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Old 12-19-2010   #1
jcustis
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Default Key Leader Engagement (KLE) TTPs

Prior to my most recent deploy, I asked a few members from the Council what they had to say about shura etiquette, and how Afghans interact in those settings. I received good advice across the board, and put it to good use. In the wake of my last deployment, I compiled a few observations and lessons learned about the process of interacting with local leaders in a deployed context. If there is any interest, I'll post a copy of the KLE SOP that I drafted for use as a guide by our companies, once I can dig it up from my external hard drive.

In no particular order:

-KLEs were always an exhausting experience, both physically and mentally. Trying to have a sit-down in 120 degree heat with just a few bottles of tepid water as refreshment will guarantee an aggravating time for all, especially if the conversations aren't headed in the direction one hopes. The setting has to be considered if time allows for prior planning.

-KLEs were also exhausting because of the mental energy required to point-counterpoint with the leaders, keep them on topic, and stay two to three steps ahead of them. I can recall a number of KLEs where (especially if I was not the primary negotiator on the coalition side) I found myself nodding off due to sheer exhaustion from operations the previous night, or simply staying up way too late. In short, don't underestimate the benefit of a good night's sleep.

-You have to consider the audience - all of them - that you are dealing with, and how they fit into the overall picture. Put another way, the message you are trying to deliver to one leader might be completely counterproductive to the message you intend for another leader who is at the function. As a rule, it is generally better to be able to limit the number of attendees at a KLE, for this primary reason. If you can't do that, and you are not in control of the venue, make the investment in time to have the hosting leader conduct a detailed introduction of everyone in the room. Keep a human terrain expert (i.e. someone who is a SME in the tribal players and from your unit) close by to advise on the issues for consideration when a particular player is on scene.

-Don't be afraid to call a tactical timeout and step outside for some fresh air, a quick huddle to consider the next step, or simply make a head call. Too often we would sit for a lot longer than was reasonable, and when you are trying to stay hydrated in 120 degree heat, why sit cross-legged trying to hold it in because your host is able to go for hours without the need to relieve themselves?

-There are times when you have to read the mood and environment, and simply decide that today is not the day to push an issue, or delve too deeply into a subject. There were a number of times when it was simply more practical to pay a social call and reinforce the social bonds that you have already established.

-Our hubris tends to drive us to push our agendas in KLEs, almost to the point of no return, and that can be fatal to overall progress if the leaders are seen to have lost face. I can't stress how important that became during KLEs. If you go into a KLE and treat it like the negotiation that it really is, you'll probably fare better than if you strive to bend your audience to your will and coerce them into courses of action that are inimical to their interests. There are often layers of interest in competition with each other when security forces, tribal leaders, and government officials meet. For some of the attendees, their presence is not voluntary, but rather a necessity driven by a need to simply get their tribe's name "out there" so to speak. Understanding that fact, and understanding the benefit of positive sum game results, will help you achieve your aims.

ETA: Please share your lessons learned, and how the handbooks you used or training you received did or did not offer good guidance.

Last edited by jcustis; 12-20-2010 at 01:20 AM.
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Old 12-20-2010   #2
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I really like your last point, and your other points are so true as well.
To add on to your last point, I would say two things:

1. Don't get defensive when the participants invariably point out the shortcomings of the American/GIRoA/ISAF efforts in the area. Let them blow off some steam, maybe agree with them a bit, and re-emphasize the need to work together to come to a solution.

2. Know what your side is willing/able to provide beforehand; what you can commit to at the meeting, what projects are a possibility, and what you definitely can't provide. Even saying that you'll "look into" something can be perceived as a promise, and next time you show up empty-handed it can get a little uncomfortable.
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Old 12-20-2010   #3
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Inteltrooper,

Good additions.

Your avatar...Brit or Rhodie? I've seen that pic before I think.
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Old 12-20-2010   #4
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I also like your last point.

One of the greatest challenges in getting SSAM prepared to conduct KLEs is ensuring that they understand the purpose of the meetings. In many instances, it appears that KLEs are simply a metric for the BUB. We conducted x number. The larger the number, the greater the success.

That's not how it works, but 7-8 years on, that feedback is still out there. A helpful addition to the preparation would be to develop meaningful measures of effectiveness to enhance the meaning of the MOP numbers that we focus on now. You can literally conduct hundreds of KLEs and accomplish absolutely nothing if you don't understand the underlying principles.
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Old 12-20-2010   #5
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Quote:
One of the greatest challenges in getting SSAM prepared to conduct KLEs is ensuring that they understand the purpose of the meetings.
I don't recognize the acronym SSAm, but I catch the drift.

