An Integrated Security Force in the Support Area: CA and MP Partnership in Large Scale Combat Ops

An Integrated Security Force in the Support Area:

Civil Affairs and Military Police Partnership in Large Scale Combat Operations by

MAJ Mike Karlson, MAJ Chris Tunning, and MAJ Joshua David



Large Scale Combat Operations – Defining Roles


The publication of The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 by Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has been a driver for change as Army commands and warfighting functions continue to conceptualize their respective roles in Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO).[i] The U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence Civil Affairs Proponent drafted their supporting concept in Civil Affairs: 2025 and Beyond. They also published a follow-up article in Small Wars Journal titled “Calibrating Civil Affairs Forces for Lethality in Large Scale Combat Operations.”[ii] Two key points found in these documents are: (1) Civil Affairs forces should be optimized for operations in the operational and tactical support areas, and (2) Civil Affairs forces should be employed against irregular forces and hybrid threats in the operational and tactical support areas.[iii] These points are predicated on the assumption that operational and tactical support areas will be contested by enemy irregular forces in future conflicts, an assumption consistent with the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group’s Russian New Generation Warfare Version 2.1.[iv] The authors agree with the Civil Affairs Proponent’s framing of the utility of CA when employed against irregular threats in the operational and tactical support areas, and will further argue for a symbiotic partnership with Military Police units to help facilitate this. However, there is a competing argument for the employment of CA in LSCO.


There is an ongoing argument for the employment of Civil Affairs in the close area, the logic being, this location would better enable the execution of Civil Reconnaissance (CR) in a LSCO fight. Andrew Bibb makes the case in “Civil Reconnaissance Teams: The Expeditionary Arm of Civil Affairs Forces.”[v] He argues that CA forces should be organized, trained, and equipped into civil reconnaissance teams and integrated into the Cavalry Squadrons. The argument for the employment of CA in the close area is also being furthered by a growing demand throughout the Regiment for slots to schools like the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leaders Course (RSLC), and an imminent restructuring of the CA Military Occupational Structure (MOS) codes that will create a 38R, ‘Civil Affairs Reconnaissance Sergeant’. Neither of these is inherently bad and there is certainly value to increasing proficiency in functions that have ubiquitous value and relevance throughout the Army’s combat formations. However, the authors argue against the growing narrative that CA forces should primarily support LSCO as ‘scouts’, conducting CR in the BCT close area. Placing CA forces in the BCT close area is suboptimal for two reasons. First, it adds unnecessary risk, difficulty, and complexity to civil affairs operations, actions, and activities. Second, employing CA forces in this manner underutilizes the unique capabilities of CA forces.


Luke Whittmer frames this specific counterargument in “SOF in Large-Scale Combat Operations: A Theory of Action.” Whittmer argues that Special Operations Forces (SOF), and by extension CA, should be used per their joint doctrinal definitions, in a manner best suited to their unique capabilities, and in a role where these forces provide a significant return on investment.[vi] He describes the temptation of conventional forces to utilize SOF as “tactical scouts” as a misutilization, as it is a misalignment of their competitive advantages and unique capabilities.[vii] The authors recently returned from a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) and observed this firsthand. This recent rotation was the impetus for this article and the ongoing conceptualization of a symbiotic partnership between Civil Affairs and Military Police units in support areas. The case for this manner of collaboration, however, significantly predates this recent JRTC rotation.


History and the Consolidation Area

Doctrine and the echelon being discussed dictate the use of terms like ‘rear area, support area, and Consolidation Area’. FM 3-0 defines the Consolidation Area as “…the portion of the commander's area of operations that is designated to facilitate the security and stability tasks necessary for freedom of action in the close area and to support the continuous consolidation of gains”[viii], and refers to a Corps or Division level. The range of tasks to be performed in the Consolidation Area is dictated by the conditions of the operational environment and can vary significantly. FM 3-0 does posit some general planning assumptions for this area. The Brigade Combat Team (BCT) assigned to a Division’s Consolidation Area for example “…will initially focus primarily on security tasks that help maintain the tempo of operations in other areas”.[ix] Security is always a concern however, FM 3-0 describes the Consolidation Area as an area where “…forces have established a level of control and large-scale combat operations have ceased”. This level of security in the Consolidation Area should be an end state to drive planning. It would be dangerous, however, to view a modern battlefield as a purely compartmentalized area, organized by function and levels of stability. History challenges this outlook and can serve as a useful source for context on the realities to be expected in LSCO.


The relative stability that FM 3-0 describes in the Consolidation Area is not what 25 ID experienced in 1950 during the Korean War for example. The 25 ID Commander stated, “Never before, to my knowledge, has a unit closed the gaps in its front line and held it intact while a full-scale battle was raging in the rear areas”[x] when recalling the defense of Pusan. The North Korean Peoples’ Army had sizeable elements both in front of and behind US lines.[xi] This one observation, albeit from war, now decades past, is a harsh reminder of the risks inherent to viewing a battlefield as an organized set of boxes. This organization is in some ways necessary of course. It would be difficult to plan anything without first collating by geography and phase of the operation in time and space. Timely and accurate running estimates should provide a commander with revised planning assumptions during a LSCO fight. It is almost certain that planning assumptions made during Mission Analysis (MA) about the Consolidation Area will be revised. The enemy gets a significant vote, and a sizeable area that a US maneuver force desires to keep secure and stable to support combat operations is an attractive disruption target. History is again a useful starting point to suggest possible ways to think about mitigating disruption in the Consolidation Area.


