Small Wars Journal

The Sublime: The Paradox of the 7th Warfighting Function

Mon, 11/25/2013 - 5:54am

The Sublime: The Paradox of the 7th Warfighting Function

(Or why SOF cannot eat our function and have it too)

Grant M. Martin

Special Operations Forces (SOF) have a problem: in order to be more effective in the “human domain” we have to paradoxically dump the concept. The human domain, a conceptualization of the influence that populations have on military operations, is one way of viewing reality. Human populations, however, are characterized by different viewpoints and limiting oneself to only one view of the world can be disastrous if trying to make sense of things and initiate a desired effect. The trends within SOF, however, seem to be a growing reliance on process, bureaucracy, and metrics, all obstacles to breaking away from any institutionally-approved ways of thinking. In order for SOF to best contribute to operations within the human domain I assert that we have to do two things: 1) ensure our doctrine and concepts support a more nuanced and dynamic approach to operations at the conceptual level and, 2) mimic at the operational and strategic levels the same kinds of things that make us “special” at the tactical level. Actually making these things happen in the face of the current drawdown, our relatively recent infatuation with technology and the inexplicable application of physical domain concepts to the human domain, however, will be a herculean task.

The human domain implies the “social” realm: a dominion of non-visible abstractions that, although mostly falling outside of “the scientific” are nonetheless real, if real means to have an effect on others. Yet SOF, following the Army’s lead, is attempting to apply the physical domains’ constructs to this social domain. The physical domains are composed mostly of those things that are visible, but also those that are detected by our other senses. Although this is a simplification and perhaps disingenuous, one way of thinking about the two types of domains is to imagine an armored division battle as being one largely within the “land domain”. Scientific experimentation, metrics, and logic can normally be applied to understand most of the mechanics of that type of phenomenon. What the population of a nearby town thinks about the battle, however, and, more importantly, what they will do that could affect one’s objectives, fall more into the social realm. This is a realm consisting more of “social” facts (as opposed to “physical” facts such as artillery trajectories and tank speed), influenced more by language and culture, and largely constructed by the inhabitants as to meaning. Approaching the physical domain in more of an objective and logical manner may work, but approaching the social realm without relying more on multiple viewpoints and critical and creative thinking is a recipe for disaster.

In this paper I make the case that the concept of the human domain is a good one if it gets us to go much deeper than our doctrinal and institutional methodologies normally take us. Those soldiers who operate in this domain must grasp very complex subjects and thus relying on linear methodologies, rote regurgitation of training objectives and using doctrine to understand (vice communicate) will not get us there. We must introduce at least our SOF soldiers to the concepts of the critical realist[i] philosophy and to the practice of forming multi-paradigmatic views. We must also firmly ground and continuously educate them in critical and creative thinking. These aren’t mechanized divisions we are attempting to outflank or terrorists we are killing in the human domain, these are very contextual-dependent groups of people whose values we are attempting to appreciate and either influence or employ to some effect. [ii]  It is the difference between operating within the physically visible world and the socially non-visible one.[iii] To best enable the forces that are engaged in this socially non-visible world, or the missions SOF call Special Warfare,[iv] it is my contention that we must discard the philosophy the military normally uses and turn towards something Curtis White calls “the sublime” in his book The Middle Mind: less of a faith that science and data can unlock the puzzles of humanity and more of a reliance on art. [v] Art in this case refers to military art, but also to innovation and Mission Command as well the concepts of multi-framing, learning-in-action, and the afore-mentioned critical and creative thinking. The alternative, and the military’s current preferred philosophy, is the technically rational approach. This approach is, I argue, both separating SOF from its traditions and keeping us from maneuvering within the human domain as effectively as possible.

The Problem: Assuming a Technically Rational Approach within the Human Domain

The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Odierno, allegedly said recently, “That is what I was missing in Iraq! The human domain!”[vi] This conversation happened, supposedly, in the context of a discussion about the Army’s Seventh Warfighting Function (WfF), which as a concept is still being worked, but would add a function to the Army’s list of those six things it must now do to theoretically “maximize combat power”.[vii] When combined with the other functions- movement and maneuver, fires, intelligence, protection, sustainment, mission command- and welded together through leadership, the Seventh is supposed to enable decisive effects and ultimately success on the battlefield. What is the Seventh WfF? Right now it has yet to be named, although some of the early candidates have included Influence, Engagement, and Shape.[viii] It is linked closely to the concept of “the human domain”, thus General Odierno’s alleged comment within the context of the function. As LTG Sacolick and BG Grisgsby wrote in the June 2012 issue of Army Magazine:

“The concept of the human domain is the cognitive foundation of the 7th warfighting function’s lethal and nonlethal capabilities to assess, shape, deter and influence foreign security environments.”[ix]

In plain English, the 7th WfF is all of the tasks and systems that military units would need to do or have to influence people, taking into account the “socio-economic, cognitive, and physical aspects of human activity".[x] Of course, that does not leave too much left. If one thinks about it, the 7th WfF and the human domain, defined as “the totality of the physical, cultural and social environments that influence human behavior to the extent that success of any military operation or campaign depends on the application of unique capabilities that are designed to fight and win population-centric conflicts,” [xi] border on tautologies. That is, they encompass so much that they are rendered almost useless. What doesn’t influence human behavior- even if one caveats it with “to the extent that success of a campaign depends on it”?

Regardless of the construct’s philosophical issues, why are Special Operations Forces (SOF) pushing for a new Army warfighting function and why is the Army supporting SOF in doing so? As usual there are a multitude of reasons.[xii] The most important reason has to do with the prevailing conventional wisdom within the military about why Operational Iraqi Freedom (OIF) seemed to go so terribly wrong. Sydney J. Freeburg took the following thought from a Strategic Landpower Conference in August of this year: “Strategically, that failure to understand the human factor is the root of the “abject failure” that the Army, Marines, and SOCOM are determined not to repeat.”[xiii] This follows on the heels of the Army’s Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency Manual and subsequent debates between the “COINdinistas”, such as John Nagl who have pushed for a “human-centricity” in contemporary war efforts, and those who would advocate that the narrative being sold on Iraq is flat-out wrong.[xiv] In short, the U.S. Army as an institution is convinced that it was not “population-centric” enough in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and thus influencing the local population has to be a critical lesson, if not THE lesson we should take from our recent forays overseas. Other reasons include the drawdown in manpower and money as well as the way the military institution uses concepts to try to align disparate and bureaucratic organizations towards a common goal.[xv]

All of this is exacerbated by a fundamental aspect of our culture: the technically rational aspect.[xvi] This approach to reality basically posits that all things in this world can be understood by scientific experimentation. Its language is one of math and formulaic metaphor,[xvii] its logic is the scientific method, and its philosophy is of the Enlightenment Period. This positivist[xviii] philosophy would be bad if we simply believed it consciously. Unfortunately, most people in the military are unaware of their own philosophy- or, at the least, the institutional philosophy that their doctrine, planning constructs, and systems and processes are founded upon. This philosophy, for instance, leaves us enamored with metrics and attempting to quantify the unquantifiable. We are convinced we can measure everything we do, to the extent that we talk about things like “measures of effectiveness and measures of performance” as if “effectiveness” is something one can always measure (the problem of sufficient causation and original causes). That we attempt to measure things is but one example of a greater issue: most, if not all, of our constructs remain uncritically accepted on faith by the vast majority of our force. Centers of Gravity analysis, the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), and Lines of Effort tools are just a few examples of concepts that appear in military doctrine with few, if any, references. The force learns them, regurgitates them, has faith in them, and many defend them without question.

Knowingly or not, we in the military are governed largely by a system of systems that theoretically ties the President’s security strategy to everything the military does, from the way the Army organizes into brigades to the type of rifle infantrymen carry. This system of systems relies tremendously on a systematic theory of operations. The systematic theory is highly suspect, as the Soviet centralized system should have taught us. This reliance on systems and process instead of relationships and coup d'œil[xix] genius does have some advantages, but it also must undergo fundamental reform every now and then as well as perhaps the brutal test of peer-to-peer combat to avoid the natural tendency to “over-bureaucratize”. [xx] The U.S. military and SOF used to do this naturally prior to the Cold War by drastically drawing down the Army and doing away with SOF altogether after a war. Since the Cold War and especially since 9/11, the Army has stayed very large and SOF has grown even more.

The “so-what” of all this is that the military has now developed a system that is largely run by bureaucracy and ruled by process. Attempting social change of populations through military engagement throughout all of the activities leading up to and including war and its aftermath (human domain stuff) is arguably self-defeated by a bureaucracy. Until we can break away from our own institutionally-encouraged paradigms and consciously understand where our concepts come from and the weaknesses inherent within them, we should not expect to operate any better at attempting change in others than we have as of late. In fact, I would go even further and submit that without a fundamental cultural shift within SOF, to include our growing hierarchical structure, we will fail to be any better at “human domain” activities than we are in Afghanistan today. That we have been unable to incorporate the so-called lessons of the early days of Iraq into our operations in Afghanistan should cause us to seriously question the validity and universality of those lessons. Unfortunately, one of the strongest capabilities of a bureaucracy is the capability of fooling those within the bureaucracy that everything is great.[xxi]

If two things don’t alert us to the possibility that there could be something fundamentally wrong, then possibly nothing will. Those two things are our inability to clearly articulate what it is we do within SOF and the afore-mentioned continued struggles in Afghanistan. Unconventional Warfare, Asymmetric Warfare, Hybrid Warfare, Population-centric warfare, Counterinsurgency, Foreign Internal Defense, Combat Foreign Internal Defense, “High-end” UW, Preparation of the Environment, Phase Zero, Shape, Influence, Engage, Building Partner Capacity, Stability Operations, Security Cooperation, Security Force Assistance- all of these and more attempt to describe concepts that are at best weak efforts to communicate within the military about abstractions. At worst they are used as paradigms with which our force must use when thinking about, planning for, and acting during operations. The problem is that we are attempting to put tacit knowledge- that which is hard or impossible to explain- into the same form (doctrine) as explicit knowledge- that which can be categorized, detailed, and made into a list. SOF and those involved in the human domain are a force seeking to “sense-make” the world largely in an explicit way, but the world we want to operate in is instead socially constructed and filled with tacit knowledge. Doctrine applied to the physical domains- made up of explicit knowledge- makes sense in some areas.[xxii] Doctrine applied to the world of tacit knowledge makes little sense and I would argue makes things more confusing. This fundamental characteristic of the social world, characterized by tacit knowledge, is both the key to moving forward in the human domain as well as ironically the death knell of the term, “the human domain”. We have to take a look at the paradox of the human domain before we can offer a way out of this conceptual mess we’ve made for ourselves.

The Paradox of the “Human Domain”

Ignoring for a moment that viewing reality through the lens of “domains” is only one way- and quite possibly a very bad way- of attempting to make sense of the world, the concept of the “human domain” has resulted in some confusion for many within the Army and Special Operations. Conversations I’ve had with many others about the “human domain” tend to revolve around two very confounding comments: 1) that the Air Force and Navy rarely- if ever- have anything to do with humans, and, 2) that when referring to ourselves we should use the term “human dimension.” That any organization attempting to be more nuanced and savvy in its approach and be more “population-centric” would refer to the human domain as “other humans” and our own selves as a “dimension” can only point to us being a slave to our own confusing doctrinal system (I submit when we attempt to indoctrinate abstraction (tacit subjects), we quickly run into these intellectual train wrecks). Likewise, the concept that the Air Force and Navy don’t have anything to do with humans borders on the fantastical.

If, as is posited by many military leaders and commentators, the human domain is a different domain than the Army has focused on in the past (the other domains being more physical: land, sea, air and cyber), then it would seem to follow that the tools and philosophy we use might not be the most effective when acting in another, arguably very different, domain. For the purposes of simplification and clarity I will define the “human domain,” not in terms of its content (“the other”), but in terms of the missions or environment most closely related to the concept. When I think of the human domain I think of Unconventional Warfare (UW)[xxiii], Counterinsurgency (COIN), Counter UW, insurgency, and the like. To add to those types of missions I would include any military operation in which either the objectives are very unclear and abstract or the operation is structured in such a way as to have a high likelihood of being unbounded in scope and time. Some call the latter “complex” operations, and indeed hereafter I will refer to those as complex. This is juxtaposed with an operation like Desert Storm in which the objectives were clear and limited in both scope and time, even if they were limited somewhat artificially and ignoring the obvious connection to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Thus we are left with two choices: either accept that the same conceptual tools and doctrinal concepts that we use for the physical domains can be applied with some minor tweaking to the human domain or approach with at least skepticism the idea that the physical and human domains can be understood using the same paradigms. Do we really believe that metrics, process, the scientific method, and formulae can be the primary guide for us in the human domain- even at the tactical level- and in any domain at the above-tactical levels? If not, if we believe that in the human domain (as well as the levels beyond tactical in all domains) things are highly dependent upon context, fraught with tacit knowledge, and fall more into the art side than the science side,[xxiv] then the preferred philosophy should be the critical realist philosophy. It is what makes bringing a “cookie-cutter” approach to COIN and UW to be such a terrible idea, and yet our bureaucracy forces us into these approaches at the operational and higher levels.[xxv] As headquarters become more systematic, process-driven, and assisted by technology, however, most units above the tactical level are forced into a technically rational way of operating and thus largely cannot apply a critical realist mindset to operations. Indeed, one could make the argument that in today’s uber-professional and regimented American military, the only levels in which critical and creative thinking routinely happen are at the tactical level.[xxvi]

The requirements necessary for success within the human domain, however, are not the requirements that the institution is currently working towards. The U.S. military has become more professional, more centrally-managed, more technologically-enhanced, and more regimented since the ramp-up for the Cold War saddled the American people with a relatively large professional force. That Special Operations is just now getting around in my opinion to being in the same boat is a reflection of two occurrences: the 1987 establishment of Special Operations as a 4-star command and the large growth in Special Operations since 9/11. These two occurrences arguably have brought Special Operations to a level similar to the rest of DoD wherein the most important priority among the hierarchy is the growth of the bureaucracy. This largely unconscious effect is to be expected: any large organization experiences it quite naturally.[xxvii] What should concern the American people and those within SOF, however, is how much capability we have lost to act within complex environments (i.e., the human domain) as Special Operations becomes more and more consumed by the exact same bureaucratic pressures that the conventional forces have long suffered from.

