Although many have probably already seen the “Fixing Intel” report published by CNAS this week, I wanted to link to it and highly encourage you take the time to read it. Written by MG Flynn (ISAF J2), CPT Matt Pottinger (his aide), and Paul Batchelor (DIA), the report is a brutally honest assessment of the current state of military intelligence efforts in Afghanistan [*For a great profile of MG Flynn, see this LA Times article from November]. Examining our intelligence process through the lens of a full-spectrum counterinsurgency (COIN) perspective, Flynn concludes that, “Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” and that, “the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade."Afghan Intel - Flynn (Jan 10)
MG Flynn does a great job of laying out many of the critical shortfalls in the existing military intelligence (MI) system and then proceeds to recommend several major changes to the way business is currently done. Most importantly, MG Flynn points out that,
“The U.S. intelligence community has fallen into the trap of waging an anti-insurgency campaign rather than a counterinsurgency campaign. The difference is not academic. Capturing or killing key mid-level and high-level insurgents – anti-insurgency – is without question a necessary component of successful warfare, but far from sufficient for military success in Afghanistan. Anti-insurgent efforts are, in fact, a secondary task when compared to gaining and exploiting knowledge about the localized contexts of operation and the distinctions between the Taliban and the rest of the Afghan population.”
While his recommendations span the entire spectrum from tactical to strategic, I’d like to focus my comments on the tactical level considerations since this is where I believe we can have the greatest impact and this is where the expertise of most of the Al Sahwa authors lies.
Under Flynn’s proposed changes, the scope of what tactical-level intelligence analysts will be responsible for increases dramatically. I wholeheartedly agree that intelligence shops at the Battalion level should be focused on gaining an in-depth understanding of all of the complex factors at play in their operational environment (governance, economics, development, local populace, etc.). In many cases, however, Battalion S2 sections are under-staffed, over-tasked, and under-resourced. Priorities from their commander are often more focused on lethal targeting and with limited time and resources the “non-lethal” elements of the fight can become an afterthought. As the reports explains, “At the battalion level and below, intelligence officers know a great deal about their local Afghan districts but are generally too understaffed to gather, store, disseminate, and digest the substantial body of crucial information that exists outside traditional intelligence channels.” This doesn’t excuse a lack of production on their part, but just means that we must change how things are currently done (as MG Flynn argues).
In my opinion, the most effective way to improve the system is to make an investment at the tactical level by providing more resources to maneuver battalions and companies – best achieved by institutionalizing and empowering Company Intelligence Support Teams (CoISTs) across the force. If we are expecting these elements to expand the scope of their responsibilities, we must resource them to do so. As MG Flynn highlights in the section of the report that discusses one of the units that “got it right” (1/5 Marines in Helmand province), the company level is where the greatest potential for understanding the environment exists. We must enable maneuver commanders at the company level to capitalize on this opportunity and gain true situational understanding (SU). For more on the successes of the 1/5 Marines, see JD's previous post here.
In order to effectively visualize and understand all of the complex factors at play in a company’s operational environment (OE), the commander must be resourced with a team of analysts who are properly trained and resourced to do the job. Many units across the Army have created ad hoc company-level intelligence sections that have been extremely effective in both Iraq and Afghanistan (such as the units highlighted by MG Flynn – 1/5 Marines, 1-91 CAV, and 3-71 CAV). However, there are still too many units who don’t get this right. The Army must develop a standardized manning, training, and equipping plan for these CoISTs and make them part of a unit’s MTOE, rather than relying on each unit to create these sections from their existing personnel. The Army must agree on what the core capabilities must be for the CoIST and use this as a baseline to develop a robust plan to man, train, and equip them.
I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about this topic, especially after hearing LTG Zahner (the Army G2) discuss his plan for “Rebalancing the MI Force.” (For more details on this plan, see LTG Zahner’s slides here and his article here). Based on my experiences as a Battalion S2 who implemented a somewhat successful system of company-level intelligence sections in Iraq (we called them “Company S2s rather than CoISTs), I propose the following six core capabilities for CoISTs that must be capable of conducting full-spectrum operations ranging from COIN to foreign internal defense (FID) to conventional offensive operations:
Follow-on posts will discuss more details on how to properly man, train, and equip these CoISTs, but I would greatly appreciate your thoughts/input on what core capabilities we should focus on.