By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan, 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.
“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.”