Small Wars Journal

Which Tribe Should We Engage? A Tribal Engagement Assessment Methodology

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 3:30am

Author’s Note: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, the United States Army or the U.S. Government. The source of this methodology was developed through eleven interviews by the author with Special Operation Forces and intelligence professional subject matter experts (SME) in February 2011.  Each of the SMEs have extensive experience in tribal engagement from U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Philippines and other tribal contingency areas.  The interviews were conducted between 1-28 February 2012.

The Problem.  As major combat operations come to a close in Afghanistan, two of the critical lessons learned are operations must understand local culture and must harness the power of local institutions to fight an irregular enemy.  These two factors are critical to the success of any irregular warfare campaign in the future.  The Sons of Iraq (SOI) and Village Stability Operations/Afghan Local Police (VSO/ALP) demonstrate the success of using an “irregular force” to fight an “irregular enemy” which will help define future U.S. low intensity conflicts across the globe.  The future strategy for U.S. Irregular Warfare will rely heavily on varying types of Special Operations Forces (SOF) conducting a wide range of overt and clandestine special activities against irregular enemy forces.  Operations will be conducted in permissible, semi-permissible or non-permissible operating environments.  The future success of U.S. campaigns depends on proper planning for employment of friendly “irregular forces.”  Furthermore, Irregular Warfare (IW) operations will be conducted in coordination with Host Nation (HN) or partnered state/non-state actors as a modified Foreign Internal Defense (FID) concept for remote area operations.  FID is defined as operations to “enable and assist a host nation to prevent, deter and defeat a variety of irregular threats, including criminal activity, insurgency and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents.”[1]  FID operations will be led by the Department of State (Title XXII) and executed as part of their country plan.  Current Special Operations Forces doctrine and Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concepts lack an analytical methodology supporting initial planning for tribal engagement non-kinetic targeting.  The existing doctrine outlines the intelligence requirement for Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operating Environment (JIPOE).  However, the doctrines do not have a systematic approach to analyzing the potential for tribal support to U.S., HN or partnered state/non-state actors’ activities against an Irregular Force.  This tool can support a wide range of Irregular Warfare or intelligence operations in tribal societies. 

The methodology will be broken down into three major phases.  First, the planning and coordination phase.  Second, the development of subjective analysis utilizing all existing intelligence, operational reporting, academia, liaison information and any other source of information which could assist in developing the subjective analysis of each tribe.  The third phase involves identification of gaps, tasking of intelligence collection and employment of the pilot team for initial contact.  The development of this planning methodology is derived from interviews with subject matter experts and personal experience in employing tribal engagement initiatives across the Middle East.  This methodology will enable planners to be better prepared prior to initial contact by the pilot teams.

Phase One: Planning and Coordination.  The first step of phase one in employing a tribal engagement methodology is identification of clear strategic objectives of the operation.  The tool determines the potential for tribal engagement but the mission can vary across the Irregular Warfare spectrum from stability operations to unconventional warfare.  Clear understanding by planners of the strategic objectives is critical when applying this methodology.  Second, planners need to reach out to inner agency and coalition partners (when classification allows) in order to bring in the widest group of subject matter experts to develop the subjective analysis (step two).  This supports IW’s second core element to “plan and execute in concert with partners.”  Planners must strive to “integrate joint force IW planning with other USG agencies to facilitate regional and global operations across USG agency and department boundaries.”[2]  The title authorities and supported agency will vary based on the mission for the tribal engagement methodology but clear coordination across the country team and larger interagency is required.  Additionally, there are core-planning fundamentals which have emerged from previous tribal engagement programs which must be factored into the initial operational planning.

Initial Planning Fundamentals.  There are six core fundamentals which must be incorporated into the planning of tribal or social structure engagement for FID operations.  First, the term “tribe” is a generalization, which includes existing social power structures beyond the central government’s control including religious, tribal, security or social elements, which provide governance, conflict resolution and security for the local population.  In some geographic locations, there are no “functioning” tribal structures but a family or religious institution filling the void.  For the purposes of this methodology, the term tribe refers to the established social structure which controls a local population with limited or no central government control.  The second core fundamental when conducting tribal engagement planning is local governance needs to be the supported effort while armed security elements are the supporting effort.  As seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing security alone does not solve many of the problems in conflict regions.  The main effort needs to focus on developing existing social institutions at the village level in order to mediate conflict disputes, provide basic necessities for the local populace and establish some means of social order.[3]

