The United States is currently facing a wide range of complex threats that require a combination of unique resources and responses beyond those that a single U.S. Government department or agency can provide. Despite the wealth of capabilities and expertise spread throughout the government, its departments and agencies generally do not plan and execute together to achieve the best effect. Lessons from multiple U.S. operations point to this core deficiency, described as “the inability to apply and focus the full resources and capabilities of the [United States] in a concerted and coherent way.”1The combined differences in organizational structure, mandates, authorities, culture, and overall purpose provide collective challenges that can cause missed opportunities and disjointed efforts in operations that have an adverse impact on the Nation’s security and interests.2
Operations in Iraq from 2003 through 2006 illustrate this problem. While relationships between senior military and civilian leaders generally improved over time, the different U.S. departments and agencies struggled to bring their respective strengths and resources to bear on the counterinsurgency (COIN) challenges faced in Iraq. The historical competition for leadership between the Department of State and Department of Defense (DOD), as well as the inefficiencies, operational gaps, duplications, and conflicting efforts, were challenges. By late 2006, the coalition’s chance of success in Iraq appeared bleak. Violence against the coalition and different sectarian groups was spiraling out of control, and Iraq seemed on the brink of—or perhaps already engaged in—civil war.
This case study examines the challenges faced by the United States in Iraq from 2007 to 2010 and the ways in which various departments and agencies (primarily DOD and State) learned to work as civil-military teams, progressing from a military lead to a partnership to a civilian lead. This study begins with the 2007 change in U.S. strategy and leadership and discusses how, during COIN operations, Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF–I) headquarters and U.S. Embassy Baghdad laid the groundwork to unify civil-military efforts. The study then looks at the forces on the ground: how they further expanded civil-military partnerships and achieved increased unity of effort. While there were many factors that complicated this mission, success was predicated on MNF–I (later U.S. Forces–Iraq [USF–I]) and civilian-military organizations becoming adaptive learning teams with leaders who drove change.
Laying the Groundwork to Unify Civil-Military Efforts
On January 10, 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq aimed at reducing sectarian violence and providing security for the Iraqi population.3In support of this, President Bush dedicated additional resources, including military forces and Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). The decision was also made to change U.S. senior leadership in Iraq, replacing Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and General George Casey with General David Petraeus.
Both Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus recognized that an integrated, comprehensive approach was required in Iraq. This civilmilitary integration was not simply a suggestion; both senior leaders served as forcing functions to ensure that this integration occurred. Ambassador Crocker stated, “Iraq is so complex, the challenge is so large, and the stakes are so great, that this effort obviously cannot be a military effort alone. It cannot be a State Department effort alone. You’ve got to bring everybody in.”4Furthermore, General Petraeus stated, “There has to be absolute unity of purpose, unity of effort, even if there cannot be and will not be unity of command. And we did set out to achieve that from the very first phone call that we had together . . . and then in all the subsequent efforts.”5
In 2007, the vision to integrate civilian and military efforts into a comprehensive approach was communicated and implemented throughout Iraq. The agreed-upon imperative was the need to secure the population as a foundation for progress across all lines of operation. Security provided the basis for increased confidence, which facilitated reconciliation, enhanced communication between the people and government, increased training and mentoring at provincial and local levels, accelerated reconstruction progress, improved attractiveness for foreign investment, encouraged the return of displaced persons (including professionals who had fled the violence), and accelerated the growth and training of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). While a measure of security was a necessary foundation for progress in capacity-building and economic development, improvements in governance and the economy supported the sustainment of security gains.
