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Constructive Engagement: A Proven Method for Conducting Stability and Support Operations

February 7, 2007

In the Iraqi theater of operations (ITO), successful conduct of stability and support operations (SASO) requires an imaginative combination of lethal and nonlethal methods. For the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, the combination is known as constructive engagement (CE) and is conducted in battalion sectors throughout Baghdad. CE combines the full spectrum of military operations with diplomacy at the tactical level, a strategy described by top commanders in Iraq in a 2004 New York Times article as a mix of military tactics, political maneuverings, media management and a generous dollop of cash for quickly rebuilding warravaged cities—a formula that, if it survives the test of time, could become a model for future fighting against the persistent insurrections plaguing Iraq.”

During full-spectrum operations in a SASO environment, a commander must balance the application of military (lethal and civil-military) operations with diplomatic engagement to achieve the desired endstate. CE describes the methods commanders use to reach this balance, and in Baghdad the goal is the creation of a safe and secure environment in which the seeds of a republic will flourish. The mix of military and diplomatic tactics required very much depends on the environment within each unit sector and the personality of the battalion commander; a commander s skill as a Soldier and diplomat often determine the unit s level of success. Many small-unit leaders and commanders in Baghdad found diplomatic methods are often the most efficient means of reducing the insurgent base. Operations research analysts measured the effects of this approach through analysis of the changes in the types and number of enemy attacks in sectors across Baghdad. Statistical comparison of attacks before and after engagement operations began demonstrated the decisive operation type in Baghdad s SASO environment is nonlethal. Commanders used military operations to shape the environment but used CE to achieve success.

During constructive engagement the commander assumes the role of top “tribal leader” in his/her area of operations (AO). The linchpin in this technique is that an Army battalion is the most powerful force in the sector. Local tribal and religious leaders must be made to understand this fact through discussion and justifiable use of force. CE centers on the fact that the U.S. Army and local leaders have common goals, such as the improvement of living and economic conditions, security and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces. However, CE works only if small-unit leaders keep their promises, respect the local populace and display results in improving their lives. In addition, commanders must increase the prestige and influence of the tribal and religious leaders in the AO. Once empowered, these leaders marginalize and deny support to insurgent forces and causes.

This strategy has measurable impact at the tactical level. Attacks are reduced when insurgents in a particular area are isolated, marginalized and defeated through constructive engagement. However, understandably, CE does not cease all attacks in the AO. For example, mortar attacks originating outside the sector often continue after engagement takes root; therefore, commanders must still conduct lethal operations to target and destroy extremists. CE requires trust, respect, commitment, and expectation and consequence management. In addition, local leaders must know that coalition forces will back up what they say in both military operations and kinetic operations.