James Russell writes a fantastic article that shows how the military framed the war in Anbar and Ninewa provinces in Iraq as law-enforcement operations and developed new tactics to learn about the local environment. These included a census, vehicle registration, and the distribution of humanitarian aid to households. At the staff and commander levels, intelligence was linked directly to operations and battalions adopted a decentralized command structure. Once the conflict was reframed, a new set of SOPs were generated that supported the long-term of goal of understanding the perspective of the people and the social relationships and networks connecting them and the insurgency:
“The standing operating procedure (SOP) for the unit typically focused on: (1) Planning and establishing the COP; (2) Ensuring route security so each outpost could be kept resupplied; (3) Clearing operations after the COP had been stood up to clear IEDs and find weapons caches; and (4) Census patrols to follow after the clearing operations to consolidate the position and gradually work its way into the human terrain of the area – the real target of MacFarland’s campaign.” (609)
Not only does Russell illustrate how the military organically innovated new operational practices, he also throws cold water on Lyall and Wilson, who argue more mechanized counterinsurgency forces are more likely to be starved of information because of minimal social interaction with the people:
1–37 deployed into Ramadi as an armored battalion – a legacy unit organized and equipped for conventionally oriented fire-and-maneuver missions. The unit demonstrated significant adaptive flexibility and built what can only be described as sophisticated and systems-oriented COIN capacities in executing its part of MacFarland’s campaign to retake Ramadi. While the Army is particularly noted for a rigid command hierarchy and a campaign-style approach to warfare, this unit clearly demonstrated its capacity for learning and searched for optimal solutions, accepted disparate sources of information, and constantly sought to build its understanding of the operational
However, Russell describe how innovation involves abandoning past operational practices and the realization that existing practices are not fulfilling strategic objectives. Learning occurs both inside and outside of military units – civilians have to also learn what interactive practices can lead to cooperation with counterinsurgents. In other words, Russell doesn’t explain how both counterinsurgents and civilians develop a common understanding and perspective of each other within the war. And: what about the elite level interaction between American forces and the Iraqis, particularly those who led Iraqi security forces and the Awakening. How did the operational and tactical innovations developed by the military contribute to making that cooperation possible? This is when our innovation creates symbiotic and cooperative innovation amongst them – how can we explain their collaborative innovation? And how did they develop an intersubjective understanding of the war at that moment? A social constructivist approach could answer all of these questions.