One example may assist in understanding the phenomenon. Recently US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) introduced a new publication: the SOF Operational Design Handbook. This handbook borrowed much of its concepts from the Army’s Design Methodology (ADM). To this was added a few things arguably unique to SOF campaign planning as well as a very explicit link to the Army Special Operations (ARSOF) 2022 vision.[xxviii] To be fair, the writers of this first iteration of the handbook were given a very short timeframe with which to complete the project. Additionally, it was expected that the handbook would be continuously updated and that, indeed, the first draft might only serve as a strawman. The danger to SOF does not lie simply with the publication of the handbook: this is simply a symptom of a larger problem. The danger lies with ARSOF copying the U.S. Army’s use of physical domain approaches when it comes to the human domain.

To many, Operational Design has come to represent what is fundamentally wrong with recent U.S. Army concepts. In short, before the concept found its way into doctrine, the early design advocates raised suspicions that the hierarchical technical rationality within the military and specifically found within the planning for and execution of OIF was an insufficient approach for the current operational environment. These advocates recommended the adoption of critical realism, multi-paradigmatic frames and the like. Our culture, however (largely influenced by the same hierarchy the early advocates found fault with), refused to entertain the notion that a technically rational approach is the wrong one for complexity. Thus, we faced a problem: design pointed to our philosophy as being the problem, but we were wedded to our philosophy. This conundrum was “fixed” by the Army at Fort Leavenworth by forcing the concepts of design, an anti-methodological approach, into a methodology![xxix] This has resulted in the doctrine seeming to contradict itself. For example, on the one hand the methodology implores professionals to critically think, but it then defines the specific ways in which one must think about war, a wholly uncritical approach. This is due in no small part to two incompatible philosophies that our institution is attempting to force together. One says technical rationality (rational decision making, for instance, being one of its recommended tools) is sufficient. The other says it is wholly wrong.

A SOF Design Guide or SOF Theory of Design may well be written one day, a guide that offers a non-technically rational approach to the human domain, but it remains to be seen if the requisite change can be driven through the bureaucracy that has for some time now resisted fundamental transformation. It is noteworthy that within the ARSOF 2022 vision and related efforts, LTG Charles T. Cleveland, the commander of USASOC, calls for testing and experimentation of new and different operational planning constructs specifically with respect to Special Warfare.[xxx] If Operational Design is seen by ARSOF for what it really is: a methodology best belonging to the physical domains (at the tactical level mostly), rooted in technical rationality, and in direct contradiction with the human domain concept, then it is possible that a more applicable text could be produced. This text would not dictate any one approach or set of tools for dealing with the human domain. Instead it would encourage critical and creative thinking, demand a multi-framed approach at the most fundamental of levels, and require “learning-in-action” or “reflective practice”.[xxxi] The reflective practitioner is one who reflects critically on all that is done and is never too intellectually lazy to rely on institutional paradigms unconsciously- the professional within refuses such shortcuts. This practitioner further learns while doing, always able to revisit assumptions due to an intellectual humbleness with respect to the world. Multi-framing would be so ingrained as to be almost unconscious: a result of intimate familiarity with how humans make sense of their world through socially-constructed metaphors. Lastly, all of these capabilities would be used to develop an innovative approach to complex problems, those problems that are inherent when the military attempts social change.

This brings us to the paradox of the “human domain”. In order to be effective when dealing with things like social influence,[xxxii] the requirements are literally something that SOF has been getting further away from being able to do since at least 1987, but especially since 2003.[xxxiii] If we are to be more effective within the human domain, we must at the least question whether the Army’s physical domain approach is applicable to the human domain. Preferably we would rigorously experiment with different constructs and approaches as our norm. Most preferably, however, we would waste no time in adapting to the philosophical approach of the vast majority of the rest of the scientific world, to include most of the social sciences- and that is to a critical realist philosophy. This approach would by definition require the philosophy behind Mission Command, it would prioritize education and training over equipment and process, it would be comfortable with a more context-focused approach to complex operations (and thus maximize flexibility while sacrificing ease of communication, funding, and planning), and it would take advantage of SOF’s traditional strengths: it’s amazing capability at the tactical level. I call this approach the sublime[xxxiv], borrowing the term from Curtis White’s book wherein he implores America to turn away from assuming science holds the answer to everything and instead to be “antagonists to the status quo in … intellectual orthodoxy… [and to be] advocates for change…”[xxxv]

The Solution: “The Sublime

And so we are stuck in an awful position: we want our cake (a 7th WfF) and we want to eat it too. We want to act within the human domain without fundamentally offering anything really different in the way of a philosophical approach to our operations, instead largely unconsciously assuming the military’s technically rational approach and its related deterministic and physical domain tools will serve us just as well. We will do all of this while we continue down a path that relegates us to being little better than our conventional brethren in terms of operational and strategic prowess. We select, train, and equip our forces “specially”- and we can see the difference at our lowest levels: the team level, but then we plan, promote, organize, and educate them at higher levels largely in the same manner as the conventional forces do. This is most likely well and good when SOF is engaged in doing the so-called “surgical strike” missions of which our nation (and our government to a large extent- to include USSOCOM) is enamored with as of late.[xxxvi] This is because, if anything, surgical strike missions are very limited in time and scope and their objectives are clear and unambiguous. If any kind of mission was conducive to a technically rational approach, it would be surgical strike missions.[xxxvii]

Special Warfare (SW), on the other hand, encompasses those units that are capable of long-term duration operations in denied areas to train indigenous forces.[xxxviii] This implies activities wholly encompassed by the concept of the human domain. SW forces would be engaged in social influence and, if savvy enough, they would be engaged in internalization efforts through participatory observation (encompassing action, observation, learning, and influencing- influencing both the observed and the observers). For the most part we have tactical-level teams who can do this now. I say “for the most part” because the education and personnel systems these individuals fall under are all less than desired, largely beholden to the conventional force’s systems and with respect to education- are a lower priority within USSOCOM.[xxxix] To engage most effectively within the human domain- our SW forces should be supported with an education and training institution second to none. Risk can be taken in IT platforms, vehicles, C2 systems, and airframes. Risk cannot be taken in education and training if one is to prioritize SW. Of course it is very difficult to measure the impact of education and training on national objectives and it is near impossible to articulate the requirements for doing so, but I would argue this is more the result of our bureaucracy’s requirements than it is our ability to articulate. Linear logic and metrics are required to justify and validate requirements; narrative and anecdote are abhorred by the bureaucracy. This is anathema to what is needed for building an SW force able to operate within the human domain, but alas we are beholden to a requirements process that is set up to facilitate the bureaucracy.

At the operational level we are sorely handicapped. In terms of our personnel system, at the tactical level we make up for the lack of flexibility by being able to rely on young, uninstitutionalized NCOs and officers who, because of the way they are normally deployed, we fortunately find it very difficult to micromanage. Thus they are able to remain mission-focused and results-oriented. At the operational level and “high tactical” levels,[xl] however, senior NCOs and field-grade officers are increasingly “institutionalized” and are thus progressively more intertwined within the bureaucracy in terms of how the organization thinks, plans, communicates, and acts. Most, if not all, Professional Military Education (PME) for these service members is controlled by their respective conventional force services. The personnel system promotes, evaluates, and selects SOF personnel for command under the same construct as the conventional force personnel.[xli] If SOF is to be successful at the operational and “higher tactical” levels, absent a personnel system that allows for flexibility and mission focus, we must incorporate at the very least a rigorous testing and experimentation program to assist us in finding the right tools and philosophical approach for operating in the human domain.

We cannot rest on the assumption that the tools developed for the physical domains, that were geared for the Industrial Age timeframe and grounded in an Enlightenment Era philosophy will serve us the best. Preferably we should take our cues from critical realism and multi-paradigmatic framing and reject the notion that the social realm should be approached using mainly the scientific method and linear logical tools and processes. Instead we should inculcate in all our personnel (focusing on improving battalion and higher HQs) some of the same things they use naturally at the team level: a healthy disdain for micromanagement, a skepticism about higher HQ’s understanding of things, a resistance to the conventional wisdom and any institutionally-preferred way of thinking, and an innovative passion that helps team members strive to come up with creative ways of approaching situations. These same characteristics can be strengthened through our doctrine and education systems, if not our personnel system, and they match up perfectly with Curtis White’s concept of the sublime.

The sublime for Curtis White is about art. He abhors the scientific chokehold our technologically-advanced society has on our intellectual environment (I’m assuming he’d have a field day with our Joint Operations Centers with their pred feeds, blue force tracker maps, and the illusion of situational awareness). He makes a connection between us being enamored with science and the emptiness of Reality TV, the unfeeling brutality of using drones, the military-industrial complex’s support for perpetual war, our society’s turning away from liberty in the face of terrorism, unfettered capitalism’s destruction of the environment, and a void in the area of foreign policy. The sublime for SOF, especially those within the Special Warfare framework, can also be art. I submit that art has a place in war, although many of us military types are a little uncomfortable about the word. Art, admittedly, forces one to take risk. It is very difficult to do: one must sacrifice ease of communication and planning as well as take on some threat to one’s career. Writing a handbook to assist in the sublime is almost impossible, how does one tell a promising painter how to be a da Vinci? Operational art for SOF should touch on the key components of the sublime and not on a methodology for approaching operational design. The art of Special Warfare is a creative use of special groups of professionals who are educated and trained to see things from multiple perspectives, to critically think about one’s institution’s flawed view of the world, create something new that is highly context-dependent across the resource spectrum, and learns while doing. Art isn’t something one does while coloring within the lines and SOF shouldn’t be looking for a methodology to assist us with it. For the human domain, art is the key.


Special Operations within the U.S. Military faces a crossroads. One way arguably leads towards relatively bigger budgets, more technology and platforms, and more intertwining of systems and processes with conventional forces. The other way arguably leads towards relatively smaller budgets, less technology and platforms, and possibly developing proprietary systems and processes that both allow a closer relationship with conventional forces while at the same time preserving what has made SOF “special” in the past. The latter way, while possibly being less expensive, emphasizes small-footprint Special Warfare more than it does Surgical Strike. It prioritizes education and training over platforms and technology as well as persistent engagement over drone strikes, direct action raids, and Hollywood movies. Perhaps most importantly, however, it calls for the sublime in order to harness what is natural to most SOF service members when they first enter the force, that is- critical and creative thinking, which, when added to a multi-frame approach and learning and reflecting-in-action allows greater effectiveness within the social realm of the human domain. The goal is not more money, more missions, or more personnel. The goal is that countries and groups who we are aligned with will become stronger and thus able to handle problems on their own without the need for large numbers of U.S. troops, which arguably get in the way of long-term progress anyway.  Participatory Observation is the (social anthropological) “way”, not “governance, development, and security,” and critical realism is the philosophy, not technical rationality and relying on operational methodologies. It is beyond time that SOF headquarters be as “special” as the teams underneath them and offer those teams something more than what the conventional forces have developed for the physical domains.

End Notes

[i] Ana Purna gives a good description of critical realism on ( “The major themes are these: A reality exists independent of human conception and perception. The rules, laws, events and mechanisms of this underlying reality are at play in all of our observable experiences and events. In the natural world, this underlying mechanism refers to the natural laws that have visible effects -- for example, gravity or aging. In the social realm critical realism still can be applied, but it is not predictive. Because the underlying social rules and mechanisms are created by humans, they are constantly evolving over time and geography. Critical realism can be used to describe current or past situations. It cannot, however, lead to certainty about future outcomes.”

[ii] See Stan Wiechnik’s excellent article, “Political Legitimacy and Values” in the Small Wars Journal, 17 NOV 2013, for a discussion on the importance of values within the more “population-centric” missions as opposed to those subjects like “governance” normally found within our doctrine.

[iii] Although I understand the argument that the domains are not separate and indeed overlap greatly as well, in addition to other arguments for or against the concept, in order to make a point I will use them in their doctrinal form.

[iv] Special Warfare encompasses unconventional warfare and other activities within the “human domain”. It is juxtaposed with “Surgical Strike”- the other main component for how Special Operations currently differentiate themselves.

[v] White, Curtis, The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think For Themselves, HarperOne, 2004, 7.

[vi] In almost every meeting the author has attended on the 7th WfF, this anecdote is repeated, so even if GEN Odierno never said it, it has become part of the institutional narrative that he did.

[vii] Some recent doctrinal publications have not linked the Warfighting Functions to “combat power”, instead referring to unified land operations and describing them as either “destructive” or “constructive” in nature. Regardless, they are a formulaic-like approach linked linearly to the Army’s concept of how it intends to fight and/or influence and win the nation’s wars or keep wars from happening. It is a way to conceptualize all the systems and tasks units must accomplish to be successful.

[viii] My pick would be “The Sublime”, but, since that might not have enough of a “military” sound to it, would offer “social action” instead in order to emphasize the social aspect as well as the requirement for action. “Social learning-in-action” would emphasize the requirement to learn while we are acting, although “social entanglement” (merging “quantum entanglement” with social efforts) might be more descriptive of the reality.

