Today, the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a panel created by Congress, held a hearing entitled “An Urgent Need: Coordinating Reconstruction and Stabilization in Contingency Operations” to discuss reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In testimony, Stuart Bowen, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, proposed a new office — the U.S. Office for Contingency Operations (USOCO) — to organize and implement civilian diplomatic, development and reconstruction efforts during stabilization and reconstruction operations, an idea he began floating last fall.  According to Bowen,  such an office is needed because “there is no one entity responsible and accountable for stabilization and reconstruction operations.”  USOCO would be jointly answerable to both State and Defense, but situated in neither office.

But there is one major problem.  As the Washington Independent reports, neither State nor Defense supports the idea.  Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy lauded Bowen for correctly identifying “under-funding [and] lack of capacities” with State and USAID, but argued no further structural reforms are needed.  Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew reportedly told Bowen that the proposal would receive “full consideration” in the ongoing QDDR process, but largely dismissed the idea as problematic.  Lew noted that it would take the “policymaking responsibility away from the Secretary of State and department’s regional bureaus.”

Yet, there is another issue that nobody has mentioned.  An office was created to deal with this problem. In 2004, then Secretary of State Colin Powell created he Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), whose mission is:

To lead, coordinate and institutionalize U.S. Government civilian capacity to prevent or prepare for post-conflict situations, and to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife, so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, democracy and a market economy.

In addition to S/CRS’s central role in preparing a robust civilian response capacity for S & R operations, the office is also responsibile for civil – military coordination.  While the office has suffered from a dearth of funding since its establishment, significant funds for the office were included in the President’s FY10 budget request, and Congress largely appropriated the request last fall.

So, what would this office do that S/CRS shouldn’t be doing?

According to Bowen, S/CRS is a “remedial response.”  It doesn’t go far enough to address the problems of civil – military coordination in S & R operations.  “Funding continues to be divided, coordination and cooperation continue to absorb disproportionate amounts of resources and time, and outcomes are less than optimal,” according to Bowen’s testimony.  Bowen argues that USOCO would address the problems of civil – military coordination experienced in Iraq, given that it would be an “executive authority below the President.”  Implicit in Bowen’s proposal is the need for accountability in post-conflict environments.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch the hearing, but I would be curious to know what others think of this proposal.

Full details of Bowen’s proposal can be found here.

Watch the C-Span video of the hearing, and read the testimonies of all the experts testifying before the panel.


Thom Shanker’s article “Afghan Push Went Beyond Traditional Military Goals” highlights the psychological battle taking place today in Marja, Afghanistan.

The Marja offensive is part of a 12-18 month comprehensive civil-military campaign aimed at eliminating the Taliban’s control over key areas in Afghanistan. It is also an example of General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency doctrine in action.

The article discusses how the U.S. and NATO forces are attempting to regain the initiative from the Taliban, who are fighting their own battle of “hearts and minds.” The insurgents are adept at utilizing the tools of psychological warfare, and foreign troops are tasked with competing against their radio/web propaganda and infamous “night letters” in order to win the trust of the local population.

Do you think the U.S./NATO’s tactic of polling the local population will be an effective tool in counterinsurgency planning?

What is different in this battle as compared to prior counterinsurgency campaigns?

Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

In follow-up to our last CMO class, I wanted to highlight a few points about how the military plans for contingencies. My last two assignments have been in planning and I have participated both in long range planning and contingency planning (crisis planning).

When the military gets tasked to prepare for a mission like restoring Aristide back to power in Haiti (1994), we are not asked to and cannot plan for it years in advance. We are rarely asked to reflect over the long term implications of our plans either. Rather, a typical tasking orders us to answer questions that involve the preparation, the deployment and execution of the mission.

Usually, the key question is how long until the mission is ready to be executed. In the planning process, there is no mechanism in place that allows us to discuss long term ramifications such as those we saw in Haiti. In my personal experience, when I have mentioned these issues in other planning activities, I was informed that it was not my area of expertise.

In contingencies where the use of lethal force is being considered, security classification will be part of the process. Historically, this is intended to maximize our advantages while preventing an adversary from gleaning any useful intelligence while we plan/prepare. Another important challenge is to keep our plans off of the local six o’clock news. Once word breaks that we are planning something, our ability to prepare and even the options available become more limited. Accurate information and limited means of obtaining it is the cost of compartmentalization. It is important to remember that the Dept of Defense is the lead agency in crises using force, which represent a small percentage of the total operations conducted in any given year. As such, most agencies will not dedicate either manpower or the resources to obtain security clearances which enable them to participate in military planning process.

