Enhancing and Integrating Army Civil Affairs Capability

By Benjamin Keeler

Background – What is Civil Affairs?

Modern conflict is viewed within the land, sea, air, and cyber domains. The collection of these factors is referred to in Army doctrine as Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). An increasingly important part of Army MDO practice is engagement and competition in the civil domain. U.S. Army Civil Affairs forces are trained to shape an operational political-military environment by working with regional partners, host nations and local populations. The operations conducted by Civil Affairs forces are an asset to the ground commander and the broader US foreign policy apparatus to engage non military actors and foreign governments. (Feiler 2003)

Civil Affairs forces, both in the active and reserve components, are experts in three areas that shape and influence the operational environment. Field Manual 3-57 in Civil Affairs Operations defines these areas as the following:

“Civil Reconnaissance. CR [civil reconnaissance] is a targeted, planned, and coordinated observation and evaluation of specific civil aspects of the environment for collecting civil information to enhance situational understanding and facilitate decision making. Potential sources of civil information include areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events (ASCOPE) assessments.

Civil Engagement. CE [civil engagement] includes those planned and targeted interactions which promote the building of relationships between military forces, unified action partners, IPI [indigenous populations and institutions], and the interagency to reduce civilian impacts to ongoing or planned military operations and mitigate the military impact on the civilian population. … It may be in person or by other means of communication.

Civil Information Management. Civil information management is the process whereby data relating to the civil component is gathered, collated, processed, analyzed, produced into information products, and disseminated. The data is used as civil considerations input into possible courses of action to determine the impact of military operations on the civil component of the OE [operational environment] and to provide updates on the civil component to enhance the commander’s common operational picture (COP).” (Department of the Army FM 3-57)

Through these operations, Civil Affairs provides military commanders and their partners with an understanding of the civil component and operational environment. Civil reconnaissance and civil engagement provide an intelligence driven picture of the civil environment and provide context for ground troops. Civil information is collected, analyzed and applied to traditional military intelligence processes to supplement the commander’s tactical decisions. (Raza 2009)

Problem – Why current training isn’t enough

In the status quo, Army Civil Affairs forces are constantly working with interagency partners, especially in response to natural and humanitarian disasters. However, Army CA training is not aligned or integrated with interagency partners, to include the State Department and United States Agency for International Development. This reduces their effectiveness on both the battlefield supporting ground commanders and in humanitarian responses when working with interagency partners. 

During operations, Civil Affairs units are tasked to operate in areas normally occupied by civil governments.  The five Civil Affairs tasks are populace and resource control, civil information management, foreign humanitarian assistance, nation assistance, and support to civil administration. Each of these tasks are essential to the accomplishment of a military commander’s mission. These tasks are also sought after by other actors in the space, to include other US Government entities.

The first CA task is populace and resource control. These types of operations are meant to provide security for the population in a given area of operations. Typical populace and resource operations include roadblocks, curfews, and any other type of operation with the intent to control a population and resources Civil information management is the second CA task. It refers to the process of the collection, analysis, and dissemination of all data related to the civil component, which is essential to determining the impact military or unified government actions would have on an area of operations. The third CA task is foreign humanitarian assistance. These operations are directly meant to alleviate human suffering, disease or starvation. Foreign humanitarian assistance operations often share the same goal as interagency partners, especially USAID. Nation assistance is the fourth CA task and is aid and support administered through or with a foreign government. The final CA task is support to civil administration, which involves using the expertise of Civil Affairs units to support and strengthen local and national governance. 

Civil affairs operations are an essential component to civil-military operations. In fact, Civil Affairs units are largely tasked with the planning of these operations. Civil-military operations are the activities performed by the military that deal with relationships between the military and indigenous populations and institutions. These operations affect the larger unified action in a given area of operations, which is the, “synchronization, coordination, and integration of the activities of governmental and non governmental entities with military operations to achieve unity of effort” (Joint Chiefs of Staff JP 3-57)

Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti provides an interesting case study for the use of Army Civil Affairs teams. On July 31st 1994, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 940 which authorized the restoration of democracy in Haiti by “all means necessary” President Clinton ordered the US military to take the lead in “Operation Uphold Democracy” On September 8th, 1994, the U.S. Atlantic Command activated the contingency to invade Haiti. The US military landed in Haiti on September 19th, and the military junta backed down. The US intervention was intended to meet three main goals, removing the military junta, restoring President Aristide to power and establishing democracy in Haiti. The presence of a conventional force was able to meet the first two goals, but Civil Affairs assets had the more lofty task of setting the conditions for a stable democracy. Civil affairs units planned to restore essential government services and rebuild democratic institutions.

In order to promote stable and efficient governance, or in the vernacular of civil affairs doctrine, provide support to civil administration, 34 CA officers were assigned to support, advise, and oversee Haitian government ministries. These advisers reported directly to the US ambassador at the time. They were able to streamline the bureaucratic processes of institutions like the customs ministry, promoting more efficient and stable governance

Upon the arrival of US forces to the country, electrical supply was sporadic and completely unregulated. The Haitian government’s lack of oversight led to frequent blackouts. Army CA teams led engineering units in repairing the nation’s electrical grid. By the end of their mission, they brought four power plants back on line, quadrupling the capacity of Haiti’s power grid. (Klemens and Slaven 1995)

The main failure of CA units in Haiti was the ability to provide adequate medical support desperately needed in the country. Most of the medical care was delegated to non-military US authorities or indigenious authorities, both of which lacked the logistical prowess provided by the military. (White 2009)

Recommendation: What the Army should do

In order to deter conflict abroad and protect US national security interests, the US Army should enhance their CA capabilities by implementing a strategy which grows organic Army CA capability while aggressively integrating that capability with joint, interagency, and multinational (JIM) partners. Civil Affairs units should conduct joint-training operations with organizations such as the State Department and USAID. Across operational areas and in training, Army CA in both the active and reserve components should seek to facilitate more military-civil engagements which include JIM partners, NGOs, IGOs, and Indegenous Populations and Institutions (IPIs).  

Operational integration and cohesion starts with training. Because disaster and conflict can happen at a moment’s notice, Army CA units should hold that purposely and specifically include non Department of Defense actors to include the State Department and USAID. The Army already has facilities for training to include the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA and the Joint Readiness Training Center in Ft. Polk, LA. Joint Publication 3-57, Civil-Military Operations, provides a comprehensive framework for how the military should interact with civil actors in an operational area through a Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC). (Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 3-57) By integrating as many actors in training as possible, the US Army and the Department of Defense as a whole can be more effective in civil-military operations, delivering better results on the ground. 


Department of the Army. (2011). Civil Affairs Operations (FM 3-57).


Joint Chiefs of Staff. 2018. Civil Military Operations (JP 3-57).

Klemens, Darren and Kelly Slaven. 1995 “Task Force Caste: Joint Engineer Operations in Haiti,” Engineer 25(1). 

Raza, Assad. 2019. “Order from Chaos Inside U.S. Army Civil Affairs Activities.” Army University Press.

White, Jeremy P. 2009. “Civil Affairs in Haiti.” Center for Strategic and International Studies.