Despite significant operational achievements wherever Marines have been deployed, a decade of war has unsurprisingly revealed áreas where the intelligence — operations nexus might be enhanced. These span a wide array of issues from the immediate to the long term, from technical to philosophical questions, and from personal to organizational solutions. The United States Marine Corps understands that war remains a human endeavor; that its nature does not change, while its character can be highly variable. Conse-quently, how humans think, organize, plan, and act, takes primacy over the material means at their disposal. The Marine mindset naturally predisposes it to asymmetric war where a materially deprived, but thinking enemy, com-prised of groups of individuáis, seek to gain time and space against the state (or coalition of states) seeking to supplant the rule of law with the rule of forcé. It is no accident that the history of the Marine Corps is America's story of engagement in 'small wars'.2 Perhaps because of this, the infantry battalion is the primus inter pares in Marine Corps organizational culture. It is the hub around which the Marine Air Ground Task Forcé (aviation, lo-gistics and command) pivot.3 Marine battalions have proven themselves to
be exceptionally adaptable to regionally differentiated combat and humani-tarian environments such as are found in Afghanistan. Some of the best practices identified by official, scholarly and media reports center on Marine battalions (Flynn, et al, 2010; Moyer, 2011). But this history of achieve-ment is sometimes despite, not because of, how the Corps prepares and or-ganizes for irregular war.
The Marine Corps takes great pride in the idea that it trains as it fights, but this runs the risk of becoming more rhetoric than reality. Equally the Corps takes pride in the fact that it does more with less but as this research will show there are limits to frugality. The average battalion simply does not have access to a wide range of technologies it will use in the field and thus has to learn on the job after they arrive in theatre. At the same time, pre-deployment training programs are weighed down with a litany of tasks that do not directly contribute to preparation for war. Beyond garrison consid-erations, Marines have become very good at intelligence collection but often struggle with intelligence integration.4 As a consequence, Marines have ex-perienced uneven success with the resulting challenge of intelligence analy-sis, not in the sense of being able to maximize utility of systems, but in the sense of being able to think critically in the battlespace and anticípate the enemy by out-thinking him.
The difficulty experienced is not just one of effective training in garrison, and difficulties in intelligence integration and analysis in the field. It also goes to the character of counterinsurgency warfare (COIN) where states are at a disadvantage compared to their non-state actor adversarles. Tactically, due to the sheer preponderance of combat power inherent to a Marine Air-Ground Task Forcé (MAGTF) and supporting assets, any irregular oppo-nent that is caught in the open will be crushed. This is why the enemy weapon of choice, the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) has become its primary tactic.5 In response, the US has two primary target sets, IEDs and the High Valué Individuáis (HVI) that run the networks that place them.
But there is more to fighting irregular war than countering an enemy tactic.6 Operationally, the disadvantage widens when top-down military bureaucra-cies attempt to grapple with bottom-up, networked, opponents. Thus the higher the echelon of conventional forces, the more fractured the trinity of command, intelligence and operations can appear. These disadvantages are compounded almost to the point of categorical impossibility at the strategic level of war when the state involved is not the state that is responsible for the territory in which the war is fought. In other words, for reasons ofgeog-raphy, culture, resources, time and thus, will, long distance expeditionary counterinsurgency is virtually impossible to win for a far away state against a local peoples uprising (Michaels and Ford, 2011: 352-384).
This is perhaps the tragedy of the war in Afghanistan, that despite the best efforts of the Marine Corps, its sister services and coalition partners; the strategic aim cannot be achieved with the available tools (Cobb, 2011: 54-63).7 Nevertheless, the Marine Corps must continué to enhance its ability to achieve the most that it can with the least loss of life. To the extent that the challenge can be met by enhancing integration of intelligence and operations for General Purpose Forces (GPF), this article will attempt to point a way forward. This article cannot possibly be a comprehensive treatment of every facet of that challenge. Rather it will touch on key themes and possible solutions. The article will constrain itself to examining the challenge for conventional, not special, forces (SOF) (Cobb, 2011: 54-63). Likewise, the article will only discuss the USMC due to reasons of access, space, and sim-plicity.
The core of a military staff is comprised of the Commander, Intelligence, Operations, Logistics and Communications.8 Everything depends on the Commander. Their intellect, preferences, leadership, education, experience, visión, personality, and network will impact success or failure. These 'intangibles of command' are many, are shared by every member of the staff, and opérate in all directions in the chain of command: up, down and across. The priority the commander places on the staff functions will reflect these intangibles and the task at hand. Commander's preferences and personal trust can often interfere with established chains of command.
Military intelligence should inform the commander and provide context across the other staff functions. But the interplay of the intangibles noted above is such that the theory is not always observed in practice. In cases where intangibles are not a barrier to effective intelligence work, the key is-sue is whether the information being provided to the commander is useful. Does that information help the commander understand the character of the war; the motivations and tactics of all the actors in the war (friend, foe, neutral); the enemy (and friendly) center of gravity and key vulnerabilities; knowledge of the surrounding environment, the culture, society, terrain, weather and so on. Military intelligence is also useful for evaluating possible enemy courses of action and for attempting to anticípate what the enemy might do — either alone or in response to friendly action.9
The effectiveness of intelligence is dependent on a wide range of factors — both material and ideational. The former refers to sources of informa-tion, the latter the effectiveness (knowledge, creativity) of those analyzing it. As will be shown below, there have been gaps in both the material and ideational bases of intelligence as it has been applied in Afghanistan. Given the sheer scale of US forces and the vast intelligence apparatus that serve those forces, some readers might be surprised that there are material shortfalls in intelligence. The idea that the vast intelligence apparatus has struggled to come to grips with the alien environment of Afghanistan will be less sur-prising but nonetheless also worthy of exploration.
All war is a human enterprise for political purposes but there are differences in the character and conduct of different types of wars. Conventional war is largely a technical challenge; irregular war is largely a human challenge.10 Conventional war is about attriting military units to make the enemy do your will; irregular war is about changing minds to make the enemy accept your will. Intelligence in conventional war is concerned with 'where', 'how many', and 'when' questions regarding mechanized formations. Intelligence in irregular war is concerned with 'why' and 'how' questions regarding the most important question — the 'who' — namely the macro and micro populations (enemy, friendly, and uncommitted; in-country, at home, and globally). Conventional military intelligence organizations and personnel, are not designed, trained, or educated to be linguists, anthropologists, histo-rians, sociologists, agriculturists, economists, and philosophers.11 That is the
root cause of the intelligence disconnect between General Purpose Forces and irregular warfare.
While not stated in the same terms, this was the essence of the problem that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (US Army) and his coauthors en-countered when he was running US intelligence in Afghanistan in 2009-10. They found fault with a system that could not understand, let alone inter-pret, the environment it was charged to know.
Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy... the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces opérate and the people they seek to persuade... The ur-gent task before us is to make [military intelligence] relevant (Flynn et al, 2010).
Fixing Intel provides ampie evidence of the difficulty a top-down military organization has in fighting a bottom-up war. Flynn laments the difficulty battalion and regimental sized units have in mapping the human terrain, or put another way, understanding the society...