Guest Post: The Role of Warfighter in Intelligence

Since “Guerrillamerica” is no longer up, I asked Sam Culper if he would write some “guest post” articles that were along the “Intel” line, and his expertise (Some claim Intel expertise, Culper has the boafides). Here’s the first, enjoy.


Intelligence is about supporting the warfighter.  The Intelligence Cycle, our intelligence requirements, our collection methods, and the results of our analysis is about informing our commander about enemy activity in his battlespace so that he can make well-informed, time-sensitive decisions.  Without this intelligence, our command is left blind to the enemy situation, and so are our warfighters.  I want to briefly tackle two issues in this guest article.  The first is that we as the intelligence element live and work to support the warfighter.  The second is that the warfighter has an obligation to enable the work of intelligence.

Intelligence Support to the Warfighter

Imagine a team going out on patrol in the Arghandab Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, a hot bed of Taliban activity.  (On second thought, no.  Imagine that your close friends are going out on patrol in the Arghandab Valley.)  What intelligence do they need to know in order to survive?  Here’s a short list:

  • How many Taliban fighters are in the area?
  • What level of resistance can this team expect?
  • What types of weapons will the Taliban fighters have?
  • What are the observed tactics of the Taliban in the area?
  • What tactics can we expect to be employed by the Taliban in the area?
  • How heavily have the roads been mined by the Taliban?
  • Where are IEDs likely to have been emplaced in the area?

All these questions represent intelligence gaps (in reality there would be a great deal more of these questions), and the more information we have, the better we can answer these questions.  The better we can answer these questions, the more likely it is that we can save the lives of our friends and enable them to kill more of the enemy.  The truth is that good intelligence saves lives and takes lives; the question for organizations in conflict is who has the better intelligence.  (Consider that a British officer, after the American Revolution, opined that the Americans didn’t outfight the British to win, they outspied them.)

If we can’t collect information and produce accurate intelligence, then we’re leaving our guys nearly blind.  This is the difference between going into a championship fight knowing who your opponent is, and finding out who you’re fighting once you get in the ring.  The latter is a very bad way to do business, and the former isn’t accomplished without intelligence.

So if you’re a warfighter without intelligence support, then building that capability should be your first priority.  There are some basic intelligence tasks that can be performed by a team, but even that distracts from the mission.  The job of the warfighter is to be the best shooter, mover, and communicator he can be, so he can’t be required to develop his own intelligence on top of that mission.

But as in the Army where “Every Soldiers is a Sensor,” the more information of intelligence value the warfighter can observe and report, the better the intelligence that can be produced.

The Warfighter’s Role in Intelligence

Some might think of intelligence as a one way street, where information flows from the Analysis & Control Element (ACE, or the 2-shop) out to commanders and other decision makers.  In reality, if we want a more robust intelligence effort, then we need to be collecting information from the troops on the ground, too.  Although not typically considered intelligence collectors, the warfighter indeed has a role in intelligence collection.  The irony here is that the warfighter is often the first to collect information of tactical intelligence value and is always the last to use it.  We say that ‘intelligence drives the fight’ because the warfighter is the end user of the intelligence we produce.

It’s very good practice for the Intelligence Officer (or in the case of community security, someone from your community ACE) to talk with returning patrols.  These patrols are on the ground, always observing and monitoring changes in their battlespace (or if they’re not, then they should be), and so if they’re not reporting this information back to the ACE, then the intelligence element is missing a critical piece of the puzzle.

Here are just a few questions that the ACE needs to ask of warfighters, or that warfighters need to report to the ACE:

  • Have you identified any changes in enemy tactics?
  • Have you identified enemy weapons that weren’t previously in the battlespace?
  • Have you identified any changes in the strength or organization of the enemy?
  • Have you identified any changes in the operating environment?
  • Have you identified any changes in how the populace reacts to your presence?

