What the Dutch experience in Uruzgan can teach us about fusion operations

This continues my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

I struggled a bit with what I could say about Sebastiaan Rietjens’ chapter about the Dutch and their experience in Uruzgan province.  For the most part, the Dutch seemed to be stereotypical in terms of how their operations and reactions flowed from 2002 to 2010.  What struck me, however, was the possiblity that the Dutch may have something to tell us about ‘fusion’ operations generally.  I often write about domestic intelligence issues (law enforcement/terrorism) and our fusion centers and think that some of Rietjens’ observations may have some applicability to this field as well.

But first, my comment about the Dutch strategy in Afghanistan.  War is difficult and complicated.  Counterinsurgency is arguably even more so.  Still, the Dutch adopted three major policy positions in the four years they were in Uruzgan which is highly problematic.  According to Rietjens:

While the Master Plan defined four lines of operation and 23 effects, this shifted in the Focal Paper to three endstates and seven lines of effect (with a staggering 91 desired effects).  Finally, in the UCP, three lines of operation were identified, along with nine R&D themes.

And regarding the final plan (the UCP):

The UCP also identified three major lines of operation, which were further subdivided into reconstructionm and development (R&D) themes inm which progress was desired.  These R&D themes corresponded with the eight pillars of the Afghan National Development Strategy, with the exception tha tthe ‘governance’ pillar was further split into ‘governance’ and ‘rule of law’.

Is it me or does this whole thing sound overly complicated?  How in the world would the Dutch expect their commanders to be familiar with such rapidly changing strategies (even if they were marked by overlap)?  Does this support a line of effect or the R&D theme?  What?  It’s Tuesday?  Oh, then we must be supporting lines of operation.  If the strategies are generally similar, one wonders what the benefits were to changing the language every 14 months or so.  If they weren’t, one wonders how on earth policy makers expected commanders and managers in the field to stay on top of all these catagories, effects, etc.

Now, on to what I think are more widely applicable lessons from the Dutch experience.  From the Rietjens chapter:

Rotations of the TFU [military operation] lasted for four to six monts and initially the overall deployment was to last only for two years; it was only later prolonged for an additional two years.  Meanwhile, many NGOs committed themselves for five years or more.

The different time lines matches up pretty well with the tension between traditional, reactive policing and investigations versus ‘intelligence led’ operations and I’m not sure I’ve heard much discussion about the different time lines of various actors as a factor in hindering fusion operations.  How long are senior (and, perhaps junior) sworn law enforcement personnel assigned to such operations versus how long ‘civilian’ personnel are?  Regardless of that, what time frames are partner agencies working off of?  The next headline?  The next fiscal year?  Longer?  How do those mesh (or not)?  If they don’t, what controls can be established to make sure partners share the same objectives and can compliment (if not support) the work of each other?  Who, if anyone, coordinates this whole mess?

The organizational structures of the TFU and the humanitarian organisations were for the most part polar opposites.  The TFU placed high value on command and control, top-down hierarchical organsational structures and clear lines of authority.  The organisational structure of most humanitarian organisations was horizontal and fluid, with significant decision-making authority delegated to the field.

Coincidentally, I was just thinking along these lines recently when talking to an analyst about their fusion center operations.  The center is run by a law enforcement agency that prides itself on its ‘paramilitary’ nature and lives and breaths by its organizational chart.  Partner agencies or even others within the agency who don’t easily fit within the structure (i.e. ‘civilians’) are implicitly encouraged to conform and fit within the rigid structure.  I can’t help thinking, however, that while that might make administrative and logistical tasks easier, it might not be the best structure for conducting good analytical products.  There’s no reason why we should assume that supervisory skill (we’ll assume for this discussion that all supervisors are highly qualified in that role) necessarily translates into analytical competence yet that’s what these rigid structures do.

In March of 2009, the command of the PRT was handed over to a civilian representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and from then on the PRT had a civilian director rather than a military one…It embodied the shift in focus of the TFU from security-driven operations to reconstruction and development.  Having a civilian at the top of the PRT, and later also as a co-commander of the TFU, greatly improved the status and influence of the civilians of the TFU.

That’s pretty big and definatly has implications for domestic intelligence.  Anecdotally, I can say that very, very few intelligence centers are run by ‘civilians’ (and no, generally retired law enforcement doesn’t count).  Despite a decade of public pronouncements that intelligence is paramount and analysts are the keystone to our anti-crime/anti-terrorism efforts the lack of actual analysts having leadership roles is pretty striking.  Without knowing the details of this effort I have to give the Dutch a big thumbs up for recognizing its value and giving it a try.  One is also left wondering, if it can be attempted in a war zone and not seen as too risky, why not domestically?  Also, see again my comments about the different perspectives of ‘reactive’ for ‘intelligence led’ operations and replace the terms for ‘security-driven’ and ‘reconstruction and development’ (I realize they aren’t synonomous but they still work in this context).

Going back to Afghanistan, one final point is worth mentioning regarding Dutch domestic politics.  If you’re an American, reflect deeply on this statement:

The [Dutch] government did not fear that the mission of ISAF and that of Operation Enduring Freedom would be mixed up.  Strict legal procedures were to guarantee that prisoners would not end up in the wrong hands and in the wrong places.

That ‘wrong hands’ and ‘wrong places’?  Yeah, that’s us.  Generally not a good sign when your allies have to craft laws like that.  Just sayin’.

For more on the interaction between Dutch domestic politics and relations with the U.S. influenced their policy towards Afghanistan, check out Peter’s follow up post here.


One response to “What the Dutch experience in Uruzgan can teach us about fusion operations

  1. ….hmmmm, great ideas…. maybe in another decade?

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