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Intelligence support to CENTCOM materiel recovery element.


The CENTCOM Materiel Recovery Element (CMRE) was first conceived in Afghanistan in 2012 from a realized need through lessons learned during the withdrawal from Iraq. The first unit to initiate this new mission was the 45th Sustainment Brigade (SB) starting with a retrograde sort yard (RSY) to emplace procedures for a deliberate retrograde and redistribution of materiel. Over the nearly three years of the CMRE mission three other SBs have executed the mission which came full circle back to 45th SB to evolve the CMRE mission into the Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade to support the changing mission in Afghanistan. Many changes have occurred, improving operations and procedures. These will be discussed in the context of intelligence warfighting function support to sustainment operations and the CMRE.

This hybrid intelligence mission focuses on how the CMRE views the battlefield, communicating in the Combined Joint Operational Area-Afghanistan (CJOA-A), supporting Force Protection (FP), and focus areas for pre-deployment training and preparation.

CMRE Mission-Sort, Retrograde, Deconstruct

The SB S2 focuses primarily on the main supply route/alternate supply routes (MSR/ASR), while the operational environment owner (OEO) S2 focuses on the larger area, or the urban areas and spaces in between and around the MSR/ ASR. The CMRE has a focus on portions in both of these areas. As the CMRE pushes materiel out of an area, either to an RSY or through a ground line of communication (GLOC) the interest is on the flow of traffic and locally contracted white truck movement. The CMRE is also concerned with the installations and security zones around it as an installation is deconstructed.

The typical SB has a unique perspective of the OE. With the organic Quartermaster and Transportation units, and possibly also Engineer, moving over the road networks each day they are able to understand the normal conditions and recognize the subtle changes which provide the OEO with vital information and intelligence.

As the CMRE mission falls to the SB, so with it comes the limited personnel and minimal resources. As a result of this, it is key that an S2 must be an integral part of not only higher and lower headquarters but to each Regional Command (RC) or Train, Assist, Advise Command (TAAC). These commands and other government agencies provide much of the support required for awareness and analysis. The art of extracting the vital timely intelligence from the vast amount of information compiled and disseminated daily is a delicate process. The first step is to answer the question "What is needed now to aid in the military decision making process (MDMP) and provide the framework for relevant and timely decision support?" Defining the few key tasks and areas of focus to support the OEO until they have retrograded to the point of the focus shifting to other areas and maintaining support to the CMRE is a unique facet of the intelligence mission.

The Battlefield through CMRE Eyes

Though each of the four SBs that were charged with the CMRE mission conducted operations differently to address the rapid changes of retrograding and supporting the closure of the Afghanistan Theater, root factors and concerns remained the same. An area of operations (AO) that spans an entire country, not an RC or two, is not the norm for the SB. Previously, two SBs would cover the CJOA-A. The AO becomes the specific installations and the area of interest (AOI) is now the MSR/ASR. Should the MSR status change or become impaired or the materiel is unable to pass, everything becomes backed up causing a "log jam" and the mission is hindered or delayed. The CMRE doesn't move the materiel and has little influence on the security of the MSR. The mission of the S2 becomes more predictive, defensive and forward looking to complete the mission. The analysis must focus on the future passability of an MSR or GLOC and less on the immediate threat of attack on the convoy. That analysis that will identify the event that will close a route or gate over a longer duration of time before the event occurs, rather than the improvised explosive device (IED) that will slow traffic today.

Information to predict reduced flow through an MSR, gate, or GLOC must be drawn from less common sources. The patterns of life and significant activities become less relevant and a more holistic view and approach must be taken. When conducting analysis, less of the Military portion of PMESII-PT must be looked at and a more in-depth look must be taken at the political, economic and social aspects.

