Civil Affairs leaders conduct a key leader engagement with Jordanian Special Operations leadership in Zarqa, Jordan. U.S. Army photo.

Civil Affairs Forces in CENTCOM

Building the SOF Enterprise Through Partnerships

By Maj. Arnel P. David, Capt. Wesley Strong and Capt. Lucas Overstreet
Originally published in the April-June 2012 edition of Special Warfare

Executive Summary

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Delta Company, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) creatively utilized limited resources and access to reshape Civil Affairs efforts in the Central Command area of operation. The accelerated growth of new active-duty CA units and ongoing requirements abroad have compounded the challenges that CA leaders face as we prepare, train and deploy elements overseas. These constraints generated essential planning to determine the adequate density of CA forces for proper application against required mission sets. CA elements, which fall under the auspices of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, serve as a catalyst for effective action on a scale disproportionately large relative to their small numbers. The key ingredient for success in 2011 was our ability to partner with host-nation forces, both military and civilian. Teams from Company D, 96th CA Bn., pioneered critical relationships that will significantly increase the effects and impact of our operations. The volatile and ambiguous regions in which our teams operate have pushed us to take on a holistic approach that not only integrates the whole-of-government but rather a whole-of-nations methodology, garnering multilateral support for operations that protect our nation and its vital interests. With the regional order shifting, and programmed drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the necessity to build regional partners is amplified. Simultaneously, the incremental growth through our persistent presence contributes to our ability to construct a friendly network that will establish stability mechanisms to address regional instability and support legitimate governance. The capture, confinement or killing of threat targets alone will not achieve lasting host-nation peace. In the continuum of operations, CA forces and their ability to grow beyond unilateral action will be an integral component of any theater strategy. Admiral Eric Olson, former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, published an article on irregular warfare in Joint Forces Quarterly, which emphasized that U.S. special-operations forces will be “called upon to succeed where others would fail, to solve crises by working through and with others rather than unilaterally committing American lives.” Building and nurturing key relationships will be paramount as we foster the credibility and influence of legitimate authorities among pertinent populations. CA elements will need to embrace the concept of partnering to be relevant and effective in their operations and activities.

The Theater Civil Military Support Element

From Aug. 1 2011 to March 15, Company D, 96th CA Battalion headquarters and civil-military operations center formed the nucleus of the theater civil-military support element, which supports the theater special-operations command and U.S. embassy teams by employing small, four to six, Soldier elements as civil military-support element teams. With limited access and manpower these teams are regionally aligned to focus targeted support to theater priorities. Prior to deployment, the rapidly changing environment pushed us to remain flexible and adopt a training strategy that would hone our fundamental shoot, move, communicate and survive skills, while enhancing our team’s ability to partner and build rapport. The company completed an intensive five-month pre-mission training cycle that integrated contractors to support training and utilized range facilities that rapidly prepared and validated all CA teams for operational employment in the CENTCOM AOR. The ability to evaluate the teams’ efforts to partner was tested consistently at company collective-training exercises and at the final battalion culmination exercise. The company had a unique opportunity to spend time in the Washington, D.C., area to meet other government partners and develop relationships that have benefited teams as they deploy forward. As we exercise an interagency unity of effort we’ve discovered that our interests and programs foster a symbiotic relationship that allows us to expend resources wisely across the theater. Influence and rapport is an intangible element built on personal relationships and various factors. However, with the stringent entry requirements for CA Soldiers processing through the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School’s CA pipeline, the quality of CA Soldiers has improved dramatically. These improvements in our force coupled with realistic and challenging training allow us to employ CMSE teams into austere environments that require mature and culturally savvy operators who work to impact all levels: tactical, operational and strategic.

Mobile Fusion Team Concept

In support of our CMSE teams and theater requirements the TCMSE developed a mobile-fusion team concept to displace modular elements to support specific requirements and objectives. The MFT integrated sister-service components from SOCCENT, Army Central Command, Naval Forces Central Command and the Joint Information Support Task Force to form platforms that bring to bear an economy of force within theater. MFT missions ranged from partner training events to executive-level leader engagements in various countries. The TCMSE conducted prudent planning to determine the required level of leadership and capability to conduct these activities. In 2011, the TMCSE’s MFT was successful in accomplishing the following challenging tasks:

1. Worked on U.S. embassy chief of mission approval for mutually supporting programs and activities desired by SOCCENT.

2. Negotiated with non-government organizations and interagency partners to solve difficult challenges that resulted in mutually beneficial solutions.

