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Planning Considerations for Resistance Elements, Part One

September 8, 2012
In his excellent book “The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander,” LTC Pete Blaber (retired), discusses and illustrates some critical lessons for leaders that he developed as a SOF officer. While I believe that many doctrinal lessons of the U.S. Military are extremely valid for irregular warfare as well (As a team sergeant once explained to me, “You can’t master the unconventional, if you don’t know the conventional.” While not always true, as history has illustrated, it’s a valid generalization that is true on many levels—J.M.), these lessons from LTC Blaber are important to understand in order to mitigate those elements that do not fit the unconventional paradigm.
LTC Blaber’s lessons are:
The Mission, The Men, and Me: This is valid, even in the conventional paradigm. As a leader, or even just as a subordinate member of a combat unit, the first priority, in order to ensure success, has always got to be the success of the mission. This may require the sacrifice of personnel. A war-fighter cannot allow his personal interests in the well-being of his comrades to cause the mission to fail. Otherwise, he might as well sit at home and watch the latest episode of “Dancing with the Stars,” for all the success he will experience in the field. Conflict, especially armed conflict, is difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous. Potential future resistors need to understand that before they need to take up arms. Directly ancillary to that fact is the reality that, as a leader (whether official or unofficial), the war-fighter holds a moral obligation to, as much as the mission’s success allows, put the welfare of his comrades ahead of his own. This is the definition of the self-sacrifice of the warrior. If someone needs to stay awake to pull security, after running a continuous operation for the previous 24 or 72 hours, any leader worth listening to will put himself at the top of the list, to ensure that his people are rested and healthy.
-Imagine the Unimaginable, Humor Your Imagination: The conventional military is largely a hide-bound institution. Special operations forces cannot afford to adhere too closely to the party line, or they would accomplish nothing. As an example, conventional doctrine mandates a 3:1 numerical advantage when planning offensive operations. Yet, during many successful special operations historically, fortune has favored the bold and success has been accomplished despite willfully choosing to conduct operations that do not facilitate the doctrinally-mandated numerical advantage.
When guerrilla/resistance forces plan operations, they may often be forced to develop plans that would seem, to a conventional-force trained and experienced leader, to be fatally flawed from the inception. The lack of logistical support, indirect-fire support (I highly suggest doing some research into the concept of “knee mortars” and the indigenous, expedient development of indirect-fire support weapons –J.M.), and numbers is foreign to most conventional-force commanders. Yet, guerrillas have managed, throughout history, to use audacity and imaginative planning to overcome these short-comings. As LTC Blaber states, “History has proven that it’s not the quantity of men or the quality of weapons that make the ultimate difference; it’s the ability to out-think and out-imagine the enemy that always has, and always will, determine the ultimate victor.” Being willing, and able, to think outside the box will provide resistance forces with many apparently outlandish opportunities for success, as long as they humor their imagination and develop those plans before automatically writing them off.
-When in doubt, develop the situation: One shortcoming often displayed by “leaders,” even within the special operations community, is fear of the unknown. Commanders refuse to commit people to missions with potential to be amazing success, unless they can fill in every single blank space on a checklist of “necessary” information. Like special operations personnel, resistance elements cannot be bound by fear of the unknown (imagine what would happen if an SF ODA, performing a HALO infiltration of a hostile country, to perform a Strategic Reconnaissance mission, would fare if they insisted on having every bit of information they wanted, instead of simply maximizing what was available. How do you determine the state of affairs on the ground if you don’t have someone on the ground? You don’t—J.M.). The skilled leader in irregular warfare will utilize every single piece of relevant information intelligence available to him. He will not however, allow himself to be strait-jacketed by a lack of some information (as a fellow SF alumni pointed out recently via email, “You can never have too much intel!” I agree, but also believe in the British SAS motto, “Who Dares Wins!” Sometimes, you have to take the approach of, “We’ve got to go with what we’ve got. Plan for what we can, we’ll make the rest up as we go—J.M.). He will plan for what he has, then develop the rest of the plan, even if mid-operation, as he receives new information (there is a reason we perform a leader’s recon of an objective before executing the final stages of a plan, after all—J.M.).
The LTC goes on, discussing other lessons he learned. “The only failure is the failure to try,” “Don’t get treed by a Chihuahua,” and more (I HIGHLY recommend the book to anyone concerned about unconventional warfare planning and execution, despite my ambivelance towards LTC Blaber’s former unit—J.M.).
The purpose of leadership and planning in any combat element is to develop a course of action for the successful execution of unit goals. There is a common misconception among the inexperienced, that combat leadership is predicated on the concept of “Do what I say, or I’ll shoot you.” While this has, historically, been used as a “leadership” method, it’s not a highly recommended method, since it both fails to instill an effective level of motivation towards success, and it tends to backfire, since as soon as provided the opportunity, troops will either desert, or shoot the “leader” in an effort to maximize their personal survivability. Good leadership, under the stresses of combat, is comprised of influencing a desired behavior in people by providing a sense of purpose, motivation, and direction to accomplish a stated task or mission.
