Saturday, March 21, 2009

Full-Spectrum Targeting, the Key to COIN

Targeting in a counterinsurgency (COIN) fight has both a lethal dimension and a non-lethal one. If you have an IED cell as part of your problem-set, there are different means by which a unit can target them to achieve an effect. In the case of the IED cell, the desired effect would be a decrease in IEDs in the area of operations (AO). The traditional technique would be to lethally target this cell- seeking to kill or capture the emplacers, facilitators, financiers, and engineers. This method is still a legitimate means of attacking the problem set in a COIN environment. However, to be successful, it has to be coupled with non-lethal targeting. The non-lethal, in my respects, will be the primary method of attacking the problem set. You can kill all the IED emplacers you want, but unless the root causes are attacked, the IEDs will continue. Hence, from a lethal perspective, there is a need to target the C2 and Logistics of the IED organization. It's one thing to kill the Al Qaeda (AQ) foot-soldiers, but disrupting their leadership by forcing them to constantly move and to use precision targeting will have a greater effect. That's the lethal perspective. In a COIN fight, the non-lethal becomes a primary tool for the war-fighter.

Non-lethal targeting was often ignored prior to the Surge and sadly still is in certain areas. However, the non-lethal has enabled the peace to be secured. To look at our IED problem-set: unemployment, trash, and poverty can be contributing factors in creating an environment where our AQIZ IED cell has fertile ground to recruit. However, through drops of humanitarian aid in problem neighborhoods and trash collection programs, we begin to attack the root causes. The local population ceases to view coalition forces (CF) as a threat or an occupier and provides information to CF that further enables lethal targeting. In addition, the population ceases to provide either active or passive support to the insurgency or terrorist group. The terrorist and/or insurgent require a passive population in which to hide and conduct their operations. If the population begins to oppose them (as was the case in the Sunni Awakening), they lose the ability to survive and operate. Non-lethal targeting helps cement that awakening and prevent those areas from sliding back into support for insurgent/terrorist groups.

This has required a mind-set change for successful implementation. The initial thought for an IED problem is to find the emplacers and those who back them and kill them through lethal targeting. While that is still a method, the non-lethal may plant the seeds for long-term security rather than providing a short-term improvement. To address a specific problem set, there will likely be some lethal targeting, but it will be facilitated by the non-lethal targeting. The non-lethal targeting will disrupt the problem-sets abilities to target CF, and the corresponding interaction and engagement with the local national population will provide information that will further enable and facilitate the lethal targeting.

This creates a corresponding difficulty for the deployed S2 shop. The S2 shop is designed for the lethal fight. In a COIN environment it must adapt to see the issues non-lethally. Not only must it identify the individuals who are negatively impacting the environment (HVIs) and the cells that make up the enemy "order of battle", it must also identify the problems that are allowing this situation. It is a significant shift in the way S2s have traditionally operated, just as COIN represents a significant drift from the way the US operated in 2004/5/6. Our ability to adapt to the realities of the COIN determines the level of success we will enjoy. The US military across the spectrum has adapted under the leadership of GEN Petraeus and GEN Odierno during the surge.

What is interesting is to wonder to what level the same strategy can be implemented in Afghanistan, and what changes to that strategy will be required to deal with the Afghani culture. The US military, if allowed, will adapt and find further success in Afghanistan; just as it did in Iraq.


James H said...

How interesting . I noted on my blog your post and how it applies the "Broken Window" theory to Terrorism

Unknown said...

A well written blog. Good to see you took over my old job(circa 2002-2003).