COIN Symposium recap part 6

Col. Lacroix (Canada) gave an overview of COIN operations in the Dan district of Kandahar province during 2009.  My comments remain in italics .  Slides for his presentation are here.

Commander’s intent is critical and must be understood by everyone working in the area, both military and civilian.  Another point that was repeated multiple times.  Here’s one area where the military sphere really excels.  Commanders are required to produce an intent which should drive the mission.  Law enforcement suffers terribly from avoiding the use of a similar tool (or uses one that’s so vague it’s useless).  But that’s for another post…

A comprehensive ‘all-government’ approach to COIN does work but must everyone must operate together.  Not a good sign when 9 years into an insurgency fight you’ve got to state the importance of working together. We need to strive for unity of thought, purpose and action.  That’s easy to do within the military but a challenge among civilian partners.  Some of that is the military’s fault.  They developed their plan without coordination with other agencies.  Once the plan was published they (surprise!) got pushback from agencies not oriented to the principles of COIN.  He didn’t say it but I suspect that he began to experience not only problems with agencies not understanding the overall mission but issues dealing with turf protection and empire building. Agencies are likely to develop independent plans with an eye on using progress from their implementation (or the illusion of progress) to lobby for more funding and resources.  If those agencies see that they’ve been given (in their eyes) a subordinate, less sexy role they’re likely to object.  In addition to people not likely to be told what to do.

We understand the theory of COIN.  It’s the ‘how’ question that we still don’t have totally answered.  We also still don’t have a good handle on metrics.

Outstanding issues in February of 2009:

  • Afghan perceptions were not good.  There were a plethora of unkempt promises about security, development projects and other assistance.
  • Not enough security forces present.  They had a small footprint and therefore were limited in what they could do.
  • Limited work on governance issues because of the limitations on force size (I think the point here is that it was difficult to maintain security AND run missions simultaneously with such a small number of troops).
  • Limited information and analysis.  No awareness of who the local power brokers were.  Another big flaw about intelligence work there that was repeated several times.  Commanders were making decisions with, at best, a rudimentary understanding of the operating environment.  When it comes to combat operation intelligence we’re pretty good.  When it comes to understanding the 2nd and 3rd order consequences (or even 1st order sometimes when we are talking non-kinetic ops) I suspect we’re just taking shots in the dark.
  • Unfocused reconstruction efforts.  They were building schools but no one had a plan for how/where to get teachers.  Some schools would be built in unsecured areas meaning they were virtually useless.

Significant challenge in Dan district:

  • Police and justice system were in need of reform.  There’s a lot of emphasis on police reform but the problem is once you start getting a functioning police force you start having to put people in jail and need trials.  If you aren’t simultaneously building the judicial system you end up with a big backlog and (as happened in Dan), you end up releasing prisoners 96 hours after they’re arrested because 1)  your prison system is overcrowded and 2) you don’t have a judicial system to deal with them and so they have to be released.

(I have this the following in my notes but can’t tell if it was part of Col. Lacroix’s presentation or my own thoughts.  I certainly agree with them but can’t claim that he would have so reader beware. )

Command needs to be heavily involved with his/her intelligence shop.  Commanders should demand regular situational awareness updates directly from their analysts (without filters).

Analysts should be expected to recommend targets and provide insight into follow on consequences of operations.

Commanders were most in need of ‘white situational awareness’ (i.e. what’s going on among friendlies and neutrals).  How are people/networks/organizations linked to each other?  What are the motivators and agendas of the various actors out there? 


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