That made me remember one more point, and that is you need to make sure that the leaders you are about to engage (unless it is a on-call meeting, which are not really KLEs anyway) understand the purpose of the meeting.

I can't recall how many times we were on time for a meeting, had everything prepared and scripted, only to find out that there were several additional leaders on scene, and they wanted to use the face time to petition us about issues that we had not rehearsed. The thing to remember is to calculate the full range of topics that might come up - murder board style - when time permits.
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Old 12-20-2010   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
Inteltrooper,

Good additions.

Your avatar...Brit or Rhodie? I've seen that pic before I think.
Thanks -- my avatar is a Rhodie. You probably have seen the picture before -- it's him sitting on top of a vehicle and a couple guys hanging out below.

http://media.photobucket.com/image/r...ry/RLIVest.jpg
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Old 12-20-2010   #7
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Old 12-21-2010   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
ETA: Please share your lessons learned, and how the handbooks you used or training you received did or did not offer good guidance.
Great topic. Your points all sound logical and sound.

I'll add some points below, with an over-arching disclaimer that they were gained over a 6 month period that in the scheme of things is all too brief to properly develop and test such concepts, and that even if they were valid in my area in 2009 time and geography can change everything.

- It's important to know who is at your meetings. It is also a nice-to-have to get photos of everyone there and what they do/ their connections to the community. I always wanted to have one of my soldiers sit in the meeting with me, and we would intro ourselves and ask that everyone did likewise. The Heads of Shura would appear a little annoyed at this but it did help us in the long run. Other times, when I was friendly enough with a school teacher or similar figure in the community who would be in the background, we would approach later (often outside the meeting house) and politely enquire about who was where and what they thought of us. One point with photos - we were initially encouraged to 'covertly' snap away during meetings, which is just comical as you cannot hide someone using a camera. Either asking permission to openly take images (sometimes denied, especially by the Mullahs or Malauwis) or requesting a formal everyone-stand-together-afterwards shot was preferable.

- RFIs we were given were very narrow in their application. I ended up with a meeting format whereby I would state why we were there and what we wanted to achieve in the meeting. I would then ask the local leadership how we could achieve our goals in the area, before asking them what they wanted/ needed. Asking for local perspectives and for them to frame their own problems and solutions was helpful to understand their perspectives and frame-of-mind while minimising the bias we imposed upon their problems.

- I always debriefed with my intepreter after a meeting. Asking them how they thought the meeting went and anything they thought of interest raised a few gems, especially with a competent 'terp who had been in the area for a while.

- KLE's need not be static. I got the best information when I walked around with a Head of Shura after a meeting, when the hangers-on had been left behind or were distracted in their own conversations as we moved through the area. One trick I would use would be to ask the HoS to show me a well or foot-bridge in the area. By walking through the streets a short distance the HoS would often be able to have a hurried conversation with my interpreter, passing on the kind of information that makes the S2 cell get all gooey over your reports.

- Only on a few very rare occassions did I involve the ANP/NDS (there were no ANA in my AO) in KLEs. The reason for this was laziness, as the local population preferred to speak to us without them in attendance. If I had me way again I would involve them in every KLE.

- The 'culturally sensitive' rules we were taught were all situationally dependent. We were told that it was heresy to attend a meeting with boots on, but often we would go to take them off and the HoS would tell us not to worry. Same with paying for food during long shuras - I would offer to pay the HoS afterwards for the chai and naan bread served, and sometimes the offer would be taken up - even though this was supposed to be incredibly insulting to the Afghani culture. My best cultural advisor was my interpreter and I relied on him heavily in all the situations I was unsure of and wanted confirmation in.
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Old 12-21-2010   #9
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The indigenous Afghans are often more forgiving of our cultural missteps than our Kabul-born cultural advisors, and wearing boots indoors, sunglasses when talking, or accidentally allowing the sole of your boot to face an Afghan is not going to inflame the insurgency. I think we tend to put too much emphasis on what I call, "doing the dance", when in fact our hosts would much rather sit down and talk business.

And when it comes to dealing with GIRoA officials, it is wise to remember that they may have an impressive grasp of English. It is like my wife and mother conversing in Tagalog. I might not understand everything, but I certainly know when they are talking about me!

