Options for Decentralized Local Defence Forces in Iraq & Afghanistan

Patrick Blannin (@PatrickBlannin) is a PhD Candidate, teaching fellow and research assistant at Bond University, Queensland, Australia.  The authors doctoral research focuses on the role and scope of defence diplomacy in contemporary counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.  The author has published a research monograph titled Defence Diplomacy in the Long War (Brill) as well as peer-reviewed journal articles on topics related to transnational terrorism (organisations, funding sources and counter measures).  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  Can decentralized Local Defence Forces (LDF) reliably fill the security void in the Long War (Iraq and Afghanistan)?  Will LDFs such as the Tribal Mobilization Forces and the Afghan Local Police generate or maintain stability until the capability of state forces improves?  Or should such entities remain as a state sanctioned, locally drawn, semi-autonomous component of a formal security apparatus[1]?

Date Originally Written:  January 29, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  April 23, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  From an academic perspective, the author analyses national security issues, and the responses to them, through the lens of a whole-of-government approach.  This approach ensures all the U.S.’ tools of statecraft (DIMEFIL) are utilized pursuant of its national security strategic objectives[2].

Background:  In a perfect world, when the long-arm of the state is unable or unwilling to extend through the entirety of its sovereign territory, effectively filling the security vacuum by calling for a grass-roots approach to security and policing would represent a “compelling argument[2].”  However, the Long War theatres of Iraq and Afghanistan are far from perfect, and for over a decade numerous iterations of so-called Local Defence Forces (LDF, or Local Police Forces, Community Defence Units, Public Protection Force, etc.) have been stood up.  Results are mixed, with often short-term benefits yielding mid-term pain.  For example, the highly vaulted Sons of Iraq (’Sahawa al-Anbar’, the Sunni Awakening) constituted a number of strategically aligned LDFs which combined to facilitate the routing of Al Qa’ida from Western Iraq (primarily Anbar Province)[3].  At the time however, with stories of its recent successes reported around the world, some analysts were guarded in their praise, identifying the short-term security gains in at least some areas, while recognizing “[T]here is little guarantee that these gains will persist, and there is some chance that the strategy will backfire in the medium term[4].”  Similar conversations, and associated apprehension, regarding Afghanistan were occurring before, during and after the 2009 ‘Surge[5].’  The intoxicating aroma of tactical victory soon fades and is replaced by the lingering odour of arms races and power grabs between tribally aligned militias, and the often undermining influence and/or actions of the state.

Significance:  Over the past 16 years, the U.S. and its Coalition partners have encouraged the Iraq and Afghan governments, such as they were, to incorporate LDFs into their national security strategy.  LDFs are designed to contribute to clearing or holding missions as well as local law enforcement in broader stabilization efforts.  Although each theatre offers innumerable differences and associated challenges, one constant remains, that short-term tactical successes are followed by mid-term strategic losses.  A legacy of its Long War experience, U.S. and Coalition civilian and military decision-makers have a ‘better’ understanding of the social/cultural anthropology in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Although lessons have been learned and mistakes addressed, repeating the same flawed approach remains a primary strategic choice, and our expectations continually failed to be met[6].

Option #1:  Firstly, limit the size of LDFs.  Secondly, ensure U.S. and Coalition personnel play a role, clandestinely wherever possible, in the vetting and training process which would allow the U.S. and its partners to identify recruits and influence the operating culture of the LDF.  Additional constraints could include the amount, and type of weaponry supplied, limit or equalize the political influence/politicization of all LDF leadership as well as introducing an enforceable set of operating parameters[7].

Risk:  Attempts to constrain LDFs by limiting their size, political influence, or access to weapons risks undermining the capacity of the LDF to fulfill their objective.  Moreover, a constrained and disempowered force can leverage traditional community relations to operate a shadow or parallel security apparatus which effectively monopolizes the use of violence within their respective area of operations which would undermine broader stabilization efforts[8].

