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Navigating the Human Domain to Build Effective Partnerships

By First Lieutenant David Kearns

As the combat mission in Afghanistan winds down in favor of a strictly advisory role, the Coalition’s success and the long-term security for the struggling nation will depend heavily on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). While ISAF Forces have been working with and fighting alongside ANSF for years now, the fruits of our labor will be most apparent as we increasingly take a backseat and allow the Afghans to plan, execute, and lead their own missions. Time is short, and while we may not be able to solve all of the Country’s problems, one realm that we can still positively affect is the training and preparation of the Afghan Soldiers and Police.

I was deployed in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM XI-XII with a Combat Engineer Company task organized as a Rifle Company. During our 11 month deployment we operated in multiple districts throughout Wardak and Ghazni Provinces. Throughout this time we were partnered with two separate Afghan National Army (ANA) Companies and one Kandak (Battalion), each with a different personality, strengths, and weaknesses. One of our primary goals was to train these ANA and help them become effective and successful. We were never under any illusion that we could turn these Afghan Soldiers into a fully trained and professional Army in 11 months, however, it was driven from our Company Command Team down to us, that investing in our Afghan Partners would be the most effective and enduring thing we could do. It would be our legacy. The way I viewed it, and what I tried to communicate to the leaders and Soldiers in my Platoon, was “We don’t have enough time to make them perfect, but we can teach them enough that they live long enough to learn everything else they need to know.” It may not be the most eloquent way to put it, but I believed, and still believe, that it was a realistic and achievable goal.  By the end of our tour and all the lessons learned that came from it, our Company was successful in training and mentoring a very successful Kandak. There are four principals that embody what made us successful. They are; understand, train, empower, and trust.  

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Our Risk-Averse Army: How We Got Here and How to Overcome It

I think we’re overly centralized, overly bureaucratic, and overly risk averse, which is the opposite of what we’re going to need in any type of warfare, but in particular the warfare that I envision. —Gen. Mark Milley, US Army chief of staff   In a recent essay, retired Col. Kevin Benson calls on the Army to evolve its collective thinking on tactical risk assessment. As he points out, commanders must not be content to avoid risk. Instead, they must deliberately accept tactical risk to create and exploit relative advantages over the enemy. Col. Benson is correct that the Army...

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War Books: The Theory and Practice of War

Editor’s note: This edition in MWI’s War Books series originally appeared in February 2018.   I was lecturing on the Islamic State once to some homeland security types here at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and during the break a police officer came up and asked if my research area was a way for me to attain closure for my service in Iraq. I batted the question away politely, telling him that it wasn’t the case. Now that I think about it, maybe he saw something—but mistook it for something else. The truth is that I am passionate about...

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“Combat Patch” Culture in an Era of Persistent Competition

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in January, then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Eldridge Colby sought to secure support for the National Defense Strategy in the new Congress. Colby explained that the Department of Defense should “expand the competitive space—meaning above all to adopt a competitive mentality in everything that Department personnel do, one . . . that searches for new or untapped sources of advantage.” In short, the Pentagon called for a new mindset to execute radical policy change, and carried that message to Congress. Individual branches need to adopt that mindset and inculcate it in their soldiers, sailors,...

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Up-Gunning the Queen of Battle: How the Army Can Fix the Infantry’s Anti-Armor Problem

Peaceful protests outside of Vilnius, Lithuania, covered widely by the Russian media, abruptly turn violent, with Russian-speaking civilians inexplicably killed in a sudden explosion. A Russian airborne battalion parachutes just east of the chaos, on the Belorussian side of the border, prompting the 82nd Airborne to rapidly deploy its brigade designated as the core of the US military’s Global Response Force into action. When one of the Russian airborne battalions—fully mechanized with BDM-4 infantry fighting vehicles, BTR armored personnel carriers, and reinforcing tanks—encounters a lone US airborne battalion, with only eight Humvee-mounted anti-tank missiles, the Russian forces find it...

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