The third core fundamental is all tribal engagement operations need to be a “bottom up approach” beginning at the grass roots level.  FID programs target areas not under government control; therefore, programs cannot be pushed from the “top down.”[4]  However, as FID programs expand, they inevitably bridge the gap between the central government and “tribal areas.”  They focus on “building across” the social fabric of a society.[5]  Additionally, this enables them to “break across” enemy networks.  This greatly increases the likelihood of success of combating an enemy with an irregular force.  The focused destruction of an irregular enemy has to be done horizontally and not vertically in order to tackle the sources of the opposing irregular force.  Fourth, FID operations need to be persistent and not short term episodic engagements.[6]  One of the critical factors in the Afghan VSO/ALP program was “we [Special Operations Forces] stopped driving to work and became neighbors.”[7]  Essentially, the Special Operations Forces were living in the villages within the society and accepted as members of the local community.  They were available 24/7 to augment local security, provide oversight to construction projects and mediate conflicts.  The long term presence is critical to any program’s success.  For any tribal engagement program to be successful, a long-term commitment is required to the local social entity.  Fifth, the tribal engagement plan needs to focus on changing behaviors and not opinions.  This is a critical factor because in the average insurgency, lasting longer than nine years on average, it is very unlikely to change “hearts and minds” of a social structure operating on the fringe of central government control.  The programs should focus on “building trust and confidence” which over the long term will impact behaviors.[8]  Finally, planners must understand the strategic objectives prior to initiating the planning methodology.  A Department of State District Stability Framework (DSF), for example, will significantly vary from a counter-terrorism paramilitary campaign focused on Al Qaeda.  This underlying strategic planning objective must be incorporated into the analysis to measure potential desired effects.  These six factors are critical to understand prior to initiating any tribal engagement planning.  Additionally, this methodology can support any tribal engagement program from FID with an irregular force, civil military operations, counter-terrorism, counterinsurgency, infrastructure protection, and others.  As long as a tribal or social structure on the fringe or outside government control is being utilized, the methodology remains applicable.

A Planning Tool Supporting Initial Contact.  When applying the tribal engagement analysis methodology, there are some administrative functions which must be understood prior to beginning the process.  The employment of this methodology is designed to assist in the JIPOE process for initial operational planning.  This methodology will not replace pilot team assessments; rather it will help focus pilot teams’ employment to work with tribes with the greatest potential to achieve the U.S. desired objectives.  Additionally, this tool will identify gaps, driving intelligence collection.  The methodology will further enable pilot teams to focus their assessments on identified gaps as they conduct initial contact.  This methodology will not support activities in non-tribal societies but can be modified for future irregular warfare contingencies. 

Phase Two: Subjective Analysis Methodology.  When analyzing tribal or social elements, there are consistently five major categories critical to the potential success of operational activities.  This methodology will apply a subjective analysis of each of these six categories.  Each tribe will be analyzed separately in order to reduce bias.  Additionally, analysis incorporates a sixth category of intelligence confidence level when developing the subjective score in accordance with Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) standards in order to ensure planning teams understand the strengths and limitations of the assessments.  When there is a lack of intelligence to make an accurate assessment, this information will be annotated and should drive future intelligence collection requirements and help focus the pilot team assessment.  The assessment will be derived by analyzing all existing classified and open source intelligence on each of the major tribal entities. 

The five evaluation criteria include: external support, tribal/social unity, geographic importance, ability to effectively control territory and enemy saturation.  The five major categories will be ranked from one to ten—with ten being the highest score on the aspect being analyzed (see Figure 1 below).  A score of ten will be the highest level of potential for direct or indirect tribal engagement.  As a result of each tribe receiving scores ranging from one to ten across the five categories, each tribe will independently receive a final score between one and 50.  The scores will support assessments in evaluating each tribe’s ability to support tribal engagement strategies with HN, the US or other state/non-state actors.  The higher the score a tribe receives indicates a greater potential for support of tribal engagement initiatives.  Subjective scoring should be compiled through a focus group of subject matter experts (SMEs) in order to reduce bias.  When possible, HN or partnered nations need to be incorporated into the planning process unless the tribal engagement will be clandestine in nature.  The vast resources of the U.S. government expertise must be incorporated into this focused group developing the analysis.  All biases from the focus group need to be annotated and explained when discussing the final assessment.

Figure 1. Example of Subjective Tribal Analysis Comparison developed

by focus group of Subject Matter Experts (SME).


External Support.  The first category evaluated is the tribe’s potential for external support.  External support could manifest itself in direct dialogue with the central government, foreign governments, terrorist elements, religious structures or other irregular forces.  In many cases, the tribe may not support the central government but may be supportive of countering irregular enemies of the central government.  In researching the tribe, the external elements the targeted tribe would support should become apparent which will help craft the operational design of the tribal engagement.  Direct talks between the central government and the tribal entity are not necessarily required.  For example, in order to engage a specific tribe which is resistant to central government dialogue, an indirect approach to a tribal ally could begin to bridge the gap of trust and confidence with the targeted tribe.[9]  As seen in Afghanistan, U.S. and HN tribal engagement can help bridge the gap between the central government and semi-autonomous tribal elements operating on the edge of government control.[10]  When conducting subjective analysis scoring, a ten would signify the tribe’s willingness to provide support to external elements.  A score of one would indicate the tribe is xenophobic, self sustaining and resistant to any outside engagement.  Conversely, the tribal element could be directly supporting the insurgency, irregular enemy or criminal network.  This would also score highly as this category is assessing their receptiveness to outside influence.  During the analysis of this category, the relationships between entities such as tribes, central government, foreign governments and the U.S. need to be defined.  This will assist in crafting the strategy on how to engage this tribe.  Additionally, this category can help establish collection gaps and engagement strategies for pilot teams preparing to deploy to conduct initial contact with these tribal elements.  Focusing intelligence collection on the reasons the tribe is supporting an external element will enable expanding tribal engagement initiatives and establish a clear understanding of the operating environment while helping craft a better tribal engagement strategy.

