Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Guest Post: The Good Question Man

Dale Kuehl, who posted the "good" question which inspired the last post, has presented a different viewpoint in a comment responding to the response. It deserves to be its own post. Mr. Kuehl (rank unknown) works at the NTC (National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California,) and he feels that the Combat Maneuver Training Centers are doing a good job of preparing units for COIN in-theater. His viewpoint deserves not to be lost in comments.

I have been aware of the progress of the CMTC's in working to provide more realistic COIN training and evaluation. I can also tell you that right this minute, there are PRT's in Afghanistan that are not functioning in conjunction with their maneuver forces. I don't mean coordinating; I mean in conjunction with. I can tell you that there is a unit in Afghanistan right this minute that had a competition going for who could break the most windshields with water bottles during convoys. No shit. I can tell you that after searching for NCOES (Non Commissioned Officer Education System... the people who train Sergeants) curricula that included COIN doctrinal training, I couldn't find any. I think that it's great that the CMTC's are trying hard to make a difference. Hopefully, that will work.

Right this minute, on the other side of the world, there is a man who told the story of being prevented from getting illumination by a battlespace owner a hundred miles away. Right this minute, on the other side of the world, there is a man who witnesses occupation-type disruptive behavior from United States Army troops nearly every time he passes a convoy. My personal experience from the fairly recent past was that American maneuver unit Infantrymen from an "elite" unit couldn't work well with indigenous forces and left a bad taste in many Afghan mouths.

There are very few stories out there of night patrols to secure a village that has been having a problem with night letters, of our forces taking back the night. There are very few stories of COPs set up near a threatened village to provide that 24-7 security and the developing relationship when the Soldiers started to connect with that community. As a matter of fact, Wanat is being used as a cautionary tale against it, and the investigation of the battle at Wanat completely missed the fact that the ANP who were complicit in the attack were not properly engaged prior to the attack. That investigation happened in the past six months.

I'm glad that there are those out there trying to make a difference. I'm glad that Dale Kuehl says that they're doing good things at the CMTC's. That means that we should start seeing effects very soon.

Here's Dale's comment:

I have a bit of a different perspective having spent the past eight months at the National Training Center training units preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Having had the opportunity to work closely with seven different battalions I would say that leadership at all echelons have a pretty good understanding of COIN and not just from reading, but from actually trying to implement our doctrine. I have only seen one unit who had what I would call a counter-guerrilla focus and they had many aspects of COIN within their operational design.

More after the jump... it's worth it

We try to build a scenario for the training unit that requires them to balance both lethal and non-lethal operations. While our scenario includes demonstrations (which I believe relevant since I had to deal with several during my time in Baghdad in 2007) it also includes sectarian tensions, mortar and rocket fire, complex attacks, and of course the various types of IEDs. Units also have to deal with local and provincial government, PRTs, ISF/ANSF, and local police. They have to develop projects along with the local civil leaders and their PRT. We are also placing greater emphasis on partnering with host nation security forces.

We have over two thousand role players to include hundreds of Iraqis or Afghanis depending upon the focus of the rotation to add texture to the environment.

Every battalion commander I have worked with has developed a pretty solid campaign plan which encompasses several lines of effort to include governance, economic development and information operations in addition to security.

We take a hard look at how units are doing on what we have labeled Individual Skills in a COIN Environment which includes negotion skills, language skills, counter IED, counter sniper, and every Soldier a sensor and ambassador.

We also try very hard to stay abreast of latest developments in TTP in theater from both Iraq and Afghanistan and try to incorporate best practices into our training and leader teaches. We try to pull lessons learned from OCs who have just returned from deployment and also try to maintain contact with units in theater. We also send OCs in theater to gather information and best practices. We have included State Department personnel, Law Enforcement Professionals, and the Assymetric Warfare Group to name just a few of the organizations we try to bring into our training.

We have also worked hard along with JIEDO to try to get units to focus not just on force protection to defeat the IED, but to use intelligence and developing relationships with the people to more effectively identify and target the insurgent network.

This training is much more complex and advanced than it was when I came through here with my battalion in 2006 and we seek to improve how we replicate the environment in theater for both Iraq and Afghanistan. Bottom line is I think we have come a long way in understanding the COIN fight and it has become institutionalized in the way we train and prepare units for deployment. While we can't duplicate the environment any unit may face, I believe all the maneuver training centers do a pretty damn good job of replicating many of the conditions units will face and force them to think through complex problems in an ambiguous environment.


