Brigade Leaders Cite Value of Intelligence

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2011 — Intel­li­gence is indis­pen­si­ble for sol­diers of the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team in the coun­terin­sur­gency fight here.
For the “Cur­ra­hee” brigade sol­diers, oper­a­tions in Afghanistan’s Pak­ti­ka province hinge on the infor­ma­tion they can gain about the ene­my.

101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team
Army Lt. Col. Dar­rin Rick­etts, deputy com­man­der of the 101st Air­borne Division’s 4th Brigade Com­bat Team, pre­pares to fly to a vil­lage in Afghanistan’s Pak­ti­ka province, April 28, 2011.
DOD pho­to by Karen Par­rish
Click to enlarge

“This is my ninth oper­a­tional deploy­ment,” said Army Lt. Col. Dar­rin Rick­etts, deputy brigade com­man­der, “and I’m a huge pro­po­nent of ‘intel­li­gence dri­ves maneu­ver.’ ” Rick­etts said that as a bat­tal­ion com­man­der in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, he beefed up his bat­tal­ion and com­pa­ny intel­li­gence shops.

“If you don’t know what the ene­my is going to do, what he’s think­ing [and] where he’s going to move, you can’t kill or cap­ture him,” he said. “And that’s what the infantry’s mis­sion is: close with and destroy the ene­my.”

A coun­terin­sur­gency fight is a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al, “three-block war,” Rick­etts said, which tra­di­tion­al­ly means com­bat, peace­keep­ing and human­i­tar­i­an aid oper­a­tions, and in cur­rent doc­trine is defined as “clear, hold and build.”

“Intel dri­ves maneu­ver, and in a [coun­terin­sur­gency] fight you have to apply the same think­ing to the civil­ians,” he said. “What are they think­ing? What are they going to do? It’s a whole oth­er dynam­ic.”

The brigade has a series of tar­get­ing meet­ings designed to link intel­li­gence with oper­a­tions, Rick­etts said, includ­ing a week­ly tar­get­ing meet­ing, a two-week tar­get­ing cycle and a month­ly gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment tar­get­ing ses­sion.

“Intel­li­gence plays a huge role and is the first part of all those tar­get­ing process­es,” he said. The syn­the­sis of intel­li­gence and oper­a­tions has improved over the course of his career, Rick­etts said. “We get bet­ter all the time,” he added. “Intel­li­gence is always a top pri­or­i­ty. You’re always try­ing to get more assets, more resources. You can nev­er have enough.”

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates — a for­mer CIA direc­tor — and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nee to lead the CIA after his mil­i­tary retire­ment, have empha­sized the impor­tance of intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance tech­nol­o­gy to the fight in Afghanistan. Gates said in March the num­ber of cer­tain sur­veil­lance sys­tems in the­ater had increased over the last sev­er­al months from a few dozen to more than 60. Army Capt. David McKim, the 4th Brigade’s assis­tant intel­li­gence offi­cer, said Cur­ra­hee forces are well equipped with intel­li­gence assets. “This is a very unique brigade,” he said. “We have prob­a­bly just about every­thing that you get your hands on.”

McKim said when he first began intel­li­gence work at the bat­tal­ion lev­el, “you real­ly didn’t have capa­bil­i­ties. You didn’t have sys­tems [inte­grat­ed with] the nation­al lev­el.” Bat­tal­ion and brigade-lev­el intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties became more robust after Sept. 11, 2001, grad­u­al­ly acquir­ing the abil­i­ty to tap into nation­al data­bas­es, he said. “It def­i­nite­ly helps, because that’s where you [can] look at an ene­my in near-real time,” he said. “That’s tru­ly where you help a com­man­der make deci­sions as an intel pro­fes­sion­al, because you see what’s going on, you can [research] his­tor­i­cal activ­i­ty, and then you can pro­vide some advice to the com­man­der that hope­ful­ly, if you’re spot-on, can help save lives.”

