Strategic Scouts for Strategic Corporals
The era of the "strategic corporal"
is here. . . . The soldier of [today] must possess professional
mastery of warfare, but must match this with political and media
sensitivity. -Lt. Gen. Peter F. Leahy, Australian Army1
When U.S. Army conventional forces deploy in
roles requiring extensive personal contact
with indigenous people, there is often little nuance or subtlety
about it. The Army seeks to dominate every facet of conflict-as
it should. During operations, we profess noble, righteous intentions
based on our values and beliefs and assume that if indigenous people
do not immediately support our efforts, they will in time. History
demonstrates, however, that fallacies abound in this assumption.
While planners might correctly assess negative
local attitudes and opinions about operations, they have not been
effective in weighing the strategic effects these factors have,
nor have they suitably considered how initial local support can
erode over time. We should consider why this happens and the role
culture can play in such erosion. People in different cultures have
values and beliefs unlike our own and do not see our principles
as universal. We can see evidence of this in U.S. Army experiences
in Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Historically, the Army and other armed forces
worldwide have been about the profession of applying extreme pressure
or violence to achieve an end, but the warfighter's paradigm has
changed because of the effects of mass media and global interconnectivity.
Since the Vietnam War, U.S. military operations have largely occurred
in full view of the public. As a result, the Army must change if
it wishes to maintain strategic legitimacy in faraway lands. We
simply cannot afford to collaterally alienate the people we are
trying to influence, liberate, protect, or aid.
In addition, there can be no tolerance for
the cultural ignorance of media-amplified "strategic corporals"
(junior officers and soldiers at the forward edge of the battle
area) whose words and actions can affect strategic outcomes. The
information genie is out of the bottle, and from now and into the
future, Army strategic legitimacy will be closely examined. We cannot
fall victim to self-inflicted death by a thousand cuts. If there
was ever a period in the Army's history to consider the use of foreign
area officers (FAOs) at the tactical level, this is it.
Throughout history, conventional military forces
have rarely fared well operating in regions where indigenous cultures
are significantly different from their own. The Army is no exception
to this rule. When conducting such operations, we assume great risk
unless we choose a course of change. Two issues arise when considering
the problem. First, when conventional forces deploy, soldiers or
groups of soldiers will innocently or blatantly commit publicized
acts of such grievous cultural ignorance as to erode strategic legitimacy
and credibility. Second, planning staffs will produce faulty analysis
and develop estimates and plans that violate the cultural and societal
demands of the environment in which they operate and erode strategic
legitimacy and credibility. These erosive effects in the contemporary
operating environment (COE) are largely preventable because they
occur where clear, concise tactical plans and rules of engagement
(ROE) exist, which presents a quandary for tactical Army units because
it reveals that plans and ROE lack depth and breadth and are not
well suited for the cultural paradigm of a COE permeated by media
influences. FAOs can bridge such strategic gaps at the tactical
level to create second- and thirdorder results that positively affect
the entire tactical spectrum.
[T]he "clash of civilizations"
theses recognized that the world isn't culturally homogenized,
and that cultural differences still matter. -Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell2
The Vietnam War was the last major prolonged
conflict in which conventional U.S. forces regularly interacted
with indigenous people having a culture radically different from
our own. Conventional forces won the tactical engagements but were
unable to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, largely
because tactical planners did not understand or sufficiently consider
indigenous Vietnamese culture and motivations.
In the eyes of the Vietnamese, the war was
a nationalistic struggle having little to do with ideology. However,
the United States fought the war as if it were an ideological struggle
for hearts and minds. U.S. conventional forces applied a "limited
war" doctrine, and opportunities to win over Vietnamese hearts
and minds became lost in the fray.3
Fields, crops, homes, and roads were destroyed in the interest of
combating an ideological enemy rather than a nationalistic one.
Elderly villagers were often treated with disrespect because Americans
did not understand their stature within their communities. The Vietnamese
perceived this disrespect as an insult to the entire village.
General William Westmoreland once remarked
that "[h]uman life is cheap to the Asian. They don't feel the
same way about death that we do [sic]." This quote was used
in the antiwar film, Hearts and Minds, and was contrasted against
video footage of a despairing Vietnamese widow trying to throw herself
into her husband's grave.4 Unfortunately,
many enemies were needlessly created because of the lack of Vietnamese
cultural awareness rampant throughout the entire chain of command.
