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Units that work with civilians often disregarded, soldiers claim.


Experienced military troops who are trained to communicate with foreign audiences are crucial to winning hearts and minds in counterinsurgency operations. But these units--known as civil affairs and psychological operations teams--are neglected and underutilized, argue the authors of "United States Special Operations Command," a new book. that is sparking debate within the special operations community.

Written by two National Defense University instructors, David Tucker and Christopher J. Lamb, the book takes a detailed look at the roles and missions of special operations forces, including the less glamorous civil affairs and psychological operations, or psy-ops, teams.

One anonymous Army Reserve major who served a 10-month tour in Iraq shortly after the invasion described in the book being passed around from unit to unit. Few commanders knew what to do with his team--even those who were part of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

U.S. SOCOM oversees all civil affairs and psy-ops units.

"Working with the conventional military was not always easy," he said. "One commander ordered us to drive up and down the road with [our loud] speakers blaring so that we could get shot at and his guys could return fire. That was the last day we worked with him."

A civil affairs officer discussed the frustrations he encountered while attempting to restore electricity to the city of Kirkuk. The power plant was in good shape, but the employees were staying home because of widespread looting and fear for the safety of their families.

The commander of the U.S. Army infantry regiment in charge of the city declined to provide security to the workers' families--choosing to secure the oil fields instead.


"Maybe they did not have the resources, but the impression they projected was more a lack of desire," said the officer.

Disputes within the Defense Department over what kind of missions special operations forces should undertake were never settled before 9/11 and six years later, debate continues, the authors said.

The book contends that SOF personnel should not be considered "elite" forces, but rather as their name suggests, "special." Their missions should consist of specialized tasks that more conventional forces are incapable of carrying out.

SOF missions are divided into two categories: "direct" and "indirect."

The direct, or "commando" side, might consist of units that hunt down and dismantle weapons of mass destruction or Navy sea-air-land, SEAL, teams that are charged with capturing an enemy leader.

On the indirect, or "warrior-statesmen" side, they might train foreign army units to combat terrorism within their borders.

When called upon to take out enemy targets, they will rely on their commando skills. When attempting to influence indigenous forces or populations, they rely on their political, cultural and linguistic skills. The indirect mission is where psychological operations and civil affairs reside.

"Longer-term operations designed to influence political outcomes through use of indigenous populations and resources are less valued, and thus the SOF units that contribute most in this area, such as the Army's Special Forces, civil affairs and psychological operations forces, are neglected by U.S. Special Operations Command leadership," the book stated.

As for disseminating themes and messages to target audiences in a theater of operations, "SOCOM has not supported the reforms necessary to enable a major expansion of capabilities in this area."

Further, such units are on the short end of the resource allocation stick, they contended.

The book comes at time when a growing chorus of military experts and former SOF operators are making a case that battling an insurgency requires these "indirect tactics." The U.S. military is engaged in a battle of ideas with Islamic extremists. The rest of the federal government is not engaged in this battle, with the exception of the State Department. However there remains a contentious relationship between State and Defense, and no one seems to be in charge of the information campaign.

"It's the population stupid," said Duane Shattle, director of the joint urban operations office--who borrowed the axiom from the Clinton administration's quote about the economy. "How do we get the population to not go to the enemy's side, or at least keep them on the fence?" he asked at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement urban warfare conference.

How is it that a society that can market and sell all sorts of useless items to the American public can't come up with a unified, strategic message to counter the false ideologies of the terrorists, he wondered. "I don't know why we can't get that right."

The 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) is the only active duty unit and is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) is the only active unit, but there are plans to expand it from one to four battalions, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Other civil affairs units are in the Reserves.

"People Make the City," a Rand Corp report that examined the complexities of urban operations gave an example of where civil affairs and strategic messages collided. Before the invasion, Western leaders were widely quoted as saying that life in Iraq after Saddam Hussein would be better. The strategic message was not meant for Iraqi audiences but the quotes made their way to Iraq nevertheless.

However, electricity in Al Basrah after the invasion went from three hours to zero, one British officer serving there lamented, and the forces there lost credibility with the citizens, the report suggested.

To achieve a more unified effort to influence populations, the special operations book proposes the creation of a so-called "Unconventional Warfare Command" that would take charge of SOCOM'S indirect action missions.

"It doesn't seem to me that a new command is an insurmountable obstacle," said Lamb during a discussion of the book at the National Defense University.

The military in the past has created and abandoned commands as it has seen fit. The new Africa Command is one example, he said.

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review acknowledged the need to put more emphasis on the indirect approach in order to undermine popular support for terrorists, the book noted.

Army Col. Kevin McDonnell, director of SOCOM's Washington office, said that separating the two skill sets would be a mistake. He has seen special operations teams that effectively blend both the commando and warrior-statesmen tactics with great success.

"I think splitting the command would be extremely counterproductive," he said at the book discussion.

Commanders are beginning to realize that the combat-centric approach, at the cost of civil affairs, psy-ops and other indirect actions at the beginning stages of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, set their efforts back.

"This has been a slow and painful learning process with substantial and perhaps irreversible strategic costs to the United States," the book said.

The book noted that psy-ops is arguably the most complex work that SOCOM does because it deals with the gray areas of human attitudes and motivation. However, the units' ranks, for the most part, are not made up of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians or behaviorists. About 90 percent of their enlisted personnel only have a high school education. "Few of the enlisted or officers who join psy-ops have any background in communications or the media," the authors noted.

The psy-ops major did have some successes. He set up one program that used an 800-type number that allowed citizens to phone in anonymous tips when they saw someone burying a roadside bomb. Many concerned housewives gave them useful tips. But overall, the mismanagement of their skills by higher-ups was so bad, most members of his unit transferred out, he said.

The Quadrennial Defense Review recommended that SOCOM boost its civil affairs and psy-ops forces by one-third, and the authors point out that these units seem to be getting more funding. The authors warned that "the new forces will make less of a contribution, however, if they are not trained to appreciate the value of the indirect approach."
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Title Annotation:ANALYSIS
Comment:Units that work with civilians often disregarded, soldiers claim.(ANALYSIS)
Author:Magnuson, Stew
Publication:National Defense
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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