Gain:  Limiting the size and capability of the LDF makes it more able to be managed by the government.  Additionally, introducing a personnel cap in conjunction with more rigorous vetting would create a more effective and perhaps malleable security force.  Standing up an effective LDF may mitigate the role/presence/agenda of existing militias affording tribal leadership the ability to pursue legitimate, non-violent, political activities[9].

Option #2:  Firstly, acknowledge, accept and plan for the inherent challenges and limitations of LDFs[10].  Secondly, increase the tempo of the current, centrally controlled train, advise, assist, accompany, and enable and police force capacity building programs, leveraging the arrival of the nascent U.S. Army Security Force Assistance Brigades and private sector trainers/advisors.  Centrally controlled, locally drawn LDFs can be generated through the existing security, stabilization and capacity building framework[11].

Risk:  Convincing/guaranteeing local militia and populations that their acquiescence to a degree of central government control and/or oversight will not prove detrimental to their local security objectives will be a challenge.  Lack of progress in establishing security creates a security vacuum which nefarious actors will exploit rendering the situation worse than prior to implementing this option.

Gain:  Using the existing capacity building framework expedites implementation of this option.  Moreover, generating requisite personnel should not represent a barrier, with existing militiae and a willing local population providing significant pool to draw from.

Other Comments:  For many, a situation in which locals (including LDFs) governed locals would significantly reduce tensions.  However, this local-for-local governance does not equate with the preferred central government model.  Both options are based on realities on the ground rather than a theoretical construct, thus LDFs such as the Tribal Mobilization Forces and the Afghan Local Police represent a rare triptych.  This triptych is an opportunity to empower in situ populations, reduce the anxiety of the central government, and achieve the stabilization objectives of the U.S./Coalition Long War strategy.  The objectives and concerns of all stakeholders are legitimate, yet they are diverse and need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner.  LDFs do deliver short-term tactical benefits and can positively contribute to the strategic objective of sustainable stabilization in Iraq and Afghanistan[12].

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes: 

[1] Clark, K. (2017). ‘Update on Afghan Local Police: Making Sure they are armed, trained, paid and exist’, Afghan Analysts Network at https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/update-on-the-afghan-local-police-making-sure-they-are-armed-trained-paid-and-exist/; Gaston, E. (2017). ‘Sunni Tribal Forces’, Global Public Policy Institute Report at http://www.gppi.net/publications/sunni-tribal-forces/ ; For a comprehensive list of Article about the Afghan Local Police from Afghan War News see: http://www.afghanwarnews.info/police/ALPnews.htm

[2] Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, defines the “instruments of national power” as Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic, normally referred to as the DIME.  The DIMEFIL acronym encapsulates: Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence & Law Enforcement. DIMEFIL is an extension of the DIME construct that can be found in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (NSCT-2003) and the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMSP-WOT). The NMSP-WOT defines DIMEFIL as the means, or the resources, used for the War on Terrorism (2006: 5) at http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2006-01-25-Strategic-Plan.pdf; For a brief overview of DIMEFIL see: Smith, A.K. (2007), Turning on a DIME: Diplomacy’s Role in National Security, Carlisle, VA: Strategic Studies Institute, pp. 1-17 at https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/PUB801.pdf

[3] Arraf, J. (2014). ‘A New Anbar Awakening’, Foreign Policy at http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/08/a-new-anbar-awakening/; Jones, S. G. (2011). ‘Security from the Bottom Up’, Time at ; Theros, M & Kaldor, (2007) M. ‘Building Afghan Peace from the Ground Up’, A Century Foundation Report, New York: The Century Foundation, pp. 1-60 at http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/4311~v~Building_Afghan_Peace_from_the_Ground_Up.pdf

