The Military and Reconstruction Operations

By Ryan, Mick | Parameters, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Military and Reconstruction Operations


Ryan, Mick, Parameters


The post-Cold War trend of convergence between military and nonmilitary tasks has accelerated over the past six years as western nations seek to defeat the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. (1) One result of this convergence is an increased role for military forces in the conduct of humanitarian missions previously viewed as the sole preserve of nongovernmental organizations. This transition is reflected in a greater emphasis on reconstruction activities by the military in contemporary operations.

To some extent, most western military organizations involved in Iraq or Afghanistan now appreciate the requirement for military units to conduct reconstruction operations as part of their normal missions. At the strategic level, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have established government offices for developing a more coherent approach to nation-building activities. (2) The Provincial Reconstruction Teams established in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last several years are evidence of this. These may have a limited impact in some higher threat areas because of a lack of sufficient, integral intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and force protection assets.

A more robust approach to military-led reconstruction operations would see organizations with increased mobility, a strengthened ISR capability, and enhanced security. (3) This self-contained capability will allow for the conduct of reconstruction operations where and when required. If the indigenous capacity is weak and nongovernmental organizations are unable to work securely, such an organization can make a significant contribution to shaping the opinions and perceptions of the local population. This article examines the contribution of military-led reconstruction operations as part of a unified counterinsurgency campaign. (4) These operations require the precise, discriminate application of nonkinetic effects to support the overall campaign plan in an effort to defeat contemporary and future insurgencies. Such operations require the allocation of significant combat support elements such as engineers and civil affairs, and should be synchronized within a joint, interagency application of national resources in support of the counterinsurgency effort. The ultimate aim of these operations is to coerce or persuade target populations to support friendly forces over insurgents.

Reconstruction and Counterinsurgency

Reconstruction operations play a vital role within the broader conduct of a counterinsurgency campaign. In many respects, the effects of reconstruction activities will have a more enduring influence than tactical, nonkinetic operations. This is not to minimize the importance of robust combat forces; there will always be a need to target certain insurgent elements for destruction. But the population-centric nature of counterinsurgency means that kinetic operations may often play a supporting role for other nation-building activities. The ability of the counterinsurgent to achieve the right balance between precise, discriminate kinetic and non-kinetic actions will have a major impact on how successfully local populations can be influenced.

Given the number of civilian agencies and the depth of their capabilities and experience, some may question the rationale for an expanded role for military organizations in reconstruction operations. The harsh reality is that in many areas such as southern Afghanistan and Iraq, tenuous security conditions prevent many aid groups and other government agencies from establishing a presence. In some instances these aid organizations, and other contractors, are deliberately targeted by insurgent groups in an effort to prevent them from gaining a foothold and becoming effective in assisting the local populace. (5) In spite of these negative influences, the need for reconstruction operations in support of security missions remains. This capacity is best provided by highly capable organizations that possess an integral mobility and protection capability permitting the conduct of reconstruction operations with minimal interference from insurgents. …

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