“Good Initiative…bad Judgement” This phrase could probably be tattooed on eager privates, second lieutenants and just about all of us on our first graded patrol in Darby phase. It was a semi polite way of saying good job on doing something, but it didn’t work. In the counter insurgency fight, and really with every activity, we have always asked our selves a few questions…what did we plan to do, what did we actually do, did it work? Lately we have broken down these questions into the concepts of “Measures of Performance” and “Measures of Effectiveness”.
I like this concept. As discussed in previous posts, COIN has universal principles with local applications which means you aren’t always going to get it right, and a little trial and error is the nature of the game. The secret is to minimize the error part, and that can only come from constant assessment of both your performance and whether or not they are achieving intended results. Measures of Performance are fairly easy to establish and grade. If you are going to conduct a raid there are fairly well established and definitive steps with which to determine how well you conducted the raid. The complicated part is determining not only the correct measures of effectiveness which can also be fairly simple, but determining the appropriate indicators.
For instance, I may establish as a “Measure of Effectiveness” a decrease in enemy activity within my area…that is simple enough, but what does it really tell me about the situation in my area? If my area is loaded with bad guys that simply pull off activities elsewhere am I really going to claim success simply because the IED that is going off is not in my AO? Furthermore, while it may be easy to count how many IED’s are going off or how many SAF’s I’ve had, these do not comprise the full scope of “enemy activity”. If the primary enemy activity in my area is extortion of local business owners, and I’m patting my self on the back for a marginal decrease in IED attacks I may have achieved a “Measure of Effectiveness” but has it contributed to the overall accomplishment of my mission?
I think it is critical to take the time to establish appropriate indicators before establishing the obvious measures of effectiveness and moving out. While in Iraq in 2008 one we looked at, in order to get a good read on our effectiveness, was the number of people in an area that would talk to us, provide sworn statements, testify etc. In one area we started out with about 2 people, 4 months later we had 8+ and 2 months after that we had up to 15. We went from secret meetings to driving people down to the court house to give testimony, no small accomplishment. Then after one event where the battle space owner released 2 guys that we had caught, before allowing us to explain why extended detention was required, we saw public support in the area suddenly dwindle. We could have counted the number of patrols that we conducted, number of raids that we went on, or number of bad guys captured, which would have all been legitimate stats to keep, but what does that really measure? For instance, if we had captured 5 guys and saw a decrease in the populations willing to speak to us, would we have chalked that up as a win? Of course not, but the problem lies with not taking into account those considerations in the first place. There is a tendency to count those numbers you have the most control over. I determine how many patrols I conduct, KLE’s I go on, raids completed, etc. Even the number of detainees is controllable to some degree, but some of the most meaningful indicators go ignored because they either have not been considered or because the pressure to make numbers is so pressing as to cause units to forego careful analysis in favor of easily quantifiable objectives.
The difficulty associated with determining appropriate measures of effectiveness is not new to the COIN environment. In Vietnam body counts and enemy to friendly KIA ratios were given a great deal of consideration…later we realized that in COIN that was secondary to other population centric considerations, so we started counting the number of wells and schools built. In many cases we traded the sin of over emphasis on kinetic with the sin of over emphasis on non-kinetic. We have a hard time realizing that the real sin is not kinetic or non kinetic but “over emphasis”. To use the stick and carrot cliche, it is all about balance. The establishment of proper indicators will lead to proper measures of effectiveness which will in turn greatly assist with the achievemnt of the neccesary balance of operations critical to effective coin strategy and application. One more point…balance does not mean a moderated approach in all things. Or as someone once put it “Moderation in everything…to include moderation”. There will be times when the town has to be bull dozed. There will be other times when firing back is simply not worth the risk of losing good relations or when you feel more like a public works administrator than a Green Beret; but until the proper indicators are established, and constant reassessment is conducted to determine effectiveness, frustration will inevitably set in as “successful mission” after “successful mission” fails to yield the desired results for the overall mission. In order to identify those indicators more senior commanders are going to have to trust their ODA’s to properly asses a winning strategy for their area. Certain things can and should be established from higher up, but they must be broader in nature, allowing the guys on the ground to determine the best way to carry out the intent, free from arbitrary, numbers based requirements. The time to determine whether or not they can make it happen is stateside, because once in country your ability to control is by necessity severly limited. If we are doing our job training the force to not only effectively execute tactical missions but equipping them mentally to look for the appropriate indicators it will go a long way to producing a force trusted to conduct operations with limited guidance and oversight. the real strength of the ODA lies with the maturity of the individuals which compose it and the trust commanders afford them to carry out the mission. Without those features an ODA is an under-staffed, under-equipped infantry platoon.