Small Wars Journal

Civil Reconnaissance Teams: The Expeditionary Arm of Civil Affairs Forces

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 12:32am

Civil Reconnaissance Teams: The Expeditionary Arm of Civil Affairs Forces

Andrew J. Bibb

The new Army FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, published in April of 2019, has made it much easier to answer the question, “What does Civil Affairs (CA) do?” Civil Affairs forces pursue truth and ascertain the on-the-ground reality on behalf of the supported commander. They are trained to convey that reality to the commander with accuracy, cohesion, and clarity through civil information management (CIM). This capability is essential because without civil inputs into the commander’s common operational picture (COP) he or she lacks sufficient understanding of critical aspects of the operational environment (OE) to make fully informed command decisions.1

The unfortunate truth is that supported commands are not nearly as aware or informed of what Civil Affairs offers as other branches. Every commander knows that the role of the Infantry is to close with and destroy the enemy. Not every commander knows that Civil Affairs Soldiers and Marines are his or her sensors on the battlefield. According to Dr. Nadia Schadlow, the primary author behind the 2017 National Security Strategy, CA assets have proven “useful in such a wide range of operations that their relationship to war had been obfuscated.”2 This slows the integration process and complicates relationships within the Joint Force.

Compounding this issue is the fact that, during Large-Scale Combat Operations (LSCO), civil considerations are most likely not at the top of the commander’s list of priorities. As a threat focused entity, it is easy for the U.S. military to forget or ignore the myriad of other factors that contribute to success in war. The goal of war, however, is not simply the defeat of the enemy. Dr. Schadlow argues that the goal of war “has always been a political outcome that determines who rules what territory, with what type of institutions.”3 CA is the only military force tasked, trained, and equipped to directly monitor and influence this outcome.

Commanders, however, must be shown that CA is not only a critical asset during postwar stabilization, but also during combat operations. Dr. Schadlow explains regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom, “The phased approach to the war separated combat operations (Phase III) from postwar stabilization (Phase IV) and reinforced the view that ‘postwar’ problems were not integral to the war itself.”4 The lingering effects of this way of thinking can still be felt.

The question, then, is how to take the guesswork out of the equation and show supported commanders, clearly and concisely, what CA offers before, during, and after combat operations. Civil Affairs is such a broad term that the usefulness of Civil Affairs Teams (CATs) as a maneuver element is not readily apparent to non-CA elements. This is especially true in the case of LSCO. What supported commanders need from CA is the articulation and delivery of a dedicated expeditionary CA element oriented toward supporting operations in Close and Deep Maneuver Areas.

Civil Reconnaissance Teams (CRTs)

Like the word “Infantry,” when commanders hear the term “scout” they have a clear conception of what that means. Scouts have been employed by military forces for as long as warfare has been waged. Scouts are tasked to confirm or deny threat-related assumptions, clarify and fill in the commander’s COP, and determine the effects of terrain on maneuver and sustainment elements. Their mission is straightforward, but critical to the commander’s decision-making process.

Likewise, CA assets are tasked to confirm or deny non-threat related assumptions, clarify and enhance the commander’s COP, and determine the effects of human terrain on maneuver and sustainment elements. One article describes modern CA forces as “human terrain ‘scouts’ who are mission-focused in their collection efforts, as opposed to the traditional image of civil affairs as passive database managers or distributors of humanitarian assistance.”5 Their mission is not quite as straightforward as traditional scouts, but is just as critical to the commander’s decision-making process.