Tribal/Social Unity.  The second evaluation criteria is assessing tribal/social unity.  This is evaluating the existing social mechanisms for a tribe (or social structure) to effectively govern its territory.  This “governing” can consist of education, health care, conflict/resource dispute resolution, judicial rulings or any other social aspect of governing entities.  In the modern era, tribal unity and existing tribal structures have often been subjugated.  In Afghanistan, many of the tribes have been destroyed by years of tribal warfare.[11]  In southern Yemen, many tribal structures remain fragmented from the focused communist government efforts to destroy tribal culture in the 1960s.  However, often there are other social constructs such as businesses, religious structures or families which have filled the void left by a reduction in tribal social unity.  Identification of these social elements and their level of control over local populations are critical.  The analytical focus group needs to conduct a holistic analysis of the tribe’s unity and ability to execute cohesive policies/programs under the existing (or projected) tribal leadership.   A score of ten indicates strong tribal unity and one indicates a strongly fractured tribal element with very little effective leadership control.  The lack of effective tribal leadership will lower the potential for success of a tribal engagement program.  Additionally, research of the tribe’s unity will help identify key power brokers who pull the strings of the fabric of this society.  This will drive further intelligence collection and initial pilot team engagement with the correct “power brokers” in order to achieve the desired objectives.

Geographic Importance.  In reality, not all tribes matter to a tribal engagement strategy.  Some tribes may control strategic lines of communications (LOCs), ports, natural resources or enemy sanctuaries.  Evaluating the geographic importance will differ for each analysis but are directly tied to the strategic objectives of the operation.  The focus group must clearly articulate what they are assessing as strategic geographic importance as part of the larger tribal engagement operation.  Tied to the geographic area in which the tribe operates is their ability to control or influence strategic resources such as oil pipelines, LOC, major markets, etc.  The tribe’s ability to support its people through taxes (legal or illegal), natural resources revenue, markets or other finance generating revenues is important to the stability of the tribe and the loyalty of its members.  Analyzing the geographic resource strength (or potential strength) of the tribe is essential.  In evaluating potential for engagement, often very strong resourced tribes are the least likely to be receptive to engagement.  Conversely, the poorer tribes are usually more conducive to tribal engagement to meet the tribe’s required needs.  A score of ten indicates control of strategic geography (including resources) whereas a score of one indicates areas with little value in accordance with the operation’s strategic objectives.  This will help evaluate the tribe’s “importance” to the overall objectives of the planning process.  Analysis of tribal geographic areas and their access / control of resources is an important pre-mission planning step.  This can also be incorporated into the pilot team engagement strategy where financial reward can often sway a tribe’s support, at least temporarily.  However, when paying tribes, the long term effects need to be incorporated into the engagement strategy.  If the finances dry up, often so does the tribal support.

Ability to Effectively Control their Territory.  A tribe has to be able to control its territory in order to be effective in providing social support to its local populace.  A tribe often has existing security protocols in place but could need additional support in areas including, but not limited to: communications, health care, Medical Evacuation (MEDIVAC) and security training.[12]  Identifying such shortfalls is one of the most critical tasks for the pilot team’s assessment.  Assisting a tribe in establishing security in their tribal territory in a “defensive role” is critical to expanding stability to conflicted regions.  One of the greatest counterarguments to tribal engagement is the fear arming tribal elements potentially increases their ability to counter government control.  In reality, many tribes already have an existing tribal militia, which can be easily leveraged to further U.S. or HN strategic objectives.  Analysis of the current state of armed tribal elements is critical to the success and palatability of tribal engagement.  This category will evaluate each tribe’s current armed militia elements and their ability to be effectively employed in support of the tribe’s goals.  A score of ten indicates the tribe has a very effective force, which can deploy and fight for the tribe’s interests.  A score of one indicates no standing tribal militia element.  This will also enable operational planners to develop a training program to increase the proficiency of the tribal force as part of the larger tribal engagement strategy.

