Small Wars Journal

Civil Affairs Leads Integration to Generate Effects-Based Activities in the Operational Environment

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 9:29am

Civil Affairs Leads Integration to Generate Effects-Based Activities in the Operational Environment

Francisco M. Hernandez and Brodie T. Babb


The role of Civil Affairs (CA) is to understand, engage, and influence unified action partners (UAP), indigenous populations and institutions (IPI), enable civil-military operations (CMO) and provide civil considerations expertise through the planning and execution of civil affairs operations (CAO).[i] DOD Directive 5100.01 and 2000.13 and Title 10, US Code, direct the employment of CA forces to support U.S. national security objectives around the globe.[ii] To ensure that CA forces are capable of generating strategic, operational and tactical effects, and are force-multiplying across the range of military operations (ROMO) and in multi-domain operations (MDO), current employment methods of appropriately integrated CA forces should be studied to capture, share and refine best practices.

Additionally, senior leaders have stated that Information Warfare is the biggest emerging threat to the United States.[iii] As an information related capability (IRC), CA forces are perfectly positioned in the information and civil environments to integrate other IRCs and help commanders and supported leaders achieve objectives in an increasingly complex and evolving global environment.[iv] The recently released white paper, Civil Affairs Operations: 2025 and Beyond makes a case that CAO is conducted not only to develop civil networks and society, but also to identify threats to civil security that require military solutions.[v] To achieve this, a complete and thorough understanding of the environments in which CA operates must occur and should facilitate the integration of CA forces with other IRCs, SOF partners, and unified action partners (UAP).


The analysis of CAO by trained CA forces drive multiple processes, including operations and targeting processes, and enabling supported commanders and decision makers to apply resources and make decisions. CA drives the operations and targeting processes by executing its core competencies alongside indigenous partners to increase the understanding of networks within the operational environment (OE), particularly those within the civil component.[vi][vii] The incorporation and integration of additional IRCs helps enhance, measure and evaluate the effectiveness of operations, actions and activities within the OE.

Targeting is the process of selecting and prioritizing targets and matching the appropriate response to them considering operational requirements and capabilities.[viii] The use of a targeting methodology is critical as CA forces are asked to achieve operational and strategic effects through deliberate tactical actions designed to build partner capacities or capabilities to counter-illicit threats impacting civil society. Integration into this process begins by understanding and integrating guidance and intent from higher leaders including U.S. Ambassadors and County Teams, Theatre Special Operations Commanders, and Partner Nation entities to align interests and develop a shared plan of action of target audiences and targets. A demonstration of this understanding builds buy-in and widens access to the critical resources required to reach an end state with the desired effects achieved.

A targeting methodology and process is a critical component to an integrated approach to understand, act, and affect key variables within an environment in support of a military end state. Because of the dynamic, complex nature of the environment described in this paper, and many of the environments in which CA forces are employed, CA elements may find greater successes utilizing the Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, Disseminate (F3EAD) targeting process. This process differs from other targeting methodologies and allows for additional entities outside the Department of Defense, like Department of State, host nation government and military and non-governmental organizations to participate, providing more opportunities for integration, analysis, and action. This critical distinction highlights how CA, through an indigenous approach and with unified action partners, builds relevant networks and teams capable of driving activities and the Commander's decision-making process in more dynamic, fluid and complex settings. 

Execution of CA core competencies is what enables the detailed network analysis of relevant friendly, enemy and neutral networks and actors within an area of interest in the OE. The analysis is of a network’s objectives, critical factors, capabilities and vulnerabilities that ultimately supports locating the center of gravity, and identify its strengths, capabilities, and what is required for each network to achieve its purpose. To put it another way, network analysis is what enables CA’s ability to identify the relevant target audience and targets within a given OE.

Once the network's center of gravity has been identified, CA integrates and utilizes the targeting process taxonomy to refine how and where the network is engaged. This ensures that the appropriate resource is applied correctly and will be capable of generating tangible, measurable and desired results. These results must be observable and quantifiable. In an integrated approach, CA forces employ various tools and resources, often from other IRCs, to evaluate and measure activity to gauge effects. Examples include surveys, such as popular sentiment towards key variables in the OE, market indices to gauge economic factors, and overt messaging through social media platforms to message successes.    

Integration in Practice


Integration occurs by demonstrating 1) understanding and creating shared value, 2) enhancing and furthering operational reach, 3) maximizing effects and the measurement of those effects, and 4) by enhancing all the above through sharable and releasable systems. The operational effects and highlights to be discussed and presented as an example of integration in practice, were generated by appropriately employed CA elements working with indigenous partners in Northwest Colombia to counter the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), activities' that threatened civil society in mid-to-late 2018. The FARC's activities not only impacted the local populace, but also undermined legitimate rule of law, governance and security, preventing host-nation military commanders from achieving objectives and consolidating gains – exactly what CA is designed to counter. The effects generated in mid-to-late 2018 were the result of synchronized and coordinated efforts between regional and national U.S. and Colombian Civil Affairs elements integrated with adjacent SOF and Interagency partners within specific areas of concern.

