FORT BENNING, Ga., (Sept. 18, 2013) -- While Congress and the president debate the wisdom of engaging on battlefields across the world, a former British infantry officer has a message for policymakers eyeing future conflicts: Be more specific.

"Shape the narrative. Shape the policy. You've got to be clear about what the objective of the mission is. And not in just broad, abstract terms like 'this is about freedom' because it's taken for granted that we will generically achieve those kinds of aims. Be more specific," said Emile Simpson, during his presentation at the 2013 Maneuver Warfighter Conference.

Simpson addressed hundreds of Army leaders Sept. 12 at the annual forum.
At the political level, Simpson said policymakers must be clear about the objective of the mission and not leave unanswered questions or vague intents for their fighting forces on the ground.

"If you leave those questions ambiguous or unanswered at that level and don't take responsibility to say actually what exactly are we doing, then you are going to cause the military execution of the mission a lot of difficulty on the ground," he said.

Simpson is a three-time veteran of Afghanistan, serving as an Infantry officer with the Royal Gurka Rifles, a regiment of the British army. After leaving military service in 2012, he published "War from the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics," an analysis of contemporary armed conflict drawing from his experiences in southern Afghanistan.

"A lot of the dynamics we are facing in southern Afghanistan aren't a straight fight between us and the Taliban. It is a kaleidoscopic set of powers and interests who are fighting against each other for power and influence, and the government-Taliban fight is somewhere in the middle of that. But we have to understand that wider fight in order to be effective," he said.

The complexity of the contemporary operating environment was a resounding theme among the conference's speakers.

It is critical to understand the complexity, rather than rejecting it or reducing it to simple terms that are artificial or don't really exist, Simpson said.

Simpson gave an example of a corrupt Afghan policeman who was working with the Taliban. From a western view, it wouldn't make sense if you saw them as polarized opponents, but when you understand there are different elements within the insurgency and within the government, then the way you react to both has to adapt, he said.

"We moved in contemporary conflict from a polarized one-side-versus-the-other to a multi-player political conflict environment," he said.