3. Trained partner forces on critical skills to plug capability gaps that were identified on prior MFT engagements.

4. Extended the reach of U.S. embassies in select countries to access contested areas.

5. Formed new relationships and created a vital network of influence of which U.S. forces can take advantage.

Using the proper level of leadership was essential to accomplishing these tasks. Within our ranks there is a plethora of diversity and experience that has been harvested over many deployments and rotations. This operational maturity and experience has yielded positive results for our team. The TCMSE did its best to capture all of our elements efforts by aggregating reports and fused them into products that help our leadership understand the environment, and refine strategies to employ the proper resources which increases the effectiveness of our forces. Our talented NCOs and officers leveraged technological platforms (ArcGIS, which is a mapping system, Combined Information Data Network Exchange, Flash and Google Earth) to produce some valuable products:

1. Civil Common Operational Picture. This product was well received by SOCCENT leadership as it depicted both historical and current information for the region. Our civil-information management NCOIC created a multimedia Flash presentation that was simple and easy to use for any audience.

2. Human Terrain Map. Integrating the 95th CA Brigade key-leader engagement worksheets and our team’s collection of biographical data from civil-reconnaissance missions, our CMSE teams created a product that geospatially depicts key and influential leaders on a map.

3. CA Framework for Engagement. This construct explains the relevance and employment of CA forces into a particular region. Over time, this methodology creates a baseline of data that will be measureable to gauge our efforts and their impact.

4. Storyboards. These snapshots of CA activities briefly provide a picture and overview of our CMSE efforts in the various regions. Our team’s photography and Photoshop training during PMT greatly enhanced the quality of these reports. The TCMSE has regularly received accolades from senior leadership on these storyboards.

Given the CA team’s increased access, they must do their best to understand and influence the perceptions of the population. More importantly, they have to garner support from the host-nation partner to gain their buy-in and ensure sustainability of our programs. Again, partnering is the key to success with any given activity that is supported or executed. It’s only through partnerships that we can operate more freely in the sovereign nations that we support.

CMSE 642 in the Central Asian States

CA Team members observe a medical practical exercise with the Jordanian SOF Civil Military Company. U.S. Army photoHistorically the CMSE Central Asian States (CAS) has not focused on partnering and developing relationships with HN security elements. The CMSE established relationships with local governmental leadership within our project focus areas but, have had limited engagements with our military partners. During our rotation we’ve shifted our effort to develop relationships with HN security elements to get them involved with civil-military operations that will magnify the effects of our programs and projects.

One example of our HN military partnering is the relationship built with the Tajik Border Guards. The Tajikistan Border Guard is an HN security element that operates within our focus area along the Afghan border. In August, CMSE CAS provided medical assistance to six border guard outposts in the Shurobad District of Tajikistan. During the medical engagement we treated 90 border guards for ailments ranging from malnutrition to injuries sustained while patrolling. The medical assistance helped develop key relationships with the border-guard leadership. It also complemented the U.S. embassy’s objectives by increasing the HN security elements ability to defend against violent-extremist organizations and drug smuggling.

A major shortfall identified through our interactions with the border guards operating within our focus area is a need for medical training. While conducting senior-level key-leader engagements with a Tajik general and his staff, we learned that several border guards were wounded during an attack. The inability of the guard’s to treat their wounded comrades resulted in the loss of life. To avoid similar situations, the CA element developed a plan to provide tactical combat-casualty care training to the border guards. The TCCC training will increase their ability to deliver self and buddy aid for injuries received while under fire. By providing TCCC to the border guards, we will increase their survivability and their ability to defend their soil from violent extremists. Additionally, this new skill will help with their confidence to conduct combat operations along the border.