[ix] Sacolick, Bennet S. & Grigsby, Wayne W, Jr., “Special Operations/Conventional Forces Interdependence: A Critical Role in Prevent, Shape, Win”, Army Magazine, JUN 2012, 39-40.

[x] U.S. Army, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-0, The U.S. Army Capstone Concept, 19 DEC 2012, 15-16. “Current doctrine does not adequately address the moral, cognitive, social, and physical aspects of human populations in conflict. Since the purpose of military action is to affect the behavior of human groups in the operational environment toward a defined objective, the Army must improve the doctrinal representation of the operational environment and account for the socio-economic, cognitive, and physical aspects of human activity. Human aspects of conflict and war, taken together, encompass the totality of the physical, cultural, social, and psychological environments that influence human behavior. The success of unified action depends on the application of capabilities that influence the perceptions, understanding, and actions of relevant populations...

“To operate more effectively in the land domain while fully accounting for the human aspects of conflict and war, the Army requires a warfighting function to capture the tasks and systems that provide lethal and nonlethal capabilities to assess, shape, deter, and influence the decisions and behavior of a people, its security forces, and its government.”

[xi] Sacolick, & Grigsby, 39-40.

[xii] See Carl Builder’s book, Masks of War, Johns Hopkins University Press, FEB, 1989, for a description of why the services act the way they do.

[xiii] Freeburg, Sydney, J., “After ’10 Years Of Abject Failure,’ Army, SOCOM, Marine Leaders Focus On ‘Strategic Landpower’”,, 10 AUG 2013.

[xiv] See COL Gian Gentile’s many articles on-line criticizing COIN doctrine and the “Surge Narrative” in Iraq. Also see his book: Wrong Turn: America's Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. New York: The New Press. 2013.

[xv] COL John Boyd famously said (and I paraphrase): “The military has a strategy. That strategy is to get more money.” Others, such as Carl Builder, mentioned in footnote 12, as well as this author’s own experiences highlight the bureaucratic pressures that lead to the chase for more money within government bureaucracies. Many times good intentions morph into concepts that are meant to communicate vision, but instead drive questionable acquisition and funding strategies.

[xvi] See Donald A. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith, 1983. Also see Paparone, Chris, COL (ret.), PhD The Sociology of Military Science, Bloomsbury Academic, 8 NOV 2012. In this book Dr. Paparone explains how the military thinks institutionally and links it to the technically rational mindset. Technical rationality (TR) is closely linked to positivist philosophy and is the antithesis of critical realism: TR assumes the social world can be treated the same as the physical world in terms of philosophical approaches and using the scientific method can gain knowledge about it that can be exploited in action in the future.

[xvii] One example of formulaic metaphor found within military doctrine is the formula for combat power. Combat Power= mission command+fires+intelligence+protection+sustainment+movement & maneuver+leadership. Combat Power is, in and of itself, an abstraction, but the military has given this abstraction a formula to make it more real and quantitative, theoretically taking the ambiguity out of assembling functions together for the making of war and allowing a more checklist-like approach.

[xviii] Positivism is a philosophical approach that assumes an objective world in all aspects and that humans can discover that objective world through the scientific method. It borders on a religion and has been rejected by most disciplines ( Its antithesis is “post-positivism”, or, as many prefer to call it- especially within the military- “critical realism”.

[xix] The idea that one can tell at a glance what needs to be done and, although usually applied to looking at terrain, some, including Clausewitz, have used it to describe something beyond just terrain.

[xx] Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, Free Press, 1968. Merton described many of the problems that are endemic to bureaucracies: "trained incapacity" resulting from "overconformity", defending of one’s own entrenched interests rather than acting to benefit the organization, resisting change to established routines, emphasizing formality and process over relationships, and trained to ignore context and circumstance.

[xxi] I would assume Jean Baudrillard, from his Simulacra and Simulation (1981), would have a field day with how we have conducted Afghanistan. Mentioned as inspiration for The Matrix films, one might compare the military’s paradigm to the Matrix: we are locked into it, but unaware of its existence.

[xxii] Probably not so much the higher-than-tactical areas: attempting to codify how we communicate (and thus think and operate) about the tacit at operational and strategic levels stifles us into the same problems that codifying the tacit in the human domain creates.

[xxiii] UW is defined by US SOF as support to resistance (insurgent) forces to overthrow or disrupt a government or governing entity. It is often seen as the opposite of Foreign Internal Defense (FID), an umbrella term encompassing COIN.

[xxiv] Just to head off any protests, I realize this dual-natured description is disingenuous, however I am constraining myself to the two choices our society presents us with and their respective approaches.

[xxv] The Village Stability Program incorporated into Afghanistan, starting out a very promising concept, was quickly seized upon by the bureaucracy and forced into a “one-size-fits-all” construct that ignored the need for local nuance. In some areas of Afghanistan it made perfect sense, but in other areas it did not.

[xxvi] The tactical level (young NCOs and officers) seems in my experience to have largely remained mission-focused and results oriented. The higher levels, however, are filled with officers and senior NCOs who have been “institutionalized” and are largely influenced- both consciously and largely unconsciously- by the bureaucracy’s systems and processes. The centrally-managed personnel system, the system of intellectual communication (doctrine-based), the acquisition and resources system (JCIDS), and the hierarchical nature of the military have combined to produce a largely “tail wagging the dog” sort of institution. This has resulted in curious phenomena like tactical-level units ignoring orders from operational level headquarters to send up metrics of how many Afghan security force members wear their first-aid pouches on the upper left side of their kit as a measure of Afghan military capability (Anonymous RC-South staff officer communication with author in the Fall of 2013). Even our own COIN doctrine- which implies that that type of activity is counterproductive, cannot rescue us from the technically rational system, of which it is, ultimately, also a part of.

[xxvii] Merton.

[xxix] Then-Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Commanding General, General Martin E. Dempsey, according to one anonymous School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) instructor, told the SAMS authors of the draft design publication that it was “too long, had too many big words, and didn’t have any of our current doctrinal concepts like Center of Gravity in it.” Whether this is true or not, shortly thereafter Dr. Jack Kem wrote a short design booklet (Design: Tools of the Trade) that linked design to doctrine and as soon as LTG William B. Caldwell IV left Fort Leavenworth for Afghanistan and took Dr. Kem with him, the original draft authors quickly published The Art of Design, Student Text 2.0, which attempted to undo the changes that TRADOC reportedly had ordered.

[xxx] USASOC, ARSOF 2022. LTG Cleveland calls for the “establish[ment of] a Special Operations Campaign, Design and Theory Office at SWCS which will partner with the School of Advanced Military Studies and other advanced schools for military operational art” as well as “Develop ARSOF concepts, [and] validate through robust experimentation.”

[xxxi] Paparone, Christopher and Reed, George, “The Reflective Military Practioner: How Military Professionals Think in Action”, Military Review, MAR 2008, 66. Learning, or reflection,-in-action, is described (in italics) after its antithesis in the article by a quote from Donald A. Schon: “Professionals become- locked into a view of themselves as technical experts, [and they] find nothing in the world of practice to occasion reflection. They have become too skillful at techniques of selective inattention, junk categories, and situational control techniques, which they use to preserve constancy of their knowledge-in-practice. For them, uncertainty is a threat; its admission a sign of weakness. Others, more inclined toward and adept at reflection-in-action, nevertheless feel profoundly uneasy because they cannot say what they know how to do, cannot justify its quality or rigor.”

[xxxii] And what we’re really talking about is internalized social change. There are three types of social change or influence according to some: compliance, identification, and internalization (Kelman HC, “Compliance, Identification, and Internalization: Three processes of attitude change”, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1958, 51-60.). Compliant change is change that is forced onto others, they “comply”. Identified change is that which results from others identifying with those wanting the change. Internalized change, however, is that change which comes from within- whether perceived or not. This type of change is more likely to last and is what we are talking about when we talk about the Human Domain and its related Warfighting Function (WfF): the 7th WfF. Within Internalized Social Change, the social anthropological method of “Participatory Observation” is closest to the function of what SOF, and others acting within the “Human Domain” would be involved with: one would literally be involved in participatory action, observation, learning, and influencing- the emphasis being on “participatory”: meaning that one would be influenced just as much as “the other” being observed.

[xxxiii] I would argue SOF played catch-up after 2001 and that it wasn’t until 2003 or a little later that the “tactical” level headquarters (Group- although I dispute that a deployed Group HQ is “tactical”) began mimicking the bureaucracy of its higher headquarters.

[xxxiv] White, Curtis, 7. Mr. White might be horrified to see his term associated with the military, as he is decidedly “anti-militarism”. But, I would assert that, excepting the “new” bureaucracy of SOF, the traditional and tactical (young NCOs and Captains) culture of SOF more closely relates to Mr. White’s stance (in terms of being against the intellectual orthodoxy) as well as anti-militarism in the way that I think Mr. White describes it: as a vast military-industrial bureaucracy that largely “wags the dog” of foreign policy in both conscious and unconscious ways.

[xxxv] Ibid., 24.

[xxxvi] Surgical Strike is usually associated with Special Mission Units that conduct Counterterrorism and limited strike, short-duration Direct Action hits. Its SOF opposite, Special Warfare, is usually associated with Unconventional Warfare and COIN, but in truth includes those operations of long duration and limited footprint wherein a politically sensitive situation precludes a large foreign force on the ground. If SW was as important, the amount and quality of education that soldiers get who are involved in SW would be similar in per capita spending as those in SS get for their specialized training and equipping. Similarly, the personnel and acquisition systems of SW forces would be more flexible and geared towards SW’s mission as opposed to being largely beholden to red-tape and bureaucracy (SOCOM’s acquisition system for SW forces is arguably just as cumbersome and ineffective as the Conventional Force’s).

[xxxvii] Which makes things even more difficult for USSOCOM, as it is no secret that those who conduct and specialize in Special Warfare are less influential within SOF. Thus, a philosophy that fits the more influential part of USSOCOM will have a difficult time being superseded by one which is esoteric, politically and professionally risky, and at odds with the rest of the military.

[xxxviii] USDA, Special Operations, ADP 3-05, 2012, 8.

[xxxix] Some will argue vehemently that SOF values education, but in my experience the resources spent on education are a far cry from what is spent on equipping. The difference is that equipment is easy to count, education is not. The bureaucracy loves its metrics.

[xl] Although I think it is terrible to see war in terms of three “levels”: tactical, operational, and strategic, I use these terms for communication purposes. But, this is a great example of where using CF terminology and philosophical constructs is hurting SOF: CF submits that tactical goes up to brigade level and even possibly division. Therefore many in SOF will call a Special Forces (SF) Group a tactical level organization. But, I would submit one’s level- if seeing things that way helps- should be based on the context as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.

[xli] For just one example of how this affects SOF: US Army Special Forces (SF) majors are compared to Conventional Force (CF) majors for promotion to lieutenant-colonel as well as battalion command. SF majors who are not selected to be S-3 operations officers for a Group (brigade-level organization) are rarely considered competitive for tactical command, however SF Groups do not fight as Groups, normally SF fights as teams. CF brigades, however, DO fight and maneuver, and their battalions also fight and maneuver, therefore the comparison and job experience of the two are not the same. SF majors would offer SOF much more and gain greater experience if their main job was as a Theater Special Operations Command (TSOC) planner in my opinion, or perhaps a more broadening experience like working in an embassy or at the State Department. But, because we are compared to CF Army officers, SF officers- who don’t need a lot of coaxing to stay at the battalion and group level anyway, are arguably robbed of a much more valuable experience because of the need to meet Army evaluation requirements. In addition, they are more likely to remain fixated on the “hyper-tactical” level of operations.


About the Author(s)

LTC Grant M. Martin is a Special Forces officer in the U.S. Army. He has served in Korea, Afghanistan and South America. He graduated from The Citadel, has an MBA from George Mason University, and an MMAS from the School of Advanced Military Studies. He is a Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University’s Public Administration program with special interest in researching the organizational obstacles within SOCOM and DoD to effective Irregular Warfare. He has been published in the International JournalMilitary, and the Small Wars Journal, in addition to contributing to chapters in two textbooks on Design Thinking.



I have even gone so far as to suggest that in knowing oneself (specifically one's political objective) one can:

a. Know and define one's enemies.

b. Know and define one's friends and allies.

c. And know the kind of war that one is embarked upon.

For example: If one's political objective is to transform (along modern western lines) lesser and remaining outlier states and societies, and to incorporate these into the global economy, then logically:

a. The more conservative/anti-western reform folks -- who represent and defend the non-western way of life and way of governance of a state and society -- these folks are likely to be your natural enemies.

b. Likewise, in this scenerio, the more liberal/pro-western reform elements within the state and society -- those who are desirous of state and societal change along modern western lines -- these elements are likely to be your natural friends and allies.

c. If the conservative/anti-western reform elements are in power, then you are probably embarked upon war to convince, coerce, compel or overthrow this unfriendly/uncooperative government -- who is resisting western change -- and to replace this government with one that will pursue our political objective (outlined above).

d. On the other hand, if the liberal/pro-western reform folks are in power, then you are probably embarked upon a war to help this friendly/cooperative government defeat the more conservative elements within the state and society, to wit: those who are resisting our and their governments' efforts to transform the state and society more along modern western lines.

Also let me suggest that our enemies may have a better understanding of our political objective -- and, thus, the war that we and they are embarked upon -- than do many of our leaders and soldiers. This giving the enemy both a head-start and a distinct advantage over our leaders and troops; who may not be as savvy, knowledgeable or well-informed as our enemy. This greater and more exact knowledge of our goals and objectives helping to explain why artistry, innovation and mission command -- as produced by the enemy -- can seem so natural for them and, therefore, seem to be a step ahead of our own.

