The Global Warriors

Reflections on the Joint Urban Warrior ’06 Conference

The Joint Urban Warrior ’06 Conference was an opportunity to hear a frank discussion on the current and future challenges in fighting against the more complex battles of the 21st Century. Insurgency, asymmetrical warfare, 4th Generation Warfare, guerrilla war – no matter what your preference is for terminology for the low intensity conflicts encountered in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere throughout the globe, the fact is these conflicts are unique challenges to democratic nations.

Monday’s session consisted of a series of briefings. In attendance were military representatives and a sprinkling of civilian experts from eighteen nations.

The presentations were by no means dominated by the American contingent, but given by representatives of Britain, Canada, Singapore, Israel, New Zealand and Australia. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps discussed the challenges and strategies to deal with “The Long War.” The British presenter gave an overview about the country’s experiences with counterinsurgencies in Malaysia, Aden and Ireland, and stressed that one conflict cannot be equated with the next, as the cultural complexities and different physical terrains exist in each conflict and present unique challenges. The Singaporean presenter showed a flashy video of the city-nation’s developing Urban warfare capabilities. The Israeli presenter briefed on the evacuation of the Jewish settlements from Gaza. The Canadian presenter gave an overview of Canada’s philosophy in fighting insurgencies, and shared the Canadian military’s experiences in Afghanistan. The Australian and New Zealand presenters also shared their views on counterinsurgency warfare, and discussed lessons learned in the East Timor conflict.

Each presentation was followed by a question and answer session. As the session was not-for-attribution (meaning I could not directly quote anyone during the conference without permission), and the presenters and participants were open about shortcomings in the various wars, problems with intelligence and in governmental and military decision making processes.

Perhaps the most interesting debate came after the Singaporean presentation, which stressed technology and ‘kinetic’ (fighting) operations over ‘non-kinetic’ (humanitarian) operations. This elicited several questions and comments about the need to incorporate civil-military operations in urban war fighting and counterinsurgency operations. The audience was quite cognizant the focus on technology and combat alone is not a successful strategy for stability. The hard lessons learned in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Aden, Malaysia, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere are deeply ingrained among the officers in attendance.

The common theme discussed among the presenters were the complex nature or “terrain” of the 21st century battlefield, which includes: terrorist groups (or non-state actors); militias; the physical terrain; interactions with neutral or potentially hostile third parties such Non-Governmental Organizations and the media; the role of religion and culture when dealing with civilian populations, the effect low intensity conflict has on a military geared to fight classical wars; war-fighter skills; the impact and over reliance on technology; human intelligence vs. technological intelligence; and the “information war.”

While the terminology used to discuss the methods to fight a counterinsurgency differ, the concepts are essential the same. For example, the Marines refer to the tactical fight as “The Three Block War” (the close if not simultaneous conduct of combat, stability and support, and humanitarian operations) while the Canadians discuss in terms of the 3D war (the integration of Defense, Diplomacy and Development during combat operations).

I’ll respectfully disagree with my friend Jack Kelly on one of the two points made in his post Elephants in the Living Room. He stated the “role of the news media in the war on terror” was an “elephant that went unrecognized from the podium”. The Australian presentation given on day two of the conference specifically addressed this issue. The presenter stated the media lacks “context” when covering the war, and at times can be a hostile entity on the battlefield and at the strategic level. In fact, the presentation included images of journalists on the battlefield in East Timor. The issue of context is a theme often discussed here at The Fourth Rail (and in fact is the main reason for the existence of this blog), and it was heartening to see our friends from down under echo this sentiment. Other briefs touched on this issue of the media as well, and discussed how the media was, like it or not, an essential player in 21st Century warfare.

I will agree with Jack that there was little effort to define the enemy in terms of radical Islam and determine the scale of the enemy’s reach, but I feel this may have exceeded the scope of the conference. However, at one point during the question and answer session at the end of the U.S. Army briefing on The Long War, it was pointed out that the enemy was radical Islam and Islamic terrorist. The point was made that while Columbian narco-terrorists are dangerous, they do not pose a direct and immediate threat to the U.S. homeland, and therefore are not the primary focus of counterterrorism efforts. When the issue of Hezbollah and their place in this war was brought up, the answer given was “Hezbollah is on our to-do list.”

Day two of the conference consisted of break out sessions or “blue cells”, where small groups met to discuss the issues raised during the presentations. I worked with the cell designated to address the issue of cultural awareness and the military’s need to adapt to the complex nature of the 21st Century battlefield. The cell focused on the need to understand the local and national customs and traditions, religion, language and how to train military personnel and implement outside solutions to maximize success. The group was unanimous in the belief the military needs to develop the skills of the “Strategic Corporal and the Tactical General” in order to succeed. There seemed to be a focus on internalizing the skills within the military, and a reluctance to look outside for solutions.

I explained a good interpreter is worth his weight in gold, and the military should work to have interpreters at the platoon level. I used my experience with the initial negotiation with the Sulemani tribe while I was in Husaybah. The Sulemani tribe fought with al Qaeda in the Qaim region and lost, and was now looking for ways to work with the local government, Iraqi troops and the U.S. Marines. The negotiation to get the Sulemani to attend the region conference was driven by Lieutenant William Oren, the platoon commander at Battle Position Beirut, and “Icy”, the platoon’s interpreter. Lieutenant Oren and Icy did an excellent job as the Sulemani did indeed come to the table. Icy is not just a superb interpreter, but he understood the local customs and what motivate the tribal leaders. Icy, at age 21, acted as both an interpreter and diplomat, and Lieutenant Oren was wise to accept his counsel. But these negotiations may have benefited with the attendance of seasoned diplomat.