Colombia, the strategic anchor point for South America and the U.S.'s strongest regional ally, has arguably been in Phase 3 with multiple insurgent groups for more than 50 years. The region is plagued by numerous drug trafficking organizations, trans-national criminal organizations, and declared terrorist groups that continue to exploit and profit on the lucrative drug trade, illegal mining, and movement of illegal goods, namely human trafficking and smuggling that can include Special Interest Aliens (SIA).[ix]  Colombia’s border areas generate a wide variety of security challenges due to their vastness and porous networks of unofficial international crossing points, minimal security force presence, and/or governmental indifference. While these insurgent groups historically compete for control of key terrain and population centers in order to maintain and gain market share of illicit activities, these networks are beginning to collaborate in response to increased pressure being applied by Colombian security forces at the direction of President Ivan Duque. This enhanced cooperation amongst traditionally rival threat groups further exacerbates an already complex threat environment.    

Demonstrating Understanding to Increase Integration

The ability to integrate, and later generate effects, is enabled by a thorough and complete understanding of the supported commander's intent and the ability to nest that intent to support the U.S. Country Team’s objectives. This creates maximum buy-in from stakeholders. This paper maintains that CA must first develop a shared value proposition, that incorporates this understanding to help bring value to joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) networks of trust that are able to act on this information. At echelon, the ability of the CA to demonstrate an understanding of their environment is what enables them to integrate and build a unity of effort between multiple unified action partners and identify shared goals. This results in a cohesive network capable of rapid response and resource allocation that can outpace threat network capabilities and reach target audiences.

As an example from the 2018 Colombia mission noted above, CA Company-level leadership provided and demonstrated an understanding of the current OE, target audiences and threat networks impacting civil society to the adjacent SOF headquarters and members of U.S. Country Team. This created and provided opportunities for CA to integrate into numerous interagency working groups, targeting and operations processes. This integration provided the foundation for the support and reach-back capabilities that tactical-level CA teams would leverage in their respective areas of operation where they also demonstrated and refined their understanding of the OE to host nation and U.S. partners.  This example highlights the requirement to correctly emplace CA HQ and Team leadership at the appropriate echelon, in this case national and regional levels respectively. This extends operational touchpoints and effectiveness to maximize mass and economy of force. In addition, credible and timely reach-back support demonstrated value and built networks of trust capable and willing to act against shared threats.  

Enhanced Targeting and Operations through CA Integration

The intelligence-operations fusion and integration of CA’s analysis and understanding of the OE will only enhance and drive both U.S. and partner nation targeting cycles and operations processes. Using the Colombia example again, in mid-2018, integrated CA forces continued to build, refine and share a more detailed understanding of threat networks impacting the civil component of the OE in Antioquia, Colombia and those preventing good governance and security from reaching the desired target audiences through its network analysis. CA integration into partner nation security forces (PNSF) targeting cycles provided opportunities to share information with other JIIM partners and to support PNSF efforts to disrupt, degrade, and defeat shared threats. CA integration also provided U.S. and PNSF with the necessary reach-back to capture and react to the real-time changes in the complex and dynamic OE.

By the fall of 2018, focused Civil Affairs activities (CAA) and network analysis in Northwest Colombia directly contributed to interagency partners’ nomination and inclusion of a PNSF target to the national level top 10 threat list. The continued collaboration between CA, adjacent SOF elements and interagency partners further developed the target and its supporting network, while providing additional resources to partner nation planners to facilitate their efforts against the threat. The collaboration resulted in an early October Colombian Special Forces-led operation that resulted in five enemy combatants from the FARC insurgent group being killed in action. ( Over the subsequent five days, the Colombian military conducted two additional operations, further dismantling this threat network and extending the legitimacy and reach of Partner Nation Security Forces.  

These actions and their results clearly demonstrated Civil Affairs' ability to integrate into a complex process, drive targeting, resources and decision-making in support of U.S. and partner nation military objectives.

Integrating IRCs to Assess and Enhance Effects

As a result of their demonstrated operational successes against the threat and threat network, Colombian military and government partners were able to capitalize on new opportunities to message and influence vulnerable populations and target audiences. Leveraging U.S. and Colombian IRCs, Colombian officials released a statement on October 7, 2018 regarding their successful operation against the threat network stating, "The Seventh Division of the National Army, rejects and condemns this kind of terrorist attacks, violating Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, against the civilian population and companies that seek to bring progress and economic stability to the region in favor of development of the communities.” ( 

As Colombian security forces' applied mounting pressure against threat networks in the Antioquia Department, CA supported Colombian military efforts to (re)connect to vulnerable/impacted communities in the region that were negatively influenced by this threat group. This included communities such as Altavista, an impoverished and marginalized rural community near the metro-hub of Medellin. This area had been providing the threat group with opportunities to capitalize on the disenfranchised populace to further their illicit activities. Operational successes furthered CA integration with partner nation elements and demonstrated CA’s ability to drive resources and decisions, building Colombian military and government official’s capabilities to conduct civic action projects to support to messaging and to demonstrate a commitment to at-risk communities. To further enhance the effects of successful operations and activities and win local populace support, CA integrated and was supported by U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section to maximize messaging opportunities and exposure. ( Often times, and in many environments, CA forces find themselves in the planning processes for civic action programs and related activities. With that, CA should always incorporate a public affairs capability or another IRC that will expand operational effects and reach for such activities.