(The enemy is not confused and is under no illusion. They KNOW what our political objective is and, therefore, they KNOW who is their friend and their enemy and they KNOW what kind of war they are embarked upon. A war to resist westernization and to preserve or reinstate their more traditional/preferred way of life and way of governance.)

If war is the pursuit of one's political objective by other means, then soldiers and statesmen -- long before the enemy -- must know, acknowledge, plan and prepare specifically as relates to this political objective. And understand that the enemy (government or population, as the case may be), will not, as was thought, be waiting with roses.

Finally, how to understand "the oppressed" in terms of our political objective. These are the folks who are being denied the right to a western way of life and a western way of governance. In the past, it was the communists who denied various populations these benefits. Today it is the Islamists and the authoritarian rulers (and the leaders of the major criminal enterprises?) who deny -- or wish to deny -- their people the rule of law, freedom of the press, the right to free and fair elections, the right to economic freedom, etc. And, therefore, the point of our spear came to point in their direction.

G Martin

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 7:05am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

<em>"YOU (meaning the US military and agencies with which it works) are a part of the human domain and you cannot divorce yourselves from any of it.

<em>Human domains, or narratives, or strategic contexts, or ecosystems, or understanding situations, must, of necessity, begin with the self.

<em>Or to use the language of the military, your own assumptions. The self, the psyche, must be involved somewhere. I assume...."

I couldn't agree more with this comment- and I think this is one area in which we fail miserably. We in the military, in my opinion, follow the Behavioralist school of political theory as an institution- quite consciously, are unconscious Positivists in philosophical outlook- both individually and institutionally, and yet we pretend to be Rational Choice Theorists.

That is, we in the Army believe, like the Political Scientist David Easton, "that in order for [military] science to become scientifically mature, it need[s] to internalize scientific principles and methods and focus on the empirically observable behavior of political actors."

"[Easton's] vision was that the scientific procedures of social science should be brought to bear on the social and political problems facing the [world]..." Easton, of course, being THE Behavioralist from what I understand (curious, too- because reading our COIN doctrine- and reading Bill C's comments- it would seem that we really do believe we can bring scientific (military) procedure to bear on social and political problems around the world...).

As Behavioralism was influenced by Comteon Positivism- it is logical that we are Positivists- that is, we believe if we just gather enough data, the answers to all of life's complex problems will become obvious to us.

And yet, since the Political Science world has shifted towards Rational Choice Theory- we too have tried to stay edgy and cool, and likewise we have come up with all kinds of elegant models and metaphors to try to make life seem simple to us- turning abstractions into concrete concepts and teaching everyone the language of those abstractions through doctrine- which helps in communication, but does little for us in terms of critically knowing ourselves.

If one is a Positivist, of course, there is no reason to know oneself- as if one follows the scientific method, one is objective and above "self"...

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 1:30pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu---would totally disagree that ecosystem is a buzz word---it has been used in the science world for years when describing say a animal or plant or organism problem, issue or solution.

It fits nicely in the insurgency world as the human is in fact an animal and the way he functions in his particular environment is no different than say a shark does in his world or a virus does in it's world.

"Understanding" and "seeing" that particular world is what we have not done well as a Force.

If we would have "understood" the Iraqi insurgency we actually would have seen the strategy being used vs only the symptoms ie the battle field tactics.

I think is what Robert has been saying in a number of comments.

What I find interesting is that Kilcullen was correct in using it---and then say John Robb fleshed it out with his standing orders and his use of the term "open source warfare" which really caused some heartburn in the various agencies.

Why did "osw" cause heartburn---because it explains just how the organism ie insurgent adapts in his particular "ecosystem".

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 12:17pm

In reply to by Bill C.

That's funny. I was just going to pull that quote for another comment thread.

Domains are simply constructs for understanding a situation. So too is the buzzword "ecosystem."

I'm not sure why those interested in military or foreign affairs require buzzwords for relatively straightforward intellectual concepts, from population-centric COIN to 4GW to RMA to what have you....

It must be something to do with the sort of personality attracted to these subjects, I imagine.

And what I have been saying for years around here, using "South Asia" as one intellectual "foil", is that YOU (meaning the US military and agencies with which it works) are a part of the human domain and you cannot divorce yourselves from any of it.

Human domains, or narratives, or strategic contexts, or ecosystems, or understanding situations, must, of necessity, begin with the self.

Or to use the language of the military, your own assumptions. The self, the psyche, must be involved somewhere. I assume....

Well, enough with my psychobabble for now.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 12:19pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

As I said in my comment above, Kilcullen's ecosystems seems to me to be another way of saying "this is the world as I understand it," which isn't really a new concept. Perhaps the tools used to understand the world change but the basic overlying concept is the same, the need to decipher situations and people and trends.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 4:25am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C---that was a small sentence in a recent book concerning the Shia revival that goes to the heart of the ecosystem concept which the Army has now spun into the term human domain in order to maintain the fielded concept of Human Terrain Teams that was never defined as a program of record so it is fighting for survival during the current financial draw down.

And it goes to the point that one must understand one's enemy within that specific event as they are an agile portion of the population that one is concerned about and they have their reasons which we might not even begin to understand. For example, even if say an AQ affiliate is killing some of the local population in their attacks on the government why is it they still find resonance/support in portions of the same attacked population---we never did attempt o understand that in Iraq. the applies not only to AQ but to most of the worldwide Sunni insurgent groups.

"Yet no matter how much we may focus on the diversity of opinions, customs, attitudes and interests within each community, in the end it is not the diversity that defines the conflict but the conflict that defines social attitudes that are widely shared."

Bill C.

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 6:36pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09:

One would logically think so.

I think what throws everything off is that:

a. This human domain/participatory observation concept looks like it is to be accomplished in times of peace (today and the immediate future?) where there is no, as yet, defined and identifiable enemy. And

b. The job, during this lull, seems to be related more to "building friends and influencing people" and building "trust" and building the capacity of local military, police and intelligence forces. Again, the enemy, per se, seems to be missing.

Thus, the tone is one of preparations and preemption -- not participation in ongoing battles and conflicts.

The goal being to spend the locals' blood and treasure -- in the pursuit of our objectives -- and not our own.

In this manner, it is believed, we can continue to work to "transform" others, even in these times of austerity and achieve "staying power" through the training up and use of surrogates.

Thus, "knowing one's enemy" seems to be taking a back seat to building partner trust and building partner capacity during this new period of peace.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 9:41am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C---is not human domain really a substitute term for Kilcullens' "conflict ecosystem".

Regarding my comment immediately below, this from ADM McRaven may be helpful:

"You have the maritime, the ground, and the air domains, and then there’s a human domain you have to operate in, and that’s the totality of the physical and the cultural environment. So as we go into a country in Africa or in the Middle East or the Pacific region, we’re learning about them. We’re learning what their culture is so next time we come back in, they understand who we are, and we understand who they are. You build that trust—you can’t surge trust. You’ve got to start it early, and that’s one of the things Special Operations forces do very well— build a small footprint. We don’t take a lot of guys to do that and it’s pretty cost-effective." - See more at:

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/06/2013 - 12:27pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C----then we need to really check the definition of human domain being used by multiple entities in order to explain their particular take in the upcoming foodfight for funds. One organizations human domain is not how the ACoS uses it.

Knowing the enemy as well as one's self and knowing those who one works with as been always the core of SF UW training---my point has always been while we tend to most of the time get the indigenous side right---it takes us awhile but we tend to get there in the end ---we fail though completely at understanding the enemy.

Example ---who would have assumed two years ago that the fighting in Syria would in fact become the ME's center of a religious civil war where the issue of the Shia revival is coming to a point--- drawing militant Shia and Sunni's in from as far away as AFG (yes even AFG Shia are drifting into Syria now). We saw in the last days the killing of a really major Hezbollah Commander by an AQ affiliate who is rumored to be supported by the Saudi's.

Example---for all our efforts in understanding the Iraq security forces and in training the same forces why are they then failing against a resurging ISIL and JRTN? What was it we missed in our estimates of the enemy meaning long term they were finished (was not the surge success an indicator that they were finished) ---even though we got the indigenous side IE Iraqi security forces human domain right or at least we thought right.

Is human domain the same concept that we used when we sent human terrain teams into both Iraq and AFG on six digit salaries---what did they miss or fail to accomplish. What is then the difference in the use of human terrain teams say from the term human domain recently used by the ACoS?

Bill C.

Fri, 12/06/2013 - 12:26pm

RantCorp, Outlaw 09, Carl and Condor:

Gentlemen: Have we not gotten off track somewhat? Herein, would I be wrong to suggest that:

The goal re: the human domain generally and LTC Martin's participatory observation specifically is to first achieve and then maintain excellent relationships with the local people; this, so that we might be able to establish and field indigenous forces to:

a. Overthrow a resisting local government that is standing in the way of where the United States wants to go and how it wants to get there or

b. Help a cooperative local government defeat a resistant population segment that is standing in the way of progress (as defined by the United States).

Thus, from LTC Martin's conclusion:

"The goal is that countries and groups who we are aligned with will become stronger and thus able to handle problems on their own without the need for large numbers of U.S. troops, which arguably get in the way of long-term progress anyway."

My thoughts above stated another way:

The goal, re: the human domain generally and participatory observation specifically, has less to do with "knowing one's enemy" and more to do with developing and maintaining relationships with indigenous personnel; this, so as to be able to (1) defeat the enemy (a resistant standing government or a resistant population group as the case may be) and (2) achieve our objectives without (3) the use of large numbers of U.S. trooops.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/27/2013 - 4:41pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RantCorp---lack of observation skills by the Force is also another problem-especially from our side--there are a number of basic infantry skill sets that have largely disappeared that no one seems to recognize.

I was sitting in the 2 shop writing a report one day when we took mortar fire into the FOB---everyone ran to the bunkers and I continued to type.

When all came back in I was chastised for not running to the bunkers---my response was they were over 500 meters away and walking away from the initial impact point---a lot of dumb looks and a few questions as to what I meant by "walking" rounds and walking away from the impact point and how did I know it was 500 meters---this was 2005/2006 and I am betting it has not improved much since then.


Fri, 12/27/2013 - 1:55pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09 wrote:

‘By the way it is easy to disrupt but one has to understand that one is being observed and then use one's mind to think through a counter measure.’

This fact is the real ball-breaker. The opposition in AF are not fit, they are poorly trained and they have clapped out gear. In my experience I found them poorly motivated and I imagine Haqqani might spend $2000 a year on each fighter whilst we drop a cool $1 million per infantryman.

What keeps them in the fight is they are observant and patient and both of those come free.

Like Bill M stated if the enemy acquired ATGMs, beam riding weapons and secure Comms we would be looking a much more lethal conflict ecosystem - to put it mildly.

Outlaw 09 wrote:

‘You cannot believe how many times I tried to explain that to MNF-I in countless HUMINT reports.’

You should have resurrected your SF VN R&R party trick and set Flashbangs everywhere rear echelon personnel were real assholes. In your case in Iraq any place where there were loads of screens. It does have a important military purpose. It teaches people the danger when they fail to observe their physical environment (under their ergonomic desk chair) and drives home the point that real pain (having your pants blown out of the roof of the shit-house) and pain on a TV screen have nothing in common.

It’s also stops you shooting them.


Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/27/2013 - 4:52am

In reply to by RantCorp

RantCorp--now you understand the reason why we lost Iraq and AFG.

You cannot believe how many times I tried to explain that to MNF-I in countless HUMINT reports.

Observation/surveillance is the only tool that allows for any UW cell to survive. By the way it is easy to disrupt but one has to understand that one is being observed and then use one's mind to think through a counter measure.

When I was able to get a BCT to change their behavior every single day ---then we started getting a changed battlefield as we were forcing the insurgent to delay or stop planned attacks until they figured out why we suddenly changed---plain old fashioned UW that has not changed much in the last 100 years.

Those of us from the old UW days call it simply the guerrilla Darwinian principle of survival in order to fight another day or what today is called simply "staying power".

Bill M.

Thu, 12/26/2013 - 11:54pm

In reply to by RantCorp

Interesting assessment on what I'm calling asymmetric surveillance approaches and much more. Our technical surveillance enables smart weapons which largely depend on digitized enabled surveillance. If our adversaries had that capability our TTPs in Afghanistan would have to rapidly and drastically change. No COP, firebase, airfield, etc. would be safe from effective enemy fire 24/7, versus the random attacks with dumb weapons that are normally way off the mark. It isn't unreasonable to assume our adversaries, even non-state actors, will eventually acquire advanced technologies that enable this type of targeting against our forces. It will be a game changer if and when it happens, much like the Stinger was a game changer to some extent for the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The insurgents currently have the M1E which they use as effectively as they can to trip us up, now imagine the M1E further enabled with digitized surveillance and smart weapons.

I agree with your assessment, the way we use technology largely replaced our use of the M1E to gain a true understanding of our operational environment, so while we have better battle field awareness on a T.V. monitor than our adversaries, those staff guys watching the screens have little understanding of the operational environment because most of them have no personal interaction with the environment outside of viewing it on their monitor, or adversaries have greater battlefield knowledge and understanding of all the systems that interact in it. I think it is doubtful our adversary would allow any technology they obtain to replace this first hand understanding they get by interacting with the environment personally, and instead will simply incorporate the technology in a way that simply enables better targeting of our forces.


Thu, 12/26/2013 - 7:38pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw wrote:

‘….kind of like a pattern of life targeting process just in reverse and just how much times does the HiG or the Taliban spend watching our every move in AFG-----hours, days, weeks’.

I would hazard a guess that in a zone 50 km west of the Durrand Line there is not a single BCT HQ, FOB or COP that has not been under a guerrilla Mark One Eyeball (M1E) for less than 30 years. Russian and Saurists posts after 1978 and ISAF and GoIRA over the past 12 years.

