Civil-Military Integration in Afghanistan: Creating Unity of Command

By Welle, Joshua W. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Civil-Military Integration in Afghanistan: Creating Unity of Command


Welle, Joshua W., Joint Force Quarterly


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Last year, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman argued that the way forward in Afghanistan required "a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency approach." (1) The U.S. interagency community is answering the call. By mid-2010, there should be over 700 civilians deployed to complement the increase of U.S. troops to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); however, the "civilian surge" is only a first step toward success in a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign. Next, the U.S. Government must integrate personnel into a unified civilian-military structure with clear command and control ([C.sup.2]) systems aligned with the government of Afghanistan and ISAF. Without unity of command throughout civilian and military organizations, there cannot be the unity of effort needed to support Afghanistan in defeating a ruthless insurgency.

The strategy for success, as directed by General Stanley McChrystal, USA, and echoed by Washington pundits, is based on population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine. (2) COIN literature, from David Galula to David Kilcullen, recognizes good governance and sustainable development as the prize, relegating capture and kill missions to a secondary status. The U.S. Armed Forces are not trained to enhance governance in conflict zones and create long-term development strategies. Accordingly, civilian expertise in a counterinsurgency is a force multiplier. ISAF does not do governance and development; it endeavors to enable others to do it by creating security space in and opportunities for civilian international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to deliver sustainable progress by, with, and through the Afghan people. The strategy is to shape, clear, hold, and build--through an integrated civilian-military strategy from start to finish.

On the heels of the Afghan presidential elections and General McChrystal's 60-day mission assessment, changes to civilianmilitary [C.sup.2] should be considered. This article argues why and how ISAF should reorganize its [C.sup.2] structure to ensure true civilian-military integration.

Complex Environment

One of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan has a 70 percent illiteracy rate and the world's third highest infant mortality rate. It has been ravaged by 30 years of war and political instability. Creating opportunities for economic growth is difficult because of weak government institutions, dilapidated or nonexistent infrastructure, and significant environmental degradation from drought. Improving Afghanistan's ability to self-govern is of the highest priority, so stabilization efforts are "less about schools and other infrastructure than about the process by which international donors partner with local governments and institutions." (3) Ultimate success is achieved through Afghan ownership and execution of enduring development solutions. Thus, there are no quick wins.

President Barack Obama's regional strategy labels the Afghanistan mission as a vital national security interest. The objective is to promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function with limited international support. (4) Yet in this longer term effort, time is of the essence. By mid-2009, a new Ambassador and military commander were appointed, 17,000 troops were deployed to the southern region, and a clear message from Washington was sent: ISAF has 12 to 18 months to show evidence of positive momentum to retain support of the coalition.

First-hand Perspective

For 10 months, I served in the Regional Command (RC) South Civilian-Military Planning Cell (Civ-Mil Cell) within ISAF at a turning point in U.S. policy. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, with buy-in from partner nations in the South, advocated this cell to embed civilian expertise needed to guide regional planning efforts away from kinetic operations and toward governance and development-led approaches.

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