Enemy Collusion.  The final category for analysis is enemy collusion within a tribal territory.  Regardless of the objective of the tribal engagement program, enemy collusion with the tribes in a specified target area must be evaluated.  Often this assessment can be developed from its own separate methodology.  One of the most effective methods is the evaluation of districts (or smaller governance units) under enemy, government or contested control.  This is an effective tool in focusing initial analysis and planning efforts.  For example, one objective of tribal engagement strategy may be to expand government control in contested areas.  Focusing limited resources on districts which are already under government control are futile to “expanding” government control.  The tribal engagement strategy should evaluate the objectives of the campaign and then focus on contested or enemy controlled territory.  It must be stressed this is a holistic analysis and operations in one district can often result in the temporary relocation of enemy to an adjacent district.  The score of ten would indicate no government control.  These are the areas where focused tribal engagement is warranted.  A score of five would be contested government control and a score of one would indicate an area controlled by the central government.  Again, the tribal engagement strategy is designed to operate on the fringes or spaces absent of government control.  This evaluation criteria is not directly related to the strength, resources, geographic location or ability to provide security.  It is analyzing an external element (enemy) but must be incorporated into the overall analysis in order to properly evaluate how the tribe will respond to potential engagement.

Confidence Levels.  Critical to this methodology is a clear expression of confidence level in the assessments.  Analysis should focus on tribes operating on the fringes of government control.  These elements may or may not have a wide body of operational, intelligence or host nation reporting.  The clear standardization of confidence levels will ensure pilot teams understand how the planning team developed their assessments.  Additionally, when there are low levels of confidence, the intelligence section should clearly articulate to the pilot team the formal intelligence collection tasked which attempting to answer the gaps.

There are varying definitions of confidence levels when conducting analysis but for the purpose of this methodology, it will employ the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) May 2010 standards.  According to DIA, confidence is a judgment based on three factors: 

strength of the knowledge base, to include the quality of the sources and our depth of understanding about the issue, the number and importance of assumptions used to fill information gaps; and the strength of logic underpinning the argument, which encompasses the number and strength of analytic inferences as well as the rigor of the analytical methodology in the product.[13]

These standards are widely used across the intelligence community and must be clearly defined to support the tribal engagement planning process.  The three confidence levels are high, medium and low and are defined as follows.

  • High (83-100%).  Well-corroborated information from proven sources, minimal assumptions and/or strong logical inferences.
  • Moderate (67-82%).  Partially corroborated information from good sources, several assumptions, and/or mixture of strong and weak inferences.
  • Low (51-66%).  Uncorroborated information from good or marginal sources, many assumptions and/or most weak inferences.[14]

Of note, there is no longer a “No Confidence” level employed by the U.S. Intelligence Community.  However, the use of confidence percentages can delineate to the pilot team different levels of confidence in the assessments within the same band (high, moderate, low).  The use of percentages is highly encouraged to ensure the pilot team has the clearest picture of the analysis of the tribes prior to conducting initial contact.  Confidence levels are a critical factor in the development of tribal engagement analysis.  Standardized use will ensure teams have the clearest picture of the assessment as well as intelligence gaps prior to contact.  Further, this will help the pilot teams update the methodology after initial contact has occurred and gaps are answered.

Phase Three: Initial Conclusions, Gaps and Pilot Team Employment.  At phase three in the tribal engagement process, the subjective analysis should enable initial conclusions on the potential for tribal engagement with specific tribes based on the strategic objectives of the planning initiative.  While researching the tribes, the planning team needs to focus on determining sources of influence, which can range based on size, wealth, history, kinship or other factors.  Additionally, the planning team needs to determine sources of grievances of the tribes which often are not visible to outsiders.  However, grievances are often the driving factor in the decision making process of tribes.  By determining sources of influence and grievances, the planning team can construct a strategy to “push the buttons” in support or against this tribe’s core social fabric.[15]  Additionally, planners should be able to make initial assessments of the influence levels of tribes.  Assessing the level of influence and their ability to support initiatives is critical in ensuring effective use of scarce SOF resources.[16]  During phase two, intelligence gaps will become apparent following this methodology.  These gaps need to be clearly articulated to the pilot team and intelligence community in order to develop a collection strategy to prioritize and answer these gaps.  This is critical to preparing the pilot team for their employment for initial contact.

Conclusion.  The Tribal Engagement Assessment Methodology is designed to augment existing JIPOE analysis in support of the deployment of pilot teams to conduct initial contact for tribal engagement.  The methodology can support a wide array of IW operations from stability operations to unconventional warfare.  The interagency analytical pool which contributes to the analysis is critical in reducing bias and ensuring the right tribes are identified for initial contact.  When possible, HN, partnered nations, and/or friendly tribes need to be incorporated into the focused group in order to reduce western cultural bias in the evaluation process.  Additionally, when conducting the analysis of the six major categories, grievances span the entire spectrum.    Further, the source of influence needs to be identified in order to ensure the clearest understanding of the operational environment.  Identification of sources of grievances and influence while conducting tribal research is critical to developing a tailored and relevant tribal engagement strategy.  This methodology can also be used for operational planning for measures of effectiveness (MOE).  It is very difficult to develop MOEs for a tribal engagement program but analyzing how the subjective analysis changes over time (at least one year) can be effective to determining the success of the engagement strategy.  The end result in applying this methodology will be a subjective analysis of each tribe and their potential to support U.S., HN or state/non-state actors’ engagement operations.  This ensures the proper employment of scarce SOF resources and focused intelligence collection in order to develop a successful cohesive tribal engagement strategy. 


