Civilians on the CTC battlefield-threat, opportunity, or distraction?

Civilians on the CTC battlefield-threat, opportunity, or distraction? – combat training center

Matthew J. Morgan

Civilian presence in the area of operations (AO) is an important factor in visualizing the battlefield and one that we occasionally overlook. The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) reported that “little thought is given to intelligence collection from…civilians on the battlefield” in Afghanistan. (1) Following three visits to Fort Polk, Louisiana, last year, I was impressed with the realistic integration of civilian role-players enriching the battlefield scenario at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). These visits provided me with the opportunity to make a number of observations that I wish to share. I hope they will be useful for military intelligence (MI) professionals both in the regular combat training center (CTC) training challenge and in the small-scale operations that are more common in today’s Army.

They form the basis of JRTC’s small-scale contingency (SSC) experience. After learning about JRTC’s practices and lessons learned from an intellectual viewpoint at Fort Polk’s Leader Training Program, I was able to see JRTC from the “inside out” as an opposing force (OPFOR) augmentee before returning on my unit’s regular “Blue Force” (BLUFOR) rotation. These experiences helped me understand the integration of civilians on the battlefield (COB) and how some units do not sufficiently prepare for this aspect of an operation.

Civilians as Threats

Civilians can play several operationally significant roles. They are perhaps most importantly a threat. At JRTC, civilian-clothe’s OPFOR act as members of the Leesville Urban Group (LUG), a low-level insurgency group that provides intelligence across the battlefield and conducts small-scale raids or demolitions. Traveling across the “box” during the day, the LUGs are able to identify BLUFOR high-payoff targets early in the rotation. Without incriminating identification or other indicators, the LUGs blend with other civilians on the battlefield who have a real-world need for access to the lines of communication because they have a finite workday and do not stay in the “box” overnight. The LUGs also leave the box, returning to the OPFOR headquarters where they are debriefed and given new assignments. Especially in the SSC phase of operations, preventing civilian insurgents from accomplishing their reconnaissance and surveillance mission becomes very important. Failing to stop them leaves the OPFOR tactical oper ation center (TOC) with a complete picture of the enemy (BLUFOR) disposition with a minimal expenditure of collection effort.

Civilians Provide Opportunities

Civilians can present an opportunity in this counterintelligence (CI) endeavor. This would first presuppose the success of the civil affairs (CA) and psychological operations missions. Failure to win the support of the populace would for the most part preclude their positive involvement in the collection effort. However, if the locals want to help, they would probably be good sources of information on civilian-clothe’s enemy as well as uniformed OPFOR. Another concern that must arise is the prospect of neutral or unaffiliated civilians transforming into threat collection assets. Averting this problem should be a joint responsibility of CA and CI.

Challenges in Exploiting COB

One problem with the exploitation of civilian opportunities is the limited amount of available collection assets. The devotion of human capital to collection and organization of information on and from the local populace may have a low payoff. On the other hand, current and future operations may already provide overwhelming tasks. This is also true for operations and command channels. Commanders, executive officers, or other important leaders with pressing demands can allow themselves to become embroiled in civil-military relations concerns that lower levels should ultimately resolve without difficulty. Unfortunately, the opposite may also be true–critical events may hinge on CA, requiring the experience and authority of senior leaders for their positive resolution. This dilemma resembles the problem facing Ml professionals. When is it worth the effort? What constitutes battlefield intelligence and answers to the commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR) versus what comprises information overload is a sensitive delineation.

Assessing the COB

Circumstances will suggest whether a need exists to involve civilians in a collection plan based on the “read” of the enemy’s intent and operations. If the threat is staging operations from a local population center, then of course civilian intelligence sources would be more critical. Similarly, in SSC or support operations and stability operations, civil-military concerns have a higher priority. However, in cases where there is no reason to suspect that enemy operations are in the vicinity of a population center, or if preparations of high-intensity conventional operations are underway, then civilians have the potential to become a significant distraction. This distraction can consume valuable planning time and temporarily remove essential staff and leaders from the operation. Under such circumstances, operational channels should focus on appeasing any CA concerns of civilian officials as expeditiously as possible while intelligence channels should focus on protection of essential elements of friendly inform ation (EEFI). Figure 1 illustrates the changing possible operational impact of civilians across the spectrum of operations.

In developing a useful visualization of the battlefield, it will also be productive to consider collection and analysis methods to address the threat and opportunity offered by COB. What analysts must remember is that we may receive quite a lot of information that is of little intelligence value. Therefore some S2s at the battalion task-force level may not find it worthwhile to pursue collection and analysis efforts on COB. What exacerbates this problem is that all relevant information may not reach a battalion S2 staff trying to develop the civil-military affairs situation. Other battalions may not track or report the information if it is not a priority for them, resulting in the intelligence work done by the brigade combat team’s (BCT) human intelligence (HUMINT) assets never reaching the battalion staffs. With its larger staff and wider-ranging collection assets, the BCT S2 element may be able to implement these techniques better than the battalions.

We have already developed pattern-analysis wheels, association matrices, and other tools in conjunction with SSC scenarios where people can be “key terrain.” However, the information they provide may not be adequate to meet the challenge in the CTC environment. For instance, if the JRTC’s LUG is locating high-payoff targets during the day and conducting terrorist attacks at night, pattern analysis would assist the S2 in advising the commander on the times during which crucial assets will be most vulnerable to threats. However, a form of pattern analysis that connects people, events, and locations would be of even greater value. For example, we could identify the pickup truck containing two or three men (with military style hair cuts) that observes friendly critical assets during the day by associating the identification of people (the suspicious pickup truck), activities (inconspicuous drive-by observation), and locations (high-payoff targets). In addition to the analysis effort, this association would requir e alert collection on the part of security forces as well as effective communication between the units across the battlefield. Additionally, tracking organizations as well as individuals on the association matrix may help intelligence professionals determine who is contributing to the threat. All of these efforts obviously require the support of available CI and HUMINT assets as they conduct CFSO (CI force-protection source operations) development.


Civilians on the battlefield are well integrated into the CTC scenarios, and this realistically represents the importance of civil-military considerations in contemporary and future U.S. Army operations. As MI professionals, we must be able to react to this aspect of the battlefield for which conventional models may not adequately account. This will require a broader visualization of the battlefield than conventional tactical intelligence customarily provides. Recognizing the threat, opportunity, or distraction that local citizens represent is necessary to the intelligence professional.


(1.) Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), Operation Enduring Freedom Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures Handbook, Number 02-8, 27 June 2002, from the section on the Intelligence battlefield operating system (BOS) in military operations on urban terrain (MOUT).

Captain Matt Morgan is currently serving as the S3 Operations Officer for the 125th Military Intelligence Battalion, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He has served as the Assistant S2 of 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment and as a Collection and Jamming Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer in the 125th MI Battalion. Captain Morgan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from the U.S. Military Academy and a Master of Education from Chaminade University. Readers may contact him via E-mail at and telephonically at (808) 655-8204.

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