Rethinking the Civilian Surge

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 11.16.32 AMThe Center for American Progress has put forth an excellent report detailing the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) surge effort from 2009 – 2014. A summary of the report is included below, and the report in its entirety can be found here. The PRT analysis was written in part by IDS International alum, Ariella Viehe.

“In 2009, the United States announced a civilian surge to provinces across Afghanistan, sending thousands of U.S. civilian representatives from 2009 to 2014 from agencies including the U.S. Department of State; the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID; the U.S. Department of Justice; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and others. These civilian representatives expanded on the already several hundred U.S. civilian representatives who had worked across Afghanistan since 2002 as part of the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs. This surge deployment to Afghanistan—which saw the largest surge of civilian representatives in U.S. history—built off several previous deployments throughout U.S. history, including in Vietnam in the 1960s and immediately prior in Iraq in 2006.

In these particular conflicts where the U.S. government has concluded that there is “no purely military solution,” U.S. policymakers have justified the deployment of civilian representatives as capable of addressing the political and economic drivers of a conflict. In turn, this justification has heightened expectations that civilian representatives can and will resolve the deeply complex, long-term political, social, and economic needs driving conflict. If history is any indicator, the United States may again consider deploying civilian representatives to conflict zones, perhaps to provide U.S. support in Syria, Yemen, or other countries transitioning from conflict. Feedback from these past civilian deployments, however, has often been absent from decision-making. The unique opportunity offered by the recent withdrawal of most civilian representatives from Afghanistan’s provinces provides a critical moment to take stock quantitatively and qualitatively of civilian representatives as a foreign policy tool.

The results from civilian representatives’ most recent and largest deployment in Afghanistan show a mixed record of achievements. Overall, civilian representatives generally achieved small albeit significant changes in confined areas—a functioning school, a capable bureaucrat—but not systemic changes that established self-sufficient systems of governance, economic growth, or social development, all of which underpin security in Afghanistan. Perhaps more concerning is that the sustainability of the political and economic changes that civilian representatives supported in Afghanistan remains in doubt. Recent polling suggests that many of the issues that U.S. civilian representatives sought to improve remain nascent: Improving but still low levels of public confidence in the Afghan government, increasing concern over employment and economic opportunity, and a growing sense of insecurity about—and actual increases in—insurgent attacks continue to plague Afghans. If the United States considers a role for civilian representatives in future efforts, policymakers must have a better understanding of what civilian representatives can and cannot achieve; how they can support U.S. national security; and what, if anything, the United States can do to enhance their effectiveness.

This report outlines the results from a qualitative and quantitative review of the U.S. civilian representative effort in Afghanistan, in which more than 2,000 civilians deployed from 2002 through 2014. First, the report identifies the objectives that the civilian representatives were charged with achieving. Second, the report evaluates civilian representatives’ successes and failures against those objectives, discusses overall findings, and offers recommendations to guide future deployments of civilian representatives in conflict zones.

Afghanistan is the most recent case study for the deployment of U.S. civilians, as well as the largest, providing an illustrative example for any future conflict. Afghanistan, however, remains in conflict, limiting research access and leaving significant questions for the future. To compensate for the difficulty in accessing locations in Afghanistan, the authors conducted an online survey and interviews, both in person and by phone, with U.S. civilian representatives and past and present Afghan officials. These interviews and survey results rely on self-reporting by U.S. civilian representatives and Afghan officials; as such, the research team compared these results with secondary-source data about Afghanistan’s development, security, and political expectations.

Summary of findings

Data collected from civilian representatives and their Afghan counterparts reveal a fundamental misalignment between the objectives set out for civilian representatives and the tools—whether policy, financial, or bureaucratic—provided to achieve those objectives. Frustration among many of those surveyed reflected this misalignment; one civilian representative described the mismatch between his objectives and his resources as “set up to fail.” While this report does not find that U.S. policymakers intentionally undersupported civilian representatives, it does find that policymakers underappreciated the misalignment between civilians’ objectives and their tactical support.

In the short term, civilian representatives in Afghanistan played a critical role in reducing grievances that fueled local conflicts in the provinces and districts where they were deployed. Reconstruction projects developed by civilian representatives often encouraged communities to resolve local disputes, reducing grievances that the Taliban could exploit. With the civilian surge in 2009, civilian representatives took on a greater role in advising the U.S. military. Kael Weston, a former civilian representative in Afghanistan, described the civilian role in 2013 as showing Afghans “that the Americans were not just a military force, that we were a partner that [the Afghans] wanted to keep over the long term.” Indeed, other empirical studies conducted throughout the surge period have shown that these short-term relationships and reconstruction projects were integral to reducing short-term grievances.

