Recent posts on various threads reminded me of the uselessness of much of the training that I received as the member of a three-star staff deploying to Afghanistan. So I thought it would be useful to start a thread on the subject of training the staff for COIN - what, if anything, has worked?

Like most staffs, we prepared through cultural study, rewriting our SOPs to incorporate 'lessons learned', and a series of exercises culminating in a BCTP-like 'certfiying' exercise. Like many of you who have commented elsewhere, we found the training to be inadequate and fairly irrelevent, and faced a very steep learning curve once we had actually deployed. Here is why I think that was the case:

1. The BCTP model - a two week intensive simulation involving the entire staff - works great for conventional warfighting. It is about the right time to fight a set-piece battle involving several phases, decision points, branches, and planning sequels. At the end you can judge success or failure by the change in the relative combat power of the two sides or the amount of terrain which changed hands. It doesn't work for COIN. The pace of counterinsurgency operations is so glacial, and the changes so miniscule (not to mention largely invisible) at the operational level that a two-week exercise consists mostly of running in place. As a result, you can't really judge whether you are doing the right things or doing things right. What you can do is see whether your headquarters processes are working, and this becomes the focus of your training.

2. The exercises - both external and internal - were rich in military detail but very bare bones in anything else. There was no in-depth treatment of the economy, local politics, tribal relationships, drugs, international or non-governmental organizations. There were efforts to involve us in the 'soft' side of counterinsurgency, but the external training organization was ill-structured to do so. Those who were excellent trainers did not have the expertise required, and those who had the expertise were poor trainers.

3. The pace of the exercises were all wrong. On the one hand you had too many 'major' events to deal with, in an effort to involve the generals and other decision makers; on the other, you didn't have the hundreds of 'minor' incidents that the staff found it had to monitor and respond to once we were actually deployed and in charge.

4. We paid lip service to cultural, historic, and linguistic training, but its effectiveness was never tested. Some of it turned out to be wrong or oversimplified once we arrived in any case; more importantly, none of the staff was ever examined to see if the training had stuck. In other words, there was no evaluation phase for that particular aspect of training. As a result, the majority of the staff deployed without being able to differentiate between a Pashtun and a Hazara, without being able to speak even rudimentary Dari or Pahto, without being able to expain the structure of the national or provincial governments.

All of this meant we were very well-trained on our internal processes - we had perfected our meeting agendas, our targeting schemes, our committee structures - but all adrift on what operational approach we should take. In other words, the three-star staff was trained on how to do things, but not on what things to do. As a result, despite a two-year trainup, we floundered on arrival for months. There has to be a better way.