Lessons for the Interagency from Past Complex Contingency Operations


  • deciding to intervene
  • crafting an integrated strategy
  • establishing effective integration mechanisms
  • determining who will lead the operation
  • building a cohesive and effective coalition
  • gaining political support for the operation
  • continually reassessing the operation
  • executing a smooth and seamless transition


Lessons in Detail

  1. Deciding to intervene. Any decision to conduct or participate in a complex contingency operation should be based on the following factors:

  • a realistic assessment of the situation
  • an assessment of U. S. interests at stake
  • an assessment of options and an evaluation of the costs/risks compared to U.S. interests
  • likely participation/contributions of other governments and organizations
  • identification of clear objectives, an exit criteria and strategy for the U.S.
  • acceptability of command, control, communication and intelligence arrangements
  • prospects for gaining adequate political and financial support for the operation
  1. Crafting an integrated strategy. Complex contingency operations involve far more than simply military operations. Any strategy for achieving U.S. objectives must integrate political, military, humanitarian and other dimensions.
  2. Establishing effective integration mechanisms. The interagency must ensure that mechanisms for integration exist at all levels -strategic, operational and tactical -- and that these mechanisms coordinate with one another.
  • At the strategic level (Washington), the interagency will establish an EXCOM.
  • At the operational level (regional combatant command), the CINC should establish an interagency cell to provide advice and assistance.
  • At the tactical level (host nation), the Ambassador should augment the Country Team with interagency representatives as appropriate. In the absence of U.S. diplomatic representation in country, the CJTF Commander should establish an interagency cell to provide advice and assistance.
  1. Determining who will lead the operation. For the foreseeable future, the UN is not capable of undertaking complex contingency operations that involve the potential for combat without a strong member or alliance taking the lead.
  • When the United States commits significant numbers of troops to such an operation, it must be prepared to play more than a supporting role and to be held accountable for the results.
  • If U.S. interests do not support such a leadership role, then forms of participation other than committing large numbers of troops should be considered.
  1. Building a cohesive and effective coalition. When forming a coalition, the lead nation or organization should:
  • assess the political will and military capability of possible participants
  • obtain advance agreement from coalition on:

mandate, objectives and strategy

command and control arrangements

rules of engagement

resource contributions of each participant

  • establish mechanisms for regular consultation and coordination among coalition partners, both on the ground and at higher political levels
  1. Gaining political support for the operation. Winning and sustaining the support of Congress and the American people is critical to success. Congressional and public affairs strategies are, therefore, critical elements of any integrated strategy. This must be done not only at the outset of an operation, but also whenever significant changes on the ground or in the pol-mil plan occur.
  1. Continually reassessing the operation. Once the operation is underway, the interagency must continually reassess the operation to ensure that mission execution remains consistent with our overall objectives and strategy.
  • Operations on the ground must be transparent to key policy-makers.
  • When conditions on the ground change significantly, the interagency must fully assess the impact of such change on its overall objectives, its strategy and the means needed to carry it out.
  • Shifts in policy guidance must be communicated as clear decisions and coordinated with coalition partners; communication up and down the chain of command must remain unbroken.
  • Whenever U.S. troops are put in harm's way, the USG must ensure that policy issues are surfaced and resolved in a timely manner and that the operation receives sustained policy oversight.
  1. Executing a smooth and seamless transition. A smooth, seamless transition from a coalition operation to a UN operation requires:
  • carefully worded UNSCR transition language
  • early selection of the SRSG and force commander
  • early deployment of an advance team or core headquarters staff
  • commitment of significant time, effort and resources to help the UN plan/prepare for the follow-on operation
  • beginning to recruit for the UN operation while recruiting for the coalition operation
  • realistic evaluation of both the political will and the capabilities of potential contributors
  • tailoring the U. S. contribution to the UN operation