These successes, however, do not appear to have produced sustainable, nationwide progress, potentially undermining the utility of the civilian representatives as well as longer-term U.S. objectives in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s trajectory is still unfolding, but among both Afghans and Americans there is a palpable sense of disappointment about what the civilian surge achieved. The sense of disappointment stems from the deep political, economic, and social challenges in Afghanistan after three decades of war, as well as a U.S. approach that provided insufficient or inappropriate resources to fundamentally address those challenges.

Combined, the report’s findings from Afghanistan provide a clearer picture of what civilian representatives in Afghanistan and future conflicts can and should be expected to achieve for U.S. policy. In light of these findings, the report offers several recommendations for future deployments of civilians, including: prioritizing objectives; evaluating and re-evaluating assumptions about local environments; investing in people, both in the United States and in the region; acknowledging the full span of resources and risk mitigation efforts needed; improving and expanding the policy feedback loop; and, finally, rethinking evaluation at all levels.

One fundamental lesson, however, underpins all of the recommendations for U.S. policy in future deployments: U.S. agencies must do the upfront work of acknowledging and defining the strategic rationale and purpose for civilian representatives in a particular conflict. This report does not evaluate the merits of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan; rather, it examines the lack of prioritized and achievable objectives for civilian representatives within that strategy. Its conclusion—that civilians’ work often created pockets of success that were ultimately undermined because they were not connected to larger, systemic political and economic shifts—is a caution to future policymakers. To create nationwide, systemic shifts, civilian representatives in Afghanistan needed to be incorporated into nationwide efforts that linked their work with the Afghan national government. Instead, they were left to develop their own localized plans with limited resources, even as policymakers articulated publicly much broader objectives for Afghanistan’s future.”

After Paris: Lessons to Learn

I have waited to write following the dreadful events in Paris. Waited for the sound of closing stable doors to fade and for strategy to replace stridency. The doors have closed, but I may have to wait a longer time for the strategy. For most politicians, the need to do something once again overrides the need to do the right things.

The heartwarming public sympathy, empathy and compassion for the French people was in stark contrast to the ‘we will act firmly and decisively’ talk from our politicians, military thinkers and commentators. Rehashing remarks and rhetoric we have heard many times before, with some new twists. There was talk of invoking Article 5 of NATO, acknowledging that an attack on one member is an attack on all. This has only been activated once in NATO’s history, after 9/11 and symbolically. It would do little good now except give our leaders another sound bite tag line. No, let us please stop and think what we can and should do, not just rush to be first with a reaction.

First, we should make it clear that it is the terrorists alone who are responsible for their atrocities. Nothing that we, members of NATO, Western democracies, G7 or G20 countries have done should be used to mitigate their crimes. That is not to say we should not be aware of the consequences of our previous actions, but nothing detracts from the appalling nature of their crimes.

Secondly, we should recognise the source of the terrorism. Most terrorist acts in the world are now committed in the name of Islam. In the past year over half the deaths from terrorism could be attributed to two organisations, Boko Haram and ISIS. It is no good us saying that these people are not Muslims, they think they are, they use Islam as their justification. It is no use us non Muslims saying much at all about the nature of Islam, how it needs a reformation, or it suffers from misinterpretation. We should leave all that to our Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Some commentators are saying that a reformation is underway after Paris. Perhaps, but I see little sign of it. If there is a reformation under way, where is it coming from, who is leading it, does it include reconciliation of Sunni and Shi’a. Nobody, nowhere and no are the answers. One of the differences between Islam and Christianity is that there is no global leadership of Islam. Not even national leadership in many countries. Islam has no Pope, there is no-one obvious spiritual leader around whom a reformation could coalesce. Al Azhar in Cairo used to be the centre of Islam, but that is now compromised in the eyes of Muslims in other countries, and in the eyes of Shi’a Muslims in particular. There is talk of the need for reformation, but again, we non Muslims must not join in such talk, leave it to such encouraging leaders as there are, King Abdullah of Jordan for example.

So, back to what we should and could do now. Certainly continue with the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria to degrade ISIS’s capability. We, and here we find some members of NATO, have the means, the experience and the skills beyond those of some regional players. As I said a year ago, we should continue to arm the Kurdish Peshmerga, and train them and the Iraqi army, as we having been doing seemingly for ever. But we must not put Western, NATO combat troops into the area, despite growing calls for this.