This is especially true in the realm of hybrid threats, which “combine regular and irregular threats, terrorist forces, or criminal elements unified (or allied) to achieve mutually benefitting effects.”6 It has been argued that “the future of U.S. national security will rest in our Nation’s ability to dynamically respond to these hybrid threats.”7 The authors of a recent Small Wars Journal article explain that “hybrid warfare’s efficacy lies in the combination of multiple layers of irregular, economic, information, socio-political, and cyber warfare. As the Army’s only soldiers specially trained to shape human geography, CA capabilities enable them to detect, understand, and counter hybrid warfare threats.”8

The term “Civil Affairs” is so broad and implies such a myriad of different activities that when a CAT is attached to a non-CA military unit, the supported commander will likely not know how it should be employed until he receives the CAT’s capabilities brief. Even then their use may not be readily apparent. It may be beneficial to borrow from the playbook of our Psychological Operations (PSYOP) brethren and brand Civil Affairs units tasked to support other entities based on the specific need of the supported unit, agency, or organization.

PYSOP assets are task organized into three types of teams: Regional, Tactical, and Special. Regional PSYOP Teams support allied coalitions or agencies, such as the Department of State. Tactical PSYOP Teams support Joint Special Operations Task Forces and Special Forces Groups. Special Military Information Support Operations Teams support other special operations initiatives.9 CA would benefit from similar branding and task organization based on the needs of the supported element. Army Special Operations Forces (SOF) CA units already do this for civil-military engagements with civil-military support elements (CMSEs).

Names mean things. They promote and prioritize certain behaviors. Just as PSYOP employs Tactical Teams, CA elements supporting commanders focused on countering hybrid warfare and conducting LSCO against near-peer threats should be task organized, equipped, trained, and designated as Civil Reconnaissance Teams (CRTs). This designation, more so than “Civil Affairs Teams,” immediately identifies CA assets as “the Land Component Commander’s premier capability for tactical reconnaissance of the civil component of the battlefield.”10 When initiating and conducting LSCO, commanders do not have time to figure out what CA can offer. Taking out the guesswork and readily identifying the branch with its reconnaissance capability will streamline the integration process.

The question may be asked, “Why are CRTs necessary if there are other assets performing the reconnaissance function?” Chung, Dickerson, and Liddick explain that “even the most technologically advanced ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] platforms have limitations. While they excel at gathering data of the physical terrain against conventional enemy threats, they are not designed to detect things like human relationships, power dynamics, cultural factors, populace support, and motivations.”11 CA forces can also prioritize data by relevance and importance, whereas ISR assets often produce too much data to be readily actionable without a significant investment of analytical time and manpower.

The need for Civil Affairs integration into LSCO against near-peer and hybrid threats is already well-established in doctrine. Objectives of Civil-Military Operations outlined in JP 3-10: Joint Security Operations include, “Reduce civil interference with joint security operations” and vice versa; “Assist in the integration of civil security and defense assets”; and support operations “with information about individuals and groups in the operational environment, conditions affecting their behavior, and other factors by engagement with the local population.”12 FM 3-98: Reconnaissance and Security Operations asserts that because “The populace decides whether the governance mechanisms within their society are legitimate,” Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) “that exhibit an understanding of the operational environment are prepared to engage their counterparts to influence and enhance the effectiveness of their operations.”13

These objectives are not to be put on hold until the stability phase, but must be accomplished in tandem with LSCO. This is borne out by the fact that Cavalry squadrons “must” conduct civil affairs operations (CAO) in their assigned areas of operations (AOs), with CA support.14 Army doctrine also encourages commanders to “have some reconnaissance elements determine and report civilian activities in population nodes during operations.”15 The extent to which reconnaissance, security, and civil affairs operations are intertwined may be surprising to those who assume that the mapping of civil networks and identification of key influencers is a post-combat operations task. Just as threat and terrain-centric reconnaissance “is performed before, during, and after operations,”16 civil reconnaissance is necessary at every time and place civilians are involved.

