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Old 09-25-2007   #1
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Default The Political Officer as a Counter-Insurgent (merged thread)

In volume 9, SWJ Magazine:

The Political Officer as Counter-Insurgent

Conducting Tacical Politics Against Insurgencies
by Dan Green

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This thread was merged with another on political officers today and moved to this arena from SWJ.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-12-2016 at 02:13 PM. Reason: Add note
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Old 09-29-2007   #2
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I'm assuming this applies to more than just political advisors. This is some gound, sound advice for any civilian who is going there.
Some questions regarding sections "Before You Go" and "Make Yourself Tactical"
Are civilians allowed to bring their own firearm(s)? If yes, what kind? Can I bring a 1911? I would imagine I wouldn't be allowed to bring my 30-06. If not, are they issued a firearm? I like all the advice telling you to read all the counterinsurgency writings you can get your hands on, and knowing as much as can about the area and people where you'll be working. Why is it diffiult to request an overlap with the previous DOS employee? It took me by surprise that it even had to be requested. I thought that was a given. And some minor but important advice, I better get off my lazy ass, get back to the gym, and get at least somewhat close to the buff state I used to be in in my 30's and early 40's.

This is probably a dumb question, because the answer is most likely a "Hell, no!" What's the possibility of someone who is a student, without any clearance, and who does not yet work for any civilian or government agencies to go to Iraq for a week or two?

Last edited by skiguy; 09-29-2007 at 12:19 PM. Reason: removed a "too political" comment
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Old 09-29-2007   #3
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I read a lot of the posts on the SWC, even if I don't comment, and I read each SWJ. All I can say is that I am grateful someone from State has come forward and written an excellent work that I think breaks down some of the visions of grandeur and provides a commonsense way ahead.

Quote:
Knowing who is a real player can only be known by being familiar with the personal histories of local personalities and a thorough knowledge of the province and its history. Look for non-verbal cues as to who is a real player. Look for these signs: people stand up when the person enters the room, they kiss his hand or cheek in a sign of respect, they give him a seat at the front of the room, people in the room don’t talk when he does. These and other clues will give you the information you need to make an assessment of whether you are talking with the real players.
I knew this already, but what a great reminder that not everyone you come across in COIN has a potential for true impact.

Quote:
Locate the website of the military unit you’ll be working with and print off all of their press releases, reports home, and biographies of the major leaders. Seek out the websites of military units that have previously worked in your area; while information will be dated it is still quite useful because you need to understand as much of what has happened before you arrive because the locals certainly will.
Even better, visit the units that recently returned from your future area of operations. You'll be better able to assimilate true understanding vs. just knowledge, when you meet with the leadership face-to-face.

Quote:
Also make a point of getting weapons qualified. If you can’t do it before you arrive in Afghanistan or Iraq, do it when you get there. At minimum, learn how to use the pistol and the M-4 rifle and how to quickly load and unload them, clean them, and maintain them.
Don't forget the venerable AK-47. Are you always going to find yourself out and about with only coalition troops? What about indigenous security forces...are they playing a role in movement security?

Quote:
Be very careful about doing favors for people, especially at this early stage in your tour. People will always try to involve you in things that the PRT should rightfully not participate. Always be perceived as an honest broker who does not favor any one tribe, individual, or faction.
I have a slight disagreement with the thrust of this statement. Don't we want to (on the select occasions) to be seen as favoring one "side" in order influence our control over all sides? The resounding theme through much of this article reminds me of the NGO's greatest concern - achieving acceptance. I would argue that in a COIN environment, achieving acceptance doesn't mean you always have to be impartial and fair. The underlying goal is to drive the populace to believe it is their best interest to work with you. I recognize that the quote above is a generic guideline, but there are nuances that are critical to recognize.

Quote:
Local residents and members of the government will sometimes turn to you to complain about military operations, factional leaders will seek you out to complain about how the governor mistreats them, and members of the U.N. will want to talk with you because they want to have the U.S. Embassy’s support.
Be wary that lending an ear to these concerns actually subverts the authority and status of the "governor" and other officials.

Quote:
Because you can operate easily between different units, you can help provide the crucial political leadership that is needed if you plan to initiate a political program that requires the synchronized efforts of a number of different players.
If Mr. Green would care to comment, what are we talking about in terms of a "political program"?

Last edited by jcustis; 09-29-2007 at 08:23 PM.
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Old 10-01-2007   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by skiguy View Post
I'm assuming this applies to more than just political advisors. This is some gound, sound advice for any civilian who is going there.
Some questions regarding sections "Before You Go" and "Make Yourself Tactical"
Are civilians allowed to bring their own firearm(s)? If yes, what kind? Can I bring a 1911? I would imagine I wouldn't be allowed to bring my 30-06. If not, are they issued a firearm? I like all the advice telling you to read all the counterinsurgency writings you can get your hands on, and knowing as much as can about the area and people where you'll be working. Why is it diffiult to request an overlap with the previous DOS employee? It took me by surprise that it even had to be requested. I thought that was a given. And some minor but important advice, I better get off my lazy ass, get back to the gym, and get at least somewhat close to the buff state I used to be in in my 30's and early 40's.