Have we learnt nothing from our Western-logic driven invasion of Iraq and our attempt to impose a pluralist democratic system? Any child in Iraq, especially a Sunni child, could have told us that this democracy would inexorably lead to the permanent dictatorship of the majority over the minority. We are not responsible for the Sunni Shi’a divide in Islam, it has always been there, sometimes quiet, sometimes not, but our invasion of Iraq and the way we handled the rebuilding of Iraq was the single most important event in refuelling it and giving oxygen to those who wanted to make Sunni versus Shi’a a more violent conflict. This is now, arguably, the most brutal, defining issue in the lack of peace and stability in the Middle East.

So, none of our troops on the ground unless we want to add more fuel to an already raging fire. We must only do things which will make the situation better. Airstrikes will not prevent the ISIS killers from getting to our countries, they are already here, and a few more, as I also said earlier this year, will hide among the genuine refugees struggling to get to Europe and beyond. But air strikes will halt or slow them, it will take away leadership and credibility and with luck, diminish their appeal to our own young people.

If there are to be troops, they must be from the region and we must step up the diplomatic effort, however impossible success might seem. We should encourage all regional players to sit down together, with those of us whose aircraft are engaged, and try and find some way to support and encourage them to engage rationally in the futures of Iraq and Syria. This will not be easy, think of the enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but they both must be involved. ISIS is a Sunni movement, Iran is one of a handful of countries with a majority Shi’a population, Saudi Arabia is Sunni country, with a significant Shi’a minority in its Eastern province, where the oil is. Run as a Wahabist Islamic monarchy, with beliefs close to those of ISIS in religious terms, and yet feeing threatened by ISIS. And beyond Iran and Saudi Arabia, a myriad of other inter state, inter religious tensions. But we must try, in the end diplomacy will have to find a lead role in the search for peace in the region.

We should support the displaced, the potential refugees in the Middle East. We must try and create viable, regional safe havens that can shelter them, taking pressure off overburdened neighbours such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, while we support efforts to stabilise and improve their own countries, especially Syria. No one becomes a refugee unless the option to become one, with all the dangers that involves, is better than the option of staying at home. We must try and make staying a better option, even though this also seems impossible.

Syria is not Iraq , in that it does not have the sharp fracture lines which were there in Iraq, between Shi’a, Sunni and Kurd. Almost all the warring factions in Syria, possibly a few Kurds excepted, cling to the idea of Syria as one state, as hardly anyone did or does in Iraq. Nonetheless, in the diplomacy, there must be acceptance and discussions of possible federal solutions, if it becomes apparent that the centre cannot hold.

Beyond all that, one of the most vivid lessons from Paris, is that security and intelligence co-operation was dangerously imperfect and as this is a fight in which special forces and security and intelligence agencies have a key role, that really matters.

Ten years ago I spoke at a Joint Forces Command conference at Norfolk Virginia. My theme was that no one country, even the USA, had the capacity to solve the modern intelligence and security problem from its own resources. We all needed to share intelligence, sometimes with those we would regard as enemies, and to co- operate, in order to succeed against our own objectives, let alone against those which we held in common with our allies. My further main theme was that inter-Agency cooperation in each country needed to be improved, as did cooperation with all the various departments of government involved in whatever the issue was, conflict, negotiations, rebuilding, political support or whatever. And that all interested parties should be involved at the earliest moment. I received a frosty reception, the thought that the US might need to cooperate with Pakistan, let alone Iran, in any way at all was laughable to the largely military audience. And as for inter-Agency cooperation, my point was made for me, with me being the only civilian at the conference with direct experience of the security and intelligence world. However, I maintain that I was right then, and right again today.

In the UK, we are now considering a link between the Paris perpetrators and groups in the UK, and it is clear that information and intelligence was not shared across Europe. The UK has traditionally shared only the most sensitive intelligence with the US and other English speaking allies. That is fine, but no longer sufficient. From all my recent conversations with ex colleagues, from reading and listening to experts, I do believe that inter Agency, inter country cooperation is vastly improved from 10 years ago, but that would not have been difficult. And that, although the journey has begun, there is still a long way to go in getting beyond sharing into joint action. But it must happen soon and deeply, just ask the French and Belgians. It must start at the top, with Heads of Government and senior ministers demanding that inter service rivalries, national stereotyping and international suspicions be put to one side. Information shared with those we do not trust must be protected, ring fenced, but it must be shared and evaluated.