Having this information might be critical to piecing together how the battlespace is changing, either for the best or the worst.  The intelligence element that’s able to speak to multiple patrols might be able to piece together shifts in enemy tactics, or in how the populace views our efforts.  In turn, we can take these indicators — observable or potentially observable clues — and identify what the enemy is likely to do in the future.

A real world scenario, Afghanistan circa 2006, was a slow build up of Taliban fighters in our Area of Operations (AO).  This was an indication not only that the capabilities of the Taliban in the area were growing, but also that it historically meant that a large scale, brazen attack was imminent.  For community security, if we’re not collecting this information from our patrols, then we’re missing out on an important part of the picture.

Conclusion & Advice

Warfighters: you absolutely play a critical role in intelligence.  Be familiar with the kinds of information that your ACE needs in order to produce intelligence, and always be on the lookout for information that satisfies their requirements.  If you’re not sure about whether or not to report something you observed, then report it anyway.  It’s going to benefit you in the long-run and it might just produce intelligence that saves your life.

Intelligence elements: be sponges.  Live for collecting this information about the battlespace, and then be prudent about producing actionable or predictive intelligence.  No one else in your organization produces intelligence but you, and it doesn’t produce itself.  If you’re not staying proactive in monitoring the battlespace — “to find, know, and never lose the enemy” — then you’re not doing your job, and you’re leaving your command blind to the enemy situation.  If the commander doesn’t know the enemy situation, then his plans suffer and it negatively affects the mission.  Your work is mission critical.  Don’t forget that.

Samuel Culper is the Director of Forward Observer’s Open Source Intelligence service. He was an Army and contract Intelligence analyst with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the author of SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security.



American by BIRTH, Infidel by CHOICE


6 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Role of Warfighter in Intelligence

  1. Here’s a question, for Culper, you or Mr. Barry. How is a baseline of behavior determined initially? I would imagine the Gulf War would have provided some intelligence per Iraq, but I am curious as to the methodology/resources the intel guys used to establish a baseline for the Taliban’s behavior, capabilities, and methods. Of interest to me is how one assesses a group of individuals prior to them being in conflict with you or other groups. I would imagine past history is much of the equation, but here (with limited exceptions) there is rarely that option. Is the spin up much the same as in Culper’s book or are there other methods to it?

    • You have to know how the enemy thinks.

      Americans, being (almost) intrinsically materialist tend to believe that everybody is the same thus their behavior can be quantified and reduced to charts graphs and matrixes which “predict behavior.”

      But various peoples are not the same and their behavior — on battlefield or not — cannot be reduced to formulae graphs and charts.

      Example: For over a decade the US military has been training and advising Afghan and Iraqi military and, to be blunt, both are useless clods of shit that crumble when pressure is applied against them. In contrast, the Russians have been training and advising the Syrian Arab Army for about a year or so and the Syrian Army is pounding the shit out of our Al Quida and IS mercenary armies. Why the contrast? Americans “train” Iraqis and Afghanis as if they were Americans; the Russians train Syrians as Syrians.

      Americans make the same mistake when analyzing the enemy. They quantify instead of qualifying.

      “Baseline behavior,” as you phrase it, cannot be even remotely predicted unless you know how the enemy thinks. And you cannot know how people think unless you understand their race, their religion, and as extension of their religion, their culture.

      Now, when Bunker was going down Frank Pinelander and I were wargaming out the scenario and I pretty much predicted the Fed response and the outcome — same with Mahleur and its outcome. How? I know how OPFOR thinks. I know how “patriots” think. And that is where “patriots” are at a decided disadvantage when dealing with OPFOR; they have no idea how OPFOR is thinking professionally — OPFOR has a fair idea of how “patriiots” are thinking unprofessionally. In other words, OPFOR knows “patriots” and “patriots” do not know OPFOR.

      Don’t know if that answers you question.


    • Good question. I can definitely speak to quantifying enemy action. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we had a database called CIDNE (

      In it, we could go back and look at historical data. You know how stock traders and hedge funds look at historical movements in order to predict future moves in the market? They find patterns, etc. We basically had this ability, too.

