Overcoming Limitations: The Role of the S2 in a CA Battalion


Photo courtesy of DVIDS


2LT Brian Leppert and SGT Carlos Ramnath


What role does the S2 serve on the battalion (BN) level within Reserve Component (RC) Civil Affairs (CA) units? We will argue that the S2 does not follow a traditional model of intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) posited by MI doctrine in its support of CA units because of A) the distinct mission-set of CA and B) the methodological and presuppositional parameters of IPB – the combination of which produces several ambiguities. IPB consists of four consecutive steps: first, define the operational environment (OE); second, describe the OE effects on operations; third, evaluate the threat; fourth, determine threat courses of action (COAs). Now, the largely diplomatic nature of the CA mission inherently eschews intelligence in its clandestine goals, and second, the Army’s doctrinal model of IPB does not neatly fit into non-traditional, diplomatic mission sets due to its battlefield worldview. We will demonstrate these points by outlining the issue and by describing how the S2 can provide a definitive value-add to BN level CA planning and operations.


CA and MI as Fundamentally Separate

The definitive, diplomatic mission-set of CA presents a disparity between itself and intelligence. This disparity exists not just in a military context but also within the broader context of international relations. Foremost, the diplomatic and intelligence services lack trust and compatibility as diplomats have often viewed the clandestine nature of intelligence as detrimental to their mission.[1] Here, diplomacy has a legitimacy that intelligence does not due to the secrecy of intelligence. For example, when country A decides to conduct clandestine activities in country B while simultaneously engaging it diplomatically, the intelligence activities have the potential to destroy diplomatic progress if brought to public light.[2] This has spurred debate regarding the definition and nature of intelligence, which largely circles around intelligence’s use of secrecy.[3] These inherent differences have led authors like Manjikian to describe intelligence as having a type of “queerness” as opposed to other methods of conducting foreign policy.[4] Thus, diplomacy and intelligence operate on different grounds and in different capacities.


This disparity does not restrict itself to the strategic 3-letter agencies and the DoS; rather, it exists within the military, primarily articulated in doctrine. First, the Army’s commander-centric paradigm positions CA and MI assets as distinct support entities that operate parallel to each other.[5] Here, the Army considers both as “tools” in the commanders “kit” for planning and conducting unified land operations.[6] However, they bring different services to the table. CA provides civil information management (CIM) and analysis of human networks and MI provides IPB and analysis of pertinent threats.[7] CA conducts CIM on the “low side” in unclassified settings whereas MI conducts analysis on the “high side” within a SCIF. CA doctrine goes as far as to explicitly state that “CA must not be tasked as active collectors of threat information,” and “CAO [civil affairs operations] are an information [as opposed to intelligence]-related capability”.[8] CA assets do not participate in MI activities in order to protect their diplomatic mission, which is often codified through status of forces agreements between the US and host nations. As FM 3-57 states “If the civil component perceives that CA is acting on behalf of intelligence organizations . . . CA forces lose the credibility and access required to establish and maintain these critical relationships.”[9]


This distinction underlies the role of the S2 in CA BNs as no extensively described role exists in doctrine for S2s in CA BNs. The S2 has the potential to jeopardize the diplomatic mission of CA through clandestine activity if it actively tasks CA elements to collect intelligence.[10] Inversely, the S2 is handicapped by the CA mission set because its chief tool, IPB, does not entirely apply to CAA (civil affairs activities)/CMO.


Doctrinal Left and Right Limits

While the previous section depicted the missional difference between CA and MI, another disparity exists that presents problems to BN-level S2s. Here, IPB does not fit within the CA mission set but not because it deals with threat-related analysis (for CA does benefit from a recognition of multivariate threats); rather, it does not apply to CA because IPB methodology is restricted to battlefield considerations and a battlefield worldview.


The first issue is that IPB already considers cultural factors and civil considerations. According to ATP 2-01.3, “Intelligence preparation of the battlefield is the systematic process of analyzing the mission variables of enemy, terrain, weather, and civil considerations in an area of interest to determine their effect on operations”.[11] Furthermore, the intent of IPB is to foster, “. . . a holistic approach to analyzing the operational environment (OE).”[12] Yet, this holistic approach subjugates itself to, “. . . the relevant aspects of the OE as they pertain to the staff’s warfighting function. . . .” or the mission at hand as directed by the commander.[13] This conscripts IPB to the mission at hand as not all information has pertinence to tasking. Thus, IPB, while remaining a similar process across offensive, defensive, and stability operations, will prioritize intelligence as dictated by the commander and mission.


These doctrinal considerations seem to imply that the commander determines the presuppositions of conducting IPB, opening the potential to direct analysis towards civil considerations. Indeed, doctrine does describe an IPB focused on civil considerations within non-traditional environments, such as stability operations or a COIN context. As FM 3-24 states, “In a counterinsurgency environment, intelligence preparation of the battlefield/battlespace must take into account operational environment considerations,” and, “Culture is an element of the operational environment. . . .”[14] This led Catherine Bechtel to argue that “Personnel analyze and understand battlespace characteristics like demographics, culture, tribes, and clans as much as they work to understand its terrain features”.[15] Likewise, ATP 2-01.3 states that during stability operations, “Commanders and staffs should be wary of becoming too focused on enemy forces and not conducting the necessary analysis on civil considerations. A greater emphasis may need to be placed on civil considerations than on the enemy during stability tasks.”[16] Additionally, this doctrinal publication lays out a laundry list of tasks that include assessments of the civil considerations and their impact on the regional security.[17]


