The Role of the Warfighter in Intelligence – Forward Observer Shop

The Role of the Warfighter in Intelligence

If you’re just getting started with intelligence and community security here’s a great place to start —-> SHTF Intelligence: Getting Started (Part One)

Intelligence is about supporting the warfighter.  The Intelligence Cycle, our intelligence requirements, our collection methods, and the results of our analysis is about informing our commander about enemy activity in his battlespace so that he can make well-informed, time-sensitive decisions.  Without this intelligence, our command is left blind to the enemy situation, and so are our warfighters.  I want to tackle two issues in this article.  The first is that we as the intelligence element live and work to support the warfighter.  The second is that the warfighter should have an obligation to enable the work of intelligence.

Intelligence Support to the Warfighter

Imagine a team going out on patrol in the Arghandab Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, a hot bed of Taliban activity.  (On second thought, no.  Imagine that your close friends are going out on patrol in the Arghandab Valley.)  What intelligence do they need to know in order to survive?  Here’s a short and incomplete list:

  • How many Taliban fighters are in the area?
  • What level of resistance can this team expect?
  • What types of weapons will the Taliban fighters have?
  • What are the observed tactics of the Taliban in the area?
  • What tactics can we expect to be employed by the Taliban in the area?
  • How heavily have the roads been mined by the Taliban?
  • Where are IEDs likely to have been emplaced in the area?
  • What type of IEDs are likely to be employed?

All these questions represent intelligence gaps (in reality there would be a great deal more of these questions), and the more information we have, the better we can answer these questions.  The better we can answer these questions, the more likely it is that we can save the lives of our friends and enable them to kill more of the enemy.  The truth is that good intelligence saves lives and takes lives; the question for organizations in conflict is who has the better intelligence.  (Consider that a British officer, after the American Revolution, opined that the Americans didn’t outfight the British to win, they outspied them.)

If we can’t collect information and produce accurate intelligence, then we’re leaving our guys nearly blind.  This is the difference between going into a championship fight knowing who your opponent is, or finding out who you’re fighting once you get in the ring.  The latter is a very bad way to do business, and the former isn’t accomplished without intelligence.

So if you’re a warfighter without intelligence support in an irregular conflict, then building that capability should be your first priority.  There are some basic intelligence tasks that can be performed by a team, but even that distracts from the mission.  The job of the warfighter is to be the best shooter, mover, and communicator he can be, so he can’t be required to develop his own intelligence on top of that mission. That’s why there’s an intelligence 2-shop to provide that support.

But as in the Army where “Every Soldiers is a Sensor,” the more information of intelligence value the warfighter can observe and report, the better the intelligence that can be produced.


The Warfighter’s Role in Intelligence

Some might think of intelligence as a one way street, where information flows from the Analysis & Control Element (ACE, or the 2-shop) out to commanders and other decision makers.  In reality, if we want a more robust intelligence effort, then we need to be collecting information from the troops on the ground, too.  Although not typically considered intelligence collectors, the warfighter indeed has a role in intelligence collection.  The paradox is that the warfighter is often the first to collect information of tactical value and is always the last to use it.  We say that ‘intelligence drives the fight’ because the warfighter is the end user of the intelligence we produce.

It’s very good practice for the Intelligence Officer (or in the case of community security, someone from your community ACE) to talk with returning patrols.  These patrols are on the ground, always observing and monitoring changes in their battlespace (or if they’re not, then they should be), and so if they’re not reporting this information back to the ACE, then the intelligence element is missing a critical piece of the puzzle.

Here are just a few questions that the ACE needs to ask of warfighters, or that warfighters need to report to the ACE:

  • Have you identified any changes in enemy tactics?
  • Have you identified any enemy weapons that weren’t previously in the battlespace?
  • Have you identified any changes in the strength or organization of the enemy?
  • Have you identified any changes in the operating environment?
  • Have you identified any changes in how the populace reacts to your presence?

Having this information might be critical to piecing together how the battlespace is changing, either for the best or the worst.  The intelligence element that’s able to speak to multiple patrols might be able to piece together shifts in enemy tactics or in how the populace views our efforts.  In turn, we can take these indicators — observable or potentially observable clues — and identify what the enemy is likely to do in the future.

A real world scenario, Afghanistan circa 2006 — we saw a slow build up of Taliban fighters in our Area of Operations (AO).  For me, this was an indication not only that the capabilities of the Taliban in the area were growing, but that it historically meant that a large scale, brazen attack was imminent.  For community security, if we’re not collecting this information from our patrols (or if they’re not reporting this information themselves), then we’re missing out on an important part of the picture.


Conclusion & Advice

Warfighters: you absolutely play a critical role in intelligence.  You see parts of the battlespace that no one else does.  Be familiar with the kinds of information that your ACE needs in order to produce intelligence, and always be on the lookout for information that satisfies those intelligence requirements.  If you’re not sure about whether or not to report something you observed, then report it anyway.  It’s going to benefit you in the long-run and it might just produce intelligence that saves your life.

Intelligence elements: be sponges.  Live for collecting this information about the battlespace, and then be prudent about producing actionable or predictive intelligence.  No one else in your organization produces intelligence but you, and it doesn’t produce itself.  If you’re not staying proactive in monitoring the battlespace — “to find, know, and never lose the enemy” — then you’re not doing your job, and you’re leaving your command blind to the enemy situation.  If the commander doesn’t know the enemy situation, then his plans suffer and it negatively affects the mission.  Your work is mission critical.  Don’t forget that.

Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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