We must be cautious of behaving in similar
ways in Iraq because we run the risk of eroding our legitimacy and
credibility there. Last year, images of a U.S. soldier searching
a suspected insurgent in front of a CNN camera crew were replayed
extensively in the Arab world. From the U.S. soldier's perspective,
the situation was about what he needed to do in the face of hostile
combatants. In the Arab world, it was about an armed U.S. soldier
with his foot firmly planted on the back of an Iraqi man writhing
in the dirt outside of his home in full view of Iraqi women and
his family members. Americans perceived tactical utility in the
action; Iraqis and Arabs saw a patently offensive act that reinforced
their belief that U.S. and Zionist forces are out to dominate and
humiliate the Arab world.
In November 2003, an article in Newsweek reported
how an Army sergeant rebuffed an appreciative Iraqi police chief
for attempting to plant kisses on his cheek. The sergeant said,
"He was gonna give me that Arab kiss thing. I said, 'I don't
kiss, buddy. How ya doin'?"5 The
sergeant perceived a threat to his masculinity; Iraqis and Arabs
saw a slap in the face.
When brought to the world's attention by the
global media, such incidents tremendously affect the U.S. Army's
legitimacy and credibility. Even when the media is not present,
such incidents create negative sentiments that cancel out the good
deeds U.S. soldiers perform daily. The strategic reality is that
such humiliations only need to happen once from the Iraqi and Arab
perspective for us to wear out our welcome.
When we are at war, we must think and act
differently. We become more flexible and more adaptable. -Chief
of Staff of the Army General Peter J. Schoomaker6
In the COE there is little or no time for a
learning curve. Conventional forces must be able to hit the ground
running to achieve the maximum tactical return in an area of operations
while, at the same time, not alienating the indigenous population.
Some success stories have come from this front. "You have to
achieve very rapid progress to show the people your intentions are
good," said Major General David Petraeus during his tenure
commanding the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Mosul.7
As early as august 2003, the 101st employed the less intrusive "cordon
and knock" method to canvass communities instead of the "cordon
and search" method.8 Although there
is no way to quantify this, I am sure residents within Petraeus's
sector appreciated not having their front doors knocked down in
the middle of the night.
By contrast, another division commander in
Iraq said it took his unit 8 months simply to understand the environment
in which they were operating. His organization was often unsuccessful
in analyzing intelligence gathered and was not capable of seeing
through the fog. I interpret this as meaning that much of his problem
centered around an absence of cultural and linguistic expertise
on his staff.
Acknowledging his own organization's shortfalls
in Iraq, a third senior commander said every Army division should
deploy with a team to advise the commander on strategic issues.
In the end, these senior commanders' experiences underscore the
need to adjust operations and enhance current strategic capabilities
at the tactical level. Adjusting operations is only common sense;
enhancing current strategic capabilities is an imperative.
Ultimately, the Army must ensure its tactics
meet COE requirements. It doesn't work the other way around. Failure
to do so will not bode well for strategic operations. Political-
and media-savvy opportunists, as well as enemy forces, will capitalize
on such shortcomings as evidence of a failed strategy.
A Possible Solution
Our values are sacrosanct. But everything
else is on the table.-Schoomaker9
According to U.S. Department of the Army Pamphlet
600-3, Commissioned Officer Development and Career Management: "The
Foreign Area Officer functional area is designed to train and develop
commissioned officers to meet worldwide Army requirements for officers
possessing regional analysis expertise. It provides officers with
opportunities to develop skills required for conducting and analyzing
military activities that have economic, social, cultural, psychological,
or political impact. FAOs combine regional expertise, language competency,
political-military awareness, and professional military skills to
advance U.S. interests."10 This
skill set is precisely what is required at the division/unit of
employment (UEx) staff level. With the officer branches and enlisted
military occupational specialties in today's Army inventory, we
cannot get a better strategic capability at the tactical level,
unless the Army resources it from nothing.
Although FAOs are considered strategic- and
operational- level assets, they are tactically competent and able
to serve in strategic roles at the tactical level. While they spend
most of their careers in strategic- level positions at embassies,
combatant commands, or in Washington, D.C., (hence the nickname
"Strategic Scouts"), all FAOs have successfully commanded
tactical units at the company level; a few have commanded battalions
and brigades; and many are also command and staff and senior service
college graduates. Tactical experience and knowledge are not shortcomings
on the typical FAO resume.
