Academic journal article Military Review

HUMINT-Centric Operations: Developing Actionable Intelligence in the Urban Counterinsurgency Environment

Academic journal article Military Review

HUMINT-Centric Operations: Developing Actionable Intelligence in the Urban Counterinsurgency Environment

Article excerpt

This article was solicited from the author by Military Review as a companion piece to his article, "The Decisive Weapon: A Brigade Combat Team Commander's Perspective on Information Operations," published in May-June 2006. It is based on an unclassified briefing COL Baker presents regularly to leaders preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

A FEW WEEKS AFTER assuming command of the 2d Brigade Combat Team (2BCT), 1st Armored Division, I found myself sitting in a tactical command center in downtown Baghdad conducting a brigade cordon-and-search. The reports flooding in from my battalion commanders were virtually all the same:

"STRIKER 6, this is REGULAR 6. Objectives 27, 28, 29 secure and cleared. Nothing significant to report. Over."

We spent nearly ten hours searching for insurgents and weapons in hundreds of dwellings throughout our objective area, a bad neighborhood off Haifa Street that was a hub of insurgent activity--and for what? Ultimately, we captured a dozen weapons and a handful of suspects.

Much more worrisome to me than the meager results of our operation was the ill will and anger we had created among the Iraqi citizens who were the unwelcome recipients of our dead-of-night operations. I had been on enough such sweeps already to picture the scene clearly: mothers crying, children screaming, husbands humiliated. No matter how professionally you executed such searches, the net result was inevitably ugly.

That profoundly disappointing experience led me to a blunt realization: our dependency on conventional intelligence collection methods and our failure to understand the negative perceptions our actions were generating among Iraqi citizens threatened to doom our mission. If we did not change our methods, and change them quickly, we were not going to be successful in the urban counterinsurgency (COIN) environment in which we found ourselves. As a result of that realization, I made two decisions in the ensuing days that affected the way our combat team would operate for the remainder of our deployment. First, we would reform the way we conducted intelligence operations, and second, we would make information operations (IO) a pillar of our daily operational framework.

My purpose in writing this article is to share with the reader insights and lessons learned from the reform of our intelligence operations; specifically, what we learned by conducting human intelligence (HUMINT)-centric operations in a heavy BCT in Iraq. To that end, I want to briefly describe the initial state of my BCT and our area of operations (AO), identify the major intelligence challenges that we faced, and offer solutions and techniques we adapted or developed in order to overcome our challenges.


Second BCT deployed to Iraq in May 2003. We were a conventional heavy BCT, task-organized with two mechanized infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, an armor battalion, a field artillery battalion, an engineer battalion, a support battalion, and a military police battalion. The BCT's train-up prior to deployment had focused on conventional, mid- to high-intensity combat, and our battalion and brigade headquarters and staff processes were still optimized to fight a conventional threat.

Our AO included two districts in Baghdad--Karkh and Karada. Within these two districts lived somewhere between 700,000 and a million citizens, among them Sunnis, Shi'as, and the city's largest population of Christians. Our AO also included the heavily fortified Green Zone and several neighborhoods with large populations of retired Iraqi generals, plus numerous ethnic, sectarian and political entities (either preexisting or emerging, such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Dawa Party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).

With the exception of our counterintelligence warrant officer and a few other officers who had some previous exposure to HUMINT operations, we neither understood nor anticipated the inadequacy of our conventionally designed intelligence collection and analysis system. …

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