The guerrilla’s M1E is the one piece of ‘equipment’ that is just as sophisticated and capable as our own. He relies on it very heavily when shaping his tactical and operational planning process. I suggest we too may benefit by inserting a MIE multiplier into our MDMP. Perhaps in steps pertaining to Analysis & Comparison. The rationale being the MIE multiplier might provide more of an insight into the dynamics of the conflict ecosystem than the digitally driven lens we are currently enslaved to.

To illustrate how the MIE multiplier might augment the guerrilla’s effectiveness let’s take a senior Haqqani Network (HN) commander who has designs on attacking a position in or near Khost, Paktia AF.

For over 30 years he or one of his senior Staff will have observed the effects of any weapon system/platform we care to mention within the Khost conflict ecosystem. Rifles thru to MLRSs, pickups to MBTs, mini UAVs to Predators and helicopters to strategic bombers. They will have used their collective MIEs to survive assault from all of the above weapon system and platforms - by units as small as 4 man SF teams, as rapid as Air Mobile and as overwhelming as a mechanized Infantry Brigade.
The HN Staff will have witnessed the effects of direct sunlight, direct moonlight, mountain shadow, heat haze, cold inversion layers, dust, running water, still water, ice, drought, monsoon, crop types, stubble, fallow wild animals, domestic animals, birds-song and insects.

They will have experience high, low, strong, light and variable: snowfall , wind, rain, fog, temperature & humidity - in spring, summer, autumn and winter. How the ambient light, wind, noise, smell and soil composition telegraphs movement of a single man, a squad, company or a battalion; at dawn, midday, dusk and the middle of the night.

During that time the Beards would have recognized the way the conflict ecosystem changes when a man stepped on a mine, an IED flipped a vehicle and a helicopter was shot down. Thru the same lens they would have recognized what events indicate discipline and control and what events reflect anxiety, panic, fear and hysteria.

Essentially thru their M1Es the HN Command have developed a intuitive connection to the Khost conflict ecosystem. Coupled with a chain of command that exploits their multi-generational familial ties, tribal ties and 30 years of shared camaraderie the HN practice a tactical and operational methodology they call Jihad and we call Mission Command.

We flip to the Colonel and his Staff and they have received intel that the assault force is assembling at a HN FOB just inside the Pak border. The Staff may have been there a week but no more than a year. It is unlikely they have ever viewed the target with their M1Es and probably never will.

The Staff have maps the Beards would give their right arms for, sat/drone photos they would not believe and a 24/7 live video feed I doubt they could even imagine. Last but by no means least the BCT can access the entire conventional arsenal of the US Armed Forces. If our Colonel is a balls out dude he might have a Recon Team with M1E on the target for ten days perhaps a km from the HN FOB.

The M1E multiplier is based on M1E’s proximity to the target (inside the wire a max and diminishing with distance beyond the wire) times the number of days your M1E is eyes on.

Obviously I would give the M1E multiplier a greater weight than most but I dare suggest that seeing, smelling, hearing and even touching, talking and drinking tea with personnel within the target perimeter will boost your chances each and every day. It only has to be a tiny increment for the difference between 10 days and 10,000 days for the odds to stack up very heavily in HN’s favor. Certainly our ‘formidable’ advantage in hardware and men will readdress this disadvantage considerably but will it boost our prospects a thousand fold? I seriously doubt it.

IMHO in UW unless we champion the critically of the M1E and recognize the limitations of digitization in our planning process we don’t have a prayer.



Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:21am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I think you have made many valid points and more importantly direct personal observations based on your experiences. Reading your comments combined with RantCorp and Carl I believe in many ways you all are saying the same thing but maybe at a different level.

You’ve pointed out that in the recent past, US Forces chose to ignore many open source TTPs that the terrorists have put in front of our very noses in such highly visible places such as YouTube and the internet. It’s interesting that in your exchange with the detainee, he basically pointed out that part of the way they figured out their detonator problem was by going to open sources and specifically the example where the guy found a Facebook picture and post of a soldier on the soldier's Facebook page. What I find interesting about this revelation is that looking back it becomes almost tragic that we have completely ignored the ability to do or allow our own warfighters to have free run of using “open sourced reconnaissance” while our enemies have not neglected this and in fact have used it to great success. The other side to this coin is that we have failed to be diligent in our own COMSEC by the very fact we have allowed our warfighters to stay “connected” with such internet tools as Facebook while operating in theater. It reminds me of the old WWII poster “loose lips sinks ships”. With that being said, there has been a push to allow our warfighters greater freedoms with these tools because it’s being argued that we are “losing the message” and by allowing greater freedom with these tools we are allowing our warfighters to “get the positive message out”. It’s certainly a sticky issue and I’m not sure what the right mix of security and positive public affairs efforts are.

On a personal note, I remember when I was in Iraq in 2003, 2004/05, all the “internet cafes” on the FOBs that allowed our troops lots of free time when they were back “inside the wire” to communicate with family, friends etc. while surfing the internet and posting on such open and visible places as Facebook. It always struck me a little odd in a way because it was the first time in our history where anyone literally could come in off a mission and then sit down on a computer and talk with your wife, parents, friend’s etc. for an hour or two almost like you were back in a hotel in the states. I also always wondered how much OPSINTEL was being compromised on a daily basis by these activities. Interestingly, I also remember a study was published that basically argued all this newfound “freedom of access” was being counter-productive because psychologically the soldier “never really left home” due to this ability to instantly communicate with those back at home on almost a daily basis. Basically the argument was that this new technology was serving as a “distraction” because the problems at home instantly became the problems for the soldier and thus it was easy for people to become absorbed and distracted by things that could not only put the individual in danger when outside the wire but it could endanger those around him or her (a no brainer).

I think there needs to be some re-evaluation about these issues. It could be extremely beneficial if we allowed our people to openly look for information that our enemies are posting openly, yet we need to restrict or control exactly how and what our own people are posting when they are in theater. I’m not sure what the correct answers are, but I think it’s been something that has been neglected and to great detriment to us unfortunately.

Additionally, I do believe that sudying the society/culture you will be operating in is important but if you spend to much time on that and neglect the warfighting side you start to get into an area of diminishing returns. As our operations have shown us, the people we are fighting are often "outsiders" themselves who just happen to be where we are because that's where they can observe and fight us.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/06/2013 - 4:18am

In reply to by carl

Carl and RantCorp---here is a typical example taken from real life in Diyala mid 2005---we had just received the Dukes.

A particular IED group had been literally giving us fits meaning statistically seen a gun truck would be hit once in every three trips out the wire---this particular group had gotten extremely good with RC IEDs.

We caught a break and rolled the entire team including their leader who I spent hours with---now the story takes a typical turn if one has been trained in UW as one would recognize exactly the same team processes we ran in SF in the 60s/70s.

In the middle of the interrogation he says to me---"you all know that we know you are jamming our detonators"---being internally literally surprised by the statement---outward answer was sure we know.

Then came the UW moment from my SF past when I asked him to explain what he meant by his comment even though "I already knew".

His story was we had been hitting you on every patrol and on this particular day a gun truck patrol came by and I detonated--but nothing happened which was strange as they had always worked---kept trying and then when the last truck went by it detonated. Next attempt the IED detonated between the vehicles.

In typical UW fashion he pulls his entire team together and they go over in detail all the circuits and devices---found nothing and went out to attempt it again.

Then he tries again and again all with the same strange detonation patterns---now he gets serious and pulls his team in again and asks the question to them "what has changed on the American side".

He ups his surveillance of the FOB which was always in place in order to understand us and our movements and notices that something had been added to the gun trucks.

Again a team meeting and he asks them if they had see or heard anything about the addition to the trucks---the youngest who was computer smart went then to the local internet shop that had tea and spent all day surfing.

He stumbled across a Facebook entry from a soldier somewhere in Iraq who was in front of his gun truck boosting about the Duke---then he Googled more about jamming and then reported back to the team.

THEN the IED game got serious as it was the Duke vs a thinking/adapting UW team meaning once they understood jamming principles they simply starting moving the trigger away from the IED in order to figure out the jamming distance which took about ten days of real attempts to figure it out and then they were off and running again.

What we in the military seem to forget is that the enemy always has a voice and especially in Iraq where the education levels are high they were a quick adapting organism whose ecosystem was built on the Darwinian principle of survival which has always been the top rule for a guerrilla force.

The insurgent does not have to observe small America in order to understand our fielded units as we tended to in Iraq and AFG export our life styles into the enemies own territory making it easy for them to "know" and "understand" us.


Thu, 12/05/2013 - 7:32pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09:

I think your comment actually reinforces RantCorp's point. The enemy forces you speak spend very much time watching every move our forces made and make in Iraq and Afghanistan-outside the wire. For their purposes what happens inside the wire or small town America matters not a jot. What matters is what organized military forces do in their country, not what the people who comprise those forces do in their spare time or what they do at home. They could learn nothing at all about what the people in a platoon outpost are likely to do by looking at small town America. There are no platoon outposts there. They learn what that outpost will do by looking at that outpost, which if I get it right, is sort of RantCorp's point.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/04/2013 - 10:46am

In reply to by RantCorp

RantCorp--just how many hours of any given day did either the AQI, the Sunni IAI or the Shia Iraqi Hezbollah spend just simply watching every move a BCT or Marine Regt made in Iraq---kind of like a pattern of life targeting process just in reverse and just how much times does the HiG or the Taliban spend watching our every move in AFG-----hours, days, weeks?

They do not need to go to small town America to watch us they have us in their country to watch.

Knowing one's enemy in and out is a cornerstone of guerrilla warfare or as the Iranians call it microwarfare.


Wed, 12/04/2013 - 12:58am

Outlaw9 wrote:

“For all the efforts at "understanding the culture" of the environments we are working it failed and I mean totally failed because we did not "understand the culture of the enemy".


"This was true for the SF of the 60/70s---the ability to "understand the mission, understand your enemy and understand yourself" before one is dropped in with no support from the outside world.”

IMO the failure to understand the simple basics of the fighting culture or fighting motive-sets of our opponents undermines every aspect of our effort in Afghanistan. The belief that a well informed insight into the cultural environment of a typical Afghan village would equip you to deal with an armed opponent strikes me as quite absurd. Flip it over and consider how much time ALQ/Taliban spend studying small town USA in an effort to understand how to best engage the US Army and USMC?

Not a lot me thinks.

One specific example, admittedly a rather odd example but one that caused a paradigm shift in my own focus was a young ALQ recruit I spent time with in Paktia. He was around twenty, Latino and born and bred in the Bronx. He had a mental age of around 14 and could barely read and write English. He’d joined up “ Coz the brothers from the Mosque promised to teach me Kung Fu.”

The Bronx accent and studied gangsta saunter, desperation for a Big Mac and the bewilderment that “ ..everywhere is dirt bro..’ didn’t fit the Shalwar Kameez, parroted Arabic dogma, clapped out PKM and a ‘Rambo’ belt of filthy decades old 7.62x54 in the middle of some godforsaken desert.

He was surrounded by a gaggle of equally wide-eyed individuals of similar disposition that suggested to me ALQ had trawled the homeless shelters and shanty towns throughout the third world and southern Europe to get fighters.

No doubt there are many good reasons to study the local culture but it will teach you nothing about how to counter your average Taliban fighter. I would suggest even if you studied community dynamics in the Bronx, Marseilles, Cairo, Mogadishu, Khartoum, Jeddah or wherever these people came from it would do little to help you deal with the wayward inhabitant when he reached Afghanistan.

Furthermore the village you are attempting to save has a culture that has been severely affected by decades of conflict and is somewhat different to how it once was or aspires to be. Most of the current inhabitants have only known ruin and violence and thus are understandably incapable of informing themselves as to what they want, let alone articulate such an abstract sentiment to a foreign infidel HT team.

Certainly a Bronx jihadi was unusual but most inhabitants of Afghan villages consider Taliban fighters with their Pakistani accented Pushto the mark of a foreigner – for sure not a reason for immediate dislike such as an Arabic accent or a NY accent perhaps - but nonetheless in their minds eye they have little in common and even less respect for the landless refugees of Pakistan-born Afghans.

In a broader Operational sense our inability to align Tactical success with Strategic success might stem from the possibility we are mistaking UW for Revolution, Resistance or Secession. Certainly an insight into the latter three can be gained from understanding the local culture. The Pushtoon Secessionists fighting the Pak Army across the border in Pakistan are a good fit but a similar approach to Counter UW is IMO a dead loss at best and dangerously ruinous at worst.

Take the LeT fighters in Bombay. Can you imagine the reaction of the Indian authorities if you suggested they study Pakistani Punjab village culture in order to counter a repeat of the attack on the Taj Hotel and VT.


Move Forward

Sat, 11/30/2013 - 2:15pm

Who says that a "human domain" warfighting function would solely be the domain of SF?

Why assume that the SF/SOF community does not appreciate its "pred" and other feeds in conducting night raids and more typical pattern of life? Otherwise it is hard to pinpoint the focus of 70+ air sorties in "Lions of Kandahar," or protect an infantry platoon being approached by a much larger force in "Outlaw Platoon." Ganjgal troops that do not get their "technical rationality" (a term coined first in 1941 when the technical was a fraction of what it is today) get pummeled. Wanat troops depending only on ground sensors and deprived of overhead surveillance the final night get slaughtered on OP Topside. The Son Tay raid never occurs, nor does the one on bin Laden because there is no rapid way to get there and away.

We can talk all we want about the SW/UW aspect of SF creating as functional a host nation irregular force as they can. Eventually they actually do get attacked and the outcome is likely less than pretty without those external air attack and fires technical resources that some describe as micromanagement while others under fire appreciate as essential and lifesaving.

