizing One Village at a Time

by M. Shands Pickett

Download the Full Article: The Village Engagement Center

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) understands the need to develop "local knowledge, cultural understanding, and local contacts" in order to implement a successful counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. And it has developed a handful of brigade-level tools like Agriculture Development Teams (ADTs), Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), Operational Liaison Teams (OMLTs), and Police Operational Liaison Mentor Teams (POMLTs) to work directly with the local population and build connections between Afghans and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). Each ISAF forward operating base (FOB) typically has most, if not all, of these teams on-base.

However, ISAF's brigade-level assets are hamstrung by a forward operating base-centric footprint. To partner effectively with Afghans, the various teams (or "functional enablers" in ISAF parlance) must establish a presence in the villages they hope to assist—a whole-of-place concept called the Village Engagement Center (VECs). Only full-time interaction outside the base gates with both local Afghans and GIRoA counterparts will give ISAF's functional enablers the village-level contextual knowledge necessary to create meaningful change. This is an idea with precedence from the Marines' Combined Action Program (CAP) in Vietnam to a program, the Village Stability Platform (VSP), currently operated by Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan. The Village Engagement Center is not another new capability but is instead an organizing principle for existing assets. It pushes those functional enablers off of ISAF bases, thereby helping Afghan communities to resist insurgent pressures while increasing their stake in GIRoA's success.

Download the Full Article: The Village Engagement Center

M. Shands Pickett is an analyst with the Human Terrain Team attached to TF White Eagle in Ghazni Province. He holds an MA in U.S. Foreign Policy from The George Washington University. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the official policies and positions of the Human Terrain System, U.S. Army, ISAF or the U.S. Government.

Editor's Note: This essay builds off of the previous work discussed in SWJ's Tribal Engagement Workshop.

About the Author(s)


Troufion (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 10:17pm

There will never be enough SF to go around AND properly trained regular forces can do the job. The manpower deficit comes in both civilian and military positions.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 9:53pm

the manpower is SF. That is what they are designed for.

Troufion (not verified)

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 9:10pm

The concept of VEC is in play in small scale in the Marines AO, the idea was to build 'defended villages' didn't quite get implemented that way but District Stabilization teams operate down to the village level with support from Infantry Companies and Platoons. Biggest issue is finding the proper manpower to conduct these operations.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 10/04/2010 - 1:35am

Hate to rain on the author's parade, but there are a number of glaring problems that while the whole thing sounds great---the problem is in the sticky details.

1. author mentioned the historical experience of the Marine Corp's CAP program, but forgot the SF CIDG and related programs which at the height of the Vietnam war had a total of 75,000 plus under arms in an extensive village protection program even into areas not under actual VN government control-no minor feat to pull off

2. disagree with the notion that Big Army has learned the COIN game as the idea of VECs are nothing more than the extended CMOC concept out of Iraq---just with more BCT enablers which many BCT Cmdrs cannot quite figure out how to use

3. the author seemingly does not fully understand the operational techniques of the Taliban and while it is great to go into "yellow" villages---I am not so sure the Taliban will give up without a fight--ie Marjan

4. is the author willing to accept the fact that each VEC will need more shooters than he is indicating or is the author suggesting that now Agriculture Development Teams (ADTs), Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), Operational Liaison Teams (OMLTs), and Police Operational Liaison Mentor Teams (POMLTs)are to become Title 10 personnel, be fully armed and are capable of fully supporting themselves in firefights until the QRF can make it to them---look at the experiences of the COPs in Iraq and the standard risk aversion of a BCT---after how many ambushes to a QRF is a BCT going to take as it supports a number of VECs?
Not so sure the author understands the effectiveness of the current Taliban "recon pull"---ie Marjan. Roatating personnel in and out allows for a better understanding on the part of the Taliban of our own TTPs-something they are already good at.

5. the SF village program is in fact successful for the exact reasons mentioned above that the BCT cannot do---they have no risk aversion, are trained to work in that environment even without QRF and they are willing to take the risks needed to be successful even if QRF is slow in responding--as it is their job

As with all great HT ideas---not well thought through, but hey it sounds great--just keeps those contracting dollars flowing. Would finally like to see a thorough HT study of the Taliban and how they are able to control villages through a few personnel---then I would like to see the same HT study explain how to identify and how to eliminate the Taliban's village infrastructure/shadow government-as the author is correct it is all about the "human terrain" or as Kilcullen stated it is "all about the conflict ecosystem"-and this article simply failed to address that side of the problem.

As someone who worked and operated in the villages of Ghazni Province, it is superb to read this astute and highly practical paper.

Many people are fighting for survival, security, stability, safety and to maintain the structure of their life because all the elements of the insurgency have convinced them that this will be taken away by foreigners.

It is very hard to convince villages otherwise when the predominant way of engaging with locals is a short visit to the Governor's compound.

At least the US MRAPs have windows - the Polish Rosamacks ressemble Russian military vehicles whose drivers continue to speed through villages.

I thought part of the strategy was to immerse oneself with the ANP in the villages, forcing the insurgents to make the mistake of attacking the village and thereby demonstrating to the locals that we were there protecting them, while demonstrating the significance of the ANP.

The Texas ADT in Ghazni spend the most amount of time engaged with locals and this has had demonstrable effects because their work is so closely aligned with self sustaining food security. But it still does not develop the strong bonds that would be gained by being immersed within the small community.

In Gilan, the FOB adopts a seige mentality with the population in the three surrounding villages passively supporting the insurgency who fire rockets in the base on a daily basis. I was not aware of one occassion where there was an attempt to incrementally get the trust of the village elders and move into the three villages. The Polish Force Protection on at the gate of FOB Warrior could not believe it when I had came back from having lunch in one of the villages at a meeting to begin negotiating a new road to reconnect the three villages with the Gilan DC.

Why do we think the core to human relationships is any different in this part of the world compared to how we do business back home? You cannot build trust, loyalty, friendship and the tangible fruits from this relationship if you are not prepared to get to know these people at a local, village level.

Not saying we all need to be TE Lawrence but it's not that hard.

Good article Pickett

Will someone put this guy in charge over there...? I think his idea is spot-on. Many on SWJ have recommended something like this though not as well as he has in this article.