Editor's Note: This article was first published in the Small Wars Journal at smallwarsjournal.com.
"Who controls the past controls the future."
- George Orwell, 1984
Years from now after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have ended, historians will pore over the operations and tactics of the U.S. Army during both campaigns. They will likely applaud the all-volunteer force and the courage of the individual Soldier; just as likely, however, they will criticize the lack of information sharing and management between the military and civilian departments of the U.S. government. Specifically, they will note the military's poor record in information management, accessibility of intelligence gathered, and the inability to apply years of accumulated intelligence to current battlefield operations. A way to patch the current intelligence gap within the U.S. government would be to adopt an information collection program that accumulates data similar to major internet stock market trackers. Market trackers absorb information continuously, rigorously track trends, and enable traders to formulate decisions based off the latest news combined with historical data. The ability of market trackers to store and quickly recall historical data should be mimicked by the U.S. government so that commanders and diplomats possess relevant records that enable them to make decisions which take into account the economic, historical, cultural, political, anthropological, and environmental aspects of the region they are operating within.
When a unit assumes battlespace within Iraq, the first thing that a commander receives from his higher headquarters is a plethora of maps detailing major avenues of approach, religious divides, key figures, demographics, key infrastructure, etc. However, much of the intelligence is outdated or watered down, and the source of this data is often unattributed. The source of this intelligence is necessary in order to winnow the chaff from the wheat. The intelligence received from higher headquarters can come from multiple sources, which oftentimes can be suspect and unverifiable. For example, is this intelligence derived from an Iraqi Army soldier, Iraqi policeman, neighborhood councils, street vendor, coalition signal assets, or from the previous military units that have operated within the current area of operations? Additionally, this initial trove of intelligence oftentimes provides just the basics and does not delve into more important issues that commanders need to know, such as the amount of money U.S. forces have spent developing the local infrastructure, the number of discontinued projects and reasons for their discontinuance, the quality of local leaders, and the attitudes of those leaders toward the U.S. military.
Counterinsurgencies are not won by more Soldiers, cutting edge technology, or more lethal weapon systems. Rather insurgents are defeated when the pacifying force fully understands the local citizenry, when the people identify with the pacifying force, and when there is an abundance of timely information which allows the pacifying force to apply their intelligence to operations that result in overturning and disrupting insurgent activity. Despite the great advances in the U.S. military's ability to leverage technology to gain intelligence, it has been less successful in storing and synchronizing the historical data compiled during the past several years in its campaigns in the Middle East. When a unit redeploys to the states, they usually dump all of their electronic files to their counterparts in no systematic or coherent manner. This is the ideal situation, though if they are on a more limited timeline they might just pass off the most essential information. With units being continually shifted around Iraq with little or no notice to respond to increased violence in different areas, it has been almost impossible for units to properly pass off their intelligence to the …