The next step in developing our relationship with the border guards is to provide them training on how to conduct CMO and get them involved with our projects. This will serve to operationalize them in key areas and legitimize them with the populace. For example, we plan on providing them training on how to conduct limited medical engagements and have them plan and execute medical engagements in the communities they wish to affect. This will increase the local populace’s support for their mission and foster trust. The goal is to have them take a leading role in conducting CMO while we fulfill a supporting role.

CMSE CAS is currently developing a partnership with the Khalton Province Committee for Emergency Services. The Khalton Province is located in southwest Tajikistan and covers many of our focus areas. The CES is a branch of the Tajikistan military and is the first responder to any natural disaster. The members of the CES are also responsible for conducting disaster preparedness training and projects. The chief of the Khalton Province CES invited us to attend periodic meetings that he holds with his subordinates to discuss issues throughout the region. CMSE CAS is coordinating with the Khalton Province chief of CES to develop a partnership in preparation for the upcoming spring glacier melt that historically causes severe flooding in the province. The development of disaster-response networks also ties into and supports the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. embassy’s objectives.

We have established relationships with leaders at the provincial and local levels in our focus areas. We maintain contact with these leaders to stay informed of any issues occurring in and to keep them involved with our projects. When we conduct opening ceremonies for our projects we encourage the local leadership to participate and put them in front during the ceremony to help legitimize them to the populace. This directly complements the U.S. embassy’s objective of improving governance at the local level. Our projects also serve to expand the reach and influence of the embassy country team. The majority of these programs complement U.S. objectives of increasing Tajikistan’s ability to provide education and healthcare. Our team always attempts to involve the appropriate host-nation entity from the government to help and participate in our programs. Recently, the team was successful in coordinating with the ministry of education to provide furniture and project additions to school refurbishments completed in critical focus areas.

In today’s fight, CA teams need to continue to expand our reach and maximize the positive effects of our projects and programs. We need to get the host nation as involved as possible and continue to look for opportunities to partner and further our objectives.

Mobile Fusion Team 644 in the Levant Region

CAT 644 from the theater civil-military support element worked to partner CA forces with host-nation militaries in the Levant region during its rotation from July 2011 to March 2012. The CAT divided its time between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Jordanian Armed Forces, increasing the U.S. Government’s relationship with those nations and their respective militaries while deployed. While American CA teams have not typically focused on partnering with host-nation forces in the region, the importance of doing so is now more important than ever.

Jordan. Over the course of the deployment, the CA team conducted episodic engagements with the Jordanian Special Operations Forces Civil Military Company. The CIMIC is an approximate equivalent unit to a company from the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, with embedded Psychological Operations elements. It is a new unit in the Jordanian Army, and one of the first civil-military units in modern Middle Eastern armies. Despite there being little precedence for this, it showed itself eager to train, and quite capable of conducting diverse civil-military operations.

These multiple engagements led to the CA team conducting two TCCC training classes led by the CA team medic and the 96th CA Bn. surgeon. Having a doctor included in the training enhanced the team’s medical capacity and legitimacy. Meanwhile, the team sergeant and team leader provided support as assistant instructors, and the CA team divided itself into two pairs of primary and assistant instructors during practical exercises.

The course was conducted at the CIMIC’s location, and fostered a strong working relationship between the two partnered units. Cooperation between the Jordanian CIMIC and American CA team formed easily due to the professional leadership and strong sense of hospitality innate to the Jordanian CIMIC. As such, the American Soldiers were able to dive into their training plan, and provide tough, realistic training to their counterparts.

Further enhancing the collaboration were the CIMIC’s own senior lieutenants who supervised and translated training during classroom instruction and practical exercises. In an adaptation of the train-the-trainer methodology, these officers simultaneously learned and taught, all while lending their own credibility and expertise to the course. With the Jordanian soldiers’ own leadership providing direct instruction and supervision, the American trainers were able to maximize their time and efforts on the day’s tasks.

