Small Wars Journal

Intel Sharing with Afghans Presents Challenges

Fri, 08/17/2012 - 5:30am


Forward Operating Base Vulcan, Afghanistan – From left to right: Capt. Mirwais, Afghan National Army  Route Clearance COY commander nad members of the Task Force Mad Dog Embedded Training Team U.S. Army Pfc. Tymothy Quigg, Staff Sgt. Richard Brown, and Capt. Bob Couture discuss EHCC’s intel product here July 3. (U.S. Army photo by U.S. Army 1st Lt. Alexander Jansen, 42nd Clearance Company.)

Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan – Afghanistan was recently declared a Major Non-NATO ally country, which affords special privileges for training, equipment and surveillance capabilities. As that status matures and Afghan National Security Forces continue to transition to the lead in the fight against insurgent forces and instability, are Coalition Forces prepared to share intelligence with Afghan counterparts to make them successful?

There are many hurdles to overcome and a great deal of creativity required for Intel sharing to become a reality. In the Global War on Terrorism, Coalition Forces conduct complex operations involving 86 nations and rely heavily upon technology and time-sensitive information management. In a country with very little infrastructure, it is difficult to impose automation on a force when the literacy rate of Afghanistan is less than 30 percent. Transferring data from one system to another is not as simple as translating it from English to Dari or Pashtu.

If intelligence truly drives operations, then the intelligence community must continually seek means to support an asymmetrical fight. Observing how the Afghans develop intelligence and seek creative means to support their operations is vital to Afghans owning the security. At least until 2014, and most likely beyond, CF will be in a supporting role and collecting and managing the data often through Afghan National Army eyes and reporting systems. There is too much investment and historical data to simply forgo the systems already in place, but can they be leveraged and sustained by the ANA?

Currently, the strength of the ANSF is their execution of missions. Deliberate planning and troop leading procedures are in need of further development during combined operations, where missions of ANSF elements must be synchronized with those of CF to ensure success. In the short term, International Security Assistance Forces can mine data from their systems and develop the analysis in a high-tech forum and produce products which can only be disclosed with partner ANSF elements in a limited and restricted manner.

Through a Foreign Disclosure Officer, the 578th Engineer Battalion, Task Force Mad Dog has been able to “DISPLAY ONLY TO AFG” intelligence summaries and products in support of Engineer COYs (Afghan equivalent to Company), Afghan Route Clearance COYs and CF Embedded Training Teams. Once approved, these products are sent to the ETTs, who can discuss effects and threats with their Afghan counterparts in support of mission analysis and planning. The 558th Explosive Hazards Coordination Cell has assisted in sanitizing RCP weekly updates for display to ANSF at the request of 1st Lt. Alexander Jansen, Cobra ETT Mentor, 42nd Clearance Company. This was extremely well received by the ANA RCC and its mentor team in Ghazni Province. The EHCC product allows the mentor to share improvised explosive device activity and enemy techniques to better prepare the RCC for counter-IED missions. Both products are achieved by working closely with the foreign disclosure officer or representative and garnering approval before the product publication.

“We were more than happy to support the 578th’s request for Intel products that could be displayed to their ANSF Partners,” explained Capt. Julie Miller, EHCC Intel Officer, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin. “Information is power, and partnership operations are only increasing.  Although we can’t disclose exact details of some Friendly Forces’ (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures), we certainly can provide situational awareness for ANSF mounted patrols that leave the wire and face a similar enemy threat as their CF counterparts.  Everyone likes reading about themselves, so we try to keep the highlighted IED events focused on ANSF units with details about what they did correctly and what they can improve in their training.”