Senior leaders implemented the COIN strategy by disseminating guidance and philosophy to lower levels. It was not enough to have a new strategy understood by a few in the Embassy and MNF–I headquarters—the strategy had to be understood and implemented by the military and civilian personnel who were on the ground, translating that strategy into operations and tactics. Guidance was disseminated to civilian and military staffs and organizations in several ways. One way was through interactive sessions, such as the daily battlefield update assessments and periodic Campaign Assessment Synchronization Board meetings. Although these briefings were both present prior to 2007, General Petraeus modified them from PowerPoint marathons to sessions that used fewer slides and included interactive discussions on important issues.6 This change allowed a “cross-pollination” of ideas, as well as facilitated dissemination of guidance for all civil-military efforts. Under General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, these sessions became more of a joint MNF–I and Embassy effort. Moreover, for initiatives where the military and other agencies were involved, these would be briefed by both a civilian and a military representative.7
In 2007, the Embassy reorganized to better coordinate and align the economic initiatives of the various U.S. departments and agencies. Prior, the different departments and agencies all reported individually to the Deputy Chief of Mission, which sometimes led to a less than coordinated effort. As a result of a review by the Department of State Undersecretary for Management, economic efforts were “clustered” under the Coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq (CETI) with the appointment of Ambassador Charles Ries in July 2007.8
Ambassador Crocker gave CETI authority over nine U.S. economic agencies at the Embassy9with oversight for the distribution of assistance resources from the civilian budgets appropriated through the Foreign Assistance Act (such as Economic Support Funds). CETI’s priority was to bring coherence to the U.S. economic strategy in Iraq across the different funding streams, assistance activities, policy engagements, and ministerial capacity-building. CETI facilitated coordination between agencies and aligned the civilian agencies’ efforts with the military efforts. Ambassador Ries was charged with “ensuring that civilian assistance implemented by PRTs or by USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] was consistent with the military programming under CERP [Commander’s Emergency Response Program], and that military and civilian personnel benefited from each other’s information.” On the policy side, Ambassador Ries also helped troubleshoot, working to resolve problems that the military had with civilian agencies in the Iraqi government.10
From 2007 through 2008, MNF–I implemented short-term development programs designed to provide immediate economic and governance impact until more sustainable programs could take root. As security improved, MNF–I efforts became more targeted toward longer term, sustainable economic development. MNF–I attempted to tie its projects and resources to larger capacity-building or provincial development strategies, working with the Embassy to enable the development of the government of Iraq, increasing legitimacy in the eyes of the population. As the situation stabilized even further and the capacity of the Iraqi government grew, MNF–I forces intentionally started to withdraw their resources and “wean” the Iraqis from support, thereby allowing the development of the Iraqis’ own capabilities.
During the summer and fall of 2008, as demand for governance and civil services continued to grow, Multi-National Corps– Iraq (MNC–I) formed the civil capacity Joint Planning Team to develop the MNC–I civil capacity strategy. This team worked with the Embassy’s Office of Provincial Affairs (OPA) and USAID to develop the strategy. The objectives were integrated with those of the Department of State and its PRTs, stating that State would be the supported agency for civil Marines load vehicles in preparation for redeployment after year at camp Ramadi, iraq capacity development in Iraq and that coalition force capacity-building efforts would focus on cementing the security gains made to date.11
Marines load vehicles in preparation for redeployment after year at Camp Ramadi, Iraq
U.S. Army (Liesl Marelli)
In conjunction with its initial planning for Operations Order 09–01, MNC–I formed the Civil Capacity Synchronization Board to integrate all civil capacity-building efforts. Regular attendees at this board included U.S. departments and agencies, MNF–I, OPA, and international organizations such as the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.12
Further enhancing coordination, the relationship between OPA and MNC–I was formalized through a Unified Common Plan. This plan delineated the support MNC–I would provide OPA as “lead US government agency for civil capacity development in Iraq,” providing a “civil capacity common operating picture, shared expectations, synchronized guidance, and prioritized US resources.”13 It further enabled the Multi-National Division and PRT civil capacity efforts by defining how each would develop related plans at its respective level.14
Senior leadership led by example, presenting a united front to external audiences whenever possible.15Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus16 met jointly with the U.S. National Security Council, U.S. Congress and its delegations, and the media.17 They also met with Iraqi leadership, including a weekly meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and weekly dinners with various other senior Iraqi leaders.18
These combined meetings promoted the two senior leaders as partners, helped them to be fully informed of each other’s efforts, and avoided the exploitation of potential seams between them. Subordinate leaders followed their example by making joint appearances and public statements, enabling a coordinated position that included both political and security considerations.19
At the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award to both Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus in October 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summarized the civilmilitary partnership forged in Iraq:
Of course, as both Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus would be the first to say, they’ve achieved nothing alone and everything together. Indeed, the seamless bond that these men have formed is emblematic of the unity of effort that has defined our entire civil-military partnership in Iraq during these two years. Aside from working out of offices that are no more than 30 feet away from one another, the partnership between Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus will be studied as a model of counterinsurgency for decades to come. These two leaders have set the tone at the top of Baghdad.20
Expanding Civil-Military Unity of Effort on the Ground
In 2009, the USF–I Guidelines for Achieving Sustainable Stability directed U.S. forces to synchronize their efforts with interagency partners to strengthen Iraqi political, economic, diplomatic, and rule of law institutions while avoiding temporary “quick fixes” that could undermine long-term institutional viability.21 While strategies, orders, key staff organizations, and processes were developed to support this at MNF–I and Embassy levels, the forces on the ground faced many challenges in further expanding this civil-military unity of effort.