Great point Chris about getting up and moving, from a privacy perspective. I attended a Regional Security Shura once, and as soon as some of the attendees could get away with it, they slipped out of the main room and began holding discussions out in the courtyard and hallways.

Last edited by jcustis; 12-21-2010 at 01:08 PM.
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Old 12-21-2010   #10
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"Advance to Shura" became a mission task verb for us. Our company had a pretty slick set of TTPs for Shuras that I can pass on to a .mil address; PM me if interested.

A Pashtun cultural expert can validate this, but I was always under the impression that shuras with foreigners and outsiders from the village were "show shuras" and that the real shuras, when the village elders got together before or after the "show shura", was where the real decisions were made.

In dealing with village leaders (many whom I had frequent meetings with), I'd often announce a shura and than push something on some of them in private, knowing that the "show shura" would involve a lot of grandstanding, likely as village elders try to impress the villagers.
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Old 12-21-2010   #11
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Quote:
A Pashtun cultural expert can validate this, but I was always under the impression that shuras with foreigners and outsiders from the village were "show shuras" and that the real shuras, when the village elders got together before or after the "show shura", was where the real decisions were made.
We saw this occur on multiple occasions. It was funny to see them advance a specific position for a while before the shura might break down into tribal and individual interest. As the meeting continued and we got deeper into tough negotiations, or the discussions began to break down, the leaders would pretty easily come back to their original points, especially if they were trying to present the facade of supporting the district governor, and display solidarity. Rehearsed consensus was what I jokingly called it.

There were also a few instances of a proxy "leader" presenting himself to us when making contact with target village that had previously seen limited visitation and contact from us or the previous unit. I had seen that in a cultural engagement handbook that I read before the deploy and carried with me.

ETA: The British paid a few visits down our way with some SOF troops, and I could swear I heard the term FIND, FEEL, INFLUENCE used during a few coordination meetings. I think that very appropriately describes the battle drill involved, much like Infanteer's comment about "Advance to Shura" used as a mission task.

Last edited by jcustis; 12-24-2010 at 03:45 PM.
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Old 01-03-2011   #12
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From Tim Lynch's Free Range International comes an important dictum - "Under promise and over deliver" - and in that, the cultural advisors get it right when they preach similar advice (but make no mistake, Lynch is better than an advisor).

Nothing used to fascinate me more than how the other side of the carpet returned to something promised or even mentioned in the vein of, "we can take a look at that." when they thought they could gain from it.

They are smart opportunists, but that stems as well from the some of their foundation as a survivalist culture.

Last edited by jcustis; 01-03-2011 at 10:32 PM.
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Old 01-03-2011   #13
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Gentlemen,

Thanks for the info. I've been lurking for quite a while soaking up all the information. I'm deploying to Afghanistan this fall with a Marine Inf Bn. En Shallah I'll be a rifle Co Cmdr.

If you all are good with it I'll pass this info on to other EWS students who are so interested.

Thanks again,

Pete

Infanteer,

I sent you a pm with my .mil address if you could pass on your unit's shura info it would be appreciated.
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Old 01-04-2011   #14
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EPA, I'll dig up the KLE SOP I drafted for the battalion and send it your way if you can PM me with a .mil address. Take from it what works and discard the rest, but it remains the document that I referenced for the task of handling shuras and KLE.
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Old 01-04-2011   #15
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Lots of good stuff here. I'll add one thing: watch Restrepo. The Company Commander provides an excellent example of how not to act in a shura.
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Old 01-04-2011   #16
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Lots of good stuff here. I'll add one thing: watch Restrepo. The Company Commander provides an excellent example of how not to act in a shura.
Not necessarily, but it depends on which shura you are talking about.

If you mean the one where the local men come to ask about one of the men previously detained, I agree only inasmuch as he could have had a cooler head and refrained from profanity when he was talking to the soldier off camera. As for his other stern responses during that meeting, well, sometimes that is exactly what is needed, as the locals can easily try to push the coalition side around.

How would you have gone after the issue?

It's totally a cultural thing, but our opposites often came across as prone to nagging...sometimes they need a raised voice to get them to stop nagging.

I think he did everything consciously and with a purpose, which is all I might ever ask for from someone representing the coalition. if there was a different shura that you're referencing, I might not be orienting on on the right one.

Now that I think of it, i think the married guys among us handled the worst of the shuras fairly well, once they remembered to disconnect themselves from the topic and nod their head occasionally or scribble a note every now and then. Feigning interest, in a fashion not all that unlike listening to your significant other, is an acquired skill.
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Old 01-07-2011   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
Feigning interest, in a fashion not all that unlike listening to your significant other, is an acquired skill.
Best COIN KLE skill ever. Don't look bored, pay attention to the details, try to find some common ground.