And as successful as SF efforts may be locally, they appear to make no headway toward achieving the larger goal of strategic influence of major centers of gravity. They are a tactical tool that often makes us feel good in achieving temporary gains or waiving the flag. Ultimately to achieve long term goals, a professional host nation military must exist and until it does the conventional force alone with Joint and SF assistance is required to provide combined arms maneuver and wide area include influence of and assistance to people over wide areas. The other article about the Montagnards illustrates that no matter how well intentioned and capable the SF community and USAID is, they simply lack the numbers and self-security to make a large impact over large areas.

Bill C.

Sat, 11/30/2013 - 12:38pm

"The goal is not more money, more missions, or more personnel. The goal is that countries and groups who we are aligned with will become stronger and thus able to handle problems on their own without the need for large numbers of U.S. troops, which arguably get in the way of long-term progress anyway. Participatory Observation is the (social anthropological) “way”, not “governance, development, and security,” and critical realism is the philosophy, not technical rationality and relying on operational methodologies."

Let me expand on this somewhat by providing a broader context:

The goal is to transform the lesser and remaining outlier states and societies along modern western lines; this, so that they might better benefit from and better provide for the global economy. This requires that we facilitate (1) the unhinging of these states and societies from their current and often age-old way of life and way of governance and (2) the attachment of these countries and populations to ways of life and ways of governance which are more similiar to our own. As one would expect, the challenge that one faces in these such endeavors are states and societies being, in the interim period, in a significant state of turmoil, as they attempt to work their way through these difficult transitions. Herein, we must be prepared to deal with the vastly increased and very broad and very deep chaos (exs: rebellions, insurgencies, genocide, famine, increased crime, etc., etc., etc.) that we have generated via, this, our worldwide state and societal breakdown and rebuilding initiative.

With this understanding of (1) our national goal and objective and (2) the problems and responsibilites related thereto, and with an acknowledgement that the resources we have to accomplish these missions and to deal with these problems and responsibilities have been greatly diminished, now let us consider thoughts on the "human domain" generally and the ideas presented by LTC Martin specifically (re: participatory observation, critical realism, less rather than more troops, etc.) and ask:

a. Will any of these concepts help us to (1) separate the native from his native way of life and native way of governance and help us to (2) attach him and make him dependent upon our way of life and governance?

b. Will any of these ideas help us to help "them" (pro-westernizing governments v. their resistant populations -- or -- pro-westernizing populations v. their resistant governments) overcome the turmoil and chaos (state failure, insurgencies, rebellion, crime, etc.) that are part and parcel to these such state and societal breakdown and rebuilding initiatives?

c. If so, how?

I would suggest that the answers to these questions, derived from the broader context offered above, must first be received so we might (vis-a-vis our goals and related problems and responsibilities) (1) properly consider the utility of these ideas (the human domain generally and participatory observations, etc., specifically) and (2) properly compare and contrast the different CFs/SOFs training, education, deployment and use models suggested. This, so as to be able to determine whether any of the ideas/options offered actually (a) address and meet our needs and, if so, (b) whether any one such idea or option might do this better than another.

(Thus as one might, in my day, have been required to explain one's ideas and proposals within the context of containing communism, likewise today might one benefit from explaining one's concepts and proposals within the context of promoting the Western way of life and governance?)

Outlaw 09

Thu, 11/28/2013 - 4:25pm

As Grant opened up the question of SW/UW vs the Special Action side and would suggest that Mexico become the training scenario for SW/UW.

There are so many different flowing themes coming out of Mexico that tangate UW and go to the heart of the discussion being pushed by Robert Bunker on the El Centro site as to the question---just what do we do with Mexico---and really the entire Central American region as the TCOs stretch that far and are destabilizing the entire region--one could actually speak of a war zone rivaling anything we have seen in the last ten years in either Iraq and or AFG.

I had mentioned to Robert in a previous comment that with the Civilian Defense groups could/would the Mexican government tolerate them---in some aspects the CD groups or "AutoDenfensa" groups are pushing back against both the government and the TCOs.

For those that do not believe it is possible to have a drug driven insurgency vs the more common Islamist insurgencies we have been seeing for the last ten years-----Mexico is the proof of concept and it is spreading rapidly into the US.

And no one sees the need for UW as the core ability of SF?

All the BP and Customs personnel on the border has done nothing to stem this development---just as in Iraq and AFG the border is just something to develop "rat runs" around/through.

Taken from the from today.
"Although the federal and state governments warned that they wouldn’t allow the self-defense groups to expand, on Tuesday November 26 the community guards took over four other municipalities, which now totals 54 communities under its influence in the state of Michoacán.

Shortly after noon and simultaneously, the community police of Tancítaro, Buena Vista, Aguililla, Tepalcatepec and La Ruana liberated the municipalities of El Zapote, El Corrijo and Rancho Grande, where 18 villages coexist with about 500 inhabitants, just like Acahuato, in the municipality of Apatzingán."

Outlaw 09

Thu, 11/28/2013 - 12:14pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Sparapet---more concerning the so called notional scenario--

1. The people who want to join the Civilian Defense movement are within their rights. The Mexican Constitution itself, in Article 10, makes it very clear. Every village that does not have the safety and security of the institutions that were formed to do so, can be armed in self-defense of their rights, their property, their lives.

2. There was just recently heavy fighting reported initially between the Civilian Defense elements in another area with the local TCO and then the military stepped into between to defend the civilians and it really got into heavy fighting.

In some aspects the Civilian Defense groups are forcing the military and federal police to start offenses against some of the TCOs but it should be noted that the military and federal police have been are to a degree also corrupted by the TCOs.

The use of this scenario in order to drive critical thinking by ODAs who are planning an UW/SW deployment is a given---it offers a massive amount of free play on the planning side as well as not being able to tie it to COIN as one cannot actually get into a clear hold and expand concept.

And it does in fact represent a number of UW deployments by ODAs in th 60/70s.


Fri, 11/29/2013 - 5:38pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

This is an interesting discussion. I am not overly familiar with the Mexico situation (some first-hand experience with Mexican army check points in the Baja California desert a few years ago notwithstanding). That the autodefensas exist and have the capacity to organize armed resistance to TCO's does not mean that they should be helped (timely <a href="…; ). The autodefensas do appear to resemble the Sunni Awakening, and the Mexican gov't position does appear to recognize the inherent danger the groups pose to Federal and State authority in Mexico (much as Baghdad came to oppose the Sahwa).

Seems like the Autodefensas are a pretty conventional light infantry paramilitary organization (a local Auxiliary, in Roman parlance). Training them, advising them in raids (and in taking control of territory and then dealing with the inevitable retribution, extra-legal justice, and power struggles), especially in austere conditions, may well require a special task organization (i.e. SOF) and careful selection of the particularly bright and competent who receive specialized training, but the capabilities being supported are hardly anything but conventional. In other words, it's special tactics in a very conventional, multi-party, though not industrial scale, war. Supporting the autodefensa doesn't look much like supporting the Maquis in their sabotage and intelligence campaign against Nazi Germany (the archetype of unconventional warfare).

To boot, recent history seems to have muddied the waters on the subject. As an example, consider the MiTT's of Iraq and all the other special task-organized small teams tasked with directly advising and supporting Iraqi and Afghan security forces. Those always struck me as SF-light. Doing the SF legacy mission with none of the high selectivity. All the while the SOF boys took on more and more of the smaller scale hunter-killer roles that while certainly physically and technically demanding, didn't seem all that "unconventional".

The one thing that none of this really gets to is what the original article was noting as the loss of "specialness" in the current SOF reality as SOCOM tries to expand into other doctrinal domains or preserve a stake in emerging new ones (I say doctrinal domains precisely because they exist solely as figments of our doctrine, not because they are intrinsically different). That is, unconventional tactics (e.g. advise/assist, sabotage) are no longer the realm of SOF. Indeed, advise/assist can be done by conventional forces. Sabotage can be done by Cyber types. It seems that SOCOM doesn't have a sense of itself. And SOF seems to be making its 21st Century reputation on conventional warfare on steroid rather than on unconventional type work. Indeed, all indications point to SOCOM positioning itself as America's Rapid Reaction Force, a decidedly conventional role that will bring with it its own momentum to accommodate the scale that mission requires. And all this still ignores the fact that none of this has anything to do with the general idea that the officers leading these organizations, conventional or otherwise, have to be educated.

A hot mess of history, tangled alliances, intellectual confusion, and generally plenty of money to plug the gaps. or so it seems.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 11/28/2013 - 12:59am

In reply to by Sparapet

Sparapet---this is not a notional example----it is the core problem with such discussions as this one especially when it goes towards UW/SW.

This example was taken straight out of the website "borderland beat" which treats totally the Mexican and Central American transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs)--AND if you think beheadings were a thing of AQI in Iraq---one will see the actual bodies in the web site and if one thought Hezbollah had a corner on social activities in Lebanon think twice when one looks at Mexico---if one thinks that the TCOs do not tangate the US check recent reports out of Tulsa OK. If you think that AQI killed a large number of locals in Iraq try even understanding the current numbers in Mexico---if one thought Iraq did not have a functioning governance Mexico is even worse and they claim they are democratic.

HERE is the issue that was recently discussed with a Robert Bunker over on the SWJ El Centro site.

What happens when the local populations finally after being brutually held down and are afraid to even come out of their houses DOES come out of their houses fully armed and willing to defend their villages/towns/cities?

This that any different than the Sunni Awakening movement--I personally do not think so.

The movement in Mexico is called the Autodenfensa---so it is a typical mission for SF---it would have been in fact a mission in the 60/70s---I have deployed with less information and holding the mission-- assist the locals.

WHAT it takes is as you correctly note a national strategy and a SOCOM that fully understands UW/SW and SF teams that can practice.

If you have watched the borderland beat site for over the last few years---we in the watching the failing of a major "democratic" country directly on our immediate border with TCOs driven their trade deeper into the major cities using violence much like AQ in Iraq.

SO why is it not a potential UW/SW case?

We went to war in Iraq for far less reasons---


Wed, 11/27/2013 - 5:01pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Where is that quote from? It seems rather outlandish to me and reminds me a bit of Marxist literature predicting the rise of the disenfranchised and the oppressed (workers of the world unite!). I would put forward the idea that once a society adopts agriculture, at no time in its history henceforth does it exist without an economic elite and "the rest". That globalization is adding echelons of wealth concentration doesn't necessarily mean something "new" is happening.

I also don't see how managing humans, be you occupying them or sharing some skills, is a uniquely UW/SW activity.

One note on the mission scenario your notional SOF team is not so much a mission as a policy statement. It is akin to saying "go be an ally to X against Z, but make sure X isn't the only power/influence game in town when you leave". Any armed group of men funded by anyone can do the ally part. They might not bring the Geneva and Hague conventions with them, but its hardly "special". The open-ended nature of part two however, puts you in a big 'ol pickle. In other words, the mission has only one solution: make local/paramilitary forces more lethal and reform local governance to distribute the political and economic power so that X does not consolidate power in the resulting imbalance that our support would create...i.e. western-style nation building.

I don't mean to nitpick, as your example is notional, and I am reading a little between the lines. But, if that statement mirrors the missions SOF receives, then there needs to be a deeper and more meaningful meaning-of-life-come-to-Jesus type conversation that needs to be had in Tampa about what UW/SW is as a tool and how policy shapes its implementation.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/27/2013 - 3:20pm

Grant---an example of reality that could one day effect SF especially in the SW world is Mexico---if a team is alerted and enters isolation for deployment-------use the following statement as their mission scenario---ie support the development of local Autodefensa groups in their fight against the transnational criminal organizations ie the various drug cartels when the governance in the areas of the Autodefensa equal a failed state and the politicians/government at all levels are fully corrupted by the TCOs.

Just using the comment below sets the stage for a massive exercise in critical thinking and team discussions that do not fit the standard Powerpoint MDMP presentation. AND in this scenario COIN will not work.

This is the future that the ACoS means when he mentions human domain---what he does not mention ---it can only be handled via UW/SW.

Today, in modern times, characterized by a maximum concentration of mega-monopolies represented by some 500 corporations, the political class, regardless of its color or ideology, now plays at capital's side. Hard data, coming from scientific research, confirm the expression that once seemed outlandish: today 1 percent of the species exploits the other 99 percent.

Everything indicates that as the world becomes more complex, unpredictable, uncertain and fragile, many of the institutions, such as formal democracy, the market, centralized justice, the banks, will become obsolete.

As in Michoacán, the human, urban and rural communities are realizing that existing institutions, overwhelmed by all kinds of problems, are non-functional and that organized citizens must take in their hand the management of resources, key decisions, justice, food production, education, prevention and so on. The State and capital are already overwhelmed.

Today is the hour for citizen self-management. Viewed from that perspective, the self-defense groups of Michoacán, heroic and dignified, represent a fresh and hopeful alternative that should be recognized and supported.

G Martin

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 10:19pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Agree with you that a deeper problem (THE problem?) is one of education- great point. We have, possibly like the rest of America, become specialists capable of great micro efforts, but terrible at macro vision.

And I also agree with your point reference CF vs. SOF. I made a distinction for a few reasons: I am in the SOF community and am hoping to influence the SOF community as we begin an effort to more closely tie in with CF. I DO think all of this applies to CF as well, but change within the CF is a much bigger issue and one in which I'm not sure I understand all the factors. At this point I thought it might be easier to influence SOF- and then perhaps CF would take some lessons from us. But- point taken- and agree.


Tue, 11/26/2013 - 9:21pm

Interesting take on the situation inside SOF community. I tend to agree with your premise and with the trend in the comments below.