We also discussed how the combat units would benefit from “embedding” non-traditional resources such as diplomats, interpreters, and even anthropologists at the tactical level (at the brigade or even the battalion level), much like the model of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams which are used in Afghanistan and are now appearing in Iraq. I advocated that in some cases this should occur at the company level when units are spread over wide areas (such as they are in the Qaim region in western Iraq).

Powerline aptly explains why the U.S. military is internalizing the language and diplomatic skills:

The feeling among too many State career folks is that integrating the military into these PRTs, and working on civil-military matters together with DoD, is allowing “them” into too much of “our turf.” It’s a turf war, which the department is more adept at fighting than a real one. Nobody will say it, but too many around here see themselves sophisticates, who don’t mingle with DoD troglodytes. It’s shameful.

Naturally, some in the department feel that it is “not their job to talk to the masses.” I actually heard someone say that yesterday. Rather, they see their position as more of a 19th century man of leisure, dining with privileged elites.

It should be noted that I did not notice any members of the Department of State in attendance at the conference. The inter-agency battles need to be put aside. We are fighting a war that requires the full resources of our government, and these political battles only task the resources of our troops on the ground.

Again, with thanks to the Wargaming Division of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, and hospitality of Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle at the Small Wars Journal.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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5 Comments

  • Sounds like the conference was very rewarding, Bill. I am sure you gained some new and valuable contacts that will help add further context and insights to your work.
    Keep it up,
    Shawn

  • dj elliott says:

    No State Department participation apparent.
    That is no surprise.
    I would fire them all for non-performance.
    Less than five percent of FSOs I have dealt with were compatent and all of them except the typists are payed on commissioned officer scale…

  • Dave Dilegge says:

    Bill,
    Great meeting you and having you attend JUW 06 – wish you could have made the entire week… Maybe next time.
    Dave

  • Dave Dilegge says:

    Bill,

    Some background on the Joint Urban Warrior program for your readers – my post at the Small Wars Journal (Wed)…

    It was a pleasure to meet Jack Kelly and Bill Roggio and have them participate in Joint Urban Warrior 06 (JUW 06); albeit for a small portion of the overall program. Jack had to depart Monday and I saw Bill off on Tuesday evening.

    The annual JUW program is preceded by a year-long series of what are called “pathway events” that feed and shape the week-long “big event”.

    JUW 04 and 05 were traditional seminar-style tabletop war games that pitted “Blue” coalition forces (Combined Joint Task Forces) against “Red” forces (asymmetric “bad guys”) with a focus on planning for and executing operations in an urban environment. Moreover, these war games concentrated on the “hard part” of urban ops – a complex and fluid Three-Block War.

    “In one moment in time, our service members will be feeding and clothing displaced refugees – providing humanitarian assistance. In the next moment, they will be holding two warring tribes apart conducting peacekeeping operations. Finally, they will be fighting a highly lethal mid-intensity battle. All on the same day, all within three city blocks. It will be what we call the three block war.”

    — General Charles Krulak, USMC

    Both war games also included what was termed “Green” players who represented the indigenous population (non-combatants), the media, U.S. and Coalition governmental interagency other than military, regional and international organizations, non-governmental organizations and others who could influence friendly operations and a desired end-state in a Small Wars environment.

    JUW 06 took a different approach – attempting to take the vast body of knowledge gained through the previous two war games, Emerald Express seminars (insights and observations from operators with Small Wars / Urban Operations experience); and joint, service and other agencies lessons learned and after action reports – and “drill down” on some of the most critical issues to include:

    Urban Operations (Three-Block War / Continuum of Operations)
    Interagency
    Coalition
    Influence / Information
    Cultural Awareness

    Each of these focus areas includes sub-focus areas intended to aid the participants in addressing the most critical capabilities required by a coalition force. For example – urban operations includes counterinsurgency operations, stability and security operations (to include humanitarian operations), training and education, intelligence, the operating environment… influence / information includes counter-IO (countering the adversary’s information campaign), the media…

    The format for JUW 06 is Emerald Express seminars (Sunday – Monday – Wednesday) intended to “set the scene” for the six working groups (Tuesday – Thursday) that have been asked to apply their expertise and operational experience and produce a series of short (1-5 page) “how to think about Small Wars and urban operations” papers for planners, operators, concept developers and students.

    Bottom-line here is the environment we operate in is complex and ever-changing and rather than attempt to create a one-size fits all procedural “check-list” – that may not be relevant from one operation to the next – is to compile the results from JUW 06 into a multi-media based product that addresses the mind-set necessary and critical considerations associated with the conduct of Small Wars and urban operations.

    The JUW 06 multi-media report will include the working group papers, videos of all the Emerald Express seminars (including the healthy discussion and Q&A periods), video interviews of participants, and other material that supports or otherwise reinforces the issues and considerations addressed by the working groups

  • phil says:

    ‘…interactions with neutral or potentially hostile third parties such Non-Governmental Organizations and the media…’
    ‘…to develop the skills of the “Strategic Corporal and the Tactical General”‘
    Perhaps we need to develop the concept and skills of the “strategic citizen”. The citizentry is not hermetically sealed off from the war. Third parties don’t have to be hostile. With our entrepreneurial culture and today’s technology there is no reason why “strategic citizens” can’t create friendly non-governmental organizations and media that can take an active role in this new kind of warfare.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis