SSI, 7 Nov 08: Unity of Command in Afghanistan: A Forsaken Principle of War
In Afghanistan today, want of moral singleness, simplicity, and intensity of purpose harp of military failure. This is attributable to an abrupt departure from a long-standing and distinctly American practice of insisting on unity of command. The United States is the only country where military doctrine recognizes the principle of “unity of command,” and has successfully applied it in multiple alliances and coalitions since 1918. It was the guiding principle during World War II that convinced Allied powers to invest “supreme command” upon singular operational level commanders in distinct geographic areas. Unity of command was the principle behind the 1946 Unified Command Plan (UCP), which institutionalized the practice of unifying forces under one commander-in-chief. This paper examines the departure from this principle that occurred in Afghanistan in 2006, when Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A) passed control of the ground fight to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and operations became split between Commander U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), and Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The paper has three main parts. Part one defines “unity of command” and describes how the United States has tried to adhere to this principle since 1914. It contains a brief synopsis of the American experience of coalition warfare in both World Wars, and reviews the evolution of “unified command” as a continuous attempt to reconcile geographic, coalition, functional, and service differences. Part two focuses on the evolution of the command structure in Afghanistan since 2001. The third part analyzes the current command structure in Afghanistan. Historical documentary evidence is used here to analyze the divisive roles played by CENTCOM, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), SOCOM, and even the Department of State (DOS) and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), illustrating six areas where traditional unity of command has not been properly applied. Part three also provides a recommendation to revive unity of command in Afghanistan through an amendment of the UCP.