Consolidating Gains in the Civilian Domain: Leveraging Relationships for Prevention and Response

Updated: Feb 8, 2020


U.S. Army Civil Affairs must be ready for a range of national security priorities in a post Iraq and Afghanistan world. Violent extremist organizations are growing to become a top national security priority. As demonstrated in the PACOM and AFRICOM areas of operation, natural disasters and public health crises can severely afflict vulnerable populations and drive local communities toward a state of instability. In the European Theater, Russia, with its highly capable, conventional military capabilities, demonstrated its competence in conventional and unconventional warfare as exemplified in Georgia and Ukraine and continues to pose a threat to NATO partners such as Latvia and Estonia.[1] General David Perkins, the Commander of TRADOC, insists that the Army will have to face unknown threats and maintain multiple options to inflict multiple dilemmas against the enemy.[2] This unknown threat is outlined in the Army’s Hybrid Threat doctrine which defines this future threat as a combination of regular, irregular and criminal forces in a single area of operations. Therefore, for the purpose of framing these issues the problem statement is as follows:

Due to the current complex environment in which exists a hybrid threat of armed conflict and unpredictable humanitarian disasters, U.S. Army Civil Affairs forces must both shape an environment to prevent conflict and respond should crises or combat operations ensue.

This paper will focus on the importance of the concept of engagement and its role in both peacetime and combat operations—where leveraging relationships is a fundamental skill of CA Soldiers and CA organizations— and how it can best impact Army and Joint Operations.

Persistent Engagement

The Army Operating Concept published in October 2014 re-focuses on shaping the environment and preventing conflict.[3] In order to shape the environment to prevent future conflict and prepare the U.S. for possible humanitarian crises, persistent engagement within the Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational (JIIM) environment is required. CA units are well-equipped to develop and maintain relationships in order for U.S. forces to use the JIIM environment’s resources to accomplish missions. Currently, the Civil Military Support Element (CMSE) and Civil Affairs Engagement Program (CAEP) meet this persistent engagement criteria in order for CA forces, whether active duty or reserve component, to best serve supported unit headquarters during limited contingency and major combat operations. When Nepal was struck by a violent earthquake in April 2015, CA personnel assigned to the CMSE in Kathmandu immediately began coordinating rescue efforts between U.S. interagency and host nation partners including USAID OFDA, DoD and the Nepalese Army.[4] In his book, Out of the Mountains, David Kilcullen identified the impact of population growth and its risks for terrorist infiltration.[5] CA elements assigned to U.S. Embassies are adept in understanding the civil environment to mitigate these security risks. In Peru, CMSE 823 and CAEP 8223 demonstrated its ability to conduct mutually supporting efforts in support of its respective Theatre Special Operations Command.[6] Persistent engagement of the civil populace and JIIM environment through combined CMSE and CAEP efforts provide access emplacement for the DoD to respond to crises involving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), violent extremist organizations (VEO), limited contingency operations and even major combat operations.

During major combat operations, engagement conducted by CA forces captures a significant proportion of conflict mitigation and prevention efforts. Current Army doctrine lists six specific warfighting functions.[7] The currently conceptualized Engagement function addresses the synthesizing of an Army Brigade Combat Team’s (BCT) CA, MISO, IO and Public Affairs elements. During 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s Decisive Action Rotation 15-08.5 at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center, Civil Affairs, PSYOPS, and IO established a “Civil-Military Cell” to engage with national, provincial and local political leaders. Engagement with these leaders facilitated the minimizing of civilian casualties and inclusion of friendly local police officers and militia fighters into the Brigade Combat Team’s security efforts.[8] Although focused on major combat operations, this rotation demonstrated the capabilities that CA, PSYOPS and IO bring to a BCT by providing an array of force multipliers to deny the enemy access to the civil populace and minimize further armed conflict.

Leveraging Relationships

As members of Special Operations Forces, CA Soldiers use non-traditional methods in supporting an engagement strategy in a foreign country. CA forces build upon a network of relationships within the JIIM environment to achieve the commander’s goals. CA forces are required to build an extensive relationship network with the State Department, USAID, various international NGOs, and host nation representatives to establish and sustain the civil-military environment. The strength of these relationships can further political and military objectives as the various “nodes” in the network can provide CA forces an early-warning mechanism to detect potential sources of conflict. In order to further capitalize on and maximize the benefits of relationships and continue expanding the civil-military network, Civil Affairs forces must be trained on a variety of organizational and social analytical methods and strategies in order to garner a more comprehensive foothold in the civil environment. This will not only better assist command staffs in planning, training and executing future contingencies but also support a long-term strategy aimed at preventing conflict.

Rob Cross and Laurence Prusak identified key roles within a social network that can be useful for potential intervention or improving efficiency. The Central Connector is defined the “go-to person” for most individuals in the organization. Although another may be the official department head, the Central Connector is the actual person who has developed the informal work relationships required to complete the mission or task. Boundary Spanners connect networks together through their relationships with Central Connectors of other networks and invest the time to connect these networks into a unified effort regardless of affiliation. Information Brokers keep the larger informal network together as they have relationships with various individuals within normally separate networks. Lastly, the Peripheral Specialists work on the fringes of the network and provide subject-matter expertise to the organization.[9] Similarly, Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the The Tipping Point, discusses the concept of connectors who are integrated into social networks and greatly impact the growth of trends.[10] With this level of analysis, CA Soldiers can identify key stakeholders and leverage relationships to achieve common objectives.

Figure 1. The military organization (green) has an organic Civil Affairs assets (purple)

Figure 2. CA Soldiers build relations with host nation (yellow) and IGO/NGO community (blue)