McKim said a key chal­lenge of the coun­terin­sur­gency fight is reflect­ed in Sun Tzu’s adage that the ene­my “swims in the sea of the peo­ple.” Intel pro­fes­sion­als, he explained, con­stant­ly sift through the population’s behav­ior pat­terns to iden­ti­fy activ­i­ties that indi­cate hos­tile intent. “That’s tru­ly the end-state for any intel pro­fes­sion­al: find the bad guys, pre­dict what they’re going to do, and hope­ful­ly, get the units to stop those activ­i­ties before they hap­pen,” he said.

When he was a bat­tal­ion intel­li­gence offi­cer in Iraq, McKim said, there were resources he wished he had, par­tic­u­lar­ly more peo­ple. “We [now] have a lot of per­son­nel at the brigade lev­el,” he said. “And then each bat­tal­ion intel shop has a lot of peo­ple. Back in the day, there were times when bat­tal­ion [intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als] would be one intel offi­cer and maybe one enlist­ed [sol­dier], and those were the only two you had. So def­i­nite­ly, hav­ing more resources helps in the fight.”

McKim said he saw the push for increased intel­li­gence resources gain strength in Iraq when Petraeus was in charge there. “A lot of his poli­cies trick­led down to us –- I remem­ber the big push on get­ting coun­terin­sur­gency train­ing dur­ing that time,” he said. “I’m of the mind­set that any com­mis­sioned offi­cer has to be as knowl­edge­able as they can, par­tic­u­lar­ly about mil­i­tary his­to­ry. It’s so cycli­cal; it comes back around.” Intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als’ breadth and depth of knowl­edge is key to their suc­cess­ful per­for­mance, McKim said.

“You have to know a lot in order to make accu­rate pre­dic­tions on what the ene­my is going to do,” he explained. “Part of what Gen­er­al Petraeus was doing was mak­ing sure that as an insti­tu­tion, intel­li­gence … had the tools to do that. Ours is def­i­nite­ly a think­ing game.”

McKim said while cur­rent intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing tech­nol­o­gy is impres­sive, it’s no good with­out ana­lysts who can inter­pret the data. “We work with a real­ly intel­li­gent ene­my,” he said. “You hear all the time that most of the less intel­li­gent insur­gents are dead. Now, we’ve got the real­ly smart ones who have been doing this busi­ness for a while.”

The net­works that oppose coali­tion forces and Afghanistan’s gov­ern­ment are “a war­rior soci­ety,” McKim said. “They pass down their [tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures] and lessons learned, just like we do,” he added. Pre­dict­ing what those forces will do is the nuts and bolts of intel­li­gence, he said.

“If we can do that,” McKim said, “that helps the com­man­ders to make bet­ter-informed deci­sions when they’re con­duct­ing their oper­a­tions.” Intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing tech­nol­o­gy has improved quite a bit in recent years, McKim said.

“The Army has tak­en great strides in the rapid field­ing of equip­ment,” he said. “You get new sys­tems, you get new tech­niques, … but there’s so much infor­ma­tion out there.” McKim said the idea that “every sol­dier is a sen­sor” still holds true, and that a woman sol­dier on a female engage­ment team could be the per­son who learns a crit­i­cal piece of infor­ma­tion.

“That one thing might be the key to open­ing up why peo­ple are fight­ing in a par­tic­u­lar area,” he said.

Ulti­mate­ly, intel­li­gence oper­a­tions are aimed at the over­all Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force objec­tive in Afghanistan, McKim said -– help­ing the Afghans to estab­lish an effec­tive secu­ri­ty struc­ture.

“You mod­el it, you get them trained up, and you have them take own­er­ship of it so that they’re the ones who are respon­si­ble for their secu­ri­ty,” he said. “I think that’s what led to the Tal­iban tak­ing over when they did –- [the peo­ple] didn’t real­ly have a secu­ri­ty net­work in Afghanistan to pro­tect them­selves.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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