Looking forward to this SOP.

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Old 01-07-2011   #18
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Default I wrote an article on this

I wrote an article on this topic, and attached to it advice on Information Operations and using an interpreter. It was Afghanistan specific. Infantry Magazine published it, but it is easier just to follow the link to my blog at the end.

Even better than my ramblings is the bibliography I included at the end. One of the articles I mentioned specifically mentions negotiating in shuras and is very much along the lines of jcustis's initial advice.

I will say profanity and yelling should never enter a shura. Ever. Even after multiple attacks in your AO with a strong suspicion a village knows about it. Why? Because yelling is bad in American culture, and worse in Pashtun culture. Can you imagine a board meeting that ended up with one side yelling at everyone? Or a city council meeting where a foreigner came in and berated the board? I can, but in each case it would be a bad thing. Yelling--from either side--is usually a sign of superiority and a sign of division. It is a sign that that is a dysfunctional group. For instance, think of congress when a bunch of members are yelling at each other, that is a sign that not much is getting accomplished. If you have to yell at local Afghans you probably lost control. (Much like everyone has that boss who yells and screams, and everyone thinks he is a sucky boss.)

I bring this up because on more than one occasion I have heard Soldiers or Officers above me specifically point to the "yell at the elders" TTP as an effective shura strategy.
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Old 01-07-2011   #19
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Default Nice Discussion

I am curious if you guys have used the CIDNE data base, just got started in theater in 08. KLE is one of the datafields, it allows you to see who was talked to and what was promised by the last guy visiting the village. It helps to avoid that "Where's my well" faceshot on your first sit down. I would also love to see your units TTP on KLE. It might be worth adding it as a module of instruction to our course.
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Old 01-07-2011   #20
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KLEs, Shuras, etc are all about relationship building. Not just showing respect, but actually resecting the roles, background, and experiences that brought each of the participants to that meeting, from the young kid making tea to the senior participant. Hand in glove with respect is establishing trust. This takes time and only begins at the KLE.

Americans tend to be too impatient and want to "get down to business." Well, the "business" of the KLE is to get to know each other a bit better, personally, as well professionally. As to the operational issues that are discussed it is more about how people feel about those issues, and appreciating who, in what role, is harboring what feelings, and being able to sort out what all that means in terms of what type of response to expect, or how to tailor the operations to ensure best effects for all.

One of my first KLEs as a young (2-3 months out of the Q-course) captain, meeting for the first time with the CG of the first Egyptian Division to close in Saudi Arabia for the first Gulf War, was a disaster. I'd spent the previous month with the Egyptian Ranger BDE, and my company commander had just arrived in country and we were shifting over as a company to begin pulling this Arab Coalition together.

The Major, myself and another ODA Commander go to the CG's tent, and for me it was a bit of a surreal experience. The large Saudi Hajj tent, the carpets, the incense and music, and this huge wood desk, behind which was this refined, accomplished gentleman. As a Company commander he had led the assault across the Suez and had employed sagger missiles with great effect against the Israelies to forge a successful bridgehead. And here we were, just talking. He wanted to know all about us. We spoke of where we were from, family, etc. I didn't know much, but I knew that he was assessing us as men, as well as seeking to divine through us the intentions and goals of our nation. It was going very well, though very long, and my Major was getting fidgity. I later learned that the other Majors in the BN called this guy "the Baron," but that afternoon, three Americans in the middle of an Egyptian Division, in the middle of the Saudi desert, a few miles of empty sand south of the Iraqi Army, I was about to learn why. The Major cut off the general in mid-sentence and proclaimed, "I'm Major ___ _____, and I'm here to train your division!" I doubt I concealed the shock and horror on my face, and certainly a veil dropped over the expression of the CG, who replied simply "I see." The Major handed him a list of training tasks he'd cooked up in his office back at KKMC, the General accepted the list, glanced at it briefly as he set it aside, and then concluded the meeting and escorted us out.

Driving away, I offered "Sir, I think you insulted the General." "Nonsense!" he mentored, " I thought he was going to talk all day, someone had to take charge of the situation!" We were off to a rocky start, both the Company's relationship with the Division, and mine with the Major.

Respect and trust, empathy and relationship. Too much business too soon is counterproductive to actually getting that business done.
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