I had the recent pleasure of spending three weeks with some of our government’s best and brightest as part of the State Department’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) Level One Planner’s Course. The purpose of the course was to develop interagency planners to support stability operations. This was the first iteration of this training and it delved heavily into assessment, more so than planning. The training was presented by staff at the National Defense University (NDU) and doctrine writers from S/CRS.
Considering that the Army devotes a better part of a year to growing its Functional Area 59 planners, I think NDU and S/CRS crammed a lot of learning into three weeks. The S/CRS doctrine is still draft at this point and is built around the S/CRS Integrated Conflict Assessment Framework (ICAF), which is a derivative of USAID’s Conflict Assessment Framework (CAF). Another child of the USAID CAF is the Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework (TCAF). All three frameworks are found in FM 3-07, Stability Operations.
I like the TCAF better because it starts off with fewer western preconceived notions and simply asks the population in the country to be stabilized four questions:
1. “Has the population of the village changed in the last twelve months?”
2. “What are the greatest problems facing the village?”
3. “Who is trusted to resolve the problem?”
4. “What should be done first to help the village?”
These questions are loaded enough, and can result in expensive solutions, such as the one Afghan village that answered question four with “Give us volleyball equipment.”
The ICAF is far more “nuanced” and therefore doesn’t bother to gather input from the local population. In our two exercises (Haiti and Afghanistan) we did not have any role players from either of these two countries participate in the ICAF because the ICAF doesn’t require it. The ICAF can be conducted in or out of theater in as little or much time as you feel you have to react to the crisis. The model calls for the group to first establish “context” and tells us that “Context includes, for example: environmental conditions, poverty, recent history of conflict, youth bulge, or conflict-ridden region.” In step two, again, without thoroughly polling a broad sample of the people we intend to help, upper middle class Americans will identify for our beneficiaries their core grievances, identity groups and “articulate how societal patterns reinforce perceived deprivation, blame and inter-group cleavages and/or promote comity and peaceful resolution of inter-group disputes.” What is key here is that we are really talking about our perceptions of deprivation and blame, since we did not ask a broad number of Haitians or Afghans anything. We relied on anecdotal information from hardly unbiased sources that saw terrible things they wanted fixed in other people’s societies but really had no good recommendations about how to fix them.
Other than the first two steps of the ICAF, I thought the S/CRS planning process made sense, though it would be useful to compare it to the planning system the United States Government used in Vietnam during the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program. I realize that Vietnam is the war that most of US want to forget, but we can take pride in the fact that the Republic of Vietnam did not fall to a popular communist uprising or insurgency, but to a conventional attack by the communist North supported with Soviet supplied tanks and artillery. Our cold war proxy may have not been the model of stability, but the communist North had to kill at least a couple hundred thousand civilians during their final conquest and invested a lot of blood sweat and tears in “reeducating” many more Southerners in subsequent years.
The final week of the course came as the Washington Post printed an assessment by General McChrystal on the situation in Afghanistan (see attached link “COMISAF’S INITIAL ASSESSMENT.”) General McChrystal’s assessment, dated 30 August, drew from the United States Government Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan, dated 10 August 2009 (see link “Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign.”) NDU and S/CRS used both these documents in their instruction.
I think the 10 August plan is well written and I had the pleasure of meeting the two S/CRS planners who worked inside Afghanistan with USG military planners to craft it over a two month period. They drew heavily on existing civil-military plans from the regional commands in Afghanistan. They did not use ICAF to craft the assessment. From my discussions with one of the planners, they did not use a lot of polling data from Afghans or work with Afghans Government on the plan either. They did have a numerous Afghan employees of our DOS who provided local cultural and political expertise. However, these good Afghans are as susceptible to Stockholm Syndrome as the best American. This plan is not an inexpensive one, though I am pretty sure it is a lot cheaper to create “Sustainable Jobs” in Afghanistan (for Afghans at least) than it is to create sustainable jobs in America. The plan includes a transformative effect “Claiming the Information Initiative.” I would like to see some polling numbers cited here, but I am afraid I am getting more anecdotes such as “However, in many rural communities, insurgent messaging resonates more deeply, feeding on mistrust of centralized government, unhappiness with lack of services, and widespread grievances related to continuing insecurity, government corruption, and the presence and actions of foreign actors.” This may all be true, but it may also reflect our perceptions of basic government services and corruption. Again, I hearken back to a classmate who told me the villagers she talked to just wanted volleyball. I like polling figures, and they are out there. Max Boot used them when he wrote last month “The Taliban and related groups are tough, tenacious foes but they are hardly invincible. Their Achilles heel is lack of popular support. An International Republican Institute poll of 2,400 Afghans in July found that only 19% have a favorable view of the Taliban compared to 62% who have a positive impression of the U.S. and 82% who view the Afghan National Army favorably. A poll taken earlier this year by the BBC and ABC found that only 4% of Afghans want the Taliban to return to power.” I think we have been in Afghanistan long enough for S/CRS to get Gallup to poll some (more than 2,400) Afghans on what they really want, taking care not to suggest to them what that should be, or to suggest that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) is corrupt. They will tell you what they really want and if a corrupt government is a core grievance for them.
For our graduation exercise, the class was broken down into two planning teams. Each team role played a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) and we developed an abbreviated plan addressing just two of the eleven “transformative effects” in the 10 August plan – “Creating Sustainable Jobs” and “Border Access for Commerce, Not Insurgents.” (In S/CRS planning parlance, transformative effects would be called “Major Mission Elements” at the Washington level, and “Objectives” at the country team and PRT level. Once we built our plan, we presented it to an S/CRS executive with recent experience in Afghanistan and responded to many prodding questions that challenged our assumptions and forced us to prioritize our sub-objectives.
I would rate the course as very ambitious, considering what it hopes to teach in three weeks. It was an extremely worthy effort that needs to continue so that S/CRS can effectively execute its “civilian surge” in Afghanistan. I was impressed with the NDU and S/CRS instructors. I was very impressed with the S/CRS personnel in the student body. Most had recent experience in Afghanistan or Iraq, some had come under fire, all were sincere, capable, and willing to return and serve again under hazardous conditions. I think the ICAF assessment framework is flawed in that it relies on western social science to determine what is good for the people of another country rather than outright asking them, but the overall S/CRS planning process made sense to me. I thought the Integrated Civilian-Military Plan was good in that it did recognize “the presence and actions of foreign forces” as “widespread grievance” in many rural communities of Afghanistan. This will be a challenge for US and GIRoA – thinning the lines of US while we bulk up GIRoA and its military so that we really do achieve “peace with honor,” so we, and not UBL, can declare victory when we go home.