One of my central tenets is that even a very bad police department is going to have a better grasp of its operating environment than a very good military unit engaged in COIN. This may seem a bit basic but allow me to point out some reasons why I think this is so:
- Cultural familiarity – It’s common for law enforcement officers to come from the communities in which they work. That means they know the physical layout of the area, the language, those with influence and other cultural factors
- Institutional knowledge – It’s common for law enforcement officers to serve in one jurisdiction for their entire careers further enhancing their knowledge of their environment. Further, institutional knowledge is passed from senior members of law enforcement to junior members through formal mentoring and informal information sharing.
Now the military can try to replicate these effects of these factors but the fact is cultural awareness classes, interpreters and after action reviews will, at best, only give you a fraction of the picture that a law enforcement agency has. Even if you were to universalize a program like Afghan Pakistan Hands you’d have to wait years before you could approach the same level of understanding that a law enforcement agency has.
The military can (and should) spend money on language and cultural awareness training but those things aren’t going to do more than give you a superficial understanding of the environment. At best they’ll give troops the tools with which to develop and contextualize their new environment.
Another way forces have traditionally addressed this knowledge shortfall is to rely on local security forces (I guess this needn’t be limited to security forces. We could include any proxy relied upon to provide military counterinsurgency forces an understanding of the environment) to provide this information. Unfortunately, that relies on the assumption that the local security forces can be 1) counted on to provide an understanding of the operating environment without adding their own biases or spin, 2) that the orientation and institutional biases of the local security forces matches up with those of the military exactly or 3) the military will understand the biases of the local security forces and be able to correct for them when analyzing information they receive.
Maybe I should back up a bit…why is an understanding of the operating environment (apart from traditional enemy information) important?
From Gen. Flynn’s ‘Fixing Intel‘ about the state of intelligence in Afghanistan now:
This vast and underappreciated body of information, almost all of which is unclassified, admittedly offers few clues about where to find insurgents, but it does provide elements of even greater strategic importance – a map for leveraging popular support and marginalizing the insurgency itself.
Gen. Flynn’s report makes a number of suggestions (orders?) in an attempt to address the problems he identifies but upon reflection I think he misses an important point. Most of his recommendations focus on the collection and analysis phase of the intelligence cycle. Those are the big, glaring shortfalls and the ones, I suspect, that will really require the most in the way of deep structural change. By that I mean addressing things like the selection and training of analytical personnel, evaluating the structure of analytical organizations within units, etc.
What I don’t think he addresses sufficiently is address the collation and dissemination phases. I suspect we could make significant gains in intelligence capabilities by looking at these phases while adhering to my initial criteria of avoiding potentially disruptive systemic change. Where we can get some bang for our buck is in leveraging the strengths the military already has to replicate the the advantages law enforcement has in its knowledge of the operating environment.
Next: Let’s start talking specifics…