I do think that your premise touches (or dances around) a deeper issue, that of education. By this I don't mean training in TTPs or organizational and topical minutia. But rather the wholistic meaning that an educated person has studied the full range of human knowledge and has (formally or informally) developed the ability to be informed by that knowledge as they apply it in their endeavors, be they economic or professional.

This is distinct from a highly skilled practitioner of a set of skills (I.e. The stereotype that comes to mind is: an infantry E6 is damn good at the workings and mechanics of infantry skills, but that does not mean he can judge when to apply those skills or why, just how. The when and why comes from the officer charged with employing the infantryman's skills in conjunction with other skill sets to a purpose that he is charged with by the delegation of executive authority to his level by Article 2 of our Constitution). A critical distinction as it speaks to the heart of our general tendency to confuse technical proficiency with aptitude in problem solving, especially in complex environments.

To this end I don't necessarily understand the distinction you make between CF and SOF. That we have segregated some war fighting functions along conventional and special lines is an historical reality, not a necessity. The CF and SOF officers both operate in "human domains" (can we retire this term, as it seems specious at best?) and are likewise both required to understand it. Indeed, in any stability op or war scenario beyond covert support/sabotage of an indigenous government it is the CF that will lead the main effort and take the majority of the blame for screwing it up (rightfully so). The distinction you explicitly make seems to detract from your deeper point. Unless, of course, you mean to present an ahistorical role for SOF in future conflicts such as the lead in the military.


Wed, 11/27/2013 - 10:25am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

"I did not want to recall how many negative comments were made by countless officers about how stupid the insurgents were when in fact they are still in the fight and we are long gone from Iraq."

Arrogance and underestimating your opponent are great ways to ensure failure.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/27/2013 - 2:48am

In reply to by G Martin

Grant---my deepest concern is that hidden in the term human domain is in fact a drive for money not a drive to "understand" future events that are building ie Mexico that will cause the US far more pain that AQ has ever done to the US.

For all the efforts at "understanding the culture" of the environments we are working it failed and I mean totally failed because we did not "understand the culture of the enemy".

This goes back to your comments concerned SW vs what I call the glorious kick down the door mentality.

SW demands from a SF team far more in what Germans call "spitzengefuelhlen" or the feelings in your fingertips or the Art that you refer to.

This was true for the SF of the 60/70s---the ability to "understand the mission, understand your enemy and understand yourself" before one is dropped in with no support from the outside world.

Your comments on the VSO program reflect this human domain mistake currently being made in AFG --in the CIDG there were major differences between almost and I mean almost all camps---one did what one had to do in one's particular AO not what one was doing say in I Corp when you were in III or IV Corp in VN. Because we did not "understand he enemy" we exported what we thought were successes to AFG only to have them basically fail

Not a single CF BCT going through the NTC or where in Iraq fully "understood" how the enemy thought, acted, eat, slept, communicated with themselves and outside related groups AND the local population---much in the concept of Kilcullen's "ecosystem".

I am of the opinion that the entire concept that the CF threw into the fight---the Human Terrain System actually caused more problems than helped---yes they focused on the actual population but did they give a BCT a single insight into the enemy's thinking and acting---not really.

If one took the time to "understand the Sunni, Shia and AQI in Iraq one "saw" them at work---their surveillance, their targeting process, their swarm tactics and especially their thinking on the use of IEDs---and if one "understood" that then one could move onto their strategy which drove their battlefield tactics.

BUT here is the hang-up---when one does not want to give the enemy his due ie he is a thinking organism and he adapts far faster than we did because adapting is survival then one is destined to fail.

I did not want to recall how many negative comments were made by countless officers about how stupid the insurgents were when in fact they are still in the fight and we are long gone from Iraq.

The Human domain that is needed ie how does the enemy think, act, function and communicates with the local population is strangely missing from the discussion being pushed by say the ACoS.

Kilcullen strangely got it right in his time in Iraq, but Gen. P misused it to establish the he won the surge comments and NOW Kilcullen is coming back to it in his latest book about seven years to late.


G Martin

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 10:28pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Your comments gets to a larger point in my opinion- what is it, exactly, that our DoD strives for? I recently read a quote from COL Boyd of Boyd's OODA Loop fame: "The Pentagon has a strategy, and that strategy is maintain the flow of money" (or something to that effect). I think on a certain level that is true. I first noticed this in Afghanistan where a few of us sat down and attempted to make sense of the disconnect between our official pronouncements and doctrine and the reality of what commanders were doing and saying privately. We came to two conclusions:

1- that the bureaucracy of the national security apparatus had grown so complex that it had taken on a life of its own, and emergent forces were acting without any true conscious effort and influencing things in very unconscious ways.

2- that this influence undermined the very foundation of our DoD system of systems- which relies on nested purposes and logic from the most tactical all the way up to the President's national security strategy. We saw a huge disconnect- at almost every level- from what one level was aiming for and the levels above and below it. Without that systemic logic- the system was doomed to strategic failure. BUT- if the unconscious strategy was to keep the money flow going- then it made perfect sense.

I know this may sound conspiratorial- but it is largely emergent and unconscious- so it isn't insidious in a malicious way (no intent). And, I'd add that this was the conclusion of a large group of international officers who were intent on seeking explanation and meaning- and not seeking blame.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 11/25/2013 - 1:32pm

Grant---here goes the first response based on this para;

"The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Odierno, allegedly said recently, “That is what I was missing in Iraq! The human domain!”[vi] This conversation happened, supposedly, in the context of a discussion about the Army’s Seventh Warfighting Function (WfF)......,"

I am so tired of the on going six year debate about the "surge" being successful or what used to be called "human terrain system" and now "human domain". The HTS was a massively costly program for both the US Army and the taxpayer ---was a total waste of money---ie the Awakening was generated by AQI forking the Sunni insurgency not by anything Gen. P or Nagel did or what HTS provided in many badly written reports.

AND if one does not believe that an insurgency does not learn from past events--just check the latest strategy statement from AQ issued Sept 2013.

Understanding human domain means understanding the environment one operates in has been a true fact since the beginning of warfare not just since Iraq and AFG. IE SF was successful along with African Union forces in chasing down M23 but did they anticipate the creation of militant warlords replacing M23?

I am amazed at the ACoS's "what was missing in Iraq" comment ----what was missing was the Army's decision to rush head long into Iraq to accomplish what recently one member for the former NCA termed "we wanted to kick someone's butt", WITHOUT understanding exactly what was on going inside Iraq --this is the single major failure that is today not even understood by those that claim the surge worked and or those that think by recreating a new field of discussion ie human domain that is the future way forward.

Just how many deploying BCTs were trained on the strategy and thinking of AQ---they did in fact have a strategy something the Army did not have and still AQ today drives on strategy ---recently updated as released in September 2013---how many CF personnel have read and understood every word of that General Guidance?

Just how many deploying BCT personnel fully understood the fighting tactics being used by the various Sunni, Shia, and AQI personnel ---did the Army via PME every have classes on this topic? Did those deploying understand "swarming" as practiced historically and used in Iraq and AFG?

Did we have PME classes using insurgent battle videos released via the internet to give deploying personnel the necessary understanding of the ideology driving the various insurgent groups---no not really because we declared them propaganda and refused to engage.

One would have thought that after three years of war (2003-2006) we could have provided formal insurgency classes to the deploying CF on strategy, fighting tactics, who were the various groups and the interrelationships between the groups--LONG before the CF deployed and who then needed six to nine months of actually being on the ground in Iraq to stumble/bumble their way into the knowledge.

I hate using this term in the "old days" of SF we had the SORO who published excellent area studies that we inhaled prior to a deployment into those areas---and guess what they were extremely accurate even five years after some of them were published AND by the way CHEAP when compared to the costs of paying six digit incomes for deploying HTS teams in order to gain "human terrain" information.

This next comment sums it up;
“Strategically, that failure to understand the human factor is the root of the “abject failure” that the Army, Marines, and SOCOM are determined not to repeat.”

I would argue that we had all the understanding concerning the human factor by 2006 in literally hundreds of intelligence reports and interrogation reports---the abject failure was not on the SF side as the JSOC targeting against FF and AQI gave the CF a chance to focus their attention on the actual Sunni/Shia insurgent groups---the abject failure was the simple fact that up to even 2010 no deploying BCT fully "understood" what they were "seeing" as no one took the time inside CF to process the sheer amount of data available into a coherent training program.

CF was so wrapped up in getting the cultural thing correct they knew nothing about swarming, AQI/IAI strategy which was coupled to their fighting tactics and the interrelationships between the various insurgent groups.

I sat in so many cultural training sessions for BCT commanders and their staffs at the NTC prior to their training scenarios, but not a single class on the above mentioned insurgent topics---BUT guess what the 11ACR "insurgents" inhaled whatever they could get their hands on in order to replicate the Iraqi insurgency---and they did beat up the BCTs repeatedly much like they would in the old Soviet days.

One cannot believe how many times I have heard the comment "we cannot template the insurgency"---my argument even to today was "yes we could as they were hiding nothing from us"---the CF just did not want to admit that the insurgency was a living, thinking, adapting group of people who were giving us a solid run for our money----or is anyone wanting and or willing to state we "won" the IED fight in Iraq and or AFG----Gen. P nor Nagel has ever mentioned anything on this front. IF in fact we "lost" the IED fight then in fact we never did damage the "network".

The use of "human domain" is really a simple attempt to cover up the abject failure of "understanding the environment" before they deployed.

AND by the way such in house on post training does not cost an arm and a leg to conduct.

Bill C.

Wed, 11/27/2013 - 1:58pm

In reply to by G Martin

Indeed. If I am to do artestry, then I must at least know what is the subject matter.

If our young leaders of today had, as we may have had in our day, a good idea of what our national objective was, then might they be able to innovate, do mission command, and perform better?

In the old days we might have known that our goal -- via containment, etc. -- was to undermine and eliminate the way of life and way of governance (communism) of our great power rivals and to replace these with ways of life and governance which were more similar to our own. Our group believing that we might have made some progess in this, our generational project.

The goal of our young folks today -- via for example: diplomacy, development and defense -- is to undermine and eliminate the alternative ways of life and alternative ways of governance of the lesser and remaining states and societies and to, as in the case of the great powers above, replace these with ways of life and ways of governance which are more similar to our own. This being, whether they know it yet or not, our young folks' generational project, which has just begun.

So what essentially we have done is gone from:

a. Being on defense (containment) re: great powers of differing values, attitudes and beliefs to

b. Going on offense (engagement and enlargement) re: the "different" lesser and remaining states and societies.

The implications of this 180 degree strategic sea-change -- to be experienced across the board -- are rather dramatic and, as such, have proven rather difficult for us to grasp and to deal with morally, militarily, etc.

Thus if we, as you say, did not shy away from explaining exactly what this generations' mission was (summed up as offense rather than defense), then might we see the greater innovation, artestry, etc., that we are looking for?

Final questions: Does the "enemy" have a better understanding than we do as to our offensive strategy and our goals and objectives? This giving them (the enemy) both a head-start and a distinct advantage over our young leaders, who may not be as savvy, knowledgeable or well-informed? This likewise helping to explain, for example, why artestry, innovation, etc. -- as produced by the enemy -- seems to be a step ahead of our own?

Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/27/2013 - 2:08pm

In reply to by G Martin

Grant---I think part of the current issue inside SF is a distinct lack of UW experience passed on from the 60/70s to the Groups having to just survive in order to rebuild. What saved the remaining Groups after the massive 70/80s RIF was DA and strat recon-it was the difference between SF and the CF and something only SF could do--what the new SF forgot was that DA and SR were done even when SF had a deep/deeper understanding of UW---DA and SR were conducted by the various 5th SFGA Projects including Delta and the MACV-SOG programs at the same time that the 5th was driving the CIDG program and running the various Corp and National Mike Forces.

Since the "old" individual SF soldier as well founded in UW it was easy to shift between the various Projects, Mike Forces,and A Teams and one did not loss a single minute---AND one did not "feel" that one was being degraded if one shifted from say SR back to a CIDG team or to a Mike Force.

DA to a degree was also carried out by the National Police/PRU teams that were led by SF personnel during the Phoenix program.

The effect of having a generic UW capability throughout SFin the 60/70s was that when one left VN and returned to other Groups ie the 10th or Det A in Berlin one was right back into UW and FID without missing a beat or having to retrain.

Everything evolved in and out of UW---I am surprised that the current SF senior leaders do not jump immediately back to UW/SW as it is and always has been the core historical success of SF.

The difficulty now in returning to UW or what you call SW is that there is a distinct lack of SF training personnel deeply grounded experience wise in UW---so much of what is being transferred is just from the recent wars.

UW by the way can be boring as well as extremely hectic and then boring---whereas DA is so "in"----the thing of movies--whereas training and living with your troops on a daily basis and trying to move the ball forward just three centimeters is something that is of no interest to movie makers.

I think as well that the difference between the 60s and now is the length of rotations---we had a year to gain experience---AND the replacement process was individual replacements not team replacements--this allowed a sizeable amount of institutional knowledge to remain inside the team all the time---now whole teams come and go thus the institutional knowledge disappears if not passed on extremely well during RIP/TOA.

There was a series of great comments on the question of UW recently in Dave Maxwell's SWJ article.

G Martin

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 10:32pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I think to a certain extent things are still not too bad at the team level. Unfortunately our schoolhouse is beholden to metrics and check-the-block assessments. Officers are power point deep on their MDMP- it is fill-in-the-blank thinking- if you can call that "thinking"- since much of it is copied/pasted from higher's OPORDs.