Civil Affairs Support to Multi-Domain Operations

Noting that “the Army is rapidly modernizing its force to succeed in Multi-Domain Operations (MDO),” Chung, Dickerson, and Liddick assert that “CA must change to fulfill an essential role in the multi-domain solution.”17 MDO doctrine itself recognizes, “Since war is fundamentally and primarily a human endeavor, the Joint Force working with its partners, must address the cognitive aspects of political, human, social, and cultural interactions to achieve operational and national objectives.”18 As the only military force specifically tasked with understanding and influencing the human domain, CA forces must be able to articulate how they plan to deliver in an MDO context. CRTs, as the solution to the expeditionary gap in the CA strategic engagement strategy, enable a holistic approach to understanding the role of CA in support of MDO.

MDO is predicated on the threat of near-peer adversaries employing “multiple layers of stand-off” in the “political, military and economic realms to separate the U.S. from our partners.”19 CA forces are designed to close the gaps between the U.S. military and partner forces, with CRTs as the tactical arm of this capability during LSCO. In this way they contribute to the “rapid and continuous integration of all domains of warfare.”20

MDO parses the U.S. contest against near-peer threats into two realms: competition, which is deterrence short of armed conflict, and armed conflict itself. Whereas CATs and CMSEs operate in the realm of competition as forward presence forces, CRTs are designed to be employed in support of expeditionary forces engaging in active combat operations.21 CATs and CMSEs prepare “the operational environment for competition and conflict by building understanding of and capabilities in select urban areas of particular operational or strategic importance.”22 In this way they lay the CIM and networking foundation for CRTs to action and build upon during LSCO.

In the armed conflict phase, CRTs support expeditionary units conducting operations in Close and Deep Maneuver Areas, where they facilitate “convergence with other domains” by detecting and integrating civil networks in support of military objectives.23 In doing so, CRTs enable commander’s to “impose additional complexity on the enemy,” eroding the civil groundwork built upon by adversaries to maintain their presence in that given area of operations.24 They also utilize these human networks to provide information regarding high-priority targets and, if necessary, pass that information through “non-standard communications systems.”25

MDO doctrine views civil engagement as a form of cognitive maneuver that “presents multiple dilemmas to an enemy” and “creates windows of superiority for friendly forces.”26 In the case of armed conflict, civil “engagement provides a deeper and common understanding of the operational environment, and enables opening windows of superiority and turning denied spaces into contested spaces.”27 This is where CA as a whole, and CRTs in particular, truly have the greatest opportunity to contribute to the lethality and effectiveness of the Joint Force in LSCO.

For CRTs to be maximally effective they cannot be seen only as tactical reconnaissance assets, but as the tactical arm of a larger engagement strategy. In a hypothetical build-up from competition to armed conflict, CATs and CMSEs map, analyze, and influence human networks in high priority urban areas prior to the outbreak of armed conflict. When the Joint Force transitions to armed conflict, CRTs, supporting expeditionary forces, activate these networks and enable key civil capabilities in support of operational and national objectives. This is in addition to and supportive of their primary civil reconnaissance task, and it highlights the need for expert CIM across the force.

So, the question is not whether CRTs are necessary, but how best to employ Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership & Education, Personnel, Facilities, and Policy (DOTMLPF-P) to produce the most capable CRTs possible and integrate them most effectively. Chung, Dickerson, and Liddick identify the essential CA capabilities as those which “enable them to detect, understand, and counter hybrid warfare threats.”28 To orient DOTMLPF-P to the enhancement of these capabilities is to ensure the relevance of CA, and specifically CRTs, in LSCO and hybrid warfare.

Detect: CRT Doctrine, Organization, Training, and Materiel

The 2018 National Defense Strategy asserts that “the Joint Force must gain and maintain information superiority,”29 which is why detection, or civil reconnaissance, is first in the hierarchy of CA capabilities. CRTs are so named to reflect this fact as it manifests in a tactical, expeditionary context. Just as commanders cannot fully understand threats until scouts confirm or deny their initial assumptions, CA elements cannot understand, much less counter, civil vulnerabilities until they achieve sufficient awareness of the on-the-ground reality. In other words, civil reconnaissance is not only first in the hierarchy of CAO, it is the most marketable capability CA has to offer non-CA commanders. It is the “sine qua non” of CA because it enables understanding which informs solutions to counter hybrid threats.30