In November 2018 and following the successful operations of the previous month, CA further enhanced the employment of information operations with the addition of aligned Psychological Operations (PSYOP) units to keep pressure on the FARC threat network. PSYOP elements developed and disseminated a product campaign through Colombian mediums and within the threat networks’ area of influence that drove ongoing U.S. and PNSF targeting efforts in the region. ( Products consisted of DoD Rewards Program payouts for information related to threat network degradation, leaflet dissemination reducing threat network anonymity, and survey programs to illuminate vulnerable population sentiments related to threat network activity and legitimate government perceptions. There efforts demonstrate continued refinement and application of all available information-related capabilities to consolidate gains and maximize unity of efforts against shared threat streams.

Integrating Digital Systems to Increase Shared Understanding

The areas of operations in which CA forces operate are changing dramatically and becoming increasingly more complex. This complexity demands systems and processes that reduce assumptions and widen understanding. While previous efforts have been made to enhance partner connectivity with the introduction of shared digital platforms, Special Operations must identify a platform of choice that carries longevity, extends access, builds shared awareness, and reduces response time between U.S. SOF and Partner Nation units of action.  In order to remain competitive and relevant, CA must adapt, innovate, and demonstrate value while also working to expand authorities and roles in support of targeting efforts. Critical to successful integration is the ability to closely collaborate with the appropriate Partner Nation units of action, quickly leverage interagency resources and access adjacent SOF unit support. A digital platform, sharable and releasable to partner nation, JIIM and UAP elements, is key to decision making and acting upon relevant information within the OE. Many of the operations and the effects generated in Antioquia shared throughout this paper were made possible by creating a shared digital network that demonstrated CA’s understanding of the OE. This demonstrated understanding created trust, buy-in, and recommendations from CA forces that then drove targeting and operations processes.


Going forward, Civil Affairs will continue to integrate and work with and through our partners while leveraging JIIM resources to strengthen population support, build networks of influence and trust, and counter-threats in the regions we support. To do this, CA leaders need to continue to look at new and emerging doctrine and guiding documents and have conversations about the future of the CA force; including how we will integrate and fight against multi-domain and hybrid threats arrayed against the civil component of the OE. CA is a relevant and capable force multiplier perfectly arrayed to increase understanding in both the information and civil environments. No longer can CA elements imply a misunderstanding in its role in shaping the OE and developing solutions to complex problem-sets due to the young age of the CA branch.[x]

CA forces must continue to integrate the analysis of its operations, actions and activities with intelligence professionals and decision makers to ensure injection into the targeting process. This integration ensures outputs to increase understanding, drive operations, and properly allocate resources. If CA forces are not integrating or being integrated, it is on CA leadership to demonstrate their understanding and create shared value and necessary stakeholder buy-in. Additionally, CA should continue to integrate IRCs to better measure, enhance and demonstrate effects of activities conducted in the information and operational environments. With that, CA forces will continue to be a benefactor of layered (and nested) IRC activities to maximize effects in support of shared goals and objectives, better equipped to counter future enemies and adversaries information warfare campaigns through the range of military operations.

End Notes

[i] FM 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations, April 2019, pg. 1-2.

[iii] ASD Owen West, ASD SO/LIC, April 5, 2019 Yale Jackson SOF Conference.

[iv] FM 3-13, Information Operations, November 2016, pg. 1-3.

[v] Civil Affairs Operations 2025 and Beyond White paper. Department of the Army. U.S. Special Operations Center of Excellence. Civil Affairs Proponent, Fort Bragg, NC 28310.

[vi] CA Core Competencies: Civil Affairs Activities; Military Government Operations; Civil Affairs Supported Activities. FM 3-37. 

[vii] ATP 5-0.6, Network Engagement, June 2017.

[viii] JP 3-0, Joint Operations, January 2017

[ix] Special Interest Alien (SIA) is a non-U.S. person who, based on an analysis of travel patterns, potentially poses a national security risk to the United States or its interests.  Often such individuals or groups are employing travel patterns known or evaluated to possibly have a nexus to terrorism. This does not mean that all SIAs are “terrorists,” but rather that the travel and behavior of such individuals indicates a possible nexus to nefarious activity (including terrorism) and, at a minimum, provides indicators that necessitate heightened screening and further investigation.  The term SIA does not indicate any specific derogatory information about the individual.

[x] FM 3-57, Appendix A, History of U.S. Army Civil Affairs.

Categories: US Army - civil affairs

About the Author(s)

Captain Brodie T. Babb is an active duty, Civil Affairs Officer with 10 years of service. He currently serves as the Network Analysis Chief for the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne), which provides training and support to forward CA Teams and, on order, conducts network analysis in support of Task Force level deployments.

Major Francisco M. Hernandez is an active duty Civil Affairs officer 21 years of active service. He currently serves as the OIC of the Civil Affairs Planning Team for the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne), providing direction and guidance for future operational and contingency plans and initiatives in support of the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) and 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne).



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