[4] Hamilton, B. (2017). ‘Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State’, US Army; Kagan, E, (2007). ‘The Anbar Awakening: Displacing al Qaeda from its Stronghold in Western Iraq’, Iraq Report, The Institute for the Study of War & the Weekly Standard, pp. 1-18 at http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/reports/IraqReport03.pdf

[5] Long, A. 2008). ‘The Anbar Awakening’, Survival’, Vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 67-94 at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00396330802034283?needAccess=true

[6] Human Rights Watch. (2012). Impunity, Militias, and the “Afghan Local Police”, pp.  1-100 at https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/09/12/just-dont-call-it-militia/impunity-militias-and-afghan-local-police ; Long, A., Pezard, S., Loidolt, B & Helmus, T. C. (2012). Locals Rule: Historic Lessons for Creating Local Defence Forces for Afghanistan and Beyond, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, pp. 1-232 at https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/09/12/just-dont-call-it-militia/impunity-militias-and-afghan-local-police

[7] Dearing, M. P. (2011). ‘Formalizing the Informal: Historical Lessons on Local Defense in Counterinsurgency’, Small Wars Journal at http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/formalizing-the-informal-historical-lessons-on-local-defense-in-counterinsurgency .

[8] Mansour, R & Jabar, F. A. (2017). ‘The Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraq’s Future’, Carnegie Middle East Center at http://carnegie-mec.org/2017/04/28/popular-mobilization-forces-and-iraq-s-future-pub-68810 ;  Gharizi, O & Al-Ibrahimi, H. (2018). ‘Baghdad Must Seize the Chance to Work with Iraq’s Tribes’, War on the Rocks at https://warontherocks.com/2018/01/baghdad-must-seize-chance-work-iraqs-tribes/

[9] Gibbs, D. 1986). ‘The Peasant as Counter Revolutionary: The Rural Origins of the Afghan’, International Development, Vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 37–45 at http://dgibbs.faculty.arizona.edu/sites/dgibbs.faculty.arizona.edu/files/peasant.pdf

[10] El-Hameed, R. (2017). ‘The Challenges of Mobilizing Sunni Tribes in Iraq’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/59401; n/a. (2016). Militias in Iraq: The hidden face of terrorism, Geneva International Center for Justice at http://www.gicj.org/GICJ_REPORTS/GICJ_report_on_militias_September_2016.pdf

[11] Cox, M. (2017). ‘Army Stands Up 6 Brigades to Advise Foreign Militaries’, Military.com; Cooper, N. B. (2017). ‘Will the Army’s New Advisory Brigades get Manning and Intel Right?’, War on the Rocks at https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/will-the-armys-new-advisory-brigades-get-manning-and-intel-right/ ; Gutowski, A. (2017). ‘Newly created ‘teaching’ brigade prepares to deploy to Afghanistan, FDD Long War Journal at https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/01/sfab.php ; Keller, J. (2018). ‘The 1st SFAB’s Afghan Deployment Is A Moment Of Truth For The Global War On Terror’, Task & Purpose at  https://taskandpurpose.com/sfab-train-advise-assist-afghanistan/  Strandquist, J. (2015). ‘Local defence forces and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: learning from the CIA’s Village Defense Program in South Vietnam’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 90–113 at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09592318.2014.959772?needAccess=true ; Green, D. (2017). In the Warlord’s Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and their Fight Against the Taliban, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017, pp. 1-256.

[12] Al-Waeli, M. (2017). ‘Rationalizing the Debate Over the PMF’s Future: An Organizational Perspective’, 1001 Iraqi Thoughts at http://1001iraqithoughts.com/2017/12/14/rationalizing-the-debate-over-the-pmfs-future-an-organizational-perspective/

[13] Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations. (2017). Operation Inherent Resolve, Report to the U.S. Congress-July 2017-September 2017, pp. 1-126; U.S. Department of Defence. (2016). Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, Report to Congress, pp. 1-106 at https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/Afghanistan-1225-Report-December-2016.pdf ; Hammes, T. X. (2015). ‘Raising and Mentoring Security Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq’, in Hooker Jr, R. D., & Joseph J. Collins. J. J. (eds.), Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War, Fort MacNair: National Defence University, pp. 277-344 at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0030438715000691