Figure 2. Tribal Engagement Methodology Scoring Addendum

[1] Department of Defense, “Irregular Warfare:  Countering Irregular Threats Joint Operating Concept,” Version 2.0, (17 May 2010): 20.

[2] Department of Defense, “Irregular Warfare:  Countering Irregular Threats Joint Operating Concept,” Version 2.0, (17 May 2010): 36.

[3] LTC Scott Mann, interview by author, Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Tampa, FL, 14 February 2012.

[4] Personal Observation, Afghanistan, 2009.

[5] SFC Brandon Smith, interview by author, Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), Tampa, FL. February 15, 2012.

[6] Department of Defense,  “Irregular Warfare:  Countering Irregular Threats Joint Operating Concept,” Version 2.0, (17 May 2010), 20.

[7] LTC Scott Mann, interview by author, Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Tampa, FL, 14 February 2012.

[8] COL(ret) Joseph Osborne, interview by author, Special Operations Command Joint Special Operations University (SOCOM JSOU), 15 February 2012.

[9] COL(ret) Joseph Osborne, interview by author, Special Operations Command Joint Special Operations University (SOCOM JSOU), 15 February 2012.

[10] Personal Observations, Afghanistan, 2009.

[11] Personal Observation, Afghanistan, 2006-2009.

[12] Personal Observation, Afghanistan, 2006-2009.

[13] DIA, Tradecraft Note 03-10: Expressing Analytical Confidence Revisited, “What We Mean When We Say,” 18-19 May 2010.

[14] IBID.

[15] BG Edward Reeder, interview by author, US Army Special Forces Command Joint (USASFC), 24 February 2012.

[16] Ibid


About the Author(s)

Major David Bowers is a career Military Intelligence officer who has served in a wide array of positions within the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community.  Previous assignments include: 7th Special Forces Group, Special Operations Command-Central, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan and other deployed SOF elements.  He has conducted numerous combat and operational deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines and other Middle East countries in support of tribal engagement initiatives.  He recently completed his Masters of Science in Strategic Intelligence (MSSI) from the Defense Intelligence Agency’s National Intelligence University where he wrote a thesis entitled “Unsheathing the Jambiyah: Harnessing the Power of Yemeni Tribes in the 21st Century.”  This article is chapter three from that thesis.  A special thanks to the eleven Intelligence and Special Operations subject matter experts who assisted in the development of this methodology


Martin Doyle

Sat, 02/23/2013 - 8:57am

Interesting conceptual framework proposed yet incomplete. Requires additional work to become operationally viable. Definite step in the right direction!

Bill C.

Tue, 01/29/2013 - 11:39am

In his Jan 26, 6:17am comment below, COL Jones asked that we consider the author's question "what tribes do we engage?" from the perspective of our strategic objective.

FM 3-07 seems to suggest (see my Jan 26, 1:31pm comment below) that our strategic goal is -- in essence and via democracy promotion and economic development -- to transform outlying states, societies and regions along modern western lines. (This being the criteria, it would seem, by which these entities might become "legitimate, well-governed states that could meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.")

With this (or a more correct) understanding of our strategic goal in mind, how do we, now, answer the author's question: "what tribes do we engage?

Bill C.

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 10:43am

In reply to by Dayuhan

For example, if we were to use the authors definitions of "tribe" -- as shown at his major subparagraph above entitled "Initial Planning Fundamentals;" these definitions being:

"First the term "tribe" is a generalization, which includes existing social power structures beyond the central government's control including religious, tribal, security or social elements, which provide goverance, conflict resolution and security for the population."

"For the purpose of this methodology, the term tribe refers to established social structure which controls the local population with limited or no central government control."

Then could we say that "tribe(s)" -- as described here by the author -- is/are what we are working to eradicate?

We may need them now -- and we may use them now to good effect to achieve our purposes -- but ultimately our goal would seem to be to see them gone and out of the way.


Sun, 01/27/2013 - 9:11pm

In reply to by Sparapet

From this armchair, I would say that tribal sociology is inherent to the human experience.

Saddam's treatment and management of tribal issues (although in many cases reprehensible) was instructive. Tribal linkages and interactions are also visible in the west but, in many cases, we are habituated to them and thus overlook them. Royalty, Monarchies, Political Patronage Systems, Republican vs Democrat, Bourgeoisie vs Proletariat, Active vs Reserve, SOF vs Not, are some modern day/western examples of this phenomenon.

