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What Worked and What Caused Trouble in Afghanistan

July 11, 2012
By Rita Boland
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Coalition successes and challenges in Afghanistan offer opportunities for partners to improve interagency operations in the future. Col. David W. McMorries, USMC, who addressed the crowd at TechNet Land Forces South in Tampa, recently returned from Regional Command Southwest where he served as the C-6. He also filled the role of G-6 for II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and is preparing to assume command of the Marine Corps Networks Operations and Security Center.

During his time in Afghanistan, the colonel worked with a range of partners from the well-known British forces to troops from Estonia or Bahrain. Working together increased access to assets for everyone and produced some surprises. Estonia, for instance, found the highest number of improvised explosive devices in the region. Col. McMorries touted several successes, most notably the Afghan Mission Network, which he said worked well, offering considerable benefit. In fact, troops who served in Afghanistan and later were involved in operations in Libya expected such a capability there. Also of benefit was forces' ability to put into place significant terrestrial connections.

In some cases, the colonel said, information links between his region in Afghanistan and Kandahar are better than those Marines use stateside. However, challenges of culture and technology required forces to adapt to ensure success. One of the challenges involved the difficulty of communicating with non-NATO forces because of policy limitations. Issues even emerged among countries with strong partnerships. Col. McMorries said that without the help of the NATO Thales Group, communicating with the British contingent, a major force in Regional Command Southwest, would have been considerably more difficult.

The common scourge of operations-spectrum limitation-also caused problems. In a message specifically addressed to industry partners, Col. McMorries said, "We got crushed on spectrum." Forces had to keep certain desired capabilities off the network because of the spectrum limitations. He also touched on the difference between civilian and military practices. One nonuniformed member of the Regional Command Southwest team hooked personal Apple products onto the networks, which goes against protocol. Col. McMorries and his staff had to put in place new restrictions to prevent a recurrence.

The colonel has several suggestions for future groups deploying to Afghanistan or other places. For one, he recommends developing open communications with partners. And, even though troops may speak the same language, they still need to be wary of miscommunications. He also stated that forces must understand the politics involved in operations. In a slightly surprising remark, he said that networking is easy, as long as everyone agrees to certain procedures.

Col. McMorries also presented lessons learned. Network operations need to be "brilliant in basics" before personnel try to make them fancy. Partners also should discuss network operations in detail, an issue he discovered when the Conficker virus made its way through networks in the region. In addition, forces should make deliberate decisions about interacting with indigenous forces. Col. McMorries said he and others in the area spent a lot of time developing the Afghan National Security Forces and had to work through issues such as whether to make them part of the Afghan Mission Network. He stated that decisions need to be made early, and then decision makers need to stick with them.

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