The FAO training model develops regional specialists.
FAOs complete intensive initial language studies that last from
6 to 18 months, depending on the FAO's region. For a FAO to be linguistically
qualified, he must achieve a 2/2/2 level of fluency (limited working
proficiency in listening, reading, and speaking) by the Defense
Language Proficiency Test standard. Many FAOs attain scores of 3/3/3
(professional linguistic abilities in listening, reading, and speaking)
or higher.11 All FAOs have regionally-oriented
master's degrees, and some have doctorates. Their studies usually
focus, in part, on regional strategic considerations.
FAOs undergo in-country training (ICT) for
roughly 12 to 18 months, depending on their region. The training
involves attending foreign command and staff colleges; acquiring
advanced language and cultural skills; and participating in host-nation
think tanks. During ICT, FAOs travel extensively within their assigned
region to become intimately familiar with the culture and language.
Once FAOs complete the extensive training requirements, their postings
can also entail broad interface with U.S. Embassy staff members
and personnel from other U.S. Government agencies.
With this experience and background, FAOs on
a division/UEx staff can provide a degree of analytical refinement
commanders might lack. For example, with the G2 intelligence officer,
the FAO could improve intelligence analysis using his detailed knowledge
of cultural factors, thus minimizing the need for educated guesses.
Also, the FAO could provide sound, predictive analysis of civilian
reactions and responses to U.S. operations. Because second- and
third-order effects as a result of the G2's analysis abound throughout
the rest of the staff's products and those of subordinate commands,
these capabilities are critical.
With the G3 plans and operations officer, the
FAO's expert insight could enhance planning and training to take
the cultural paradigm of the COE into account in selecting appropriate
tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP)-potentially the FAO's
most important contribution. FAOs can also help conventional units
train and operate in a manner conducive to establishing positive
relations with indigenous peoples and, thus, help us understand
how they perceive our presence. Remember, part of the mission is
about sustaining strategic legitimacy and credibility.
With the G4 logistics officer, FAOs could be
instrumental in getting the most logistical support out of the host
nation in mutually beneficial ways.
With the G5 civil-military affairs and G7 information
operations officers, the FAO could help implement civil-military
operations, which would help fill the needs of local populations,
and information operations, which would have a decisive, positive
In short, including FAOs on the division/UEx
staff is precisely what commanders at that level need, particularly
since their organizations typically have the most firsthand interaction
with indigenous peoples.
How would a FAO serve on the division/UEx staff?
I envision a cell of FAOs with backgrounds that correspond to their
areas of operations. (See box.) For example, if a division/UEx is
operating in Iraq, the cell would consist of four to six 48Gs (Middle
East/North Africa FAOs). This same model would apply in the event
of a division/UEx deployment to other regions; for example, two
to four 48Hs (Northeast Asia FAOs) combined with two 48Fs (China
FAOs) in the event of conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
The lead FAO in each cell would ideally be
a lieutenant colonel, with three to five FAO majors on his staff.
This configuration would create ideal conditions for horizontal
division/UEx staff coordination and integration and provide the
ability to develop a habitual relationship with maneuver brigades/units
of action (UA) (one FAO major per maneuver brigade/ UA).12
The cell could be modular, although I believe a full-time organic
cell within the division/UEx staff would be far more beneficial.
Where would these FAOs come from? In light
of the training overhead associated with FAO qualification, this
is a valid question. I see three options. The first would be to
assign FAOs on a temporary basis to division/UEx staffs as required.
The drawback to this is they would likely be pulled away from critical
strategic- or operational-level billets without any qualified backfill
Second, some argue that we might have too many
European FAOs (48C) because of a lack of post- Cold War global FAO
redistribution. If true, the Army should consider reallocating FAOs
in Europe, or elsewhere, into regions where there might be a greater
strategic need for them.13 This would
provide the Army with a more relevant and less redundant FAO population
and create more FAOs with appropriate regional skills for service
on division/UEx staffs. There are two drawbacks to this, however.
