Small Wars Journal

Unity of Effort? Or, Command?

Sun, 08/07/2011 - 12:53pm

Download the Full Article

In spite of the outstanding efforts of all our soldiers and civilians in the war in Afghanistan, there are two central problems that continue to reduce our effectiveness there.  First, until recently there has been little continuity between the succeeding joint task force headquarters in Afghanistan -- we have had eleven since late 2001.  Each succeeding joint task force headquarters tends to have a different vision regarding the character of the fight from the one it replaced.  Second, compounding this problem, there is no unity of command in the area of operation (AO) among military units and the various U.S. Government agencies operating on the battlefield, with many of the civilian entities operating without coordinating with the military chain of command.   Both of these problems create operational weaknesses affecting continuity of strategy and execution of operations.  The combination of these two factors creates a pendulum effect in terms of policy and sends conflicting messages to the Afghan populace as well as our own personnel.  Moreover, it creates an unhealthy tension and competitiveness between military and civilian governmental organizations that can cause friction throughout an operation.  Both of these problems are solvable if we modify the way we deploy major unit headquarters and eliminate the ambiguity of command relationships in theater that enable side-stepping the critical principle of unity of command.   This article will address these problems in more depth, and conclude with recommendations to remedy the issues identified.

Download the Full Article

About the Author(s)

COL Michael Forsyth is currently a student at the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA.  Most recently he commanded 2nd Battalion, 77 Field Artillery in the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), which included service in Afghanistan during OEF X.  He has also served as the executive officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) as well as the battalion S3 and executive officer for 4-25th FA in 3/10th Mountain (LI).  He commanded a battery in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and has four combat tours during his service, the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and three tours in Afghanistan supporting the Global War on Terror.  COL Forsyth has also served as an instructor at the United States Air Force Academy in the Department of Military and Strategic Studies.  He has authored two books about Civil War campaigns titled The Red River Campaign of 1864 and the Loss of the Civil War by the Confederacy (McFarland & Co. Publishers, 2002) and The Camden Expedition of 1864 (McFarland & Co. Publishers, 2003).  He holds a masters degree from Louisiana State University and a Master of Military Art and Science from the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS).



Thu, 09/01/2011 - 10:57am

I felt this article was very insightful and spot on, in particular LTC Forsyth's second point. Having commanded two separate companies in Afghanistan, the second of which was served under 4/4 IN, I saw a few of these issues first hand. For example, we had a DOS rep permanently assigned/attached to our company. The major issues that arose primarily dealt with him superseding our military chain of command. For instance, while my rater was a BN Commander, his rater was at the brigade level. Consequently, when he had issues with what we, as a company or battalion, wanted him to do, he had no obligation to talk with anyone at our level. This led to numerous discussions with the BDE Commander that could have been easily resolved at a much lower level if there truly was a unity of command.

This doesn't even begin to address the issues of what his actual mission was. This particular rep felt it was more important to begin an english class for the local kids versus working with the sub-governors on the process of governance.


Fri, 08/26/2011 - 4:01am

I believe one way to improve our unity of effort is to apply a hierarchy to our current COIN lines of effort (LOEs). Currently, our LOEs seemingly run parallel to each other toward a common, intangible, endstate.

If we can just lay it down and say that governance, for example, is the prime LOE and that all other LOEs exist to support governance, then we can in turn consider all organizations involved in LOEs other than governance to be enablers to the governance organizations. For example, if the DoS is in charge of governance and deems that it's impossible to conduct governance-related tasks in Southern Logar due to the security situation, then the DoS can task a maneuver unit in charge of security in that area to focus on the Southern Logar problem set in order to further the DoS's governance efforts.

This would, in my estimation, do two things: 1. It would remove the ambiguity surrounding who "calls the shots" and 2. It would remove the requirement for a maneuver unit commander to interface and conduct government-related tasks (something that, if we're honest about it, maneuver commanders aren't all that great at) in his area of responsibility.

As long as we consider all LOEs to be equal and mutually supporting an ambiguous endstate, then we'll have issues with unity of command, overlapping responsibilities and friction between organizations.

Why mandate a two year headquarters deployment when you can have an indefinite command from a CONUS installation? Two year deployments are simply not sustainable. To be completely candid, the location of the headquarters unit is irrelevant in terms of executing the ground mission because the maneuver element will be carrying out the same orders; it does not matter if the origin of the order is from the AOR or from CONUS.

Flag planting and turf protection is a problem that I do not see going away -- careers are on the line and every commander will do thing their way because they perceive it to be the best way.

Jimbo Monroe

Thu, 08/11/2011 - 2:04pm

In reply to by Ken White

Ken, I understand the problems with Vietnam that arose from the personnel rotation system. What I suggest is the current unit rotation, at the senior headquarters levels, is worse. The current model is essentially personnel rotation with the added headaches of mass knowledge loss and the logistics involved with shuffling units back and forth. Theoretically, a unit would be better because it has had time to cohease into a team; in reality, the current just in time manning means the units are still trying to get basic processes into place during the RIP. The weakness in the personnel system is not academic; turn over rates in staff are well over 30%, and last I remember the goal for MRX was 70% manning. Beyond the organic manning, a significant portion of the staffs are add-on in theater through attached special elements (CA, MISO, EOD, etc), augmentees, and contractors, all of whom have had little to no interaction with the core prior to the RIP/TOA. Couple this lack of team development with the sea change in operations that comes with a RIP/TOA as the new command implements "their plan" and I'd say there's a fair argument that planting the flag pole might be the better option.

Ken White

Tue, 08/09/2011 - 7:29pm

Planting Flags and rotating people should be avoided. Many (but not all...) the problems in Viet Nam stemmed from that model. Rotating units is far better for the people involved and for the gaining command, where ever and when ever.

The problems that LTC Forsyth accurately cites are induced by three factors:

- A dysfunctional personnel system that insists that everyone is a Round peg, regardless of hole shape. One can put a Round peg through a square hole -- but that peg will be smaller than optimum size...

- Parochialism and turf protection adversely impacting unity of effort AND command. That is both an Army and a DoD issue.

- A Theater command staff that apparently adamantly refuses to return units to the area where they previously served. I acknowledge that with the flawed personnel system and a 30% or so turnover per year in most units, that's almost -- almost -- academic. Whether it should be is also a topic for another day.

All those things plus sloppy handling of RIP can be fixed by firing a few people -- except we seem to have forgotten how to do that (because it upsets the Per folks). The Army can fix all those things but the Army has no real interest in doing so due to the transitory nature of the fight, the politically driven and diplomatically / militarily inept announcement that we will soon leave and the lack of strategic purpose in the deployment in the first place

Add to those a societally induced culture of risk avoidance and the recommendations in a good article will not be heeded. Whether they should be or not is another thread.

What is pertinent to this thread is that a strategically flawed and politically marginal campaign cannot be repaired by tweaks. That is especially true if those tweaks do not address the underlying systemic shortfalls and malfunctions.

Someone currently there recently forwarded me a quote with a phrase that bears repetition; "...the mediocracy of professionalism..." He also quoted a slide seen in a the work area of a large Staff:

"We will continue to provide management solutions to this war until victory is ours".

Hopefully -- probably -- that was satire. If not <i>that</i> is scary...

Jimbo Monroe

Mon, 08/08/2011 - 3:53pm

What about commands planting their guidon and rotating personnel? I know this was the Vietnam model; however, the current just-in-time manning model undermines the concerns about unit cohesion that drove CJCS Powell to rotate units in Kosovo--setting the precedent for the current rotation model. Rotating personnel would lessen the massive knowledge drain that occurs every RIP/TOA, as well as smoothing out the radical changes in direction that seem to occur when new units arrive full of vim and vinegar. An additional logistical impact of going to a personal rotation would be to end the RIP/TOA kabuki dance of shipping material in and out of theater.