The training was successful, and culminated with a two-day round-robin TCCC squad-training exercise. The CA team took the role of evaluators, while the CIMIC officers and NCOs performed their regular duties as platoon, squad and team leaders. The exercise tested the students’ ability to execute the three phases of TCCC, including small, but important tasks, like packing their first-aid bags, receiving a fragmentary order and evacuating patients to safety.

Lebanon: In between engagements with the Jordanian CIMIC, the same CA Team made several trips to Lebanon in support of Special Operations Command (FWD) Lebanon. The SOC (FWD) Lebanon command is partnering with the Lebanese Special Operations Forces to conduct multiple civil-military projects around the country team, enhancing the relationships between the U.S., the Lebanese Military and the populace.

One of the first projects completed in support of LSOF’s civil-military program was the Hamat Community Center. This is a good example of the types of partnering the TCMSE has been focusing on recently, as it is based on cooperation from the local government, community volunteers and the nearby Lebanese Armed Forces Special Operations School. As the community center is finished, it will be utilized for various seminars, workshops and continuing-education programs led by local community volunteers and with assistance from the nearby LSOF units. Likewise, the center functions as a disaster shelter to serve the surrounding population in an area that is at high risk during natural and man-made disasters. The LSOF units at the neighboring base will have more daily interaction with the citizens that they protect, and the citizens have the added benefit of receiving extra training and security in case of any future civil disturbances.

Additionally, the CA team tapped in to the diverse experience of SOCCENT’s CA engineer to plan future humanitarian-assistance projects around Lebanon. Utilizing the CA engineer’s extensive background working on construction projects throughout CENTCOM, the CA team partnered with USAID’s Office of Democracy, Governance and Education to conduct surveys of public schools and clinics that are in need of external support. Based off the extensive research and analysis conducted, the CA team helped identify schools that needed assistance, but were out of USAID’s immediate reach. While the CA team’s LSOF partners provided extra security in higher-risk areas, the CA team was able to lay the groundwork for future assistance programs that reach the common goals of the U.S. Combatant Command, USAID, Lebanese Armed Forces and the ministry of education.


CA elements are an essential SOF instrument of force that projects small teams to areas of interest and achieve disproportionately large results. The enemy is evolving and the traditional hierarchies of a state and its institutions are faced with numerous challenges. As related earlier, small projects, like teaching Tajik Border Guards TCCC remedied a capability shortfall with their partners that helped save lives by allowing the border guards to defend their area from violent extremists. The United States is not alone in these regional conflicts and irregular warfare. These conditions of warfare require a comprehensive approach. Success will require that all resources available get pooled together to bring to bear against an elusive and ever-changing enemy. To defeat this enemy, U.S. elements must aggressively erode the conditions that foster extremist activity. CA forces provide the surest means of shaping an environment to achieve consensus over coercion with a populace. A proactive and holistic approach aimed to influence populations will set favorable conditions for both the U.S. and host-nation governments. By partnering with host-nation forces, CA teams gain increased access and maximized effects with a limited and low profile U.S. presence.

Taken in sum, CA teams must embrace the partnering concept to maximize the effects of CAO in the CENTCOM AOR. The continued success of our CMSE teams will cultivate trust and respect amongst U.S. agencies and other SOF units. CA has evolved and our Soldiers will continue to meet global challenges that face our nation. By working in developing states and troubled regions, CA forces with their partners will collaborate to defeat an enemy before there is any loss of life or conflict. An old idiom by Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, can characterize the instrument of force that CA Soldiers provide for the nation in areas of strategic interest. The persistent presence and long-lasting relationships with partner forces will illuminate capability shortfalls that allow us, over time, to build on a cumulative joint-training strategy that improves training. This progression and precision in partnering will provide valuable dividends.  

This article was authored by Maj. Arnel P. David with inserts provided by Cpt. Wesley Strong & Cpt. Lucas Overstreet.

THIS issue

April-June 2012
Volume 25 | Issue 2

Special Warfare cover, April-June 2012

Special Warfare

Special Warfare is an authorized, official quarterly publication of the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, N.C. Its mission is to promote the professional development of special-operations forces by providing a forum for the examination of established doctrine and new ideas.

Views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official Army position. This publication does not supersede any information presented in other official Army publications.