The authors of “Reconnaissance Found: Redefining Army Special Operations Forces Integration” explain, “Just as scouts are tasked with information requirements and named areas of interest, civil affairs elements must prioritize their information collection efforts (i.e., orient on the reconnaissance objective) along the lines of the commander’s priority intelligence requirements for their respective area of responsibility.”31 The first change of doctrine to facilitate this process should be the addition of a new category of information requirement: the civil information requirement (CIR). This will produce at least two beneficial effects.

First, including the CIR as a category will help to prevent overlooking the civil component when determining information requirements. Civil reconnaissance “begins with the commander’s guidance,” so whenever civil considerations are overlooked in the commander’s critical information requirements (CCIRs) civil reconnaissance is unfocused and less effective than it otherwise could be. The CIR as a distinct category will highlight the necessity of command guidance regarding the civil component and implement a key lesson learned: “Commanders must provide clearly defined targeting priorities and information collection guidance.”32

Second, a dedicated CIR category will focus CRTs’ efforts on those aspects of the human domain that the commander deems critical to his decision-making process, rather than ancillary data that has little-to-no relevance to the commander. This will not constrain CRTs to only those CIRs, as “specific mission details should be left to the discretion of the” CRTs conducting the reconnaissance “as long as they are focused through the civil information collection plan and meet the commander’s intent.”33 Rather, CIRs will help CRTs prioritize and focus their efforts, as well as provide baseline reporting criteria. This will help to ensure that “secondary,”34 but relevant, civil information is not overlooked, while simultaneously ensuring that the commander’s information requirements are prioritized.

Because the “commander assigns a reconnaissance objective based on priority information requirements (PIR)…and the reconnaissance asset’s capabilities and limitations,”35 CRTs must be prepared to deliver on promised reconnaissance capabilities. This means being realistic about the geographic area and population density that a CRT can effectively cover. It also means ensuring that the organization, training, and equipping of a CRT maximizes its potential on behalf of the supported commander, keeping in mind that commanders “can easily over task and overextend dedicated reconnaissance assets.”36

The organization of CRTs may reflect the four-man model of current CATs, however, given the fluidity of combat operations, CRTs should be flexible and modular in their structure. Certain areas and population densities require more manpower than others, as is reflected in FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations.37 Depending on the needs of the supported command, CRTs should also retain the freedom to incorporate additional capabilities (PSYOP, interagency support, etc.) into their task organization so long as they do not distract from the civil reconnaissance mission.

The foremost way to guarantee maximally effective CRTs is to ensure they are trained and validated properly. To maximize a CRT’s effectiveness, units should focus on schools and training events that enable reconnaissance activities. For example, courses such as the Advanced Situational Awareness Course will enhance CRTs’ ability to detect and retain relevant civil information in LSCO and hybrid warfare environments.38

As CA’s tactical support to expeditionary forces, force protection (FORCEPRO) considerations are of paramount importance for CRTs. Emphasis on this aspect during individual and collective pre-mission training will be enhanced by cross-training with such subject-matter experts as the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade’s Advanced Skills Detachment (ASD) and Special Forces units. These training events should culminate in CRTs’ support to expeditionary forces during combat training center (CTC) rotations to refine standard operating procedures (SOPs) and capture lessons learned for future integration.

As reconnaissance assets, CRTs are in an ideal position to employ drone technology in support of commanders’ objectives. Although there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction in terms of human engagement, there are many aspects of the civil component that can be mapped much more effectively using aerial surveillance technology. Transportation infrastructure, urban layouts, and access to natural resources are but a few of these, the mapping of which is valuable and can be done in a fraction of the time if CRTs are properly resourced. Drone technology is also valuable from a FORCEPRO perspective, allowing CRTs to determine the safety of planned routes before traveling them.