Operation Husky was the name given to the World War II invasion of Sicily by Allied forces in the summer of 1943. The US Seventh Army, under the leadership of General Patton, was able to conduct a massive amphibious invasion and push back the German defenders, without losing significant momentum or the initiative.[xii] The Seventh Army’s ability to “…consolidate gains by transferring security and stability tasks to Civil Affairs Officers (CAO) after every successful assault on the Axis defenders”[xiii] was critical to the operation’s success. CA Officers were attached at echelon throughout Seventh Army and would contact local authorities to establish a military government and initial expectations and plans for a future transfer back to full civilian control.[xiv] FM 3-0 briefly discusses Civil Affairs along similar lines as the aforementioned utilization during Operation Husky.


The brigades establish civil-military operations centers to coordinate and interface with U.S. forces and indigenous populations and institutions, humanitarian organizations, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, multinational forces, host-nation government agencies, civilian agencies of the U.S. Government, and other unified action partners.[xv]

The Civil Affairs forces mentioned in FM 3-0 are from the United States Army Reserves. The size of the Reserve component of the Civil Affairs Regiment will undoubtedly be required for a LSCO fight. However, lengthy mobilization timelines for CA Reservists will pose challenges to the early integration, planning, and task organization required by a contemporary Operation Husky.

Common Challenges

The contemporary brigade support area in a simulated LSCO fight has been the subject of some interesting insights. A white paper written a JRTC task force’s Brigade Engineer Battalion cadre made the following observation in March of this year:

Since the loss of the Brigade Special Troops Battalion (BSTB) headquarters, IBCT commanders continue to face challenges in executing support area security operations using the Brigade Engineer Battalion (BEB). During all FY19 and first quarter FY20 rotations, IBCTs did not effectively control or secure their support areas at JRTC. As a result, all brigades experienced a consistent loss of sustainment, fires, radars, maneuver support assets, communication systems and C2 nodes.[xvi]

This observation from JRTC directly supports the risks of inaccurate assumptions regarding stability in rear areas outlined in the previous section. The support area is a brigade fight however, it is logical to assume that a Division or Corps Consolidation Areas would be subject to the same types of assumptions and oversight resulting from a myopic focus on the close area.

Military Police Observer Coach Trainers (OC/T) noted similar issues in the support area during the aforementioned recent JRTC rotation. A single MP Company was dedicated as the security force for the support area. That MP unit of action is only doctrinally capable of defeating up to level II threats (small but organized elements with organic direct fire weapon systems and indirect fire support)[xvii]. The MP unit also supplied a Battalion Tactical Action Center (TAC), which was relied upon heavily by the Brigade Engineer Battalion (BEB) to augment Command and Control (C2) capability in the support area. This was in part due to the BEB staff being heavily focused on engineer support to the close area. In short, the MP element in the support area during this rotation was undermanned to defeat significant security threats, and overutilized to provide C2 in the support area. Conversely, the CA force during this same rotation was subsumed as an element of a larger tactical force and subsequently misused to provide Civil Engagement (CE) in the close area. What if, however, these two elements had worked more closely together?

Two Observations, Two Opportunities

The CA teams were initially arrayed along the Forward Line of Troops (FLOT) with the Cavalry Squadron. This disposition added complexity to civil affairs operations, actions, and activities. Freedom of maneuver was significantly reduced due to significant constraints and requirements (three-vehicle minimum) for movement in the close area. The embedded CA forces with the Cavalry Squadron also highlighted a doctrinal mismatch where CA forces conducting opportune civil engagements could compromise the supported unit’s position, thereby generating an operational security risk. The pace of operations due to consistent enemy contact and multiple Tactical Operations Centers (TOC) relocations hampered the detailed assessments and reporting necessary to integrate civil knowledge into the operations process. Relocation to the support area would be mutually beneficial between CA and MP forces, adding bandwidth to the latter for security and analytical purposes, and increasing the freedom of maneuver of the former.

The second principle takeaway from this recent JRTC rotation was that CA forces operating in the close area deprived these forces of their unique capabilities. Coordination with unified action partners (UAP) was more difficult because they did not operate in the close area. There was a significant enemy information operation (IO) campaign throughout the rotation that the CA teams were unable to affect from the close area. The supported BCT effectively ceded the information domain to the adversary because of a deficit of aligned and resourced elements arrayed against that threat. Of note, the MP formation in the support area worked closely with Human Intelligence (HUMINT) teams to screen Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). An MP-CA partnership could cross-level assets and associated partnerships to better affect hybrid threats like the enemy IO campaign.

