Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The By-with-Through Operational Approach

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The By-with-Through Operational Approach

Article excerpt

Our approach is by, with, and through our Allies, so that they own these spaces and the U.S. does not.

--Secretary James N. Mattis

The U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) definition of the by-with-through (BWT) operational approach is that operations are led by our partners, state or nonstate, with enabling support from the United States or U.S.-led coalitions, and through U.S. authorities and partner agreements. By, with, and through has proved agile, adaptive, and tailorable in pursuing American interests in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR). Moreover, this approach will become increasingly useful globally in a complex, resource-constrained environment with advantages from use before, during, and after conflict. The U.S. military must organize, resource, and train the joint force to operate by, with, and through with greater efficiency and effectiveness with various types of partners and whole-of-government involvement. Executing this approach in current and future multipolar and resource-constrained environments requires common understanding and the development of joint force doctrine.


Regional conflicts can arise when state or nonstate actors do not have the capacity and resources to resolve their conflicts locally, potentially putting U.S. interests in the region at risk. Traditional U.S. military solutions can inhibit local responsibility for resolving those problems and may even provide opportunities for adversaries to challenge and reverse the legitimacy of "foreign power" solutions. Also, despite an invitation of the host government, a large and protracted U.S. military presence is often perceived as an invasion or an occupation by significant numbers of the host-country's citizens. Aware of these challenges, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated, "U.S. forces have evolved to work by, with, and through our allies" (1) and would defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS) "by, with, and through other nations." (2) The current USCENTCOM Theater Strategy states, "'by, with and through' is an important component of our strategic approach," (3) and "we choose to prevail 'by, with and through' ... nations that share our interests." (4)

As this approach gains increasing usage, it is important to address what it entails and its implications for the joint force. The phrase has many potential interpretations; therefore, along with the definition above, a conceptual framing of its meaning is necessary. The BWT operational approach seeks to achieve U.S. national interests by engaging and enabling partners' local and regional capabilities and leadership. Through American authorities and partner agreements, joint force enablers can support, organize, train, equip, build/rebuild, and advise partners' security forces and their supporting institutions from the tactical to ministerial levels.

By, with, and through is not yet a doctrine or a strategy or a formal military program. Instead, it is considered an operational approach to be used during the course of security cooperation activities or military campaigns. The approach pursues more culturally acceptable and durable solutions by developing and supporting partner participation and operational ownership. By, with, and through is a way of conducting military activities and operations with less direct combat employment of U.S. forces. Although for USCENTCOM it is militarily focused, by, with, and through complements the whole-of-government approach to regional conflicts that implicate U.S. national interests.

With this definition and broad concept, the discussion is presented in two parts. In the first part, several USCENTCOM examples are discussed to develop a better understanding of the BWT approach. These examples assist the explanation of essential components in decisions on where, when, with whom, and how the BWT approach is used. Based on USCENTCOM experience, the second part identifies strategic and operational selection criteria, advantages, and risks that must be considered at the onset and reassessed throughout execution. …

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