(U//FOUO) U.S. Marine Corps Civil Affairs Detachment Operations in Afghanistan Lessons Learned

Civil Affairs Detachment Operations in Support of Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan

  • 30 pages
  • For Official Use Only
  • June 20, 2010


(U//FOUO) MEB-A civil affairs (CA) was organized as a primary MEB staff section under the MEB-A Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations (G-9), vice a stand-alone CAG with a commanding officer. Its subordinate elements, including 4th CAG, Det L, conducted field operations. Det L Marines were assigned in general support (GS) of MEB-A and direct support (DS) of Regimental Combat Team (RCT) 3 and subsequently RCT 7 following the RCT relief in place (RIP) in November 2009. The Det L headquarters element GS team supported units that did not fall under the RCT but who were still responsible for battlespace, such as the MEB-A Brigade Headquarters Group (BHG), 3d Battalion 11th Marines (3/11) (an artillery unit), and 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion.

(U//FOUO) As part of the pre-deployment training (PTP), 4th CAG, Det L participated in a portion of Enhanced Mojave Viper (EMV) with their supported battalions. This was important in terms of preparing for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in Afghanistan and establishing and maturing working relationships. Such training and relationship development should continue to be replicated. However, due to the compressed timeline between activation of the reserves and deployment, Det L was divided into two groups, with each group alternating between participating in two weeks of EMV and completing other mandatory pre-deployment training. Future CAG deployment cycles should be structured to enable all CA Marines to participate in the entirety of EMV with their supported battalions.

(U//FOUO) Insufficient communications resources and connectivity hindered Det L’s ability to conduct command and control, share information, and submit reports. This included a lack of radios with sufficient range, land-line connections, and computer networks and was particularly limiting given that Det L CA teams supported units dispersed throughout the MEB-A area of operations (AO), making regularly scheduled, in-person coordination infeasible.

(U//FOUO) MEB-A and 4th CAG attempted to determine sources of local instability and develop effective response plans employing the tactical conflict assessment and planning framework (TCAPF) methodology developed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and which was adopted by the U.S. Army and the MEB. TCAPF focuses on assessing local measures of stability and sources of instability by directly surveying the population. The MEB derived metrics from TCAPF in an attempt to target identified sources of instability and assess the conditions for transition of responsibilities to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA).

(U//FOUO) Fourth CAG deployed 37 Marines and sailors for Det L, many of them E-4 and below with varying degrees of CA training and experience, to cover the MEB-A AO, which included three provinces and seven districts consisting of 58,000 square miles of territory. This required restructuring the CA Det into teams as small as one or two Marines serving at remote outposts. The small size of the teams, often composed of junior personnel, combined with mobility challenges experienced by all MEB-A units was a significant limiting factor in the overall impact of the MEB CA mission.

(U//FOUO) Det L’s ability to engage with local Afghan populations, assess and prioritize needs, conduct civil-military operations (CMO) planning, advise unit commanders, and respond with funds necessary to complete projects requested by local leaders supported MEB-A operations and facilitated the MEB’s ability to leverage “money as a weapons system”. These were the primary means by which MEB-A CA contributed to stability and COIN operations.

(U//FOUO) Det L had limited RIP or face-to-face turn-over upon their May 2009 arrival in-country. Approximately half of the Det L CA teams only had a few hours to conduct turn-over with the units replacing them during their RIP in December 2009. As a result, these teams were unable to directly introduce individual replacements to Afghan key leaders or provide a definitive transition of the relationships they had established during the course of their seven month deployment. These personal relationships are critical to successful COIN operations and time must be allocated to ensure they are managed effectively during RIP or other personnel transitions.

Key Points:

  • (U//FOUO) The two month period between mobilization and deployment was insufficient time to optimize pre-deployment training. The general consensus among 4th CAG, Det L personnel was that another 15 days would have enabled Det L to conduct more advanced infantry skills training and more in-depth civil affairs and cultural training, particularly with the junior Marines.
  • (U//FOUO) Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) was the primary Civil Information Management (CIM) tool and it was intended that all CA project and key leader engagement (KLE) reports and critical infrastructure data be loaded into CIDNE. Det L also used SharePoint as a platform to disseminate and share information. However, the effectiveness of both of these tools was degraded by communications connectivity limitations, including limited communications equipment and network architecture at the COPs and other remote positions and a lack of computers or access to computers.
  • (U//FOUO) Det L used Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds as the primary mechanism for using money as a “weapons system” to help achieve MEB-A’s desired effects. CA Marines were designated as paying agents (PA) and project purchasing officers (PPO). CERP funds were the most readily available and provided flexibility and responsiveness. CA Marines also used Post-Operations Emergency Relief Fund (POERF), an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) NATO fund available for named operations. The benefits of POERF included the ability to use this money to fill some of the funding gaps when CERP was unavailable or could not be used due to statutory restrictions.
  • (U//FOUO) Battalion commanders were limited to $25,000 of bulk CERP funds available on the battlefield at any given time. The process established for accounting and replenishing these funds was onerous and, to a great extent, seemingly arbitrary in its execution. This process was regarded as time consuming and logistically demanding and it occasionally deterred units from initiating larger scale CA projects.
  • (U//FOUO) MEB-A and Det L operational CA was focused principally on the governance and development lines of operation (LOO). This was largely dependent on CA’s ability to cultivate effective key leader relationships, respond expeditiously to local needs, and help establish the conditions for GIRoA success. CA and CMO efforts that facilitated this included:
    • CA operations were integrated with information operations (IO) and the employment of “radio in a box” (RIAB) broadcasting systems. The targeted distribution of personal radios was considered to be among the most successful and effective means of disseminating information to the local population.
    • To help facilitate improved governance by the GIRoA, Det L also worked to construct or refurbish government offices in towns and district centers.
    • The majority of CA development projects requested by local Afghans centered on water and included digging wells, the reconstruction of canals to improve irrigation, and constructing bridges across canals to improve mobility. Other important projects included refurbishment of bazaars and building roads to stimulate economic activity and improve freedom of movement for the local population.
    • Det L worked with female engagement teams (FET) established by MEB-A in an effort to initiate contact and build relationships with the Afghan female population in their AO.
  • (U//FOUO) Social and cultural dynamics unique to the region of Afghanistan that constituted the MEB-A AO were significant planning factors for MEB shape, clear, hold, and build operations and the CA activities that supported them. Det L personnel were nearly unanimous in expressing the idea that pre-deployment cultural training would have been more effective had it been more in-depth and tailored to the specific provinces in which CA Marines were intended to operate.
  • (U//FOUO) The infantry battalions and other supported units provided all of the primary life support and logistics support to their assigned CA Marines. Det L Marines were entirely dependent upon their supported units for communications equipment and mobility, as their only vehicles and communications assets assigned were M-1114 up-armored HMMWVs (that were not authorized for use off base due to the IED threat) and hand-held Motorola radios that were only effective out to 4-5 miles line-of-sight. While this meant that 4th CAG would not have to deploy a large amount of equipment, this also hindered the ability of CAG Marines to conduct operations and respond to emergent opportunities.
  • (U//FOUO) In addition to low manning levels, the pace of CA operations was constrained by limited existing infrastructure and availability of skilled local contractors and building materials and the effect this had on the ability of Afghan communities to support and sustain CA projects. Because of these factors, Det L did not attempt to cover the entirety of the districts and instead, focused their operations on where the population was, not necessarily on where the enemy was.
  • (U//FOUO) Fourth CAG was tasked on occasion with coordinating medical civil action program (MEDCAP) and dental civil action program (DENCAP) events. In anticipation of this, the Det L commander had requested (but did not receive) a preventative medicine or environmental health specialist be assigned to Det L, in addition to, or in place of, the corpsman they received.