U.S. forces preparing to rotate into Iraq for their third or fourth tour found it challenging to adapt their mindsets to the vastly changed conditions of 2009 and beyond. There were two elements to this mindset change. The first involved the skill sets and understanding required for stability versus COIN operations. The second change was probably the hardest— U.S. forces were transitioning from “being in the lead” during COIN to “being in support” of civil entities during stability operations. This necessitated changes by unit commanders and military training commands to physically and mentally prepare forces for the new environment. The changing training requirements, maintained and distributed by the Center for Army Lessons Learned, were integrated into home station, joint and Service, and in-theater training programs, enabling leaders and units to tailor training to achieve the requisite changes in mindset.
Home station training gave commanders the opportunity and flexibility to tailor their predeployment training program based on unit needs and specific areas of operation. Commanders also leveraged nontraditional training partners to assist. Local university, city resources, border patrol, and the Foreign Service Institute were used to educate staffs in understanding the breadth and complexity of civil-military operations. As a brigade commander noted:
Knowing that we were going to Maysan Province with a large chunk of the Iranian border, it was very easy for us to understand we were looking at border enforcement. There are lots of border patrol agents that have rotated into and out of Iraq. So it was easy for us to go to them and say, “Design for me a three-week program. I can . . .train the leadership to understand the ins and outs of border operations. . . .” We also sent the collective leadership of the brigade and the battalions to the city of Austin, Texas to a civil capacity seminar for about three days, working essential services.22
Joint and Service training centers adapted training to sustain foundational warfighting skills while integrating civil-military operations. The Combat Training Centers (CTCs) placed an emphasis on remaining current and integrating lessons learned into rotational force training. This was achieved through extensive dialogue with deployed units, routine video teleconferences with senior commanders, deployment of teams to Iraq to observe the dynamic operating environment first hand, and use of observer trainers with recent combat experience. Integration of role players, to include Iraqi army commanders, local Iraqi leaders, and Western and Arabic media, further enhanced the realism and complexity of the training environment. These efforts enabled the CTCs to shape training and scenarios to closely reflect the current operating environment. As one brigade commander noted, “What we did at the NTC [National Training Center]—we’re doing 90 percent of it here [in Iraq]. The training base fully supported what we needed to do here. They were exceptionally adaptable in designing the rotation to train on what we needed.”23
In-theater training focused on understanding commander’s intent, civil-military teambuilding, and updating situational awareness. The in-theater training by the COIN and Stability Operations Center (COINSOC) provided units with regionally focused training, to include dialects and cultural nuances, as well as functional training on topics such as rule of law.