So, to conclude, no silver bullet, just hard work, unselfish behaviour and a recognition that in all things every action we take must be aimed to improve things, not just to make us look good.

Stop the Momentum, Stop IS

When I took my first management course, we called companies or businesses that have to keep moving to stay alive ‘bicycle’ organisations. They have to be in continual motion not just for the sake of growth, but for sheer survival. Stop pedalling and everyone will simply fall off. I believe that the so-called Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL, is like this. Without momentum it will lose its key attraction. Without movement it will, if not die, certainly shrink and, with luck, lose its appeal to our young men and women.

We were right to degrade IS’s capabilities from the air and to arm its natural enemies, such as the Kurds of Northern Iraq. Our efforts forced IS to lose towns in both Iraq and Syria, but the dangerous and clever men who run IS knew they had to keep moving and keep the images of their vehicles storming into new territory with their black flags flying. They capitalised on the Iraqi Army’s lack of leadership, balance and motivation and retook the Sunni heartland’s capital, Ramadi. They then saw the empty desert between them and Palmyra and crashed mercilessly into that ancient city, once again making a mockery of international borders.

Thus, we must deny IS their momentum, and ‘we’ means ‘us,’ for this is our war in a way in which Iraq never was. This matters to both the USA and to Europe, not only due to the overt threat of returning jihadists carrying violence back to their home countries, but now because of the flood of refugees risking the seas from Libya, Syria and elsewhere, however flimsy their boats might be. The high number of refugees raises the threat of not all of them wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families. Some, like the occupants of the Trojan Horse, want to wreak havoc wherever they land. The threat of dangerous militants posing as refugees in order to cross borders is a credible concern.

So, this matters to a curiously disengaged USA and a Europe, as ever, divided among itself as to what can, should, or will be done. This is our war, but still one we must not fight on the ground if we are not to repeat the lessons of the hubristic invasion of Iraq and the ill-conceived toppling of Colonel Qaddafi in Libya. The Middle East, as The Economist said on June 5th, is in turmoil, largely following our actions. Tunisia may be going well, but Egypt is going back to the future after the disastrous Mohammad Mursi government; Saudi Arabia’s new ailing king is more concerned about the succession and is embroiled in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, which, like Libya is in the throes of civil war. Lebanese and Jordanian societies are becoming overwhelmed by incredible, unabsorbable numbers of refugees and Iraq and Syria are breaking apart into their Ottoman Empire components. There is danger and uncertainty everywhere, and this goes without even mentioning the situation in Afghanistan.

President Obama seems disengaged, perhaps deliberately so, reflecting the mood of his fellow citizens against more overseas wars. Ever since he failed to respond to the Assad regime crossing his 2012 ‘red line’ with 1,000 deaths from nerve gas in August 2013, Obama has stood back and done little. I still believe he and we were right not to intervene in Syria after this appalling breach of humanity’s norms. It is easy now to look back and say we should have armed the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels. It was harder to see them in 2013, and we would surely have ended up arming non-moderates – even those who became adherents of IS. No fly zones were the best and only option we had, but we chose not to do that.

The critics say that Obama has become fixated on the nuclear deal with Iran and does not want anything to jeopardise it. If it works, it will be an important achievement. However, it should have been combined with more forcefulness, or even just forceful rhetoric, about other regional issues. Iran thinks it has a free hand in Iraq, where the irony of the modern world places the US, Europe and Iran on the same side, in the short term at least. This is also true to a large extent in Yemen, where it is difficult to see any good outcome for the majority of the hapless Yemenis. Certainly in Iraq, the government of Al-Abadi seems as dependent on Iran from the military point of view as the previous government of Al-Maliki became from the political point of view. Yet another consequence of Obama’s putative inaction is the worsening relations with the United States’ closest regional ally, Israel.

But if it all does matter, the United States’ growing energy self-sufficiency notwithstanding, where should the United States go from here?

We must stop IS’s momentum with continued degradation of its capability through air strikes. We must continue to arm those we trust and train those we trust more. While it is hard to see the Sunni monarchies combining on the ground with Al Abadi’s Shia’a government and army, especially now that it is almost led by Iranian commanders, we must press for regional military action. IS’s brand of Sunni extremism threatens even the Sunni fundamentalist state of Saudi Arabia, as we have seen by the attacks on Shia’a targets in the oil rich Eastern Province. The reaction of the government in Riyadh has been unimpressive, as they are undoubtedly too concerned with Yemen. These states must be encouraged to aid Al-Abadi’s government in return for the greater inclusivity in Iraq which he promised, even if that aid does not extend to Gulf Sunni troops fighting alongside Iraq and Iranian Shia’a.