Afghanistan Allies & Partners Insurgency & Counteinsurgency Iraq Irregular Forces Option Papers Patrick Blannin United States

Options to Build Local Capabilities to Stabilise the Lake Chad Region

Fulan Nasrullah is a national security policy adviser based in Nigeria.  He currently works for an international research and policy advisory firm.  Fulan tweets at @fulannasrullah and blogs here.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government.


National Security Situation:  Counterinsurgency and stabilisation campaigns in the Lake Chad region.

Date Originally Written:  December 11, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 5, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point Of View:  This article is written from the point of view of a Nigerian National Security Advisor, offering options on the building of key local capabilities in the Lake Chad region to further degrade destabilising non-state armed groups in the region, while fostering stability in the area.

Background:  With the launch of conventional offensives by the Nigerian and Chadian armies in 2015, non-state armed groups in the Lake Chad region and Northeast Nigeria have lost much of the territory which they had earlier captured.  The successes of the regional governments’ conventional offensives have forced the non-state armed groups to return to a heavy emphasis on revolutionary and asymmetric warfare, which the local armies and governments are ill prepared to confront.

The conventional offensive resulted in a situation where local security capabilities, already inadequate, are  increasingly overstretched and worn down, by having to manage multiple security problems over such a wide area.

The Nigerian Army has an estimated 40,000-45,000 combat and support personnel (out of a total 130,000+ personnel) deployed in Northeast Nigeria, in over forty combat battalions.  These include the battalions that make up the in theatre 7 and 8 Divisions, plus those backfilling from 3, 1 and 2 Divisions.  These forces represent the majority of the Nigerian Army’s combat deployable strength, most of whom have been serving a minimum of 2 years of continuous deployment in the Northeast theatre.

However, unlike the much larger Nigerian military, other regional armies involved in this conflict have fewer manpower and material resources to expend.  These less capable forces struggle to combat an insurgency that has proven itself adaptable, and which despite losing conventionally, has sustained itself and progressively gained momentum on the asymmetric front.  The insurgency specifically uses armed groups to offset the disadvantage they suffer in conventional strength, through guerrilla operations, terror, and a heavy focus on information operations and ideological education and propagation targeted at local populations in rural areas.

Weak institutional capabilities, in addition to lack of intelligence and analysis-based understanding of these armed groups, have contributed to multiple conflicting and unrealistic strategies from the regional states, plus enhanced insurgent momentum.

Significance:  United States investment in building local capabilities is a necessity for both the U.S. and Lake Chad regional states, both to degrade active non-state armed groups in the region, and to build, foster, and maintain stability.  Without this investment by the United States, regional states will  be unable to stop the conflict which, though currently at a  strategic stalemate, could turn into a strategic victory for the insurgent groups.

While Jamaa’atu Ahlis-Sunnati Lid-Da’wati Wal-Jihad poses a serious threat to local stability, the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP) is a greater worry for United States’ interests globally and in the long-term.  The power vacuum created by regional states failing to degrade insurgent capabilities[1], thus ceding territory, will create a huge opening for ISWAP and its local affiliates in the Lake Chad, Sahel, and Libyan regions to exploit.  Power vacuums have already been created in the Lake Chad Islands[2], and will be further created as the Nigerian government plans to abandon the rural Borno State[1].