Many of the battle space owners currently publish intelligence information at an appropriate level to share with their Afghan partners which are labelled with the caveat of “DISPLAY ONLY TO AFG”. This caveat simply means that it can be shown, but not forwarded electronically or physically given to the Afghans. Counter-IED working groups at the maneuver brigade and division levels are making great progress in developing partner war-fighting skills by reviewing intelligence during monthly sessions. Provincial operations coordination cells also host weekly Intel fusion meetings attended by Afghan intelligence teams such as the National Directorate of Security, Afghan Uniform Police Intelligence Chief, ANA Counter-Terrorism Chief and the CF Intel representatives. While not much in the form of actionable intelligence results from these gatherings, there is an increasing awareness and development of ANSF critical war-fighting function.

In a culture, where information is power and that power can significantly change a person’s social and professional standing, there is little sharing of information. Part of this is due to the fear of being wrong and, as a result, unsubstantiated reporting is often exaggerated and rarely predictive. As these relationships mature and the ANSF elements can see the value from sharing intelligence to different users, it should become less of ‘reporting of the news’ and more predictive analysis.

“The ANSF and ANA in particular face many challenges, but illiteracy, a lack of integrated networks and systems, and a cultural reluctance to share information or posit hypotheses most greatly inhibit their ability to build a professional, intelligence war-fighting function, which is critical to validating awareness and supporting effective decision-making across the full spectrum of operations,” stated Lt. Col. Richard McCauley, Brigade Intelligence Officer, Joint Task Force Empire.

Communications are essential as CF moves through “Inteqal” (Dari and Pashtu for Transition) and intelligence professionals must continue to seek means to share intelligence with Afghan partners.  “Writing for release” means to develop products specifically for disclosure to ANSF by carefully excluding information which might indicate or reveal sources and collection methods. They need the facts and estimates to conduct the operation and training should continue until they can perform these functions without assistance.  Coalition Forces must actively seek reports releasable as “DISPLAY ONLY TO AFG” so partnered units and mentors can present that information for integrated, truly combined operations and mission success.  If there is Intel that is classified as releasable to coalition partners and there is a clear benefit to current operations, then it can be sanitized in accordance with applicable policies and procedures and shared with the Afghans once it has been approved by a FDO.

“Information sharing with Afghanistan to further their capabilities relies on our capability to disclose intelligence in a timely manner and enable Afghan government agencies in establishing a system to receive, secure and handle their own classified information,” stated Lt. Col. Daniel Reynolds, foreign disclosure officer, United States Forces – Afghanistan. “In the current foreign disclosure posture, we have to balance the protection of our own intelligence collection with teaching and enabling the Afghans all while maintaining strict policy and procedures, keeping the end state; fully capable Afghan National Security Forces, without compromise of our own capabilities.  This requires leaders across ISAF to develop products that are sharable and teachable to our Afghan partners.  We have to shift from a process of disclosing to the Afghans to enabling them to operate on the information they develop and gather …a new paradigm must unfold.”

Information flow cannot be a one-way street. In the short term, if CF are handling the data administration, they must seek means to capture the intelligence from the ANSF patrols. Currently, reporting comes through a liaison officer. Much of that reporting is sparse at best, providing a date time group, ANSF unit designation, IED found or struck, and possibly a battle damage assessment. In the counter-IED fight there is too much data that is lost through this reporting scheme. Across the Afghan Theater of Operations there has been an increase of the IED switch types categorized as “Unknown”. That is information not being captured about the enemy’s capability to target patrols. In efforts to mitigate this data loss Task Force 4-1, 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, out of Paktika Province is fielding an IED five line Report for the ANSF patrols in their area of operations. This is critical in closing the gap on the unknowns from IED strikes and finds as the ANSF mission percentage increases.

Capturing that data is a matter of training and conditioning the patrols on what to report. Coalition Forces go through the same type of conditioning with patrols by standardizing the report formats and enforcing the reporting standards. Everyone benefits from higher quality information logged for data mining trends. Great efforts continue to be made to improve literacy in the ANSF and one would expect that as they increase, the ANSF will be able to leverage automation to efficiently receive, store and warehouse intelligence data from patrols to support information requirements.

