Updated: Feb 9, 2020
"The problems we face are much too complex for one organization to take on,” concluded 2017 Civil Affairs Symposium keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Kurt L. Sonntag, Commander of the U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Center and School – the “schoolhouse” for Army Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. “We need everyone’s help in this room to safeguard our future and consolidate our own Civil Affairs gains that have been hard fought and won for so long.”
Although recognition is growing that CA is indeed “increasingly understood as a national strategic capability to consolidate military into political gains” at all levels across the full range of operations, all three of the Army Special Operations regiments are facing serious challenges in “force structure changes, pipeline production, and recruiting,” Sonntag noted at the Hilton-Rosemont Hotel in Chicago on November 3rd. “We are currently not meeting our production numbers. The restructuring of the 85th CA Brigade has created an imbalanced CA force structure. And our recruitment is down. If something doesn’t change soon, we will short the operational force drastically over the next five years.”
For these and many other reasons, Sonntag and many others hailed the Association’s initiative of an annual iterative platform that cultivates the participation of its community of practice and brings the Regiment together with civilian partners and interagency policy stakeholders to foster meaningful and impactful discussion on the future of Civil Affairs. “It is through the exploration of ideas, the articulation of problems, and the examination of solutions that we are able to maintain the relevance of our Regiments, not only to the Army and our nation, but also to our allies and partners all around the world,” Sonntag explained.
The issue of the role of Civil Affairs in consolidation activities was the main focus of the opening workshop. Sonntag noted how timely this was given how Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (the 2015 Symposium keynote speaker) see the increased need to consolidate military and security gains into political and civil outcomes. As Sonntag cited: “Prioritizing sustainable outcomes through the consolidation of gains, as Lt. Gen. McMaster referred to it, requires the ‘incorporation of civilian and military assets under a coherent, strategic civil-military conceptual framework that addresses the gulf between people and their system of governance – a workable common theory of change between civilian and military operations that can address legitimacy, governance, and social cohesion in a meaningful way for transitional environments.’”
Especially with respect to civil-military integration, CA has an immense contribution to make in filling critical civil-military interagency gaps. The schoolhouse must develop and articulate CA consolidation tasks in concepts and doctrine – among the main findings of the workshop. This is particularly true given the growth of “stabilization” as a unifying concept for consolidation across interagency lines – not only in the U.S. Government’s Stabilization Assistance Review advocating the creation of a Title 10 standing global authority for small-scale military support to interagency stabilization campaigns in the Defense Support to Stabilization Fund, but among NATO and United Nations partners as well.
The good news is that there are plenty of concrete examples of CA’s role in consolidation and stabilization in current and emerging operations, let alone from history. One, briefed by CENTCOM CA Division Chief Col. Tony Thacker at the opening of the plenary session of the Symposium, is in the campaigns to liberate Manbij and Raqqa in Syria. CA teams, in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of Transitional Initiatives and other Unified Action Partners, are helping local councils enact arrangements to “provide security, services, and an administrative structure that can establish conditions” for a self-governed region that was previously under the control of ISIS.
Another, briefed by AFRICOM Command Special Assistant Maj. Gen. Kenneth “Ritche” Moore, is in the deployment of Active and Reserve CA teams to help partner nations mitigate the threats posed by violent extremism as well as build counterpart civil-military operations capacity. Like Sonntag, Moore stressed that CA is most effective when part of a greater, coordinated effort – especially as an SF, CA, and PSYOP multi-functional team. CA, Moore added, was unique to the Joint Force in its natural ability to operate in partner nation, interagency, and multinational environments, which is critical in Africa.
The Symposium, Issue Papers, and Roundtable form an adaptive vehicle to capture and concentrate these insights and inputs. In a letter sent just prior to the Symposium, Civil Affairs Commandant Col. Charles R. Burnett thanked the Association for collecting the Regiment’s findings and recommendations with respect to doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership & education, personnel, facilities, and policy – or “DOTMLPF-P” in the 2016-17 Civil Affairs Issue Papers resulting from last year’s Symposium. In just about every area, the “schoolhouse” is considering these inputs.
This includes the draft Civil Affairs Operations manual, FM 3-57, the development of organizational and operational concepts “in order to provide special operations and conventional force solutions for the growing demand for Civil Affairs forces at all echelons,” and the fielding next year of the Army Distributed Common Ground System to all Army CA units to help “manage linked civil information in support of both Conventional and Special Operations Forces, thereby increasing interoperability, interdependency, and integration.”
In addition to military and interagency participants, non-governmental organizations, whose capabilities are most critical to stabilization and consolidation, most found great value in this collaborative effort to improve working civil-military relations. “It was really eye-opening to see the level of conceptual overlap between peacebuilding and the new generation of stabilization,” remarked Melanie Greenberg, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, which represents over 100 peacebuilding organizations working in more than 150 countries and is a sponsoring partner of Association events, along with the National Defense University Center for Complex Operations, the International Peace & Security Institute, the Foreign Area Officers Association, and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. “I tremendously enjoyed getting a peek behind the military curtain, as DoD wrestles with many of the same issues we are… I look forward to further collaboration at next spring’s Roundtable.”