Money as a Weapons System

(U//FOUO) Det L’s ability to engage with local Afghan populations, assess and prioritize needs, and respond with funds necessary to complete projects requested by local leaders facilitated MEB-A’s ability to leverage “money as a weapons system”. This was a principle means by which CA contributed to stability and COIN operations.

(U//FOUO) The Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds were the primary mechanism employed by Det L in using money as a weapons system. CERP funds were most readily available and afforded CA flexibility and responsiveness. CA Marines also used Post-Operations Emergency Relief Fund (POERF), an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) NATO fund available for named operations. With the MEB higher headquarters (Regional Command-South) able to authorize single expenditures of up to 17,500 Euros (approximately U.S. $23,301) and as much as 70,000 Euros (approximately U.S. $93,204) available at a given time, the benefits of POERF included the ability to fill gaps when CERP was not available or could not be used due to statutory restrictions. For example, governed by ISAF SOP 930 and described as having fewer bureaucratic hurdles to overcome than CERP, POERF was used to rapidly fund programs such as providing emergency financial assistance to internally displaced people who were forced to relocate due to MEB military operations.

(U//FOUO) USFOR-A Publication 1-06, “Money As A Weapons System – Afghanistan (MAAWS-A)” was produced as a framework for U.S. funding program oversight and placed restrictions on the usage and amounts of funds available to commanders at any given time or regarding a specific expenditure. In accordance with MAAWS-A, the CERP program has the following primary components: Reconstruction, Humanitarian Relief, Battle Damage, and Condolence Payments. The overall program coordinator is USFOR-A J8; however, the USFOR-A Engineers, J9, and J3/5 nonlethal cell serve as project managers for their particular areas and functions. As applied to MEB-A, MAAWS-A, in conjunction with MEB and RCT CERP SOPs, dictated that:

  • The MEB commanding general could approve projects up to $500,000. However, the USFOR-A commander may delegate approval authority of projects less than or equal to $2,000,000 to subordinate unit commanders.
  • O-6 commanders could approve projects up to $200,000 and O-5 commanders could approve projects up to $25,000. This was for deliberate projects with an approved project plan, separate from bulk funds as described below.
  • O-5 commanders could also maintain bulk funds or cash on-hand and approve quick impact projects up to $5,000 on the spot or pay battle damage claims, each with a maximum of $2,500, in order to expedite the use of money on the battlefield. However, O-5 level commands were limited to a total of $25,000 of bulk funds in the field at any given time, so the commander would have to distribute that money throughout the command. For example, if a battalion was supporting five combat outposts (COP), this would only provide $5,000 for each COP.
    • LtCol DeFrancisci, Det L commander, considered these battalion-level amounts to be insufficient in order for CA to be as responsive as operations demanded. He recommended that:
    • O-5 commanders should have at least $75,000 in bulk CERP available to use in their AO at any given time. For example, per month, this could facilitate approximately ten damage claims and ten to fifteen quick impact cash-for-work projects, such as canal clean-up and improvement, road and bridge repairs, and bazaar clean-up and improvement.
    • Rather than require CA PAs to make their way out of the field and return to MEB headquarters in order to replenish funds (this process could take up to a week or more), MEB Disbursing should travel with funds to the supported units when necessary or on a scheduled basis.

(U//FOUO) In accordance with MAAWS-A, only ranks of E-7 and above could serve as the paying agent (PA) and E-6 and above as project purchasing officer (PPO). However, because of Det L’s preponderance of more junior Marines, the MEB-A comptroller was able to initially obtain a waiver for E-5s and later an additional waiver for E-4s to serve as PAs. As LtCol DeFrancisci noted, “Civil Affairs is largely an E-5 and above job. We had a lot of E-4s and below.”

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