Understand and Counter: Civil-Military Operations Center and Civil Affairs Operations Staff Support

Like traditional CATs, CRTs require Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) and CAO staff support. The civil information gathered and CIRs answered by the CRTs is routed through the CMOC to the CAO staff. At each of these steps, CA forces analyze and increase shared understanding of the civil information gathered by the CRTs. While analysis should start at the CRT level, it is through the CAO staff that civil information is fed into the commander’s COP and becomes actionable by him. The CAO staff, or the “G-9/S-9, in conjunction with the G-2/S-2, integrates outputs of the civil information collection plan with the outputs of the intelligence collection plan to enable situational understanding, targeting, and operations in order to support the strategic roles of the Army.”39 In doing so, CAO staff enables the “synchronization of lethal and nonlethal effects.”40

The CMOC is “the doctrinal solution that facilitates unity of effort during unified land operations between the civil environment and military forces conducting operations within a given area of operations.”41 It is also the commander’s and CAO staff’s conduit for communication with the CRTs. In the event of a change of mission or refined guidance, the CMOC ensures that CRTs are fully informed and act in accordance with the commander’s overall intent. Just as importantly, the CMOC does the bulk of the work maintaining the civil component of the COP. In support of MDO, this enables “commanders and staffs at each echelon to visualize and command a battle in all domains, the EMS [electromagnetic spectrum], and the information environment, converging organic and external capabilities at decisive spaces.”42

Once the Joint Force has achieved superiority in the realm of armed conflict, a successful return to competition under conditions favorable to a political outcome depends on the effective application of the understanding and influence gained by CRTs and other CA forces during LSCO. The identification of civil networks, key influencers, and civil vulnerabilities all inform the development of courses of action (COAs) to consolidate gains and deter further conflict. The goal of these COAs are to “allow the regeneration of forces and the re-establishment of a regional security order aligned with U.S. strategic objectives.”43 The civil reconnaissance and engagement conducted by the CRTs combined with the analysis, compilation, and dissemination conducted by the CMOC allows the CAO staff to prepare “the groundwork for transitioning the area of operations from military to civilian control.”44

That preparation includes determining what assets and enablers are required to stabilize a given AO’s government, security apparatus, essential services, and the like. This is a critical output of CRTs’ reconnaissance and CA analysis, because success “in war ultimately depends on the consolidation of political order, which requires control over territory and the hard work of building local governmental institutions.”45 The specifics of a given AO are made clear to the commander and CAO staff through the data provided by CRTs.

MDO doctrine recognizes, “In most cases, the Army will be required to execute tasks to restore order and support partner’s political, economic, and social structure recovery…because civilian agencies lack the capacity or capability to do this in a combat zone.”46 It is at this point that the integration of CA Reserve assets becomes essential to successful MDO. Broadly speaking, “Reserve component formations extend Army presence while allowing the regeneration of expeditionary readiness.”47 Specific to CA Reserves, however, is the retention of CA forces “specifically trained and educated to conduct transitional military authority by applying civilian sector expertise to conduct government operations that are normally the responsibility of civilian authorities.”48 History has shown that there is rarely, if ever, any “significant civilian operational capacity to deploy to a war zone on a large scale.”49 These military government functional specialists, the “preponderance” of whom are maintained within the Army Reserves, provide the Joint Force with the transitional expertise to manage specific issues of governance until such a transition can be conducted.50


CA forces should adopt as their guiding maxim the words of our first Commander-in-Chief, George Washington, that “there is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily.”51 Abstract though this adage may seem, MDO doctrine recognizes, “At some point, all the abstract elements (cognitive, virtual, informational, and human) demonstrate their effects physically at a place or in an area through a system or people.”52 The physical and human manifestation of the steady pursuit of truth in the context of LSCO against hybrid, near-peer threats should be found in CRTs. As the tactical arm of CA supporting expeditionary forces in MDO, CRTs enable the commander to visualize and understand the operational environment, thereby facilitating the convergence of assets against decisive points and the achievement of U.S. objectives.