The Army would be "taking from hide" while potentially
leaving critical vacancies elsewhere. Also, the Army might have
to retrain reassigned FAOs. If the Army manages this judiciously,
however, it could minimize this by assigning FAOs to regions suitable
to their existing language skills, such as assigning a Frenchspeaking
48C to a 48J Sub-Saharan African country where French is the national
Another option would be to simply assess and
train more FAOs; assign them redundantly in newly created positions
on division/UEx staffs; or post them to the Army Reserves so they
could be tapped when needed. The major drawback is the original
problem of training overhead, particularly as it relates to time.
Nonetheless, this might be the best course of action.
In a perfect world with enough divisions/UExs
to cover the entire range of global contingencies, we could assign
specific divisions/UExs to specific flashpoints. In this event,
I would suggest permanent billets for a FAO cell on each division/UEx
staff. For example, if the 25th Infantry Division (Light) adopted
a strictly Asian orientation, then its FAO cell would reflect this
(an appropriate mix of 48Ds, 48Fs, 48Hs, and 48Is, as required).
But, with the current expeditionary posture and force structure,
this goal might be difficult to achieve. Even so, we must mitigate
the perception that conventional forces are needlessly heavy-handed
in operations abroad, especially where indigenous cultures are significantly
different from ours. I believe the gains achieved by posting FAOs
onto the division/UEx staff far outweigh the resourcing challenges
associated with getting them there. This is a concept that should
not be undersold, particularly in an era when "everything .
. . is on the table."
A Case Study
Operation Mountain Sweep demonstrates how to
and how not to conduct tactical operations and how to deal with
the strategic fallout that occurs when tactical units are not culturally
adept. The operation, which took place south of Khost and Gardez,
Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border from 18 to 26 August 2002,
has generally been considered a success. Soldiers from the 82d Airborne
Division and other conventional units were roundly commended for
their professionalism.14 However, in
an article titled "I Yelled at Them to Stop," Newsweek
reporter Colin Soloway described the frustrations of a Special Forces
(SF) Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA).15
The unit had operated in the region for some
time and had developed a close rapport with local villagers. During
a routine search, members of ODA arrived at the home of an elderly
male villager, knocked on his door, and explained that they were
searching for weapons. The elderly man allowed the ODA to enter
his home after he sent the female inhabitants of the house to another
room, out of sight of the strange men in accordance with a local
custom. After the search, the elderly man invited the ODA members
to stay for tea and conversation. On their departure, the ODA members
thanked the gentleman and moved on, leaving the inhabitants with
their pride and dignity intact.
Moments later, the ODA watched as several 82d
Airborne Division soldiers came to the same home, kicked down the
front door, and forcibly entered the house. The ODA commander shouted
for them to stop, but the elderly man who had just served tea was
slammed to the ground by the soldiers from the 82d, who also attempted
to frisk the women. The ODA commander sprinted back to the scene
and ordered the soldiers to disengage. The ordeal was over almost
as quickly as it had begun. However, the women were furious, and
the elderly man had been dishonored and humiliated.
According to SF sources, local villagers and
officials viewed Operation Mountain Sweep as a resounding failure.
Local opinions often matter most, and their opinion was that Army
units were successful only at "terrorizing innocent villagers
and ruining the rapport that Special Forces had built up with local
One of the operation's primary targets was
an al- Qaeda financier supposedly operating in the area. Apparently,
the area's inhabitants tipped him off and he escaped capture. The
commander of Operation Mountain Sweep was quoted as saying that
local village elders "seemed to have some knowledge of us coming."17
Did village elders warn the suspected financier as revenge for inappropriate
treatment by U.S. soldiers? If so, this certainly demonstrates how
cultural ignorance can play a dramatic role in eroding U.S. legitimacy
and credibility and increasing dangers in the threat environment.
In retrospect, having an experienced 48D South Asia FAO on the commander's
staff (detailed from the higher division/ UEx headquarters) would
have been invaluable.
Incidentally, every year one 48D FAO receives
ICT at the Pakistan Army Command and Staff College. Most FAOs who
attend develop a basic understanding of the Pashtu language and
culture common to Northwestern Pakistan and the Khost/Gardez region
of Afghanistan. A FAO such as this, particularly someone with experience
working with Special Forces, could have advised the commander how
to deconflict TTP and ROE with ODAs in the area so as not to lose
the hearts and minds of local inhabitants.
As the organization's regional expert, the
FAO would be ideally suited to provide the commander insight into
the cultural dynamics of the region to better assess, visualize,
and understand the environment. But as it stands, a humiliated old
man with a broken-down front door is a living reminder of the day
when the Americans came to town.