Significantly, the COINSOC experience served as a civil-military team-building event between the Advise and Assist Brigades (AABs) and their respective PRTs and Stability Transition Teams, providing a forum for standard operating procedure development and the sharing of best practices and lessons learned. Finally, the forum provided an opportunity to receive guidance directly from senior leaders at both USF–I and the Embassy, promoting a better understanding of the commander’s intent and greater potential for unity of effort. Commenting on the usefulness of the COINSOC experience, a PRT lead stated, “I think the key area for success for us was going to the COIN Center at COINSOC, and just getting to know the AAB commander and his guys before they got here. I had my governance chief . . . and myself at the COIN Academy. . . . We got things straight right away.. . . We just had to get to know each other, and that is why COINSOC was crucial.”24
Finally, it is important to point out that it was not only in the military organizations where mindsets changed. Ambassador Peter Bodde, assistant chief of mission, U.S. Embassy Baghdad, opined in late August 2010 how changes in both civil and military organizations produced a unity of effort and results that were the best he had ever seen:
But now, we’re in a different phase, a transition phase and we’re coming to a whole new mindset. I think, certainly on the DOD side, the leadership that’s been here the last year, all of our interlocutors, they came here knowing that their job was to transition, to come up with the Joint Campaign Plan, to come up with their part of the Strategic Framework Agreement and how that’s implemented. We’re doing the same. But this is new stuff in government. It’s sort of a brave new world. I think what makes it work is we all have a level of professionalism and competence, and respect for each other. It’s probably the best I’ve ever seen between a military, certainly a DOD and State operation. It’s how it should be, but it’s nice to see that. I give total credit for that to the leadership who just insisted this will happen and will be maintained. Not that we always agree. If we always agreed then we probably would not be doing enough work.25
USF–I embedded some of its personnel at the Embassy to reinforce planning capacity where it was critically needed. While USF–I and U.S. divisions worked with the Embassy’s OPA, divisions and brigades worked with PRTs, planning together, developing coherent and achievable goals, and synchronizing shortand long-term civil capacity development. The OPA deputy considered the support provided by the military as vital to success:
[Planning] is not an organic skill set for us [diplomats]. But the military brings it out here and it is superb, fantastic. In fact, they did such a good job here [at OPA] and we were so proud of that work. . . . t was such a huge force enabler that we sat down with [Embassy] management and identified other problems [where we needed planning help]. We asked for more of these [planners]. And they [USF–I] said, “Sure, we’ll put them on loan to you guys. . . .” I don’t know what we would have done without them.26
U.S. forces expanded the reach and reinforced the capacity of the PRTs to enable the development of Iraqi institutions. The civilmilitary team of division-brigade-PRT helped the Iraqi provincial governments, local governments, and ISF connect with the population to better understand local issues and concerns. Major General Terry Wolff, commanding general of U.S. Division–Center, amplified, “We call this the ‘connective tissue effort’ where it is a . . . trinity, where you got the governor, military, and people, and we are in the center. And, we and the PRT are trying to connect all these pieces together, but ultimately we want our linkage to fade out; we want them to connect to each other and they are starting to do that now.”27
These “connective tissue” building efforts were catalysts for creating a demand for good governance from within the population. Crucial efforts included facilitating and building relationships between the Iraqis themselves (government officials, ISF, and the people) and having Iraqis work within their own framework and processes. As one State Department official noted:
[We are] creating a demand in the population for good governance. That demand from the population, if we get this right, will be a continuing influence that years of future Iraqi governments, both local and national, is going to have to contend with. So what they are doing is creating an expectation in the people of Iraq for what a government does. And long after we are gone, if we can get this right, governments of Iraq are going to have to satisfy that demand.28
Brigades and PRTs helped increase the capacity of Iraqi provincial governance, enabling enhanced public services and economic opportunities for the population. The use of demonstration projects, such as greenhouses, center pivot and drip irrigation, and grain silos, achieved high return on investment in terms of civil capacity development. In addition, there were numerous examples of divisionand brigade-specific expertise (engineering, legal, medical) used to reinforce PRT capacity and enhance civil capacity-building efforts.29 All of these ventures allowed Iraqis to see for themselves the advantages that certain concepts and technologies could bring to bear.