If we can find a moderate opposition in Syria, and I am not sure how we do that, then we should support it before another Iranian military support effort succeeds in stiffening the pro-Assad army. We should ease our distaste at the anti-democratic government in Cairo and begin to improve relations with it. Egypt is still the pivotal country in the region in terms of size, military capability, Islamic tradition and cultural influence.

Finally, Obama would do well to grit his teeth and improve relations with Israel, rather than leave this as the first Middle East policy initiative of whoever his successor will be. Israel, under Netanyahu, does itself no favours by sticking to its linear model of its ‘enemies’ and by refusing to see the difference between capability, threat, intention and effectiveness in the complex, nonlinear, mosaic that the Middle East has become. Despite all this, Israel is a strong, traditional ally and deserves to be defended, encouraged and cajoled.

These are not startling insights, and they echo the recommendations from the Washington Institute for Near East policy, but I do believe they represent the only viable way forward, a way to kill the momentum of IS and others. For if we do not, the lesson surely is that things will only get worse in terms of the threat to our well- being, security and prosperity. We had little time a year ago, and we have even less now.

David Handley.

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave!

The last UK combat troops have left Afghanistan, as have their US counterparts, and debate on this side of the Atlantic is turning to whether UK troops have the capability to intervene now in Syria or Iraq against the Islamic State (IS) and, more acutely, whether we should.

The discussion began after we started the air strikes against IS, and then gave arms and training to the Kurds, and it continued when all the experts said that air strikes alone would not defeat this enemy. But there are a number of questions in this particular confused web, apart from the issue of our boots on the ground. Should we talk to Bashar al Assad about coordinating efforts against the IS? What should we do about Iran, whose aims and objectives in Iraq overlap to some extent with ours? We have seen the hugely ironic coincidence of Syrian, Iraqi and NATO aircraft all flying over Iraq and Syria with the same mission, to degrade the extreme Sunni forces of IS. Iran is giving military advice and support to the Iraqi Shi’a dominated government, as are the US and other NATO allies. So, NATO, Iran and Syria all wish to see the Sunni IS defeated, whilst we are trying to persuade the new and much delayed Shi’a government in Baghdad to include and consider the Iraqi Sunnis, but only the moderates.

And then we have one NATO member, Turkey, moving significant forces to its border with Syria and then doing little, if anything, to help the Syrian Kurds defend their towns and territory against IS. Doing nothing, and seemingly saying that the US and other NATO members could launch air strikes against IS from Turkish air fields, and then changing their mind. There is a little movement in the Turkish position lately in allowing passage to some Kurdish troops across its territory to join the fight against IS. President Erdogan says the clear objective should be the overthrow of the Assad regime in Damascus, and that is why Turkey is standing back, because other NATO members seems to be reinforcing Assad in their fight against IS. Erdogan says little about the more likely driving force behind his inactivity, the age old Turkish fear of the actions and desires of the Turkish Kurdish population, now watching the growing autonomy, if not independence of their brothers and sisters in Iraq and to some extent in Syria. Turkey likes the current nature of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, given its overwhelming need for Kurdish oil and gas and the Iraqi Kurds overwhelming desire for their own dedicated pipeline through Turkey, but Ankara fears and distrusts any moves to a greater Kurdistan.

Finally there is the appalling issue of the hostages taken by IS and whether we should negotiate for their release by offering money or other things such as exchange of prisoners for hostages. Some countries do negotiate and make deals with IS. The UK does not, we never have at government level, although like many other countries we have a flourishing ‘kidnap for ransom’ business sector. Should we stand on our principles whilst our citizens are beheaded, or does the horror of it all make negotiation worth the price of encouraging further kidnappings?

So the strands in the web are clearly visible: our dislike for the Shi’a linked Assad regime in Syria; our suspicion and to some extent fear of the largest Shia’a state Iran, which threatens security in the Persian Gulf, Israel and the security of oil supplies from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Oil, which is still important to the West, even with the growing US home based production;, the need for the Iraqi Shi’a government of Al-Abadi to include Sunni ministers with meaningful portfolios, reform the discredited and poorly led Iraqi Armed Forces and give the Sunni part of the Iraqi population a feeling that their voices will be heard and listened to in Baghdad in way that they never were under the Al Maliki governments; what position should we take towards the future of Iraq, even we defeat IS, if the movements towards Kurdish independence and Sunni autonomy grow stronger, and then, where I began, how do we defeat IS without getting our own troops involved?

