By Tim Kilbride
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 20, 2008 - Influencing, countering and ultimately defeating regional threat networks in the greater Middle East will require a "whole-of-many-nations'-governments approach," a U.S. commander said during a conference call yesterday with military bloggers and online journalists. Faced with threats from al-Qaida and similar groups, as well as a nonspecific "malign Iranian influence," U.S. and allied strategic planners are expanding their toolkits beyond military force to include diplomacy, communication, humanitarian assistance and other civilian-oriented tools, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, deputy director of operations for U.S. Central Command.
Holmes said his role at CentCom includes oversight of "irregular warfare, the nonkinetic solutions, some whole-of-government approaches, but particularly looking at the notion of information dominance in the battle space and things that we can do with our interagency partners to achieve effects without necessarily totally leaning on" military operations.
"This is a very long-term strategy that we must be engaged in, and it runs the gamut from just counter-terrorism to counter-crime to however you want to look at it," Holmes said.
Umbrella organizations like al-Qaida represent a shorthand way of labeling the enemy, Holmes explained. In fact, the "regional threat networks" are actually made up of "threads of violent actors that range across the scope of terrorist actors to just international organized criminals to, I think, narco-terrorists or drug traders, and then, in some cases, just basic gangs, thieves and thugs that can come together and represent a very formidable threat to our region for a number of reasons," he said.
"These are not necessarily, you know, standing, organized armies that wear uniforms like we all envision warfare to be," Holmes said. "It takes a different kind of tactic, in terms of countering, disrupting and defeating this kind of threat."
The counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan provides an appropriate case study for the need for a whole-of-government approach, Holmes explained. Using the desired end state in that country as a starting point, planners can work out a strategy that will incorporate the strengths of an interagency team.
"If we're going to establish a security line of operation in [Afghanistan], then obviously from that, you don't necessarily get security if you can't resolve the economic and agricultural conundrum of 'What is the money maker?' Well, it's the poppy product. So a strategy has got to deal with that," Holmes said.
"What do we do? The military does not necessarily do that. But what can we do to establish desired strategic objectives that the interagency could step up to, with maybe Department of Agriculture, [U.S. Agency for International Development] and State Department, to do that? What can NATO do to also help influence that?" he asked.
Lessons are being learned that are improving the interagency and international cooperative process, Holmes said, but improvement is needed, and in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, those lessons are not necessarily interchangeable.
"Afghanistan is a different battle space than Iraq, so the lessons of Iraq may or may not work in Afghanistan," he said. "The situation is much different. The people are much different. The dynamics are much different; so still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan."
Effective support for Pakistan will be crucial for ultimately stabilizing Afghanistan, Holmes noted. That support would come primarily through diplomatic and political channels, however, with a military partnership playing a secondary role, the general explained.
Overall, Holmes characterized the stabilization of Afghanistan as a "long-term endeavor to engage -- at a strategic level, to do those things across all of the many areas of need that would need to be done."
Those needs include transitioning the Afghan society away from narcotics and warlordism and into "a productive society that can govern and provide services to its people, as well as develop a gross national product," Holmes said.
"That does not come overnight; that's an institutional change that will take some time," Holmes said.
(Tim Kilbride works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)