This is probably a dumb question, because the answer is most likely a "Hell, no!" What's the possibility of someone who is a student, without any clearance, and who does not yet work for any civilian or government agencies to go to Iraq for a week or two?
Hi skiguy,

Department of State, USAID, and USDA employees, among others, cannot bring their own firearms and are not to acquire one once they arrive in country. Of course, if they're civilian security then that's another matter. However, I believe some understanding has been reached whereby if a firefight is going on, a civilian employee can utilize a weapon if it is in the Humvee, building, etc. Don't quote me on that but I think that's where it stands right now. The overlap issue essentially comes down to how many bodies State can get into Iraq and Afghanistan. We are massively undermanned (this could be interpreted as not having enough physical bodies in the bureaucracy or the challenges of convincing vice ordering DOS employees to warzones) and the country desks are under a lot of pressure to put people in the field instantly so having an overlap is viewed by many as inefficient staffing. Obviously , this complicates a successful handover with your replacement. In terms of going to Iraq/Afghanistan, I think it's probably very difficult to impossible. However, if you are a student journalist, etc. this might makes things a little easier. Try contacting the DOS and MNF-I about it. I don't have the exact contact information you'd probably need for this but I'm sure you can find it online.

Last edited by DGreen; 10-01-2007 at 01:56 PM.
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Old 10-01-2007   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
I read a lot of the posts on the SWC, even if I don't comment, and I read each SWJ. All I can say is that I am grateful someone from State has come forward and written an excellent work that I think breaks down some of the visions of grandeur and provides a commonsense way ahead.



I knew this already, but what a great reminder that not everyone you come across in COIN has a potential for true impact.



Even better, visit the units that recently returned from your future area of operations. You'll be better able to assimilate true understanding vs. just knowledge, when you meet with the leadership face-to-face.



Don't forget the venerable AK-47. Are you always going to find yourself out and about with only coalition troops? What about indigenous security forces...are they playing a role in movement security?



I have a slight disagreement with the thrust of this statement. Don't we want to (on the select occasions) to be seen as favoring one "side" in order influence our control over all sides? The resounding theme through much of this article reminds me of the NGO's greatest concern - achieving acceptance. I would argue that in a COIN environment, achieving acceptance doesn't mean you always have to be impartial and fair. The underlying goal is to drive the populace to believe it is their best interest to work with you. I recognize that the quote above is a generic guideline, but there are nuances that are critical to recognize.



Be wary that lending an ear to these concerns actually subverts the authority and status of the "governor" and other officials.



If Mr. Green would care to comment, what are we talking about in terms of a "political program"?

Hi jcustis,

I'm glad you liked my essay. Of course, now that I see it in print I want to add a whole bunch more to it. I absolutely agree with you about the AK-47. Sometimes it's a whole lot easier to get your hands on an AK than getting an M-4 or M-9.

I am a strong advocate of rewarding your friends but my point in that part of the essay was simply to reinforce the idea that you take your time getting to know the lay of the land before you start to get the PRT involved in things. People will definitely take advantage of your lack of knowledge.

I think we should be perceived as impartial and fair even though we are working with the government authority of the area. In my situation, the governor had been appointed by the central government, versus being elected, and many tribes and individuals didn't like the man because he did not administer the government evenly across the province. I think we should support the government but recognize that it may lack efficacy and standing in the community because its leaders are corrupt, inefficient, repressive, etc. I think it's very important that other groups know they can talk with you even though you still support the government.

What I meant by political program is covered in the last appendix that we are working to get out. What I mean is a general political plan of attack on the governance, development, and reconstruction front in order to eliminate the population's grievances the insurgent feeds off of and to complement the security strategy. I realize that last sentence contains a lot of ideas but I largely go into that in the "Craft a Political Strategy and Make It Operationally Useful" section and in the appendices.
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Old 10-01-2007   #6
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Thanks for the reply Mr. Green. Great ideas all-around were in that document, so please keep 'em coming.
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Old 01-08-2008   #7
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Default Excellent article

I added a pointer and a few words of praise here. As I say in the blog posting, it's important for a general audience to learn how different conventional and counterinsurgency warfare are, so I wouldn't recommend the article to specialists only.
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Old 10-24-2009   #8
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Default Political Adviser role

The AM blogsite: http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama has a fascinating link to a You Tube item, under the headline 'Afghanistan Big & Small', dated 23/10/09, with Michael Semple on 'Taking Helmand' talking in a ninety minute lecture at Harvard (in Rory Stewart's centre). A lot of scene setting and he gets to Helmand after nearly thirty minutes.