While IPB doctrine appears to provide for the myriad of situations that move beyond the battlefield, it assumes a battlefield worldview by conscripting non-battlefield factors (i.e. civil considerations) to the battlefield. Here, multiple MI professionals argue that IPB does not fit into the totality of military operations and that it is restrictive as an analytic model. For example, Carter claimed that IPB, “. . . is too myopic and rigid. . . .” to appropriately assess the intricacy of the current global system.[18] Here, he draws upon the example that, “. . . IPB strives to be clock-like in describing the battlefield and predicting developments, which means that those who use it may be inclined to make the false assumption . . . that everything is ‘clock-like’ and predictable in a given operational area”.[19] Even though doctrine recognizes the need for a ‘holistic’ approach to IPB, Carter’s point implies that shifting emphasis to civil considerations within IPB forces them into a “clock-like” model. Clock-like rigidity definitely fits the type of intelligence requirements of traditional warfare and battlefields, but not the fluid aspects of the civil domain. Political, religious, and social systems often do not function like “clocks,” and the task of subjugating them to a codified IPB process forces the analyst to consider them in this manner.


Going further, doctrine claims that:


The purpose of IPB in stability tasks is the same as in offensive and defensive tasks. However, the nature of these tasks and the intelligence requirements associated with them are unique. The principal difference is the focus and degree of detail of analysis required for the civil aspects of the environment.[20]


However, as Snider argued, “Simply adding more detail and including a demographic analysis does not make it adequate.”[21] The problem does not coalesce on a matter of degree, but a matter of kind. IPB fundamentally prioritizes the battlefield as its level of analysis. Shifting emphasis during the four steps does not change the worldview lens through which the staff analyzes the civil considerations. A proper analysis of civil considerations requires a different kind of analysis, not a shift in the amount of detail or priority given to them.


Furthermore, Haas argued that IPB must adapt to fighting non-traditional enemies by adopting a broader model of what constitutes the enemy and how the enemy positions itself within the OE.[22] In CAOs, this would involve looking at civil considerations in a different way, utilizing a broader analytic perspective. Likewise, McDonough and Conway contend that intelligence support to COIN requires more than the lethal framing/language of traditional IPB.[23] CAOs require non-lethal targeting frameworks, which assume a different basis than lethal targeting. Additionally, Chase claimed that IPB views actors as nation-states, and that this does not apply to current, fluid situations presented by non-state threat actors.[24] Hence, IPB exhibits a certain bias due to its task to “prepare the battlefield.” This, however, places MI staff at a proverbial fork in the road. Here, they can either rework the more fluid civil considerations to fit the rigidity of IPB, or they can rework IPB to fit the fluidity of the human context. This means going beyond attention in the degree of analysis to attention in the kind of analysis. But by doing either, the MI staff pushes the analytic boundaries of IPB, making it into something that it is not. It sets too broad left and right limits.


To broaden the left and right limits of IPB creates practical analytical issues. First, you run the risk of losing intelligibility and distinction, the bedrock of analysis. When you redefine a specific thing into something else, it no longer exists as the original thing, creating an equivocation and a falsehood. As Aristotle famously stated, “. . . falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that which is not is. . . .”[25] If civil considerations exist as a different kind of category from battlefield considerations, then to reduce the former to the latter is making that which is something that it is not. For example, if you take the civil consideration of a religious leader/leadership, but place it under an IPB mold, you will view the religious leader as friend/foe, which misses various nuances of religion. The leader may not be “friend” or “foe”, but instead may be “other” as in most religious contexts spirituality goes beyond the quarrels of “this world” and aims at the divine.[26] The COAs of religious leaders and people often have different aims and motivations that do not fit into the friend/foe category, and subjecting this civil consideration to the battlefield-oriented IPB model blurs these lines. Both intelligibility and distinctions provide for analytical clarity and error-free judgment.[27] Therefore, extending the left/right limits of IPB to become a catch-all model can produce erroneous assessments.


Clearly, IPB does not provide a universal model for conducting intelligence support to operations, even though it has utility in traditional warfighting. IPB rightly restricts itself to warfighting (given the Army’s primary directive and purpose as a warfighting entity). However, CA does not conduct traditional warfighting and objective seizing, and it is easy to see from these points alone that IPB provides limited value to CA planning and operations at the BN level. CAA/CMO may not have a clearly defined enemy or really any enemy at all. While doctrine recognizes this, cautioning staff and commanders to not overlook civil considerations, this raises the question of how much IPB is required to conduct IPB.[28] The point here is not that IPB cannot concern itself with civil considerations; rather, IPB within the CA context and the CA specific use of civil considerations stretches IPB past its methodological commitments. IPB exists as an analytic model, and like any such model it has limits in its applicability.


Finally, IPB does not apply to CA BN level planning even within traditional contexts where CA would support an infantry division in a large-scale campaign. In such a situation, the CA mission does not change. CA commanders still provide the same CAA and CAO support services that they would in a stability context. They still attempt to partner with the indigenous population and provide support to the local civil administration. Additionally, the higher maneuver unit would conduct its own IPB process via its own MI staff. Why, then, have a CA BN level S2? All of these restrictions essentially handicap the S2 as its chief tool doesn’t “fit the problem.” Trying to conduct IPB in a CA context resembles trying to fit a square peg in a round hole—it doesn’t often work, and when it does, it has the potential to be erroneous. However, there are several ways to more clearly define the S2 role in a CA BN.