If attacking the enemy and blowing things up were all that the military had to do, then its task would be straightforward. But if that was ever the case, it is no longer so.
In order to execute its mission, the U.S. Army explains in a new doctrinal publication, the military must do more to identify friends and foes, build relationships with the former, attempt to influence the latter, and seek to construct a favorable social environment for military success.
“The last decade of war has shown us that our opponents are often difficult to detect and identify, and seek to blend into civilian populations. We have also learned that long-term solutions for peace and stability in contested regions often come from key allies originating from this same population,” the Army said. See Network Engagement, ATP 5-06, June 2017.
What the Army calls “network engagement” is “an evolution of ‘attack the network’. While ‘attack the network’ focused on neutralizing the threat network, this focus often led commanders to overlook friendly and neutral networks.”
By contrast, network engagement includes “supporting activities [that] are conducted towards or for friendly or neutral human networks.” Support here is not a question of attitude but of tangible assistance. “It does not matter if we think we are supporting them, what matters is the supported network perceives that we are supporting them; whether we are supporting their ideals, causes, issues, security, rights, autonomy or whatever function the support serves.”
The theory and practice of “network engagement” are discussed at length in the new Army document.
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