Closing the Loop, a Fictional Vignette

by CPT Tyler Todd and CPT Raziel Shields



Situation: The Amari Government requested Security Assistance from the US Embassy-Amari because it fears that al-Shabaab, a regional extremist organization in East Africa, will begin targeting Western interests and create additional instability within the Amari-Nyumba border region. Civil Military Support Element-Amari (CMSE-AMR), deployed to Amari January 2021 to gain an understanding of the border dynamic, assist the Amari Government in building legitimacy within the region, address civil vulnerabilities in order to assist in stabilization, and gain an understanding of the impact of Olvanan activities and influence within the area.


Amari once again interfered in a Nyumban election, in hopes of forming a buffer state between themselves and Nyumba. The Amari Government hoped this endeavor would disrupt the ability of al-Shabaab to operate in Amari, but it only resulted in Nyumba cutting diplomatic ties and closing the official border crossings between the countries. Despite the “closing” of the border, millions of dollars of livestock, sugar, charcoal, and Olvanan goods flowed freely across the borders weekly. al-Shabaab, corrupt state officials, and the intermediaries profited. Olvana benefitted from this trafficking by not only ensuring a large portion of their goods were imported into Amari tax-free, but they gained influence through destabilizing the region since they utilized al-Shabaab to facilitate this illicit trade, thus opening pathways to partnership with Amari and Nyumba through arms sales and infrastructure projects to “stem the instability.” Additionally, Wahhabist extremists in the Gulf exploited this illicit border region to export their ideology to the large, vulnerable displaced persons population that numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the Amari-Nyumba border region. The Wahhabists used connections through al-Shabaab to import camels and cattle to the Gulf through the port of Kismayo; in-turn they compensated al-Shabaab with crypto-currency through the SavannaComm Mobile platform, facilitating their proxy to continue espousing radical beliefs among vulnerable populations and continuing the global jihad.


Since 2015, a key pillar of CMSE-Amari’s mission was building in-roads among local veterinarians in the Amari-Nyumba border region. Regional pastoralists trusted these veterinarians and over the years, CMSE-Amari was able to map the traditional trade routes from Northern Amari to the port of Kismayo. This trade route was used to trade livestock and other goods from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf for hundreds of years. These traditional routes were the same routes now used to traffic millions of dollars of illicit goods. CMSE-Amari, conducting Civil Reconnaissance and Civil Engagements in border region markets, found that the SavannaComm Mobile crypto-currency was the currency to conduct business. Through their Governance and Stability Working group at US Embassy-Nairobi, they began a working relationship with the Counter-Threat Finance specialist at the East African Regional U.S. Department of Treasury detachment. Despite mapping the network in the Amari-Nyumba border region, CMSE-Amari and their interagency partners ran into an all-to-common problem. Once the goods embarked from the Port of Kismayo, the intelligence hand-over lines did not function efficiently, and the destination of these goods eluded the team…as did the transnational network of extremists and global competitors of which these goods were a part.



Fortunately, members from CMSE-Amari in the 91st CA BN (SO) (A) and CAT-GULF from A Co., 83rd CA BN knew each other through the Civil Affairs Qualification Course. CMSE-Amari knew that CAT-GULF conducted Civil Reconnaissance and Civil Engagements for NAVCENT. They assist with interdicting ships in and around the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Gulf for Maritime Security Operations (MSO) through Visit, Board, Search and Seizures (VBSS). In a VTC, CAT-GULF informed CMSE-Amari that the N2 for NAVCENT could identify each shipping vessel in their AOR through the hull number. The identification of a vessel, or lack thereof, would give two different types of responses from the Navy.


Based on this knowledge inject the USSOF Network near the Port of Kismayo began documenting the hull numbers of ships whose cattle and charcoal cargo originated from the Amari-Nyumba border. CMSE-Amari forwarded the reported hull numbers to CAT-GULF, who then informed the N2 and MSO patrols of ships to identify for VBSS. Armed with the knowledge of who and what the boarding team will encounter on the vessel allows the operation to be more fruitful, otherwise the vessels being boarded may not be worth the resources involved. This new information sharing practice greatly improved the Civil Affairs and VBSS effectiveness since its initial phases; the former process was described as, “a police force trying to disrupt drug trafficking by pulling over random cars on the highway. Without access to the areas that illicit the activities were either destined for or originating from, information gaps would persist and prevent effective Human Network Analysis (HNA) or CAO aimed to affect those activities.”[1].


Now, despite the ship crossing between combatant commands’ (COCOM) areas of responsibility, the N2 tracks the vessel to a port (or pulls the log) within the CENTCOM AOR. This identifies a port for the Navy to take an interest in, both on land and in the sea. While the USN and USCG can conduct MSO on the waters near the port, CA can conduct civil engagement and civil reconnaissance to build the network at the port of arrival. Despite the geographic separation, the information shared between the two Civil Affairs elements helped to illuminate a transnational network that plays a role in the destabilization of the strategically important Horn of Africa and Arabian Gulf.


This paper aims at linking two COCOMs together to close the loop on information gaps that affect both COCOMs. While NAVCENT sees a low-threat vessel filled with cattle and other goods, our fellow CA and USSOF partners in AFRICOM see a commodity that is funding an adversary from an unknown source a COCOM away. The purpose of this fictional vignette is to raise the question: How do we improve cross-COCOM information sharing? It is vital for CA to look beyond the borders of ones AOR and understand what type of an impact their country or COCOM is having on another. Perhaps the answer is cross-COCOM LOEs (CCLOEs) but more readily available is a capability that already exists in the 95th CA BDE (SO) (A) HNA Sections. Battalion HNA sections should be operationalized to provide support to deployed teams. Once the Civil Information Management cycle is completed at the battalion level (83rd, 91st, 92nd, 96th, 97th,98th), Battalion HNA Chiefs will provide the finished products to the 95th CA BDE (SO) (A) HNA Section for a “global” CIM cycle that can produce an HNA product that is COCOM-agnostic. Some immediate challenges include the need for a standardized format (i.e., the Edgebook developed by CPT Joseph Bedingfield), authorities to operationalize the CONUS base HNA sections, and the training to ensure Soldiers assigned to HNA sections can maintain the systems. Despite the challenges, we believe the proper utilization of HNA Sections within CA can fill a critical gap in our Operational Environment.


About the Authors


Captain Tyler Todd is a Team Leader in the 83rd CA Battalion. Captain Raziel Shields is a Team Leader in the 91st CA Battalion (SO)(A).


End Notes

[1] “Moriarty, D. & Peckenpaugh, K. (2019). Searing for Dry-Land: The Challenges of Maritime Civil Affairs Activities and a Framework for Future Success. Small Wars Journal.

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