Like it or not, we are in the era of the "strategic
corporal"-when the actions of privates, specialists, corporals,
and planning staffs at the tactical level can have a distinct strategic
effect on ongoing operations and can set the strategic tone in lands
where we might need to deploy in the future.18
The Army must address this issue thoughtfully to build legitimacy
and credibility abroad. Including FAOs on division/UEx staffs can
produce desirable outcomes with direct implications for the actions
of fellow staff members, subordinate commanders, and soldiers at
the lowest levels. In the Global War on Terrorism, we must ensure
that the past is not prologue.
1. LTG Peter F. Leahy, Chief
of Army, Australian Defence Force, speech given at the Defence Management
Seminar (Strategic and International Policy Division), Canberra,
18 October 2002, on-line at <www.defence.gov.au/army/PUBS/CAspeeches/20021018.
pdf>, accessed 11 February 2005.
2. Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell, remarks on the occasion of George Kennan's 100th
birthday celebration, Princeton University, New Jersey, 20 February
2004, on-line at <www.princeton.edu/pr/home/04/0220_powell/hmcap.html>,
accessed 11 February 2005.
3. Walter A. McDougall,
"Teaching the Vietnam War," proceedings of the History
Institute for Secondary School Educators and Junior College Faculty,
History Academy, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 6-7 May 2000,
on-line at <www.fpri.org/footnotes/063. 200006.mcdougall.teachingvietnamwar.html>,
accessed 11 February 2005.
4. Michael O'Malley,
The Vietnam War and the Tragedy of Containment, the Center for History
and New Media, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, on-line
accessed 30 May 2004.
5. Evan Thomas, John
Barry, and Christian Caryl, "A War in the Dark," Newsweek,
10 November 2003, on-line at <www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3339591/site/newsweek/>,
accessed 27 February 2005.
6. CSA GEN Peter J.
Schoomaker, speech, reprinted in The Fort Huachuca Scout, 1 August
2003, on-line at <http://huachuca-www.army.mil/USAG/PAO/2003scouts/
The%20Scout%2014%20Aug%2003.pdf>, accessed 11 February 2005.
7. Trudy Rubin, "A
Textbook Case in Rebuilding Iraq," The Philadelphia Inquirer,
October 2003, on-line at <www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmtpi/is_200310/
ai_kepm284158>, accessed 11 February 2005.
8. LTG Ricardo Sanchez,
Commander, Coalition Ground Forces, press briefing, Iraq, 23 July
2003, on-line at <www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iraq/2003/07/
iraq-030723-dod01.htm>, accessed 11 February 2005.
9. Greg Jaffe, "A
Maverick's Plan to Rebuild the Army is Taking Shape," Wall
Street Journal, 12 December 2003, on-line at <www.usma.edu/publicaffairs/directorscorner/
WSJSchoonmakerDec03.htm>, accessed 11 February 2005.
10. U.S. Department
of the Army Pamphlet 600-3, Commissioned Officer Development and
Career Management (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office [GPO],
1 October 1998), 262.
11. U.S. Army Regulation
350-16, Total Army Language Program (Washington, DC: GPO, 13 March
1998), 4, 11.
12. Peter A. Wilson,
John Gordon IV, and David E. Johnson, "An Alternative Future
Force-Building a Better Army," Parameters (Winter 2003-04):
13. BG Michael A.
Vane and LTC Daniel Fagundes, "Redefining the Foreign Area
Officer's Role," Military Review (May-June 2004): 15-19.
14. Jim Garamone,
"Coalition Forces Complete Operation Mountain Sweep,"
Armed Forces Information Services News Articles, on-line at <www.pentagon.mil/news/Aug2002/
n08262002_200208261.html>, accessed 11 February 2005.
15. Colin Soloway,
"I Yelled At Them To Stop," Newsweek, 7 October 2002,
16. Ibid., 37.
17. Bill Skinner and
Ryan Chilcote, "Operation Mountain Sweep Nets Taliban Weapons,"
26 August 2002, on-line at <http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/central/
08/26/afghan.operation/>, accessed 11 February 2005.
18. Sage Stossel,
"In The Line Of Fire," interview with journalist Robert
D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Online, on-line at <www.theatlantic.com/unbound/interviews/int2004-06-15.htm>,
accessed 11 February 2005.
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