When voluntary war-fighters are provided with information on the reason why a mission needs to be executed (“Because I told you to!” is a good way to earn the response, “Piss off!”–J.M.), a coherent plan to successfully execute the mission, and they are offered the motivation to succeed (I believe that a thorough understanding of the purpose of a mission, assuming the purpose is legitimately important, will provide ample motivation to serious freedom fighters in any resistance campaign. –J.M.), they will put themselves in the path of danger, without a gun at their backs. The ability to provide these key pieces of information are critical to the success of resistance leadership, and good leadership is critical to the success of successful resistance activities.
Doctrinally speaking, mission-oriented leadership is comprised of four key factors: Commander’s intent, individual initiative at all levels, down to the newest, least experienced member of the unit, clearly developed and expressed operational plans, and a judicious allocation of all available, necessary resources.
Commander’s intent may, in many resistance scenarios be as simple as a statement of the goal of the mission (even “leaderless” resistance, someone has to be responsible for the leadership and direction of a cellular element. It may be more realistic, in such as situation to develop a mission intent, rather than a commander’s intent, per se. The purpose, regardless of the title used, is to provide a clear, concise statement of what will define a successful end-state to the mission).
Directly related to the mission intent is the developed ability and willingness of even the most junior war-fighter involved, to step up and take the initiative for independent action, when necessary, to continue the mission to achieve the stated mission intent. A fighting unit that lacks initiative will not succeed. A trained fighter should be willing to step up and develop the situation even if the planned course of action is suddenly no longer viable, or when an unforeseen opportunity to expand on the mission intent is discovered.
Clearly developed and expressed operational plans are of obvious importance. If the least experienced fighter cannot decipher the purpose or plan of execution, not only will he be unable to effectively carry out his particular responsibilities in order to help the mission succeed, but he will be unable to recognize the opportunities that often present themselves during operations to expand on the mission intent. There is often a misconception amongst the uninitiated that SOF personnel and/or guerrillas do not plan operations, but rather, simply do things “by the seat of their pants.” This is so far from the truth as to be laughable. Special operations, due to the complexity of their nature, are thoroughly planned, sometimes to the point of the absurd (this is the source of LTC Blaber’s suggestion that, “when in doubt, develop the situation”). Resistance operations should be planned, in as much detail as possible, and the five-paragraph operations order (OPORD) is a doctrinal method for doing so, and expressing those plans in a comprehensive, coherent manner that allows every member of an element to understand their role in the operation.
Resistance forces will never enjoy the luxury of an all-encompassing logistics support network. Very seldom will a resistance element be able to easily procure every item on their material “dream sheet” of necessary equipment, in order to facilitate their operations. This shortcoming of support should never be utilized as an excuse to preclude the execution of a necessary operation. Nevertheless, every effort should be made, through all three branches of the resistance movement, to supply whatever material support is needed and available, to facilitate the success of any mission.
Mission-oriented leadership and planning focuses on the objective of any given operation, in relation to the strategic goals of the resistance, rather than simply adhering to some preconceived notion of “how guerrillas operate” (this may be a large part of the reason so many people have difficulty distinguishing between the mission parameters of the different elements of a successful resistance movement—J.M.). Successful resistance operational planning must rely on the individual initiative of the fighter to determine the best course of action for the execution of a given mission, rather than some centralized, plan-by-decree paradigm.
While the OPORD format is a splendid planning and leadership tool, it has the tendency to be mis-used and made more important and detailed than it needs to be. A well-planned operation, and a well-developed OPORD should be as brief and simple as possible, as long as the necessary information is clearly and completely communicated.
A plan should be the foundation of any operation. To develop a plan, a patrol leader (PL) must understand the mission intent and the stragic and operational goals of the resistance. These three factors must provide the overall concept of the operation, in order to plan the mission. The application of the doctrinal “troop-leading procedures” (TLP), in view of the concept of the operation, allows the PL to develop a a complete plan and develop and construct a comprehensive OPORD. The mission statement of a plan must incorporate and cover the five “W’s” of who, what, when, where, and why.
(i.e. ODA 000 (who) will execute a HALO insertion (what) to infiltrate the UWOA (unconventional warfare operational area) NLT 0130 on 24FEB12 (when), (please note that, while this is not the military doctrinal format for writing a date-time group, I wrote it this way to make it more readily understandable for non-military personnel—J.M.) at Drop Zone Formaldehyde (where) to effect a link-up with local indigenous resistance elements (why). In such a case, the mission intent/commander’s intent might be “ODA 000 will conduct a link-up with local resistance elements to perform a UW mission.)

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