18 November 2010

World Leader Pretend

FORT IRWIN, Calif., Sept. 27--A U.S. Army brigade is like a corporation. It has a Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.), a couple of senior vice presidents, and a whole herd of junior vice presidents. Each of the junior vice presidents is responsible for one function throughout the organization: Human Resources, Market Analysis, Operations, Supply and Maintenance, Information Technology. There are also senior-level specialists, who may be equal to junior vice presidents: the Corporate Attorney is one. So are the Environmental Safety Director and the Media Spokesperson.

When a business doesn't have the expertise it requires to be competitive, it may hire consultants from outside the organization, or it may partner with other businesses that share similar goals. In mil-speak, these are "enablers." These are mostly civilian personnel, and include civil engineers, anthropologists, law enforcement practitioners, and diplomats. Some wear uniforms, but most don't.

Part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) experience at National Training Center (N.T.C.) is to learn to work with these new team members.

"I just got a tip from the [Human Terrain Team]," the executive officer tells the brigade staff during this morning's first meeting. The H.T.T. is made up of anthropologists and other academics, who can do research into local cultures and attitudes. "When you go into these Key Leader Engagement meetings with Afghan leaders, you always count heads. Then, go in with one less. It's subtle, but that way, you're not outnumbering them at their meeting, in their country."

Today is the third day in The Box for the brigade, and the first day of a 3-day "targeting cycle." In the business world, targeting might be considered "strategic planning"--identifying objectives, and allocating resources to meet those objectives. Through a series of expert subcommittee and committee meetings, a list of possible goals is developed, a consensus reached, and a set of proposals is made to the CEO.

Yeah, I know: Sounds sexy. And dramatic.

For purposes of the training exercise, the targeting cycle at National Training Center (N.T.C.) has been abbreviated to three days. Normally, a cycle might last a week or two--maybe even a month. Each day at NTC, however, there are meetings and more meetings. Then, there are meetings assessing the results of the last three days' efforts. Then, the cycle repeats. Some soldiers quip: "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." Others liken every day to "Groundhog Day."

One of the topics of today's targeting meeting--the meeting after the first meeting--is a regionally influential strongman, with his own troops, the local peasants in his pocket, and a sizable income coming in from the poppy fields. The question is whether he can be influenced to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan ("GIRoA"), and how. Give him money or jobs? Give him a political position?

"He's looking for validation of his position," says the HTT leader. "He's either going to get support from the Taliban, or he's going to get it from us."

There are other options, of course, but the participants in this particular meeting attempt to focus on the kinder, gentler, and less-lethal side of counterinsurgency (COIN). You know: "Speak softly, and carry a big carrot."

Diana, one of the U.S. State Department personnel, reminds those in attendance that the devil you know may be better than a power vacuum, particularly when the bad guy is the only source of jobs in the region. "When your kids are hungry and you don't have anything to eat, the bad guy is better than no guy at all."

"Besides," she says, "we need to find out why he doesn't want to play. It might be something very simple--maybe we killed a member of his family and never apologized. Or, it may be very complex--but we need to ask."

After the meeting, the brigade lawyer shakes his head bemusedly, "I wonder how many [business] people back home in Iowa would be comfortable in sitting around a conference table trying to decide whether or not to whack the guy."

He is only half-joking. This isn't personal. It's business.

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