      So we can start with a 90 day pull and see how many significant actions happened per day/week/month. Then we can get a baseline of enemy activity. Problem is, like Steve was saying, is that enemy activity was largely REACTIVE. We went into a new district or new village, and there was a spike in attacks. Or we had 20 gun trucks out on patrol instead of five at any given time — guess what? More IEDs because they’re emplaced and may not be initiated for days or weeks. Then we start driving on a particular road night and day and we have a big spike in IEDs. The spike wasn’t actual IED activity, just our trucks hitting basically landmines that may have been emplaced three months ago.

      As Steve was saying for qualifying enemy activity, we can go back and ask “Why did x happen?” or “What did we do to cause them to do x?” Like I said, the numbers were mostly their reaction to what we were doing, with the exception of IEDs and rocket/mortar attacks, which were going to happen regardless of what we were doing.

      Also, in order to predict future activity, keep in mind that baseline or history is not always a good indicator. There may be changes in the environment or their organization. Their chief logistics guy gets killed. Attacks go down. Why? Because their supply chain was disrupted. Or maybe they’ve been at a high operational tempo and they’re running out of stuff. So we seek a big rise in activity, followed by a sudden decrease as they’re operating themselves out of their supplies.

      Some things to think about. Hope that helps.

      • I appreciate both of the replies. To use the often misquoted and much misunderstood Sun Tzu you need to know yourself and know your enemy. I guess to put a finer point on it, I’d like to figure out a) is it possible to accurately understand OPFOR and think ‘professionally’ as Mr. Barry put it, and b) how to accomplish A. I’m familiar in the civilian world with Root Cause Analysis or 5Why or whatever the cool buzzword is now, which appeared to maybe be what you were alluding to Sam. While proper reactive response is something clearly valuable, I’m also interested in how to develop a predictive response (or at least narrow it down to a couple likely options.) In a sense, reverse RCA. One of the few things that stuck in law school was that lawyers could do two things. Steer you clear of a mud puddle or try and pull you out of one, but the latter never had any guarantees. I am looking to do the former because I have serious doubts about the survivability of doing the latter in a world gone mad. Of chief concern to me is dictating the contact and actions of myself and those with me if at all possible, not having them dictated by OPFOR. I have no illusions of grandeur or Red Dawn, but I’d prefer not to be Waco-ed (I’ve found I’m highly allergic to fire and/or projectiles) in the first 24 hours and provide some safety and security for my loved ones.

        • Thoughtful question.

          I don’t know what “reverse cause analysis” is, but if the “cause” of that phrase is how OPFOR thinks and “reverse” is predicting OPFOR’s behavior in order to thwart or frustrate it actions, then I would say no, “patriots” cannot RCA OPFOR.

          OPFOR is not some thing with a single mind. OPFOR is a hydra. When you provoke it you are not dealing with a single agency, you are dealing with a multiple agency “pile on.” Each one with their own agendas and SOPs but all of them brought into collaboration with and cooperation by one decision making body — formal or ad hoc.

          For example, at Mahleur you can bet whoever was in charge of the OPFOR OPCEN was taking phone calls from at least a half dozen other agencies and trying to coordinate their actions while at the same time answering to a single person representing an anonymous decision making body.

          How does a rag tag pack of land use advocates analyze that? Simple answer… they don’t.

          Another example: Bunker should have given “sage war” rebels and other “patriots” pause because it was obvious to those who know OPFOR that OPFOR’s reaction to the “patriot” pile on quickly transitioned from BLM Joes rounding up cattle on BLM land to a multi-agency CI collection effort. Was there any RC analysis by “patriot” strategists? Nope. Forward to Mahleur.

          How to RCA OPFOR? Work with them, train them, advise them. Get to know them. Have experience on a theatre level staff (Sam can tell you all about it) or a JSOTF staff.

          “Patriots” think on a purely tactical level. OPFOR is thinking on a strategic level.

          Again, not sure if that answers you question.


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