Option #1:  The U.S. invests solely in a kinetic buildup, by establishing a regional infantry and counterinsurgency training centre in Nigeria, in the mold of the Fort Irwin National Training Centre, drawing on lessons the U.S. military learnt in Iraq and Afghanistan, to train local militaries.  A kinetic build up would also involve providing training and funding for more troops and units for the Nigerian and Chadian armies.  These troops would be dedicated to the clearing out of the Lake Chad Islands and areas around the Lake, in addition to training and funding more special operations units with the firepower and mobility necessary to engage in relentless pursuit of insurgents.  Finally, this option would invest in training, funding, and arming already existing local volunteer militia and paramilitary organisations such as the Civilian Joint Task Force in Nigeria, while embedding U.S. advisors with both militia, paramilitary, and regular armed forces units down to the platoon level.

Risk:  Option #1 results in the U.S. de facto owning the war against non-state armed groups in the Lake Chad region.  In the U.S. this owning would lead to deeper engagement in yet another foreign war in an era of President Donald Trump’s “America First,” and increase the risks of more American combat deaths in this region with the accompanying political blowback.  Within the region, Option #1 would increase resistance from local political and military elements who do not want to admit they are incapable of dealing with the crisis themselves, or who may simply be war profiteers not interested in this conflict ending.

Gain:  Option #1 results in the degrading of the military, logistic, and organisational capabilities of ISWAP and Jamaa’atu Ahlis-Sunnati Lid-Da’wati Wal-Jihad and the rolling back of ISWAP’s growing structure in the region.  This degrading and rolling back would place destabilising actors under constant crushing military pressure, increase the tactical performance of local military forces, and use existing volunteer militias to stabilize the government-controlled areas when the conventional military forces depart.  All of the preceding will enable military units to concentrate on offensive operations thus eliminating the ability of global-level actors, e.g. the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, to use bases and ungoverned spaces in the region to attack U.S. interests.

Option #2:  The U.S. invests in a non-kinetic build-up, by helping to establish and expand regional states’ information operations capabilities particularly in electronic warfare, psychological operations, and targeted information dissemination via “Radio-In-A-Box” and other mediums.  Option #2 also includes the U.S. providing training and funding for comprehensive reformations of local intelligence services to create lacking signals intelligence, human intelligence, and intelligence analysis capabilities.  Option #2 will enhance the U.S. Security Governance Initiative programme[3] which seeks to enhance local civil administration capabilities in law enforcement, anti-corruption, and criminal justice, and enhance local capabilities to deliver humanitarian support and government services to communities in the conflict zone.

Risk:  Option #2 reduces emphasis on degrading insurgent capabilities so soft-power efforts are properly funded.  This option would leave the insurgents alone and lead to indirect validation of regional government falsehoods that the insurgents have been defeated and the war is over.  This indirect validation will foster nonchalance and complacency from states of the region, to the strategic advantage of the insurgents. Option #2 will ensure de facto reduction of pressure on the insurgents, which gives room for the insurgents and their external allies to exploit the resultant power vacuum.

Gain:  Option #2 strengthens local governance capabilities, increases civil stability in government controlled areas, and is less expensive, less visible, and shorter term in an era of “America First.”  Option #2 would greatly reduce the risk of American combat deaths.

Other Comments:  None

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Carsteen, Paul and Lanre, Ola. (December 1, 2017) “Nigeria Puts Fortress Towns At Heart Of New Boko Haram Strategy”, Reuters, retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nigeria-security-borno/nigeria-puts-fortress-towns-at-heart-of-new-boko-haram-strategy-idUSKBN1DV4GU

[2] Taub, Ben (December 4, 2017), “Lake Chad: World’s Most Complex Humanitarian Disaster”, New Yorker Magazine, retrieved from: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/04/lake-chad-the-worlds-most-complex-humanitarian-disaster

[3] Chalfin, Julie E. and Thomas-Greenfield, Linda. (May 16, 2017), “The Security Governance Intiative” PRISM Vol 6. No.4, Center For Complex Operations, National Defense University (US) retrieved from: http://cco.ndu.edu/News/Article/1171855/the-security-governance-initiative/

Africa Fulan Nasrullah Insurgency & Counteinsurgency Irregular Forces Lake Chad Option Papers United States