Back to the Future

The CAO activities in the Consolidation Area during Operation Husky would not have been possible without a critical partnership. The CA personnel were paired with Civil Affairs Police Officers (CAPO), to work with host nation police entities, and establish the initial framework for an Allied security apparatus.[xviii] Contemporary MPs are also trained to work with host nation police forces, and leverage these assets to maintain an economy of force.[xix] The authors acknowledge that there are limits to historical comparisons. History can be a useful starting point, however, a more thorough thought experiment on LSCO employment concepts would be helpful. MP and CA forces are attempting to do similar things insofar as it relates to proofs of concept for LSCO employment: mitigate security concerns, converge horizontally with other Warfighting Functions to maximize effectiveness, and maintain flexibility to support emergent requirements. The authors believe that a concerted partnership between MP and CA forces to consolidate gains in the support area is worth consideration for future Combat Training Center (CTC) rotations. About the Authors


Major Mike Karlson, U.S. Army, currently serves as a Civil Military Operations Center Chief in the 83d Civil Affairs Battalion. He received his commission as a Transportation Officer through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in 2008. He holds a MA in Strategic Security Studies from the National Defense University, a MA in Organizational Leadership from Brandman University, and a BA in Psychology from the Virginia Military Institute. He has served in both conventional and Special Operations Civil Affairs organizations since 2014 and has operational experiences in Afghanistan and several countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region.


Major Christopher Tunning, U.S. Army, currently serves as a Civil Military Operations Center Chief in the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion. He received his commission as a Transportation Officer from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA in 2007. He holds an M.S. in Defense Analysis with a specialization in special operations and irregular warfare from Naval Postgraduate School and a B.B.A. in Economics from Georgia College and State University. Since 2013, Tunning has served as a CA Team Leader, Civil Information Management Chief, and Civil Affairs Planner at Special Operations Command Africa. He has deployments to Afghanistan, Guinea, and Liberia, in addition to supporting numerous special operations exercises in Africa.


Major Joshua David, U.S. Army, currently serves as a Chief of Training in the 16th Military Police Brigade. He received his commission as a Military Police Officer from ROTC at Marion Military Institute, AL in 2007. He holds an M.S. in Leadership and Organization Management from American Military University and a B.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida. Since 2016, David has served as a Company Commander and recently as an Observer, Coach, Trainer (OC/T) Team Chief. He has deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and supported numerous exercises in the 1st Army.

End Notes

[i] United States Army Training and Doctrine Command. The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1. Fort Eustis, VA: United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, 2018. [ii] U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence Civil Affairs Proponent. Civil Affairs: 2025 and Beyond. Fort Bragg, NC: U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence, 2018.; Liddick, Jay, Thurman Scott Dickerson, and Linda K. Chung. “Calibrating Civil Affairs Forces for Lethality in Large Scale Combat Operations.” Small Wars Journal. Accessed November 4, 2019. https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/calibrating-civil-affairs-forces-lethality-large-scale-combat-operations. [iii] U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence Civil Affairs Proponent, Civil Affairs: 2025 and Beyond (Fort Bragg, NC: U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence, 2018), 7-12.; Jay Liddick, Thurman Scott Dickerson, and Linda K. Chung, “Calibrating Civil Affairs Forces for Lethality in Large Scale Combat Operations,” Small Wars Journal, accessed November 4, 2019, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/calibrating-civil-affairs-forces-lethality-large-scale-combat-operations. [iv] Asymmetric Warfare Group, Russian New Generation Warfare Version 2.1 (Ft. Meade, MD: Center for Army Lessons Learned, 2017), 7, 18-22. [v] Andrew J. Bibb, “Civil Reconnaissance Teams: The Expeditionary Arm of Civil Affairs Forces,” Small Wars Journal, 3, accessed December 13, 2019, https://smallwarsjournal.com/index.php/jrnl/art/civil-reconnaissance-teams-expeditionary-arm-civil-affairs-forces. [vi] Luke Whittmer, “SOF In Large-Scale Combat Operations: A Theory of Action,” n.d., 1-7. [vii] Ibid. [viii] Department of the Army, Operations, FM 3-0 (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2017), 1-35. [ix] Ibid. [x] MAJ Kyle D. McElveen. “Blueprinting Success: The Tropic Lightning in Korea, June to October 1950” (Monograph, School of Advanced Military Studies: US Army Command and General Staff College, 2019), 41. [xi] Ibid, 40. [xii] MAJ Robert A. Pough. “Consolidating Gains in Large Scale Combat Operations: Operation Husky” (Monograph, School of Advanced Military Studies: US Army Command and General Staff College, 2019), 4. [xiii] Ibid. [xiv] Ibid, 31. [xv] Department of the Army, Operations, FM 3-0 (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2017), 2.6. [xvi] CPT Kenneth Smith et al., Support Area Security Operations. Joint Readiness Training Center Task Force 5 (Fort Polk, LA: 2020). [xvii] Ibid. [xviii] MAJ Robert A. Pough. “Consolidating Gains in Large Scale Combat Operations: Operation Husky” (Monograph, School of Advanced Military Studies: US Army Command and General Staff College, 2019), 31. [xix] CPT Kenneth Smith et al., Support Area Security Operations. Joint Readiness Training Center Task Force 5 (Fort Polk, LA: 2020).