The direct Youtube link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA7S__Q2olc and to Rory Stewart's centre: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/cchrp/sbhrap/index.php

He also refers, at the start, to the Ganjal ambush a few months ago and that four LeT fighters were killed (LeT is the Kashmiri group linked to Mumbai and other attacks).

He does make clear the Adviser role (POLAD) is very different from the Political Agent i.e. from the Imperial / Colonial era. Perhaps Tom Odom can add his Iraqi viewpoint as a POLAD?

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Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-24-2009 at 05:37 PM. Reason: Add last sentence and new second paragraph
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Old 10-24-2009   #9
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David,

Perhaps next year when I am back at my day job. Things here are a bit too immediate to offer much now beyond generalities.

Best
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Old 10-24-2009   #10
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Default Semple on PRT's

Finally finished listening and in the Q&A Semple is scathing about PRT's and dismisses them as glorified, fortified guesthouses.

Tom,

Thank you and perhaps in your lessons learned paper in 2010?

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Old 10-25-2009   #11
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Default Context

Apologies an earlier thread on British Political Officers exists: http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=7518

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Old 10-26-2009   #12
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Default Semple

Semple's comments on PRTs (the last 1/2" of the uTube) was very interesting, and he said nothing I disagree with, as they have been deployed to date.

On the other hand, I thought his comments on UNAMAs intentional hands-off attitude to the election was very significant.

He called the election snafu a very avoidable problem.

Having served on the political team in UNAMI (Iraq), the team was fully deployed well-before, and after the Iraq election. The SRSG was out daily working to help Iraq get through the election laws, establish the processes and mechanics, and monitor to assure reasonable standards.

Granted what Semple said about each UN mission being different, and having their own problems, but, clearly, international oversight of the Afghan election was less than optimum.

As for the political officer comments, I usually try to avoid them because they are out of my lane, but the overview he gave really sounded to be historically well-grounded, and insightful (at least to me).
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Old 03-29-2013   #13
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Default Nebraska kebab-maker now top US adviser in Afg.

An odd article, if only as I've not seen this anything on this Afghan-American in the public domain. Some nice quotes, my favourites are:
Quote:
Amini reviewed the speeches of U.S. commanders, crossing out lines that might be perceived as culturally insensitive. In some cases, Amini was blunt: “Sir, I will not translate that,” he would say.
Followed by:
Quote:
Through friendship, an Afghan will sacrifice his life for you. Through bad relations, he will turn into your enemy.
Link:http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/...76f_story.html
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Old 03-30-2013   #14
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I for one am far more comfortable seeing an Afghan who made Kebabs in Nebraska advising a US Commander in Afghanistan on Afghan culture than I am am seeing a 90-day wonder US Afghan Hand advising an Afghan governmental minister on Afghan governance.

I can't think how many times I wished that we in the United States had foreign military officers advising our Congress and senior governmental officials across civil and military and law enforcement service on how to best do their jobs. Oh, wait, yes I can remember: Never.

The very idea of it is absurd. Equally so when done by us in some foreign land.
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Old 03-30-2013   #15
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Default An Alternative Perspective

With all due respect but I wonder if this type of long term continuity is not an issue for us in Afghanistan. Has the advice provided over the tenures of seven commanders been sound? Again with all due respect but we tend to gravitate to those who can speak English and the local language well and know our culture and the local one(s) as well (which makes us comfortable) and this sometimes puts blinders on us. I have no idea if that is the case in this situation and I am sure I will be chastised by those who know him as a patriot but I think we should remain objective about the advice we receive and objective about those who provide advice.
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Old 03-31-2013   #16
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Political advisors, indigenous or not, look at the world through their own lens and generally attempt to convince others to see the same thing. I can't think of too many countries I have been in where I could simply accept the advice of local advisors without considering the context. I recall getting a lot of advise from Kurds, Sunni's, and Shia in Iraq that looked after their specific interests. The same was true in many other countries. If a foreign military ever occupies the U.S. I wonder if they would pick Karl Rove or James Carville?

While locals "must" be listened to, I actually think it makes sense to have a non-local political advisor who is familiar with the culture, language, and views of the multiple political/ethnic factions to help the commander put things in context. I think we have defaulted to blindly listening to local political advisors from Karzai to Ahmed Chalabi, and that has definitely led us astray at the strategic level, and we tend to the do the same thing at the tactical level. When we embrace "it is the tribe stupid" then we stupidly default to working with any tribal leader willing to work with us which is expedient, but often undermines our longer term objectives.

Seems that based on my readings we did much better at this sort of thing during in WWII. Somehow without human terrain teams, complexity, and COIN doctrine it was understood that socio-economic-political aspects were important and they were integrated into the planning. We picked sides based on our ends, and in some cases they backfired, but it was still done more deliberately than it has been done in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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