Some of my reading on this issue includes:

<P ALIGN=Right>The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli</P ALIGN=Right>

<P ALIGN=Right>The Medici of Florence by Emma Micheletti</P ALIGN=Right>

<P ALIGN=Right>The Ruin of the Roman Empire by James J. O'Donnell</P ALIGN=Right>

<P ALIGN=Right>Strong Societies and Weak States by Joel S. Migdal</P ALIGN=Right>

<P ALIGN=Right>Inside Rebellion by Jeremy M. Weinstein</P ALIGN=Right>

<P ALIGN=Right>A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne</P ALIGN=Right>

<P ALIGN=Right>The Prince of the Marshes by Rory Stewart</P ALIGN=Right>

<P ALIGN=Right>A History of Iraq by Charles Tripp</P ALIGN=Right>

I welcome reading suggestions.


Sun, 01/27/2013 - 6:45pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

I think history has spoken quite authoritatively on this issue. If tribes are more than superficial last names and "home villages" then that means they exercise some control over their territory, and by extension local law enforcement, and resources. A modern State that we are comfortable dealing with does not tolerate internal diversity when it comes to commerce, taxation, and law. Therefore, when we go about nation building we will model our efforts on a world view that demands centralized control over all aspects of governance, else our world view breaks down and requires some hefty adaptation.

In any case, in a western-looking State the tribes are no more relevant than big families. Anything more potent than that will generally lead to us to try to neuter it. While we often speak of being flexible and adaptable it is almost exclusively in terms of tactics, not strategy or world view. Never once had we planned for Iraq or Afghanistan anything but a strongly centralized, heavily militarized, and western market friendly State. We might have gotten creative about who to pay off when and who to "surge" upon, that's pretty much it. All of our aid is focused on infrastructure that demands our style of governance to function. All of our provincial work demands a centralized source of funds, direction, and reporting. I would wager to say that whenever we have done anything different than that it was because it was a necessity to get something done, no matter what it was. In essence, "good enough for now." Even the recent mantra "good enough for Afghans" is a way of saying lower the standard and be happy, rather than adjust the standard to what is most effective.

We don't tolerate tribes. Even here at home we sequester them away from economic impact and public visibility. If it weren't for the casinos, we Americans would be hard pressed to name a reservation unless we lived right next to one.


Sun, 01/27/2013 - 4:30pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Why would you suppose that modernity would eradicate tribes or tribal systems, or that tribal people have no interest in modernity, or that the US wants to eradicate tribal groups?

Bill C.

Sun, 01/27/2013 - 10:35am

In reply to by Dayuhan

I see your point.

While our goal, essentially, is to eradicate tribes and tribal systems.

Their goal may be (1) to use our interest in them and (2) our interest in eradicating tribes to (3) get things that may actually make their tribe -- and their tribal system overall -- stronger.

This may include the acceptance and adoption of some/certain of our modern ways.

Thus, both we -- and they it would seem -- are playing with fire so-to-speak.

Us, because we may be the dupes, given that our actions, efforts and investments may actually be making their tribe -- and the tribal system overall -- stronger rather than weaker.

Them, because they, by accepting/adopting some/certain of our modern ways, may actually be:

a. Allowing themselves to be weaned off of their tribal values, attitudes, beliefs, institutions and practices. And, thereby,

b. Assimilated into the modern world.


Sun, 01/27/2013 - 3:21am

In reply to by Bill C.

Or from another perspective:

Those tribes who believe they can promise us what we want, deliver as little of what we want as possible, and use the show of cooperation to get something they want.

I would not be so quick to assume that tribal people have no interest in modernity, or that modernity is incompatible with their ways of life and governance, or that cooperating with outside parties is necessarily incompatible with their ways of life and governance. That might in some cases be so, it's in no way an absolute rule.

Bill C.

Sun, 01/27/2013 - 12:48am

A shorter version of my Jan 26, 1:31pm comment below:

Given that our goal is, essentially, to eliminate tribes (via modernization), then to the question:

"Which tribe(s) should we engage?

I guess the answer would be:

Those tribes that were so naive, and so unwitting, as to not understand that -- in working for and with us -- they were actually working to help achieve their own demise (to wit: the demise of their tribal identity, the demise of their tribal way of life and way of governance and, indeed, the demise of their very tribe itself).

Or, from another perspective:

Those tribes that were ready, willing and able to -- in exchange for "modernity" -- give up their present tribal identity, give up their present tribal way of life and way of governance, and give up their very tribe itself.


