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Tribal Alliances: Ways, Means, and ends to Successful Strategy

Authored by Mr. Richard L Taylor. | August 2005

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To be successful, National Security Strategy and National Military Strategy must utilize all elements and tools of power at their disposal. In a military area of operations, particularly in countries in the Middle East that are lacking adequate traditional state-based public administrative organizations or institutions, U.S. national military policy must recognize the value that tribes can bring to the spectrum of military operations. Recognition of the potential value of tribal organizations, particularly in the ?arc of instability stretching from the Western Hemisphere, through Africa and the Middle East and extending to Asia,? is a must to enhance successful peace and stability operations. The following conclusions and recommendations are offered to further facilitate national military policy success.

Four conclusions, linked to the essential elements of analysis and the thesis at large, were found to be of value. First, tribes are not considered explicitly in the National Security Strategy or the National Military Strategy of the United States as a tool of military power. Some implicit linkages can be assumed. Second, tribes offer value in all bands of the spectrum of military operations?from pre-crisis access to conventional warfare. Third, when considering tribal alliances as a tool for success, recognize and evaluate thoroughly the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing tribal resources. Finally, throughout history, both past and present, tribes have delivered functional capability (intelligence, security, combat arms, etc.) to successful military operations.

In light of the conclusions offered, three recommendations are provided. First, make tribal partnerships an explicit tool of national security policy. The example of the Northern Alliance during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM provides an historical example of success. Second, use tribes across the full spectrum of military operations. The successes tribes have shown in various bands of the spectrum of military operations indicate further potential for tribes as a force multiplier. Finally, use tribes across the continuum of military campaign phases, from Phase I (Deter and Engage) to Phase IV (Transition). Tendencies are to use tribes in one phase of military campaigns.


Several conclusions emerge from the discussion thus far. These conclusions are linked to the essential elements of analysis and the thesis at large.

Tribes Not Explicitly Considered in NMS.

Relationships, alliances, coalitions, or partnerships with tribes are not an explicit consideration of the NSS or NMS. Likewise, the contributing tools (Figure 1) of military power make no reference to the potential for tribal coalitions or surrogate partnerships. Why? Perhaps tribes? presence and potential are relevant to operational tactics, and invisible on the radar screen of national security policymakers, and applicable only at the theater level.

However, the scope of this paper is limited. Other national level security policy documents such as the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Department of State and other like documents represent fertile fields for further investigation.

Tribes Offer Value in All Bands of the Spectrum.

Tribal organizations have been a valued partner primarily in the peace and stability operations box of the spectrum of military operations as seen in Figure 3. This is evidenced by contributions of the Kurds in Northern Iraq and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Tribes may hold the potential for operational efficiency beyond peace and stability operations. However, one must recognize the strengths and weaknesses in this proposition. Opportunities abound for specific investigation into how tribes can further contribute across the full spectrum of military operations. How tribal organizational structures in one particular country (Iraq) may provide inter-regional (Iran, Afghanistan, and Sudan) insights into another country in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations (AO) or other Combatant Commands (COCOMs) is another research area ripe with potential.

Recognize Socio-Political Aspects of Tribes.

We should recognize and assess the inherent advantages and disadvantages (Table 1) of tribes if we intend to turn to them in the interests of national security.

Potential for Functional Capability through Tribes.

There is potential for enhancing functional capability that goes beyond the current usage of tribes to provide combat arms, intelligence, security and law enforcement, and civil affairs services. Specifically, exploring the inherent capacity of tribes to provide engineering, medical, and educational assistance is an area for further consideration and investigation. Examples of tribal functional contributions in the CENTCOM AO show potential as a force multiplier, and a source of additional capacity for border patrol, intelligence gathering, local law enforcement and adjudication, and other military support roles. This is particularly significant in countries where traditional public administrative or governance institutions are absent. Tribes become important because they provide a sense of community, representation of local population?s needs?such as employment?and a local information data source.