Interagency Lessons Learned in Afghanistan

By Mansager, Tucker B. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Interagency Lessons Learned in Afghanistan


Mansager, Tucker B., Joint Force Quarterly


Future conflicts will likely continue to blur the line between war and peace, necessitating close cooperation between groups previously considered the exclusive practitioners of each--soldiers and diplomats. Just as terrorism crosses military, economic, and criminal spheres, U.S. efforts to counter it must closely integrate the elements of national power--diplomatic, informational, military, and economic--and reveal no seams the enemy can exploit. Occasionally, the interagency process meant to bring all these elements to bear has worked well. More commonly, the coordination of these elements has been haphazard and ad hoc, particularly at lower levels. Action is required; the system will not improve by itself. A recent effort to improve lower-level coordination took place with the establishment of Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A) alongside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, resulting in significant lessons learned in the execution of interagency policy that might be applied in other countries and situations. Such basic concepts as collocation of senior military and diplomatic leaders, consensus building, and military planning support to the U.S. Ambassador all contributed to greater integration in implementing interagency policy and increased success in carrying out U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan.

Problems for the Joint Force Commander

Numerous interagency structures are meant to help integrate the efforts of the various executive agencies and departments in their pursuit of foreign policy goals. Unfortunately, they do little to help implement policy on the ground or deal with the overarching integration required of a joint force commander (JFC). Often they are outside the commander's control, or are de facto limited to one country. Not only do these structures not help, but they also pose a series of problems for the JFC.

The commander in a joint operational area (JOA) has no regional peer from the State Department or any other U.S. Government agency. While joint doctrine notes that Ambassadors operate at both the operational and tactical levels, their authority is effectively limited to their country of accreditation, as explained in Joint Publication 3-08, Interagency Coordination During Joint Operations. The same is generally true of representatives of other executive and intelligence agencies. The JFC's area, on the other hand, encompasses both the primary country of operation and all or part of neighboring countries; thus, the commander will have to coordinate policy or operations with multiple country teams. The first level at which the JFC may encounter a State Department individual with regional authorities comparable to his own is at the regional assistant secretary level. For example, the Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs has responsibility for U.S. relations with Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, among others. But since State geographic areas, as well as those of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), are not aligned with combatant commander areas of responsibility, a JFC with a JOA encompassing both Pakistan and Tajikistan might also have to deal with the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. Subsequently, such coordination often must be effected at the combatant command or even Joint Staff level--distant in time, space, and perspective from the area of conflict.

Even inside a given country, with one country team, cultural differences between foreign service and military officers complicate policy coordination and implementation. While military officers are focused on the military element of foreign policy, foreign service officers deal with all aspects of that policy. Detailed planning is a core activity of the military, while general planning is acceptable in the State Department; teamwork is rewarded in the military, while individual achievement is highly regarded in the State Department. …

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