Sat, 01/26/2013 - 5:35pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Doesn't it strike you as odd that we have an FM based on a "national security strategy?" I'm a fan of doctrine in principle, but a national security strategy driving doctrine just doesn't jive well. If the strategy changes, does the doctrine follow? Shouldn't doctrine be a standard guide to operations that we would could choose from to advance the "strategy du jour?" It just seems like an odd place to start from and an odd thing to conform our operations to. Operations should be defined by operational considerations, rather than ideology. It just seems like the wrong place to start from intellectually when developing doctrine...

Bill C.

Sat, 01/26/2013 - 2:31pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

From Field Manual 3-07, Stability Operations:

Para 1-51: "The National Security Strategy outlines the President's vision for providing enduring security for the American people in a volatile, uncertain, and complex strategic environment. It states a course for statecraft, providing the broad national strategy for applying the instruments of national power to further U.S. interests globally. At the heart of this strategy is the nation's approach to stability operations: to help create a world of legitimate, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibility in the international system."

Para 1-52: "The National Security Strategy addresses stability operations with the broad engagement strategy for regional conflict. ..."

Para 1-53: "The most effective long-term measure for conflict prevention and resolution is the promotion of democracy and economic development. ..."

Now, with this strategic framework, understanding and context:

a. Question No. 1: "Who is the enemy ..."

Those states and societies -- and those individuals and groups -- who would stand in the way of our promotion of democracy and economic development (Para 1-53) -- in foreign lands and foreign regions (Para 1-52) -- and who, thereby, would tend to deny the American people that which they require for enduring security, to wit: a world of legitimate, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system (Para 1-51).

b. Question No. 2: Who are our friends?

Those states and societies -- and those individuals and groups -- who would agree with and support our activities to promote democracy and economic development in foreign lands and foreign regions.

c. Question No. 3: Understanding the above, "which tribe(s) should we engage?"

Don't know the answer to this one, as I am unsure if there are ANY tribes that are willing to give up their way of life -- and give up their way of governance -- (to wit: their very identity) and, thus, essentially, to cease to exist as a tribe; this, in order to better provide for the security of the American people.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 01/26/2013 - 7:17am

Sound tactical thinking. The real problems, however, are in the framework one is asked to conduct such engagement within. What are the "strategic objectives"? In the case of Afghanistan we went there to seek revenge against AQ for the attacks of 9/11 and to punish the Taliban government of Afghanistan for maintaining their loyalty to their guests (as is their deep custom under Pashtunwali) and not supporting our demands to turn them over. Then our objective shifted to "defeat, disrupt, deny" AQ in the area, then to creating a stable Afghan government in a form we approved of, and then to preserving that government against those Afghans who (reasonably) not only perceived a government to rise to power and be sustained in power by a foreign military to be illegitimate, but also were even more reasonably moved to revolution and resistance by the fact that the power shift we had forced hand completely disrupted and flipped who had patronage power and wealth, and who did not.

Which brings us to the chart: "Enemy Saturation." Who is the enemy? Not at the tactical level within the framework created by the series of decisions and strategic drifting described above, but truly, who is "the enemy" to the real strategic goal of ensuring that the US is more secure from potential terrorist attacks coming out of this region, or out of the populaces who live within or ar connected by culture and heritage to this region? Tweleve years ago the Taliban allowed AQ to live within their borders, but twelve years ago I doubt one would find more than a literal handful of Pashtuns with any interest whatsoever in working with AQ to conduct a terrorist attack against the US or our interests. Does anyone think that is still true today? Today they have eleven years of reason to do so.

This is the problem with tribal engagement. We either end up picking tribes that generally agree with or profit from the goals we are trying to achieve (Afghanistan, the settling of America), or we drag tribes unwittingly into an external conflict that they have little stake in, but just happen to be living in the place where it is occuring (the tribes of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). At the end of the day it is all about us and our interest as we have happened (rightly or wrongly) to have defined them.

As I said, this is sound, tactical logic. But we are still hard broke at the policy/strategic level of framing our involvement in these foreign lands where we perceive our interests to manifest. Too often we bring escalated violence and disruption to the lives of those who live there, and leave generations of tragedy in our wake once we leave.

Indicators are that the government of Afghanistan is going to turn this tribal program off as fast as possible once we begin to leave in force. We should ponder on why, if this is such a great program, that is. Perhaps we assume they just don't understand. I think they understand all too well. The current regime can only sustain itself through the central control and consolidation of patronage they attain and sustain through the current constitution, a centralized military, and foreign support. As the third leg of foreign support falls off of that stool they will do all they can to reinforce the other two legs. I suspect the tribes we have worked with will be viewed as a dangerous liability by both sides.

We in the military are much better at being good at what we do than we are at determining if what we do will do good. Certainly that seems to be the theme for the past dozen years.


Sat, 01/26/2013 - 5:36pm

In reply to by Surferbeetle

Weltanschung is right. It is the one thing that needs to be always questioned when embarking on the serious business of pursuing our national interests, especially when doing so by force...