End Notes

1. For more on this topic see my article "Civil Affairs, Winston Churchill, and the Power of Paying Attention," Small Wars Journal (June 2019),

2. Nadia Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2017), 21.

3. Ibid., 3.

4. Ibid., 239.

5. Orlando N. Craig, William P. Hurt, Albert W. Oh, and Christopher B. Melendez, "Reconnaissance Found: Redefining Army Special Operations Forces Integration," Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, PB 34-19-2 (April-June 2019): 38.

6. Department of the Army, FM 3-98: Reconnaissance and Security Operations (Washington, DC, 2015), 2-5.

7. Craig et al., 37.

8. Linda K. Chung, Jay Liddick, and Thurman “Scott” Dickerson, "Calibrating Civil Affairs Forces for Lethality in Large Scale Combat Operations," Small Wars Journal (March 2019), accessed July 25, 2019.

9. "Psyop Team Members," accessed August 6, 2019,

10. Chung, Liddick, and Dickerson.

11. Ibid.

12. Department of Defense, JP 3-10: Joint Security Operations (Washington, DC, 2019), III-27.

13. FM 3-98: Reconnaissance and Security Operations, 3-5.

14. Ibid., 1-12.

15. Department of the Army, Fm 3-90-2: Reconnaissance, Security, and Tactical Enabling Tasks, Volume 2 (Washington, DC, 2013), 1-2.

16. Ibid., 1-1.

17. Chung, Liddick, and Dickerson.

18. Department of the Army, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1: The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (2018), C-10.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., iii.

21. Ibid., v.

22. Ibid., xi.

23. Ibid., ix.

24. Ibid., x.

25. Ibid., 39.

26. Ibid., C-10.

27. Ibid.

28. Chung, Liddick, and Dickerson.

29. U.S. Department of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge (Washington, DC, 2018), 6.

30. Craig et al., 38.

31. Ibid., 39.

32. U.S. Combined Arms Center, CALL Handbook No. 16-25: Leader’s Guide to ISR - Lessons and Best Practices (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Center for Army Lessons Learned, 2016), 135.

33. Department of the Army, FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations (Washington, DC, 2019), 3-16.

34. Ibid., 3-18.

35. FM 3-90-2: Reconnaissance, Security, and Tactical Enabling Tasks, Volume 2, 1-1.

36. Ibid., 1-5.

37. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 3-30.

38. See

39. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, viii.

40. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1: The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, xi.

41. U.S. Combined Arms Center, CALL Newsletter No. 19-05: Lessons for the Warfighter (Fort Levenworth, KS: Center for Army Lessons Learned, 2019), 41.

42. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1: The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, xi.

43. Ibid., viii.

44. Department of the Army, FM 6-0: Commander and Staff Organization and Operations (Washingtong, D.C., 2014), 2-14.

45. Schadlow, 1.

46. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1: The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, 26.

47. Ibid., 45.

48. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 2-9.

49. Schadlow, 230.

50. FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations, 2-16.

51. Peter Lillback, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, Kindle ed. (King of Prussia, PA: Providence Forum Press, 2016), Loc. 3480.

52. TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1: The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, C-2.

About the Author(s)

Captain Andrew Joseph Bibb, U.S. Army, currently serves as a Civil Affairs Team Leader in the 83d Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bragg, NC. He holds a B.S. in Government: Politics & Policy and an M.A. in Public Policy from Liberty University. Before becoming a Civil Affairs Officer, CPT Bibb served as an Infantryman with the 3rd Battalion (Ranger) 75th Infantry and the 3rd Infantry Division. He has completed combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as operational deployments to Bahrain, Latvia, and Germany. His Small Wars Journal article “Civil Affairs, Winston Churchill, and the Power of Paying Attention” was featured by the US Senate in the Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 131.