Cyberspace Operations in Support of Counterinsurgency Operations

April 8, 2013

The United States has fought an innovative, ruthless and persistent enemy in Afghanistan for more than 11 years. In response to an evolving adversary, the U.S. military developed counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine to create a framework for commanders to view their operational environment (OE) and provide new methods of applying all the capabilities at their disposal. Comprehensive COIN operations are the basis of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) campaign planning and tactical operations. While COIN provides a comprehensive strategic framework to use in defeating an insurgency, it lacks any substantive analysis concerning the value of employing cyberspace operations.

America’s enemies understand the power of technology. The entry cost to using digital communications is low while the reliability, quality and simplicity of service are generally high. Open-source intelligence indicates that insurgents use different technologies to communicate, create operational plans, store institutional knowledge and develop strategy. The full extent of insurgents’ employment of their technological portfolio with respect to command and control, financing, recruiting, training, propaganda dissemination and knowledge management remains an unknown. These issues are of particular concern, as they indicate a level of sophistication that can enable and potentially enhance operations against coalition forces. Present insurgent and/or terrorist cyber-based activities are not fully understood at the operational and tactical levels. The purpose of this paper is to describe the nature of cyberspace operations in general, discuss the need for enhanced cyberspace operations in Afghanistan and express a viable framework for how future cyberspace operations could be more effectively conducted in Afghanistan.