The most effective intelligence an S2 provides a CMRE commander is the prediction of delaying circumstances giving the commander the knowledge needed to support decisions of flow and routes. Tactical level intelligence plays a small role in the intelligence support to the commander. In the traditional SB role a commander would most likely need more of this; for a CMRE a more operational, local, and/or strategic focus, as effects throughout a theater of operations will affect the movement and flow of materiel. It should be noted that, a CMRE may not be able to directly influence or affect decisions on what occurs but some foresight in reduced flow to an area may reduce the overall effect on the mission.

An example of this is the closure of a GLOC due to local government no longer securing the area and allowing its people to protest. This effectively closes the GLOC for reasons the CMRE was not part of. It is the second and third order effects of a decision made by the OEO to execute (or the method of execution) the Theater mission that trickles down to affect the CMRE. In some cases this cannot be helped but the analysis must be provided to show a commander how (and the duration) this affects the flow of retrograded equipment. A closure for a day may not show much impact to the CMRE mission; a closure for 30+ days may back up holding yards to the point of over taxing the yard's storage space slowing its productivity.

One task the S2 always has is getting inside the planning and attack cycles of the enemy. The CMRE is able to do this by assessing political, social, and economic areas of concern as well as potential areas of engagement. At the initial onset of the CMRE mission all materiel was hauled by truck, (military and contracted white truck off an installation) and moved to a central hub containing an RSY. This process was not only costly but forced many Soldiers and equipment to be placed at a higher risk. As the process slowly morphed into how the mission is executed now, a series of RSY and forward retrograde elements (FRE) are set up across the CJOA-A like a spider web of retrograde support. One of the secondary effects of this is a disruption in the insurgency support base surrounding an installation. With actions pushed to a local area so also comes additional required local contractor support that would normally be filled at a large installation. With the economic benefits of contracting and sale of scrap material to the local community the enemy's ability to disrupt and destroy is reduced. A threat is still there but the forces on the installation were more a part of the local economic system than a threat.

The greatest threat on CMRE operations is indirect fire (IDF) or Green on Blue attacks. Often CMRE elements would be tied to local disputes over materiel or land. As time went on the focus of responsibility for causing these disputes turned away from the CMRE and more to the Afghanistan Government office that was levying the requirement. If an area was to be transferred to the Afghans (this was any government entity from the Ministry of Education building a school for women to the Afghanistan National Army establishing their own installation) the facilities were released through a Foreign Excess Personal Property (FEPP) or Foreign Excess Real Property (FERP) process. These were agreed upon between the land owner or recipient and a Coalition Forces' representative. Only that which is determined to be able to be maintained by the recipient and is demilitarized is offered.

An example of FEPP is used appliances that have little value (either because of condition or function) to the Army supply system and are not deemed worth the risk or cost to have critical military assets, both Soldiers and trucks, move them across the country or the added expense of shipping back to the U.S. An example of FERP is something that can't be hauled away as a usable item (i.e., concrete pads, brick structures, or water and power infrastructure). FERP can also include buildings. FEPP items (i.e., heating and air conditioning units) inside buildings remain and become part of the FERP.

With the enacting of this process, enemy significant actions were greatly reduced. The few disputes over shares of materiel or control of land were minor in comparison to the previous frequency and severity of attacks.

Communicating across CJOA-A

No unit conducts operations in a vacuum. Communication throughout the unit's ranks and across the Theater, both higher and lower, is critical. Operating over the entire CJOA, the units and their daily business practices vary greatly. Each RC or TAAC will have their preferred systems for mission command and enemy threats. The Capital region will focus on magnetically attached improvised explosive devices and vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED); East region may add IDF also; South and Southwest will see IDF and IED before VBIED as the primary threat. Commonalities will always occur for threats, specifically Green on Blue threats and attacks. Where the specific unit or troops are at a given time will drive the focus of the S2. The RC intelligence sections provide a good indicator but the Task Force covering an installation is key to communicate with.