There is currently no plan to integrate ANSF onto shared systems and networks despite their change in status. Instead, what is happening, with limited success, is a report is input into an ANSF word processing system and two copies are printed. One is submitted to higher and the other filed at unit level. The Afghan Soldier then returns to the computer to delete the original document in order to save space on the computer. Despite advances in techniques and skills, without information systems and networks to share and support analysis, then there is no progressive continuity from which to assess and validate information, trends or perform meaningful predictive analysis for mission planning and decision making.

As Coalition Forces maintain and analyze the data in the short term they continue to mentor the Afghans to make use of it for deliberate mission planning. Using the ETTs as the conduit for sharing the intelligence is effective now, but is not a sustainable long-term solution. If the Route Clearance COY, Engineer COY, or maneuver unit is the end-user of intelligence, how can they ensure they will continue to receive the information and intelligence support necessary to support plans?

As the CF transitions into a supporting role, critical gaps are exposed such as the accuracy and quality checks on reporting from the relevant ANSF element into mission planning. Allowing the ANA patrol or platoon leader access to the Kandak Intel section for pre-mission intelligence summary is a key first step to ensure they are mission focused and understanding the area of operations and concept of the operation.

The Intelligence Community can begin to address some of these gaps now by:

  • Actively seek to classify intelligence for “DISPLAY ONLY TO AFG” aka “Writing for Release”
  • Have products reviewed and approved by FDO/FDR
  • Develop low-tech or no-tech means for the ETTs to share the “DISPLAY ONLY TO AFG” intelligence products
  • Administer the reporting, data warehousing and data mining of intelligence
  • Work with ETTs and OCC-Ps to develop standards for ANSF patrol reporting and handling to close the gap on “Unknowns”
  • Support the intelligence functions for ANSF’s deliberate mission planning versus optimistic-style planning
  • Shift from a process of disclosing to the Afghans to enabling them to operate on the information they develop and gather
  • Define a credible merge path that provides the ANSF a sustainable network and information systems to support information analysis and requirements since currently there are less than a handful of Afghans authorized limited access on the Afghan Mission Network

The way ahead is to seek, define and implement the means for the ANSF to function independently by managing their own intelligence systems through receipt and dissemination of standardized reports and providing predictive analysis for their down trace units and decision-makers.

About the Author(s)

U.S. Army Pfc. Tymothy Quigg contributed to this article. Capt. Couture and Pfc.Quigg were stationed at FOB Sharana, Afghanistan in 2011-2012 with the 578th Engineer Battalion, Task Force Mad Dog Intelligence Section. The mission focused on three lines of effort: Partnership Effects, Construction Effects, and Route Clearance Effects throughout Paktika, Paktia, Khowst, and Ghazni Provinces.


Bill M.

Tue, 08/21/2012 - 12:47am

Very insightful article, I only wish you published it in 2002 and that our community paid attention to it. This is one of the problems with our approach to FID and other missions where we attempt to enable our partners to be self-sufficient, but in fact make them dependent upon our support because we bring in our high end technology and processes that we know we will never transition to the partner nation. Of course these items and processes make us more effective at the tactical level, so we're reluctant to settle for less, but if the end is to transition the lead to Afghanistan (or any other nation) then we're working against ourselves because there is no incentive for our partner to develop their own functional intelligence system that is functionable and sustainable (or any other system such as logistics).

Your words, "We have to shift from a process of disclosing to the Afghans to enabling them to operate on the information they develop and gather …a new paradigm must unfold.”

This is especially challenging with intelligence sharing as you pointed out, but your point about a new paradigm must unfold applies to much more than intelligence. We have squandered valuable time by making excuses on why we can't transition, instead of developing and enabling that new paradigm. We have refused to reframe for the past 10 years and merely given lip service to transition instead of enabling it. The Afghans will rightly believe we pulled the rug out from underneath them when we leave them with these huge capability gaps.

Begin with the end in mind, plan appropriately and avoid the false perception of victory that tactical excellence can provide while it leads us to strategic failure.