I know on some level it is important to teach the current doctrine. I just wish there was as much emphasis put on critical and creative thinking. We shouldn't in my opinion be okay with the first time team guys do critical and creative thinking is on their first mission downrange.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 12:25pm

In reply to by G Martin

Grant-----maybe Ben Z might agree with the following ---I would venture that currently in the Force the use of MDMP in it's standard form does in fact kill critical thinking as one simply goes through the rote of doing the steps not the thinking behind the why one is doing each of the steps.

Secondly critical thinking ie asking all those points you mentioned above used to be the core of a SF that was based in the world of UW or what you refer to as SW.

There were some interesting comments posted to Dave Maxwell's article on UW several weeks ago here in SWJ that are worth going back and re-reading.

In the old days of SF UW when the mission was given to us during isolation the first thing a team did was to kick back and go into what one would call the "what if" mode---regardless of how crazy some of the comments or ideas where we went completely through until that was nothing left that could have surprised us ---then the true conversations started and all ideas reviewed and tossed until we were comfortable with the remaining one or two.

Complete discussions by all ranks and ages---and we ran MDMP even in the 60s but it was creative and free thinking for all until the team was comfortable with the solution.

Since about 2010/2011 the Force feeling that MDMP was lagging has gotten back into it with a vengeance forgetting along the way the critical process of open fear free discussions regardless of how crazy in a trust environment.

G Martin

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 7:50am

In reply to by Bill C.

Great points, as always Bill. I'd say that the art of the sublime would help us in that we would not shy away from admitting these things. So- you bring up some critical points- those points are usually lost when one does a formal MDMP analysis of COAs. Students at the SWCS routinely repeat higher's intent- to establish a "legitimate" government in Pineland, for instance, and they never once question the implicit factors that are driving our use of force in the scenario. Of course, those factors aren't found in one's higher's OPORD- so I try to get the students to fill in the gaps. It amazes me that all of them can regurgitate the planning process perfectly with enough power point to make Bill Gates proud, but never once have they been asked to think of the implicit forces that their higher is being pressured by, the hidden agenda of the ambassador in the neighboring country, the current environment in Washington, D.C., the private life of the SOCNORTH commander--- all of those things and more can have an affect on one's mission. Instead of ignoring them like a Leave It To Beaver kind of approach to one's higher's OPORD, those things have to be critically investigated. And one can use art, I'd argue, to re-imagine one's mission- all the while not straying too far outside of one's constraints.

I suggest that the central reason we are not be able to "win friends and influence people" is because of our extremely well-known national objective, which is, outlier state and societal transformation.

This forces SOFs into such missions as Village Stability Operations which, in effect, are designed to help separate a population from its present or traditional way of life and way of governance and to attach the population to a way of life and way of governance which is more in line with our way of thinking, our way of life and our way of governance.

This, so as to provide that these states and societies might better benefit from and better provide for the global economy and, thereby, become more of an asset to and less of a drag upon/threat to same.

This is the reality that stares us in the face when we start talking about the "human domain."

If everybody and his brother and sister knows -- before we even hit the ground -- that our objective is to undermine and eliminate the population's way of life and governance, and to convince/coerce the population into a way of life and governance which is alien its history, its culture and its view of "the good life" (to wit: its very nature), then how exactly is one, in such an environment, going to be able to:

a. Win friends and influence people? And, thereby,

b. Build and field indigenous forces which can be used to:

1. Overthrow a local government that is standing in the way of progress (the state and societal transformations we desire). Or

2. Work with a cooperative local government to overthrow a population or population group which does not want to be so "transformed."

Stated another way:

If both the people and the leaders of various states and societies in the region had known -- long before Lawrence had arrived and long before he was deployed -- what the end-game objective of Lawrence's masters actually was, then what might have been:

a. Lawrence's fate? And

b. The fate of the mission?

This is what we are up against today in the age of globalization and global communications. Virtually everyone knows what our end-game objective is.

This being the case, and the central problem that we face today, I am not sure how a better understanding of the human domain can help us to overcome this fundamental difficulty.

Thus, given this mission (outlier state and societal transformation) and this problem (the "enemy" can see us coming, so to speak, even before we get on the aircraft), how then might the art and understanding of the sublime help us to overcome these difficulties?

Outlaw 09

Mon, 11/25/2013 - 11:34am

Grant---I have been following your writings for a long number of years---this one is complex and has about three or four major points depending on interpretation---will respond but need to mull over a response as the points are both intriguing and very valid.

Your writings are great to read especially coming from the lonely voice on SWJ that once wrote about the need to shift to VSO

Interesting if one goes back and re-reads the recent SWJ article by Dave Maxwell concerning UW and strategy.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 12:49pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

<blockquote>or to paraphrase an Old Prussian, everything in the human domain is simple, but in the human domain even the simplest thing is complex.</blockquote>

That's a good one. I am going to steal that.


Wed, 11/27/2013 - 8:31pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Well I certainly don't have all the answers! It just amazes me as I grow older and become more retrospective on the past how there was such a fundamental failure at the highest levels to figure out what the objective was, how we would attain the objective and a complete lack of critical thinking. Maybe I'm just becoming cynical in my old age, but it bothers me to no end that so many great people and huge amounts national capital have been expended in basically accomplishing what? I'm not so sure the world is a safer or better place than it was 12 years ago.


Wed, 11/27/2013 - 1:13pm

In reply to by Condor


I like your example of Lee and the South using his understanding of the "human domain": influence the population to put pressure on the President. I think great strategic thinkers have always understood the importance of the human element. Not to compare the two leaders, but you could say the same thing about Hitler's bombing of London. It had only a marginal military impact but that was not his intent. It was designed to break the will of the population and force the Churchill to sue for peace. I guess there really is nothing new under the sun.

I also agree with your thoughts on how we misunderstand our enemy. We Westerners suffer from the belief that everyone is just like us. Not always the case. So while our enemy understands us, I believe that we have a hard time understanding them insofar as we don’t know how to defeat them. War is a contest of wills. The American way of war places a premium on the physical aspects of conflict. Destroy the enemy’s physical ability to fight and they must surrender. But destroying the physical tools of war does not eliminate the reasons people fight. Don’t have the answer, just believe we have been approaching the problem from a myopic viewpoint.


Wed, 11/27/2013 - 12:46pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


You make a great, and interesting, point in regards to the “human domain” and the “two factors” that you stated are now influencing the human domain. The first being the “political aspect” of military operations and the second being “tied to the first…that democracy is a bottoms up political ideology…where political power is rested with the people”. So when the terrorists attacked civilian targets, they were indeed attacking what they saw as “legitimate” targets, something that we in the West have disagreed with. Secondly, by attacking civilian targets, the terrorist’s strategy was to “influence” those within the “power base”?
Our response, by invading two countries and then seeking to replace their forms of government with a model based on our own, could actually be seen as counterproductive because it played into the hands of the terrorist’s strategy to expose the West as an imperial crusader? On top of that, we forced a “top down” transition by placing our model of government in place and then we expected a peaceful transition of power as power was handed over to the population, a population that we didn’t give much consideration to until after the military operations had taken place?
Interestingly, this makes me wonder how we could have missed such an important aspect of the “human domain” and the military operations we undertook as a nation. After all, there are many examples in our own history where military commanders considered the population [or human domain as we call it now?] prior to embarking upon major military operations. One could argue that General Lee based his operations in the North during the Civil War as a way to influence the Northern population to put pressure on President Lincoln and the US government to end the war; did he not? I don’t ever remember reading anything where General Lee thought he could defeat and outright destroy the Army of the Potomac so his chosen course of action was one based on influencing the “power base”, the northern citizenry correct? So today we, as a nation, are facing an opponent who has recognized our “power base” and is determined to defeat it in such a way as to have a favorable outcome for their end state. Meanwhile, are we flailing about without a coherent way to attack and destroy the terrorist’s “power base” because we’ve neglected to correctly identify what their “power base” is and how best to go about attacking it?


Wed, 11/27/2013 - 12:05pm

In reply to by G Martin


I am again going to shy away from your basic argument even though I agree with you. I believe that SOF, or at least the Green Berets, should remain in the unconventional world and not get bogged down with the limitations the Conventional Army places on creative thinking. Standardization serves a purpose in a large organization but it is stifling in small groups. Let the Rangers have the gadgets and the direct action stuff. I add to the conversation only to throw out my thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of the human domain concept.

In my opinion the human domain is nothing more than observations on human nature and has always been a part of military thinking. When Sun Tzu noted that Armies move like water he was noting that it is human nature to take the path of least resistance – to move along open routes and advance downhill is easier than to move uphill. When COL Chamberlin ordered a bayonet charge from the defense he was banking on the fact that it would cause confusion in the enemy conducting the charge. It was the application of human nature to a military situation.

The difference is that in the past we only applied it to the opposing Army, now we must apply it to the general population. The reason the human domain has gained importance is not because we have been missing it, it is because of the confluence of two factors that are deeply intertwined. The first is the more “political” aspects of military operations. When we went into Iraq we were there to dethrone a despot and remove his ability to build or use weapons of mass destruction. Easy stuff we were good at. What came after was different. The mission became one of democratization. Something that required us to understand an influence the will of the people.

The second is related to the first. Democracy is a “bottom-up” political ideology. Under democratic theory the political power rested with the people. Therefore, to “win” by democratize the population we had to understand how to influence the masses: how to work within the human domain.

Terrorists were the first to recognize this change. The first historically recognized terrorists, the Jewish Zealots, targeted the temple priests and wealthy elites, the people who held the power. Modern terrorists still target those they feel hold the power. Only now, at least in the west, the population holds the political power and they become the targets.

So when we look to influence the human domain we are looking to influence the general population in ways simple coercion cannot. It is also a mistake to apply it equally in all situations. For example where there is a communal society with central leadership applying concepts that work in a democracy are useless and potentially counterproductive. Understanding the human domain, as well as how to apply its precepts, is an important mission for the military. It is not the silver bullet some see it as, but it is a tool to help us understand how to achieve political victory.

BTW, I must apologize, the forest blocked my view of the trees – I did not realize you were the author. Now I wish I would have written something more helpful.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 1:21pm

In reply to by G Martin

<blockquote>As I responded to Madhu, I do think the "science vs art" construct is over simplistic, but I think what makes the human domain- if one wishes to use that term- "hard" is how humans construct meaning- thus the importance of what some call "social" facts. These kinds of things defy logical analysis.</blockquote>

Ah, now I see where we are talking past one another. "Social" facts can be analyzed too, just not in the way you might analyze, say, a set of temperature readings. You and I are not using logical in the same way, your use of the word seems to be more rigid than mine, probably because I make things up and don't worry too much about formal definitions.

What could be more logical, I think, than looking at human emotion and motivations, as tricky as it is to understand such things, perhaps even impossible and too mysterious? But we try....

For me, everything is worth considering but I'm flexible. My empiricism is not the empiricism that you sometimes criticize, is it?

While I'm at it, let me show you the type of thing I like to consider (my favorite topic, Americans and their reactions to "South Asia"):

There is a book called, <em>The Life and Loves of a United States Naval Aviator</em> by Harry Carter which describes in a few passages his time (along with his wife) in Pakistan working with the Navy. The memoir covers the period from about 1941 to 1973. Nothing terrible here, very human stories of parties and attaches and looking for housing and going to a local bazaar and all the politics you all must deal with when you are in a different country.

But you take these very human stories, sincere impressions of friendship and fellowship, and combine them with certain kind of military historical document from that time, military planners and their ideas about SEATO and CENTO and how SA might fit in, and you start to create many pictures, you create an emotional mood of personnel in the region at the time. Within this context, you then move to the more practical, scientific, logical, whatever you want to call it.

When 9-11 happened and you moved quickly into Afghanistan, this mood, this background, this context, these connections, this forgotten yet still present military institutional emotional history, alive even if buried deep within, surfaced only at the time of the OBL raid.

Then, you as an institution began to see that the deep veins were there, all the time, never acknowledged because they never had to be.

You followed "your" American military pattern as you always had, without realizing it was your pattern.

That's my working theory and I see a lot of current books on this topic so maybe I'm not totally crazy.

But it all needs to be there, you can't skimp on one part of it. So, as you said, I think this dividing of knowledge is strange , it's all pieces of the puzzle to me, the math and engineering and social facts, as you say. They all belong.

I suppose we are saying the same thing, all of us, but talking past one another at times.

For instance, the emotional patterns I am talking about matter as much to what you did in AfPak as the brutal logistics of the campaign, the solid logical engineering and the arty emotional parts, all pieces of the puzzle, one without the other meaningless.


Tue, 11/26/2013 - 10:13am

In reply to by G Martin


I would agree that we (the U.S. Military types) don't know what to do with all this stuff we currently can't measure. What I don't like is the idea that as long as it is hard we should not try and simply leave it to others to figure out. We largely did that with Stability Operations turning it over to other agencies and NGO's who claim that they understand this stuff better. If they really understood this stuff that well I would argue that there would be no need for us to step in.

We have made some fundamental errors trying to do too much and depending on others to provide the reasoning for our actions. Yes, this is going to be hard and it is a very complex area, but I don't think it is totally unmanageable or even unmeasurable. I do think that we are currently measuring the wrong things largely becuase we have been depending on others to dictate what is important rather than doing serious reseach on our own. I don't mean to sound cryptic but I don't want to open up a can of worms now when I plan to do some fishing later.

G Martin

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 7:43am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

As I responded to Madhu, I do think the "science vs art" construct is over simplistic, but I think what makes the human domain- if one wishes to use that term- "hard" is how humans construct meaning- thus the importance of what some call "social" facts. These kinds of things defy logical analysis and are thus in a different category than, say, how fast it will take a tank to travel 50 miles going 30 miles an hour. Desert Storm was largely a result of our impressive logistical system. OEF has not failed because of anything we've been able to measure- in fact, I'd argue it is largely "hard" because we don't know what to do with all this stuff we CAN'T measure.