When the Taliban arrive in a village, I discovered, it takes 96 hours for an Army commander to obtain necessary approvals to act. In the first half of 2009, the Army Special Forces company I was with repeatedly tried to interdict Taliban. By our informal count, however, we (and the Afghan commandos we worked with) were stopped on 70 percent of our attempts because we could not achieve the requisite 11 approvals in time. Jonathan J. Vaccaro NYTimes OP-ED.
From an insurgents perspective (key to understanding the issue), the US military's command and control system is a gift from God. It's lethargic. Key aspects of why this is so include:
Risk mitigation trumps initiative every time. Careers are more important than victory. Risk evaluation moves upward in the hierarchy. Evaluation of risk takes time, particularly with the paucity of information that can be accessed at positions removed from the conflict.
The US military is extremely top heavy. Why? It's staffed for great power war. This means that it has the middle management and 'leadership' to absorb millions of conscripts. As a result, internal competition for 'inclusion' in combat ops is fierce (for promotion and 'validation of value' purposes). This also leads to extreme specialization of bureaucratic function -- lots of different types of oversight.
New communications technology isn't being used for what it is designed to do (enable decentralized operation due to better informed people on the ground). Instead it is being used to enable more complicated and hierarchical approval processes -- more sign offs/approvals, more required processes, and higher level oversight. For example: a general, and his staff, directly commanding a small strike team remotely.
Avenues of exploitation that slow decision making of counter-insurgency strike teams include:
- Shorten the duration of the exposure to operate within the long OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loops of the opposition.
- Pinpoint specific decision making processes for disruption. Knowledge of oversight requirements (the 11 different approvals described) enables multiple points of failure in the decision making system. Why? Due to an overstaffed organizational design, there are many specialized (single issue/process) sign offs, which are relatively easy to block if known.
- Introduce new factors (staggered over time) that force a new series of approvals. New data needs to be sent up the chain, discussed, and reviewed.