  1. Thanks for the in-depth response Dale. I hope all this training plays out in the field and brings about succesful implementation of COIN.

    Take care.

  2. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/11/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  3. Although Mr. Kuehl's optimism is impressive, but, the NTC training for Afghanistan is far from acceptable.

    2,000 incompetent native role-players, OC’s that lack theatre knowledge and don’t understand the operational differences between Afghanistan and Iraq, Subject Matter Experts that have never worked in Afghanistan before, misinformed planners etc. result to an undesirable outcome and a poor quality of the training.

    a. Rewrite the scripts and some useful categories aside from KLE, PDC, and Regional Jirga can be Consequence Management, Disaster Relief Management (recent flood seasons in Afghanistan), IEC or Independent Election Committee and the coordination efforts necessary from the BN to support security related issues.

    b. Be mindful of the proper acronyms used in Afghanistan i.e., PC is Provincial Council (Parliament Member) not Provincial Chairperson, PDC vs. PRDC, ISF vs. ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces). Incorporate the important role of Afghanistan National Development Strategy into the scripts.

    c. Iraqi and Arab role players should not be considered for the high ranking ANA General Officers, Agriculture or Agribusiness Advisors and other important roles nor should they advise on cultural issues due to their lack of country knowledge. Afghan role players with Arabic names or Afghan towns called Medina Wasal are considered offensive to most Afghans. Afghan tribal leaders and village elders are usually more mature and older. The role players that represented them in the scenarios were far too young with no concept of the importance of their roles in Afghan society.

    d. The Afghan role-players’ personal views and beliefs should not be considered as cultural advice. The same is applicable to SMEs (i.e., Afghanistan Cultural Advisors). Their view points should be objective.

    e. To portray a more realistic picture of the environment in Afghanistan, avoid having female villagers dressed in middle-eastern clothing, dancing on the streets, talking and smoking with men, carrying machine guns, dressed as insurgents to carry on a mission. Female suicide bombers have been seen in Afghanistan, but, they were dressed under Burqa and they were foreigners. On the topic of women, Afghan female role players that are observing or attending Afghan official meetings should be dressed modestly and cover their heads with scarves due to the Afghan culture.

    f. It may also be useful to re-examine which roles are best to be represented. For example, some UN or international organizations represented actually have little contact with Battalions, while organizations such as CSTC-A, ETT’s, PMT’s, should play a large role.

    Training units need an opportunity to see and understand what PRTs, NGOs, and International Organizations do in the field. They also need to understand how the PRT and others can be a partner with the maneuver unit.

    Mr. Kuehl, I can’t imagine how poor the training must have been in 2006 if you think this is an improvement. If I would’ve paid for the NTC training out of my pocket in 2008-2009, I would have requested for a full refund…simply to understand the COIN is half the battle; the other half is to get the right training prior to deployment.


  4. Adam, I hope you addressed your issues on your training at the NTC with us before you left. If not please send me specifics at I assume that you came through here in either November 2008 or Feb 2009. One of the challenges we had for the Feb rotation was that it was changed from an Iraq focused rotation to an Afghan rotation just weeks before the MRX. In our internal AARs we identified some of the issues you described and others I'll pass on to our scenario developers. A couple points if I may to address your critique.

    a. Concur on Arab role players playing senior ANA officials was addressed in our internal AAR as well as for cultural advisors. One of the challenges in getting Afghan role players and cultural advisors is there are just not many out there.

    b. Concur also on the age of village elders also noted in our internal AAR and was addressed with the contractor.

    c. Also agree on the dress of the women. Think we did a better job on this in November than in February.

    d. Concur on PRTs and they were a part of the training for both the rotations I worked on.

    If we are missing something in our training please provide us feedback so we can make the training better. One thing to remember is that we cannot duplicate what each unit can expect to see in theater, but we can replicate and stress the units systems and ability to solve problems. While I am sorry to hear that you feel your training was a waste of time, I believe the units that I saw left here with a better feel for their systems and their strengths and weaknesses.

    I also encourage you to maintain contact with us in the training environment. We need the lessons learned and effective TTP that units are using in the field. I also encourage those returning from Afghanistan to consider serving a tour at the NTC or other maneuver training centers to help keep the teams relevant. We do have a number of Afghan vets and we relied on them heavily to help get the rest of the team ready.



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