U.S. forces’ support of the Embassy and PRTs strengthened American influence with Iraqi officials. The AABs provided regular, secure transport for PRTs, which enabled frequent civilian engagements with the local and provincial leaders, helping build trust, relationships, and connective tissue.
Moreover, AAB expertise and resources were used to complement PRT governance, economic, and rule of law efforts, enhancing influence with the Iraqis. As one PRT lead noted:
The way we are doing the tasks now, they can’t be solely done by civilians. Every movement, every project, every initiative that I do comes from the intellectual concrete of the brigade. . . . We have [the military] in our governance suite downtown. So their next-door neighbor is the governor himself. If he needs something, he walks into the [PRT] governance section. . . . That’s where the coordination needs to happen, not between the PRT and [Brigade Combat Team], but between the [Iraqi government] and [U.S. Government]. By merging all of the [PRT and military] functions to the greatest extent possible, we focused all our coordination.30
Soldiers and Iraqi civilians set up donated playground equipment at school in Abraham Jaffas
U.S. Navy (Michael Larson)
The use of CERP funds became more focused on supporting civil capacity development. The divide narrowed between using these funds to sustain security gains versus the civilian development community focus on longer term, large-scale projects involving improvements to national Iraqi infrastructure. The Embassy and USF–I, as well as the PRTs and brigades, achieved a balance between these two competing priorities. As security improved, forces were able to be more discriminating with CERP by funding projects tied to a long-term development strategy.
U.S. forces also aligned their efforts with interagency, international, and nongovernmental organizations for long-term sustainment and development. With the Embassy in the lead, USF–I supported and reinforced planning, execution, and assessment efforts. The Joint Campaign Plan (U.S. Embassy and USF–I) and Unified Common Plans (PRT and brigade or division) were the guiding documents used, all of which greatly facilitated a whole-of-government approach and unity of effort among all interagency organizations involved. In support of the United Nations, USF–I provided critical logistics, security, and movement of United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq personnel, enabling its humanitarian, reconstruction, development, human rights, and political assistance missions.
While conducting COIN operations during the period 2007–2008, the United States laid the groundwork necessary to better unify civil-military efforts. Relationships, orders, staff organizations, and processes were developed at the USF–I and Embassy levels that resulted in enhanced civil-military capacity. As Operation Iraqi Freedom transitioned from COIN to stability operations, the civilianmilitary teams on the ground further expanded civil-military partnerships and unity of effort. While there were many factors that complicated this mission, success was predicated on MNF–I (later USF–I) and civilian-military organizations becoming adaptive learning teams with leaders who drove change.
Today, although much has been accomplished, Iraq remains a fragile state with an uncertain future. Emma Sky, the chief political advisor to General Raymond Odierno from 2008 to 2010, recently cautioned:
Under the terms of the [Strategic Framework Agreement], the United States should continue to encourage reconciliation, help build professional civil service and nonsectarian institutions, promote the establishment of checks and balances between the country’s parliament and its executive branch, and support the reintegration of displaced persons and refugees. Should Washington fail to provide such support, there is a risk that Iraq’s different groups may revert to violence to achieve their goals, and that the Iraqi government may become increasingly authoritarian rather than democratic.31
Best Practices for Unifying Civil-Military Efforts
What follows is a summary of the best practices for unifying civil-military efforts from 2007–2010. The elements described provide a framework for a whole-of-government approach for other complex contingency operations, and can point to potential ways to institutionally improve interagency coordination from the theater to tactical level.
Civil-military coordination between MNF–I/USF–I and the U.S. Embassy was facilitated by:
U.S. efforts attempted to balance long-term development and short-term support to the population. The appropriate balance of efforts changed over time and by location, depending on the nature of the operating environment. Additionally, as host nation capacity improved, increasing emphasis was placed on supporting the host nation in its reconstruction and economic development. When the environment was kinetic, local short-term projects predominated, trying to generate immediate jobs to provide an alternative to population support to the insurgency. When security conditions improved, projects tended to support longer term growth and development. CERP funding was aligned with PRT goals without undermining nascent host nation institutions. As Iraqi government capacity improved, coalition efforts focused more on enabling the host nation government’s economic development efforts.
Kinetic and nonkinetic activities (referred to later as nonlethal targeting) were mutually supporting. Securing the population provided a necessary foundation for other improvements in governance and economic development. Improvements in governance and economic development sustained security gains.
While unity of command could not be achieved, civil-military cooperation established unity of effort in building Iraqi government legitimacy. This unity of effort was further enhanced by civilian and military leaders at all levels appearing together before all audiences. Regular engagements, both formal and informal, built relationships and encouraged adoption of policies consistent with coalition goals. Senior Embassy and coalition leaders regularly met with senior Iraqi leadership. Similarly, brigades and PRT personnel regularly met with local, district, and provincial leadership. Personal engagement (that is, face-to-face meetings) was used to apply integrated, civil-military leverage in order to combat sectarianism, corruption, and malign influences. Sectarian actors, policies, and programs were countered by private and public persuasion of the responsible leadership, enabled with corroborating intelligence and information. The quality of partnerships drove the effectiveness and the ability to influence.
MNF–I/USF–I and the U.S. Embassy leveraged a variety of sources to maintain situational awareness across the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure domains. Ongoing assessments developed a comprehensive understanding of the changing environment. Sources contributing to these assessments included media, counterterrorism forces, Human Terrain Teams, key leader engagements, routine interaction with host nation partners, bilingual bicultural advisors, and PRTs.
Extensive efforts were made to strengthen ties between the Iraqi national government and its provincial entities. Some approaches brought Iraqi government representatives into the provinces for conferences and discussions with local leaders while other approaches enabled local leaders to meet face-to-face with government officials in Baghdad.
Embassy and coalition representatives worked with the Iraqi government to further economic progress in the country while PRTs and lower echelon coalition forces worked micro-economic initiatives to improve conditions in their local areas.
While the United States wanted to help set the conditions for economic development, it recognized that it was best to let the Iraqis do as much as they could. This increased Iraqi capacity and built legitimacy in the eyes of the population. In 2007, U.S. and coalition representatives began to take a more advisory and supporting role to the Iraqis. As capacity and capability improved, the coalition and Embassy encouraged the Iraqi government and ISF to do as much as they could, while supporting them with enabling capabilities to fill gaps. U.S. entities engaged with the Iraqi government to influence legal framework, policy, central banking, justice, and trade.32
From the beginning of the implementation of the Security Framework Agreement on January 1, 2009, through the end of combat operations on August 31, 2010, there were multiple critical transitions taking place simultaneously and sequentially. These transitions were related to the evolving mission, the ever-changing operational environment, bilateral agreements between the United States and Iraq, normal rotational unit relief in place/transfer of authority events, redeployment of a significant portion of the force, consolidation of headquarters staffs, and the election and seating of new Iraqi officials. While many of the transitions were time-based, USF–I and the Embassy worked diligently to create the conditions required to make the transitions seamless. The conditions and drivers of instability differed from region to region, necessitating varying transition timelines. Strategic guidance and operational orders established transition priorities.
Military staffs, working jointly with the U.S. Embassy, ensured plans were detailed yet flexible enough to be adjusted in the midst of the evolving strategic environment. Each line of operation in the Joint Campaign Plan was analyzed, and the civil-military team determined whether each task, program, project, or relationship would be terminated, completed, transitioned to the Iraqi government, or transformed into a U.S. Embassy responsibility. These efforts identified more than 1,500 functions and/or activities for transfer to other entities.
The civil-military team, seeking to control the narrative, aggressively managed expectations and perceptions. This was accomplished by jointly articulating intentions to U.S. forces, civilian partners, host nation partners and population, regional audiences, and the American public. U.S. forces adopted the mantra “words are weapons”—using specific, clearly defined language to avoid miscommunication. Whenever possible, civil-military teams jointly engaged host nation leadership from strategic/national levels to tactical/local levels. This produced strong, trust-based relationships with host nation partners in order to influence and work through crises. PRISM