Sat, 01/26/2013 - 12:45pm

In reply to by Sparapet

In a word, it’s about Weltanschauung.

This article does an excellent job of showing that the Army is deeply committed to, and see’s no problems with, wearing a limited edition Gucci T-shirt to go Thrift Shopping with Macklemore. For the more traditionalist among us, let’s consider that old standby: 'I know where you are trying to get to college boy, but I wouldn’t start from here if I were you'.

Imitation is said to be sincerest form of flattery. Successful and sustainable engineering systems often closely mimic nature. An appreciation for the modulus of elasticity, poisson’s ratio, saint-venant’s principle, mohr’s circle, euler’s formula, and catigliano’s theorem can assist one with describing the basic effects of stress and strain on homogeneous and heterogeneous materials. Analysis of determinate and indeterminate structures can provide additional insights and we can, and do, continue on with more elaborate structural techniques to imperfectly model reality. Imperfect translations of these concepts in order to imperfectly describe (much more complex) population trends and demographics can be seen in the business realm via marketing concepts such as market segmentation. But enough of theory, let’s leave the dusty textbooks behind and head out into the world.

Sporting a high and tight, a carefully pressed uniform, and boots spit shined within an inch of their life will open some doors and close others. Language abilities, long hair, non-military civies, and education about and appreciation for culture (writ large) provides for other possibilities.

Gonna have to throw away your watch, spreadsheets, and preconceptions in order to understand and ‘engage and influence’ with a ‘broad contact base’. My experience is that this particular Weltanschauung is incompatible with current Army culture.


Fri, 01/25/2013 - 1:37pm

I like it, but I also don't like it...

It's clean, it's consistent, it's logical. But there is this je ne sais quoi about the idea of reducing an essentially political decision to an "objective matrix" without context.

The feeling I get is one reminiscent of global political engagement. Replace "tribe" with "country" and the exact same argument can be made for how the US should pick which countries to engage with. That is, which countries are worth the effort. I don't think anyone would advocate that approach except maybe when the planning process reaches an impasse and further discrimination is needed.

I want to emphasize the opinion that choosing which tribe to "invest in" is a political decision. A factor the analysis doesn't address. I guess this is the main objection. If this matrix is supposed to help you identify whom to contact, what use (if any) does it have once contact is made and assessments evolve? Once a relationship is established, the US is no longer the unknown third party. This becomes a game of chess, not battleship.

To wargame the point, how will the decision matrix paint the TOTAL for a tribe that is:
External Support: LOW (1)
Tribal Social Unity: HIGH (10)
Geographic Importance: HIGH (8)
Ability to Control Area: LOW (3)
Enemy Saturation: MODERATE (5)
TOTAL = 27 (just a hair above the median)
Confidence: MODERATE

So you have a xenophobic tribe that has strong tribe-member bonds and sits on a strategic piece of terrain, but because of moderate enemy saturation in their environment, has low control over the area. I don't see how this matrix allows you to explore WHY this situation exists. Nor do I see how this matrix allows the analyst to understand/explore the consequences of engaging or ignoring the tribe. Also, how will the matrix fare when the political nature of the decision on which tribe to engage is added? Let's say that the tribe in the above example is historically strongly antagonistic to the HN government, but is not currently a major source of Enemy support. They are, essentially, neutral (again, this matrix based analysis doesn't seem to offer a way to explore a reason for this). But their strong historic antagonism to the HN government will mean that any engagement with the intent of building HN support may risk pushing them into the enemy camp.

I am not comfortable with the matrix because it stops too soon. It offers a dataset for analysis that without other tools becomes, in my opinion, dangerously misleading. Am I missing something here about the context for this tool as advocated in the article?

This comment:

<i>The scores will support assessments in evaluating each tribe’s ability to support tribal engagement strategies with HN, the US or other state/non-state actors. </i>

along with the specific criteria recommended for assessment, suggest to me that this process is heavily weighted toward assessing what the tribes in question can do for us. I'd suggest paying at least equal attention to what we can do for them, what they want from us, and how engagement might affect their (and our) relations with other tribes. For example, a tribe may have the capacity and will to work with us, but their interest may not necessarily be in supporting our tribal engagement strategies. They likely have agendas of their own, which may include using our support to gain ascendancy in perceived competition with other tribes or with the central government. That can lead to a perception that we're taking sides or aiding one party in local conflicts or competitions that may be far more important to the local populaces than our conflict with our perceived enemies.

The potential for unintended consequences and the probability that all tribal groups (and factions within tribal groups) in the picture have agendas and perceptions that have nothing to do with ours must always be high on the assessment agenda.

PS: If one desired to add an additional area fro grading, a field for "compatibility of perceived interests" might be worth considering.


Fri, 01/25/2013 - 5:05am

Fantastic article. Need to write a follow up on how well this method has proven useful over time.