A long and difficult list to which I have no certain answers, but only opinions. Air strikes only will not defeat IS, but any troops should be from Iraq and the near region, not from NATO. That will be hard to achieve, given the attitudes of and towards the Sunni governments with money and troops to spare, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar. It is hard to see troops from these states fighting alongside the Shi’a dominated Iraqi Army, to say nothing of whether Iranian troops could be kept away. So, the best option is to encourage, support and train a more inclusive, professionally led Iraqi Army, but immediately. Then the Iraqi Sunnis should feel able to prosper within Iraqi and moderate Sunni leaders must be encouraged to take their place in the Iraqi governmental infrastructure. Most people everywhere just want to live secure and safe lives, working for themselves and their families free from fear and interference, Arabs are no different. We should strive to keep the geography of Iraq as it is today, but a more autonomous federation of Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish regions within a more equitable whole. And we should not negotiate with terrorists, and that is what the IS is, to free our citizens, however dreadful the consequences.

The second part of Sir Walter Scott’s couplet, “oh what a tangled web we weave”, is “when first we practise to deceive” and, given our leading role in creating the flawed state that is post Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and our prevarication over what could or should have been done in Syria 2 years ago, over how to deal with the post Mubarak Egypt and our responsibility for the mess that is Libya today, and over where red lines may or may not be, we should stop deceiving ourselves at least.

The big deception was to think we could impose pluralist governments in Iraq and elsewhere. We said we would bring democracy, without thinking what that meant. Our push for pluralism merely imposed the dictatorship of the majority over the minority, as it will do again and again in the divided sectarian, tribal and religious driven countries in the region. Iraq is the prime example, but we saw it with the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and we see it in Libya. The ballot box does not guarantee democracy, but it can legitimise the dictatorship of the majority.

Democracy is about building institutions, not like ours, but fit for purpose in the the countries concerned, where they can give the population confidence that they can speak freely and that their voices will be heard. That the rule of law applies to all citizens and exists to defend rights not to underpin the well being of the ruling elite. That corruption will be recognised and not denied. The list of things to achieve is long before democracy can be said to exist. Elections and the triumph of this factional party or the other are in many ways the end and not the beginning. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we offer a political example for other countries to follow, but rather do what we can to encourage with an open velvet gloved hand the moderate elements in each place our iron fist has touched.

Social Media’s Role in the Operational Environment

Combined Endeavor 2011Recent years have seen the transition of social media from a source of entertainment, a way to share photos and funny videos with friends and family members, to a powerful tool for change at the regional and national level. The Arab Spring of 2011 witnessed uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain, fueled by the use of social media, resulting in the toppling of several governments. More recently, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) conducted a well-funded, professionally developed social media campaign in its blitz across Iraq, which helped them increase recruitment, raise funds and expand their reach to a widespread audience.

With the move to Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF), ground forces could find themselves deployed across the globe within hours of being alerted. These environments will be dynamic and can rapidly change with the presence of U.S. Forces. It is critical that Commanders have the ability to gain and maintain an understanding of the local population beyond traditional forms of Intelligence.

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The New New Game

The competition between Russia and Britain for control of Central Asia and environs, including Afghanistan, was termed “The Great Game.” It lasted roughly from 1813 to 1907 and beyond. It was waged for national prestige and economic gain – and because India was a jewel in the British Crown. That is, it was about power, real and perceived.

The phrase “New Great Game” has been used more than once. In one instance it was used as shorthand for the competition between Russia, China, and various western powers for political influence and access to the raw materials of Central Asia in the post Soviet era. It has also been used for U.S. involvement in Central Asia during the Soviet and post Soviet eras, especially since 9/11.

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The Role of the SME: Making Military Exercises Relevant and Realistic

After 20 years in the U.S. Army and 30 in the U.S. Foreign Service – including two tours of duty as a U.S. ambassador – I’ve been involved in numerous civil-military exercises since I retired in 2012. In particular, I was asked to help prepare the military to work effectively in a post-Afghanistan environment.

Organizations operate like they train. So, it’s important that training is relevant and realistic to make sure our young men and women, in and out of uniform, are prepared for future challenges. This is especially important for the military after the final withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan – now scheduled for the end of 2016.

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