Civil Affairs: A Collaboration Tool for The U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability

By Assad Raza

In December 2020, the U.S. State Department published a whole-of-government strategy towards conflict prevention and stabilization in fragile states.[1] This strategy outlines the integration of U.S. policy tools across all the instruments of national power, which include diplomacy, information, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement (DIME-FIL).[2] More importantly, this means DOD will have a key role in coordinating and supporting other government departments and agencies. This may provide U.S. Army Civil Affairs forces an opportunity to take the lead in establishing coordination and communication structures at the operational levels.

Throughout history, U.S. Army Civil Affairs have contributed with civil-military coordination at all three military levels: tactical, operational, and strategic. For example, at the tactical level, Civil Affairs Teams augmented the Provincial Reconstruction Teams used in Iraq and Afghanistan early on in the conflicts.[3] Another example was establishing a Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) to support Joint Task Force Haiti (JTF-Haiti) in response to the 2010 earthquake. However, this CMOC was flagged the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Cell (HACC) to better integrate with the UN humanitarian cluster system.[4] In Syria, Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (SOJTF-OIR) dedicated a Civil Affairs battalion (-) staff at the operational level and a Civil Affairs company at the tactical level to coordinate interagency efforts for governance and basic services in post-ISIS held areas.[5] Hence, U.S. Army Civil Affairs forces have the capacity and skills necessary to assist DOD to synchronize, coordinate, and integrate interagency efforts under the Defense Support to Stabilization.

Figure 1. Notional Civil-Military Operations Center, JP 3-57, Civil-Military Operations [6]

Moreover, Civil Affairs forces can assist Geographical Combatant Commands (GCC) and Joint Task Forces (JTF) in creating interorganizational cooperation mechanisms. U.S. Army Civil Affairs forces, both conventional and special operations, are organized, trained, and equipped to establish coordinating structures to facilitate cooperation with different entities. For example, all Civil Affairs units can establish CMOCs at various echelons, as seen in figure 1. According to Joint Publication 3-57, Civil-Military Operations, a CMOC is defined as "An organization, normally comprised of Civil Affairs, established to plan and facilitate coordination of activities of the Armed Forces of the United States within indigenous populations and institutions, the private sector, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, multinational forces, and other governmental agencies in support of the commander."[7] Such a structure can assist commanders at all levels with DODs' efforts to implement the new U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.

This strategy also outlines the different roles and responsibilities of the various departments and agencies that contribute to its implementation, including DOD. Within DOD's, it includes Civil Affairs as one of the specialized activities required to support this strategy

The Department of Defense (DoD) serves in a supporting role to manage and prevent conflict and address global fragility through specialized activities including Civil Affairs, psychological operations, information operations engagements, institutional capacity-building, and security cooperation. DoD utilizes the defense support to stabilization (DSS) process to identify defense stabilization objectives in concert with other United States departments and agencies; convey them through strategic documents; organize to achieve them; and prioritize requisite defense resources. DoD also provides requisite security and reinforces civilian efforts, where appropriate and consistent with available authorities.[8]

This suggests the authors understand the unique capabilities Civil Affairs forces provide to whole-of-government efforts. It is important to emphasize that over the past two decades, Civil Affairs has proven itself in collaborating with other agencies across the range of military operations, from foreign humanitarian assistance to counterinsurgency operations.