Organizing Intelligence for Counterinsurgency

By Teamey, Kyle; Sweet, Jonathan | Military Review, September/October 2006 | Go to article overview

Organizing Intelligence for Counterinsurgency

Teamey, Kyle, Sweet, Jonathan, Military Review

The very essence of counterinsurgency is the collection of intelligence for the government.

-Lucian W. Pye1

EFFECTIVE, ACCURATE, AND TIMELY intelligence is essential to conducting any form of warfare, including counterinsurgency operations, because the ultimate success or failure of the mission depends on the effectiveness of the intelligence effort. The function of intelligence in counterinsurgency is to facilitate an understanding of the populace, the host nation, the operational environment, and the insurgents so that commanders may address the issues driving the insurgency.

Insurgencies, however, are notoriously difficult to evaluate. The organization of the standard military intelligence system, developed for major theater warfare rather than counterinsurgency, compounds the difficulty. Intelligence systems and personnel must adapt to the challenges of a counterinsurgency environment to provide commanders the intelligence they require. This is a "best practice" in counterinsurgency, without which counterinsurgency efforts will likely fail.2


Practical experience and research indicate six major factors make intelligence in counterinsurgency different than in other forms of warfare. First and foremost, intelligence in counterinsurgency is about people. Commanders must understand the host nation's people and government, the people involved in the insurgency, and the conditions driving the insurgency. They must have insight into the perceptions, values, beliefs, interests, and decisionmaking processes of individuals and groups. These requirements are the basis for collection and analysis efforts.

Second, counterinsurgency is an intelligence war. Both insurgents and counterinsurgents need effective intelligence capabilities to be successful. Insurgents and counterinsurgents therefore attempt to create and maintain intelligence networks and fight continuously to neutralize each other's intelligence capabilities.3

Third, a strong feedback relationship exists between operations and intelligence. This can be positive or negative. Effective intelligence drives effective operations, producing more intelligence. Ineffective or inaccurate intelligence drives ineffective operations, reducing the availability of intelligence.4

Fourth, all operations have an intelligence component. All service members are potential intelligence collectors when interacting with the people. Therefore, operations should always include intelligence collection requirements.

Fifth, intelligence flows from the bottom up in counterinsurgency, and all echelons both produce and consume intelligence. This is because insurgencies are like a mosaic in that they are local and vary greatly in time and space.5 The insurgency one battalion faces is often different from that faced by an adjacent battalion. Tactical units at brigade and below require a great deal of support for intelligence collection and analysis because their organic intelligence structure is often inadequate to deal with these realities.6

Finally, units at all echelons find themselves operating in a joint, combined environment. Commanders and staff personnel at all echelons must coordinate intelligence collection and analysis with coalition and host-nation militaries and intelligence services and with many different U.S. intelligence organizations.

Resourcing the Effort

We must understand the challenges posed by a counterinsurgency environment and the factors that differentiate counterinsurgency from major theater warfare, and then we must allocate intelligence personnel and equipment appropriately. Intelligence personnel are normally concentrated at echelons above brigade, with relatively few personnel at brigade and below. However, in counterinsurgency, requirements to collect, process, and analyze intelligence inundate units at brigade and below. The ability of these units to gather and analyze intelligence effectively is critically important in counterinsurgency. …

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