Keeping all of that in mind, no plan executed by the military occurs without civilian oversight and approval. While the Haiti plan (1994) left much to be desired, it was approved by civilian authority prior to execution. While I cannot accurately state how many times the civilians were briefed the plan in total, I would find it hard to believe that they did not receive several decision briefs and weekly updates, as well.

Blog post by: Rob Bortree
The opinions expressed above are those of Rob Bortree and not the US Military

The New York Times’ Rob Nordland wrote on the “militarization” of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan today:

The main concern is that humanitarian aid is colored as a “nonlethal weapon of war” (as coined by Oxfam) and that even if aid organizations are also working on the ground, people tend to conflate the two and see all humanitarian aid as target-able by the insurgency. There’s also concern about US Mil providing “government in a box” (McChrystal) after basic security is established in Marja – in order to be a shining example of the full revamped COIN strategy.

In trying to read between the lines here, it looks like the underlying issues are turf consciousness and strategy disagreement. Humanitarian and governance orgs reject the notion that the military can provide in these areas effectively and sustainably, and the military sees these roles as integral to its strategy. On the one hand the civilian orgs don’t want to work with the military b/c of what it stands for, and on the other hand the military doesn’t want to work with civilians because they don’t buy into providing assistance “in a box.”

So we’re back to the same problem: How to generate real buy-in on a coherent strategy, while maintaining a certain level of “marketplace of ideas”? My feeling is that the very concept of COIN seems to demand somewhat of a paradigm shift on both sides, and that process must occur first on an individual, then organizational level.

Blog Post by: Maren Christensen

A little over a year ago, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) wrote a detailed report for the Department of Defense on the Future of Civil Affairs in the US Army and Marine Corps. As a supplemental to this study, 13 case studies were conducted assessing the effectiveness of the US military’s past involvement with civil affairs in post conflict environments. The case studies dealing with World War II, Somalia and Vietnam obviously deal with environments that were still actively conflict zones. If you happen to be doing presentations or papers on past cases of civil-military affairs, these case studies could be a great place to kick off your research. The full range of case studies include papers on:

Not all of the case studies were conducted by the same person, so there is not a uniform methodology. I hope you find this helpful.

A new crisis-mapping technology powered by Ushahidi is gaining momentum, in light of the Haiti quake. The implications of this new collaborative tool on civil-mil coordination are explosive: the innovators at Ushahidi are directly demonstrating how civil-mil coordination is enhanced through social media and the internet.

The Ushahidi Engine is a computer-generated tool that gathers crisis information from the public, maps it, and hosts it online for use in crisis response. The information, obtained through crowdsourcing, is then used to bridge individuals in need of assistance with those who have the capacity to act.

A group of volunteer graduate students are working to map the Haiti crisis from the basement of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and they are making a difference. Using their personal laptops, they are mapping near-real time reports obtained from SMS messages, Twitter, Facebook, and even CNN’s iReport that detail a victim’s physical location and request for assistance. While many of the reports are in Creole, Ushahidi has organized local Haitian volunteers to translate them into English as they file in.

Fletcher Ushahidi Operations Center
Photo provided courtesy of Thunder.Clap @ flickr. Used under the Creative Commons license.

The students in the Fletcher “situation” room then fuse the data through software like Google Earth or OpenStreet Map and correlate it with photos or video feed from the crisis zone. Reports are sorted by location, priority and by specific needs (food, fresh water, medical assistance) and distributed via RSS feeds to relief agencies and even the military.

Life threatening requests are fed directly to the US Coast Guard, who have launched search and rescue helicopters based on the information Ushahidi has provided them.

The Ushahidi volunteers are saving lives in Haiti from a basement in Boston. Remarkable.

Taliban Funding | Afghan Threat Finance Cell.

The Taliban are still raising significant amounts of money to finance their operations, despite US efforts to stop it. One government official commented: “If you take away the Gulf money, they can make it up. If you take away the narco money, they can make it up. It’s like punching jello.”

This article provides a good overview of threat finance in Afghanistan and catalogs current efforts and institutions charged with disrupting it.

Afghanistan | Corruption.

Exploring some challenges of funding development projects in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, Douglass Wissing’s article asks how U.S. funding may be ending up in Taliban hands.

Has, what Wissing calls, “unfettered development spending” fed a “culture of corruption?”

The class of “Civil-Military Relations in Post-Conflict Environments” at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy would like to welcome you to our blog.

Each week, we will document our journey to uncover the complexities, challenges and tensions of the civilian-military relationship.

Through discussion and examination of articles, case-studies and reports, we hope to develop a deeper understanding of how this relationship impacts the work of NGOs, international organizations and militaries on the ground.

Thank you for your readership, contributions and comments.