Since the 'Surge' in Iraq beginning in 2007, the Army has been involved in a counterinsurgency (COIN) in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Insurgent and counter insurgent warfare is an ages old type of war that is much more holistic than the traditional force-on-force warfare of WW II, or the expected large scale war that characterized the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Insurgent warfare does not follow the same 'playbook' that conventional war does and it very clearly demonstrated a vulnerability in the vaunted American military equipping and training paradigm. This vulnerability led to huge doctrinal shifts and prioritization of assets throughout the force. As such, and in trying to quickly figure out how to best prosecute this type of conflict, there has been a proliferation of written material throughout the force on successful methods and strategies etc for achieving success in a counterinsurgency.
I found one of those articles in the August - December issue of Infantry Magazine, It was entitled, "COIN Operations in Afghanistan" written by Captain Brad Israel. As I started to read it, I came across the following paragraph which immediately caught me eye:
"A unit’s leaders build relationships through constant interaction with the local populace and Afghan Forces. The establishment of a strong relationship requires more than just an occasional village visit; it requires that leaders get to know the people as individuals. The unit leadership should know the village elders’ names, their tribe, and their unique tribal history. I would also encourage leaders to learn the names of some of the children, local shop-keepers and farmers; they will provide useful information from time to time. The more locals recognize the leader as a familiar friend – one that is committed to them and not someone they or their children should fear – then the better the chance the leader has to build a bridge between the host nation government and its people. By genuinely listening to the people and addressing their concerns, leaders can actively facilitate relationship building. It is important that the unit, not just the leadership, act in kind.”
What leaped out at me as I read that was the idea that the requirements for successful interaction on the COIN battlefield are precisely the same types of requirements we have to address with regard to leadership and Soldier welfare.
Watch what happens when you change a few simple words throughout the paragraph.
“A unit’s leaders build relationships through constant interaction with the Soldiers. The establishment of a strong relationship requires more than just an occasional barracks visit; it requires that leaders get to know the people as individuals. The unit leadership should know the Soldier’s names, their background, and their unique personal history. I would also encourage leaders to learn the names of some of their children, their local environment; both will provide useful information from time to time. The more Soldiers recognize the leader as a familiar friend – one that is committed to them and not someone they or their families should fear – then the better the chance the leader has to build a bridge between the Army organization and its people. By genuinely listening to the Soldiers and addressing their concerns, leaders can actively facilitate relationship building. It is important that the whole unit, not just the leadership, act in kind.”
Same sentiment, same concept, same successful outcome. CPT Israel's article provides other units some very solid ideas on how to successfully interact with the local population in Afghanistan. Build relationships, establish trust, demonstrate commitment etc. There is an entire field manual dedicated to that and people are reading, digesting, arguing, and tearing it apart trying to figure out exactly the right way to operate in a counterinsurgency environment. The Army is literally spending millions of dollars a year to hire very knowledgeable people to come in and teach the 'How to do COIN' classes at every level of the organization from Private to General. In essence, we are acting as if COIN is something new and unknown to the organization. Something that we must learn how to do in order to win the war.
My contention is that we already have that manual and in many ways, we already know how to do this, it just requires a different Orientation. Consider this short paragraph from FM 6-22, Army Leadership:
"Many leaders connect at a personal level with their followers so they will be able to understand the individual's circumstances and needs. As discussed previously in the chapter, building relationships is one way to gain influence and commitment from followers. Knowing others is the basis that many successful leaders use to treat people well. It includes everything from making sure a Soldier has time for an annual dental exam, to finding out about a person's preferred hobbies and pastimes."
What these 3 paragraphs demonstrate is a perfect example of how OODA works and clearly outline why the ability to quickly adjust your Orientation to your environment is an absolutely critical leader tool. By adjusting leader Orientation what becomes obvious is that the COIN concepts that we are spending huge dollar amounts and massive amounts of time on, show up again in the 2nd paragraph where I substituted the word Soldiers in place of Afghans, and again in the Army leadership manual. In fact, all three paragraphs are exactly the same except for the ethnicity and the locale of the principle people involved. If Army leaders would follow CPT Israel's COIN advice when dealing with their own subordinates, I contend that we could very quickly begin to deal with some of the social and behavioral issues that are plaguing the Army today.
I then realized that both paragraphs also demonstrate the concept of 'winning hearts and minds' just with a different audience to be influenced. 'Hearts and minds' gained a rather negative connotation after the failure of US counterinsurgent operations during the Vietnam War, but in truth it is the only way to win against an insurgent. This type of warfare requires a short list of things that must be done in order to prevail. First, you must separate the enemy from the populace. Second, you must provide provide the populace the basic necessities of life. Third, you must create a governmental system capable of providing for and protecting the population. And finally, you must demonstrate to the population that their lives will be better without the insurgent than they are with. These things are not done quickly and require equal amounts of violence, compassion, iron-handedness, patience, understanding and care. It will often require that all of these actions be demonstrated at the same time.
Funny, but that sounds an awful lot like leadership to me....
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.