In effectively communicating with commands while conducting operations across the CJOA, the S2 must be fluid and capable of operating on an array of systems. Each region operates with their primary form of communication or platform for an intelligence common operational picture (COP). Some systems are part of an Army program of record; others will be third party. There is no longer a one-stop shop for communicating or gaining awareness of ongoing events in real time. The final submission of events or reports will be published on common databases such as multimedia message manager (M3). The process for finalization and publication is not timely enough for battle tracking and requires an S2 to be tied into live feeds and conversations.

Using programs such as Adobe Connect to Microsoft Internet Relay Chat (mIRC) to joint chat (J-Chat) or the Command Post of the Future (CPOF) over different networks battle tracking becomes a daunting task. The task is manageable if the initial communication is done with the OEO/base operating support-integrator (BOS-I) and working relationships are established. Without the relationship building of analyst to analyst connections, intelligence sharing and threat tracking can't be done in a timely manner.

Force Protection (FP) with Heavy Intelligence Injects and Support

FP is a high priority that is always built into each plan. Within the vast area (roughly the size of Texas) in which the CMRE operates enemy tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) will change as open plains and desert in the East change to mountainous vegetated areas where the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountain range begin. When an element would go to a new area a threat assessment would be conducted along with an FP analysis. Upon arriving at a new area all FP would already be in place as these were mature installations. As the installation was reduced to the agreed upon transition size or back to the original state of the land prior to construction, the security threat to the installation increased. It is important to remain cognizant of not only the change in enemy TTPs across the RC/TAACs as mentioned previously but also the cultural aspects. An Afghan power base must be maintained for local political and military leaders as operations are conducted to ensure continuation once Coalition Forces leave.

A disruption in this hierarchy or natural economic flow causes devastating effects to Soldiers and equipment. Examples of this can be found in analysis of enemy attacks during the closing of installations. Attacks have occurred over control of land or the hand over and distribution of materiel and resources to the local population. The ownership and distribution of materiel and resources must be thought out. Is it best to give to a local elder or leader and let him decide or should coalition forces distribute everything equally? In some cases in small communities and rural areas, distribution done incorrectly causes a shift from a typical insurgent TTP to an attack directly on a weakened installation as opposed to a convoy.

In other more urban areas when local contracts or security forces became more involved we would see a natural Afghan economic flow occur. Local security commanders would gather waste (from the CMRE perspective) materiel and consolidate it for sale and construction. During the deconstruction of an installation the wood from razed buildings was collected by Afghans and consolidated until removal could occur. All of this was done by the order of the local Afghan commander ensuring equal distribution and preventing the monopolizing of materiel amongst local entities. Safety and security was maintained for U.S. Soldiers and the Afghan people, attacks decreased and no significant events or attacks occurred.

If an installation is transitioned, defensive capabilities are reduced with the size of the base. One of the most vital assets to an installation is an Aerostat. Installations where an Aerostat could be transferred to the Afghans had fewer threats than those that lost their "eye in the sky" to deter enemy activity, provide early warning, and identify hostile activity. It was identified that early forward positioning an FP Officer and an MOS 35F (Intelligence Analyst) to build relationships and tie into the base defense operations paid great dividends. Each installation base defense cell or TF along with the human intelligence and counter intelligence teams become our best source of intelligence. As the BOS-I leaves, only small security elements remain with maybe as little as concertina wire in the final days. Tracking subtle changes in enemy activity and constant adjustment of FP measures are essential.

The CMRE is not tasked, equipped, or placed to assume the traditional roles and responsibilities of any defense entity. It is not until the final weeks or days that this responsibility becomes critical for the CMRE to assume. With the reduction of the remaining barriers and walls it becomes incumbent of the CMRE to ensure security and awareness is maintained during operations. As BOS-I and integrated base defense controls and protects throughout the base security zone, the CMRE S2/FP becomes important and a contributor/enabler as all organic assists are moved or descoped.

