What can the conflicts of today tell us about the wars of the near future? At a recent conference hosted by Queens University, Land Force Doctrine and Training Systems (LFDTS) and the U.S. Army War College, Major-General Marquis Hainse described conditions in Afghanistan as a harbinger of things to come. A veteran of conflicts in Haiti, Bosnia and most recently as deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan’s regional command south, the newly appointed commander LFDTS spoke with associate editor Chris Thatcher.

What characteristics make Afghanistan a good example of what is waiting for us in the future?

I’m not suggesting this is the model but it is certainly a model that is likely to be there for the next generation. The conflicts we are facing right now are not the ones the generation before us had to face. From a more conventional belligerent in a more constrained area with better-defined borders, we now face irregular threats, extremist networks, non-state actors and a media-savvy belligerent who is able to exploit the information age. All of those are aspects that are going to be with us for a while.

You’ve talked about a paradigm shift from war-fighting to war-winning: What is required to make that shift?

A military force must keep its ability to deliver kinetic effect. And keep training for this. This is probably the most decisive action we will be asked to take, so we cannot lose that expertise. Keeping that in mind, we have to be able to make a quick switch to face these new conflicts, and the military response is only one aspect. More and more, we have realized that an integrated approach with other government departments is key. You cannot deliver a solution by yourself. You need an overall strategy that takes all of the components of the conflict – economic, institutional, cultural, security, governance – and then brings people together with unity of purpose and unity of thought to be able to deliver on common goals.

Have you seen that shift within other departments to the same extent as the military?

We are certainly seeing it now. We have learned a lot from previous conflicts. For example, the military has an operational planning process (OPP) and we thought it would be good to familiarize our colleagues in other departments with our process. So just two weeks ago, we had a very successful week with them. We looked at our process and learned how we can better adapt it to meet the requirements of the other departments. It’s an ongoing process.

Have we had to re-learn tactical and strategic lessons in Afghanistan?

Although people call the integrated effort something new, when you look back there was always a need for an integrated approach in past conflicts. Maybe now it’s more apparent because of the new dimensions of these conflicts. But we’re always re-learning. We are very well connected with our key allies, so we have the benefit of learning from their mistakes and not starting from zero. In my assessment, since we have been engaged in Afghanistan we have made tremendous progress for one simple reason – we never take anything for granted. Everything is reviewed. And because we generate new contingents every six to nine months, we’re forced to re-examine how we are doing before we prepare this new contingent. There is always room for improvement but I think we have made tremendous progress in lessons learned from the moment we learn that lesson. We have institutionalized that process.

What are the key strategic challenges we have to resolve for future conflict?

The comprehensive approach is key. I served in Afghanistan from April 2007 to February 2008 in a NATO position that gave me a regional perspective. The one thing that I realized we needed was a greater integrated approach. All nations have now reached for that integrated effort, but it needs to be linked to a greater strategy. Although we have a NATO Campaign Plan, it does not really transcend or have the integrated layers in of all of the international government partners. It needs to transcend the military. We have three major lines of operation – security, governance and development – and they are operating parallel to one another. The overall lead for this was not well established when I was there. Since then, we now have a UN special representative, which is great news. But the UN needed to step in earlier – they were there but, to me, stayed too much on the margin. They need to take the lead in integrating development and governance.

Another is clearly communication. If the insurgents are successful in one thing, it is propaganda – information operations. This is where their extremist network links pay dividends – al-Qaeda and other networks in the area are assisting them. They don’t always tell the truth but, frankly, they don’t have to. We, the greater international community, don’t have that luxury. We must tell the truth. But we need to get the facts straight in a timelier manner. And we should not wait for sensational incidents to get the message out. There are more success stories than bad stories, but you don’t realize this when you’re sitting here in Canada. We have improved a lot with the Canadian message, but we need a better international one. If you look at Iraq, General David Petraeus is certainly one of the focal points and it has paid dividends in the last two years; people know where he is heading and where they are going. Can we say the same about the mission in Afghanistan?

Finally, we need to understand the region. We need to find common benefits for all of the regional actors, and not just in Afghanistan. Let’s understand who is with us and who is not. For those who are not, why and what can we do to bring them along? For those who are, how can we improve their situation?

Has the diplomatic work on that front not found traction?

It’s very complex. The diplomatic work is done, and it’s led by various nations. But it should also be led from the top. Let’s start with the government of Afghanistan. It’s about them so they should be the lead. They need to lead and we must facilitate their leadership. One very positive thing I saw while in Afghanistan was the Peace Jirga about a year ago. It opens some discussion on terrorism, drug control, diplomatic ties, economics, sharing information and border issues.

Given the insurgents’ mastery of the tools of information, how do we better exploit the fractured nature of the Pashtun?

The main elements of a counterinsurgency are the indigenous government, the insurgents and the international community and, in the centre, the people; the consent of the people is the prize. Everything we do should be aimed at gaining that consent. And that comes back to having the government of Afghanistan and the people in the lead. As good as our intentions may be, we will never be able to deal with the insurgents in the way that they can. One of the difficulties of the governance aspect right now is that it is perceived as being too centralized. The government has a reasonable grip on what is happening in Kabul, on all the ministries, and on the Provincial Governors. But below that, at the district level, there seems to be a void in reaching the people. They need to better extend their reach at sovereignty.

Key to this is whether we can measure the progress. Are we getting better with metrics?

We’ve tried to follow an effects-based approach: are you achieving your intended effect? And lot’s has been done at the NATO level. Canada has a very good set of metrics – certainly more advanced than many other nations. Now we need to integrate our set with the greater NATO community set. Military personnel tend to look at it from the security line of operation. We need to get better at developing metrics for both the governance and development lines of operation. This is still work in progress.

You’ve recently had a broader NATO vantage point. How does Canada compare with allies on this comprehensive approach to operations? Are others incorporating it to the same extent?

From the moment we arrived in southern Afghanistan, we were very much a leader. Other nations came to build around us. Most are incorporating whole-of-government, though all have different approaches and all have their own challenges on the policy side. NATO is trying to capture best practices. As an example, with the provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) there is a meeting every three months or so to discuss best practices. That’s done at the NATO level and at the regional level to make sure everybody stays connected. The OMLT (Operational Mentor and Liaison Team) evolved from an American concept – embedded training teams – that has become a NATO concept. Now there is an NATO OMLT training initiative for nations who would like to field this capacity. Canada is very much engaged in all aspects of the mission.

What lessons can we apply from Afghanistan to future conflict?

The path we’re on in the Canadian Forces with JIMP – Joint, Interagency, Multinational and Public – and the concept of team is key. Everything we do in our training, in our professional development, must be done for the greater team, not just in the silos of each government organization. That will serve us well both on domestic and expeditionary operations. We need to always allow time in our preparation to understand what we are getting into. We cannot afford to go into a place blindfolded. Time spent on cultural awareness is time well spent. We must maintain our ability to deliver kinetic effects but we must get better at delivering non-kinetic aspects, all of those tools like PRT, OMLT and information operations. In everything we do, we must also master the influence activities dimension. Finally, we must show patience. Overnight success does not exist. Those lines of operation all have different horizons.