Friday, April 27, 2012

Decisiveness in COIN Operations: A Perspective from a Counter Insurgency Instructor


By 1st Lt. William Carraway
Media Relations Officer, Public Affairs Office
April 27, 2012

Dr. Terry Tucker, author of Counterinsurgency Methods & The Global War on Terror, and former instructor at the US COIN academy in Kabul, examines the role of conventional operations in a counter-insurgency (COIN) environment. This month, we asked Dr. Tucker:

What is the decisive point in counterinsurgency and can conventional operations be decisive in a COIN environment? 

Dr. Tucker: I don’t want to be clich√©, but regrettably I need to be. The Human Terrain is what is decisive. Everything we do must work across security, governance, and economics to begin to achieve that decisiveness. 

Everything that we do in stability operations, COIN, or security cooperation should strive to achieve support from the Human Terrain. In COIN, it is an accumulation of many small successes which run in packs across multiple lines of operation that can make the outcome decisive on a political, economic, and social level. It is decisive when the locals support your integrated actions.  

Decisiveness in COIN begins with information operations. To borrow from Texas University, our information operations (IO) mantra should be : “Come early, stay late, be loud.” I will caveat this with “very often” and “in cultural context.” There will be significant debate over what I am about to say, but, all operations planning must first proceed with an IO message. In other words, create the message and messages you want to signal to the population; make sure that message matches the cultural narrative and then plan your actions to match the IO.  The operational and strategic decisiveness comes from an accumulation of these kinds of “wins.”

Think in terms of business development, like when they bring in the Program/Operations guys to match the message, scope of work, and metrics before you present it to the customer. In every case, the tools you use will be different. Business, like conflict, has a toolkit of many tools. Sometimes it requires a hostile takeover, sometimes it’s a subtle erosion of market share through a superior product and service, sometimes it comes from a very solid relationship and leadership, or from the recommendation of a trusted friend or associate.  

In COIN, you are employing the same techniques with the same varying degrees of separation, trying to gain “market share”, but that market share is Human Terrain and everything does not require a hammer. The tool box of available hard and soft tools should be tailored to each unique operating environment and mission. Disproportionate effect will come from harnessing the social-cultural elements to your plans and operations, primarily through continuous messaging and Information operations. I can achieve tactical disproportionate effect quite easily with a high-value target (HVT), it takes an accumulation of narratives and counter-narratives which match my actions into IO/MISO to gain this across your lines of operations.   

Successsfully targeting an HVT with the host nation and your coalition partners, with no collateral damage, can be decisive tactically, operationally and strategically. In this example, it is decisive because it deprives the insurgents of its operational commanders and is a surprise. Insurgent commanders become fearful of when, where, and how to travel, and it also takes time to groom new insurgent leadership. It disrupts insurgent tactical operations.

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