Train up and Preparation

As the intelligence section began to prepare for this unique mission the leadership looked at what would be the most important tools and our primary weapon systems. In an SB the analysts primary weapon system is the Distributed Common Ground Station-Army (DCGS-A). Even with the utilization of other systems in-Theater such as Palantir, DCGS-A still plays a significant role. Receiving the latest upgraded hardware was critical to tying into the Theater intelligence architecture. Another key piece of hardware to have on hand is the Global Broadcast System (GBS). Even with all the other systems providing the same feeds and information, having a secondary system or one that does not draw from the same bandwidth the rest of the Brigade is using provides another key system to keep the unit tied into intelligence feeds.

Additional classroom training was conducted prior to the intelligence section's deployment that resulted in gains of efficiency. Having little to no garrison requirement for a DCGS-A, skills are lost. The DCGS-A Pre-deployment Operator's Course offered through Foundry becomes critical. This is also true for the GBS Users' Course. Other non-system based training like the Green on Blue Train the Trainer Course provided the ability to disseminate more effectively on awareness of insider threat to organic lower units, increasing awareness and survivor ability. The other intelligence related course that produced great dividends in the accuracy and effectiveness of intelligence operations and support is the foreign disclosure representative course. With the diverse groups, whether other North American Treaty Organization countries or Afghanistan, the CMRE provides many products at various classifications across multiple networks. This responsibility takes a marked amount of time and if not done correctly will initiate significant consequences. Training and guides are available but a close tie to the RC/TAAC Foreign Disclosure Officer is critical.

Non-Foundry or intelligence related courses worth considering are CPOF and Blue Force Tracker (BFT). Though not always associated with the S2 section, many commands will use CPOF and post SIGACTs or other pertinent information on these systems. The challenge of tying into all the needed data streams and locations is eased if you are able to observe the COP other commands in your unit or the BOS-I you are supporting are utilizing. By utilizing the CPOF you are also able to provide an enemy or threat COP in a format that can be easily transferred to the system those you are supporting are operating on and increase the flow and timeliness of information you are providing. The BFT becomes a tool for your awareness as convoys move along the MSR/ASRs. With the software already built into the BFT timely critical situational updates can be pushed to those convoys that may be directly affected. An example of this would be IED emplacing reports or engagements occurring further ahead on the MSR/ASR.


For the SB S2 section the intelligence duties and responsibilities are the same as other S2 sections but the focus changes rapidly and the section TTPs must be able to change rapidly and adjust with the changing focus and shift in responsibilities to maintain the flow of timely and accurate intelligence to support MDMP and the commander. The focus is not always military but more political, economic and social. The dynamic OE varies and changes from mature to austere conditions and expeditionary capabilities. The CMRE must be able to adapt to various systems and to areas with varying capabilities and requirements, whether it's drawing support from the OE's organic units or conducting additional analysis to support FP.

The CMRE mission from inception to its current operation has changed due to the changing environment and reduction in both forces and infrastructure throughout the Theater. The support to the mission by the S2 is fluid and varies as the area the CMRE elements are operating in reduces and infrastructure disappears. To maintain the effectiveness and better complete the mission objectives the operation must merge with the diverse drivers in play in the region. By acknowledging and incorporating these unique drivers the S2 can play an improved role and better serve the overall operational effectiveness.

By utilizing the information at the lowest levels and assessing the situation around a FOB from the BOS-I and FP units, an S2 can better forecast the impact and threat to the CMRE personnel and remaining infrastructure or lack thereof if the land is returned to its original state. Further the S2 looks toward the local, political, religious, and cultural aspects of the Theater of operation. Local opinion greatly impacts operations both positively and negatively and must be taken into account. As noted this non-traditional Sustainment Brigade intelligence methodology can pay great dividends to the overall mission by ensuring security is maintained.

by Major Joshua J. Smith

MAJ Smith currently serves as the Brigade S2 for 45th Sustainment Brigade. Previously he served as the 541st CSSB S2; MiTT Intelligence Advisor; Company Commander, 297th MI BN; Assistant S2, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, and USARPAC Collection Manager. He has deployed in support of OIF and OEF. MAJ Smith holds degrees from Valley Forge Military College and King's College.
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Author:Smith, Joshua J.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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