NORFOLK, Va. – Instructors at the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) here recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan where they taught Afghan government officials how to develop national strategy and conduct strategic planning that will help the Afghanistan government refine plans for their national efforts now and in the future.
The instructors returned from teaching the second Strategic Planning Course in Kabul last month. The first class was held earlier this summer. The 10-day course curriculum for both courses included lecture, group discussion and practical exercises. Additionally, the second class included a “train the trainer” syllabus. This is the first time such a course has been held in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said course instructor Col. James Purvis, with the Joint Advanced Warfighting School (JAWS).
In addition to Purvis, JFSC instructors who conducted the two courses included Col. Denis Doty, JAWS instructor; Lt. Col. Greg McGuire, Joint & Combined Warfighting School (JCWS); and Lt. Col. George Hanford, Advanced Joint Professional Military Education.
The JFSC developed the course at the request of ISAF headquarters and its commander, Gen. Joseph Dunford. “This was part of ISAF’s transition plans to help build Afghan capacity in various areas and levels,” said Purvis. “Most of the ISAF and international community efforts have focused on building tactical and operational level areas of expertise. The strategic level planning effort was an area that is needed at this time to help the Afghan government build and revise their key strategic documents over the next three to six months.”
McGuire said this course will further help the Afghanistan government develop and update key strategic products, to include the country’s National Development Strategy, National Security Policy, National Threat Assessment and various other ministerial strategic documents such as the Ministry of Defense’s National Military Strategy and the Ministry of Interior’s National Police Strategy.
The student body for both classes totaled 81 and was diverse. “There was a good mix of Afghan military and civilian students,” said Purvis. Officers ranged in rank from colonel up to major general with equivalent civilian counterparts. Other students were from senior Afghan ministry and government offices, including the Office of National Security Council, Ministries of Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Communications and Information Technology, Commerce and Industries. Officers from the Afghanistan Command and Staff College also participated in the courses.
Purvis said many of the students had some level of experience working at the strategic level because of their duties in their respective agencies. “Some of the Command and Staff College officers were more familiar with the terms and concepts we used,” he said. “So that experience really helped them understand the new material and strategic planning concepts we introduced them to during the course.”
Purvis said to meet ISAF’s requirements, the instructors pulled together instructional materials from strategy blocks in JAWS and operational design and campaign planning from JAWS and JCWS curriculum.
“We used both lecture and group discussion, along with practical exercises,” said Purvis. “We taught lessons in a large group forum, using the lesson material along with historical and contemporary examples to help put strategic concepts in an understandable context for the Afghan students.”
The instructors worked to make the curriculum relevant to the students. “We broke the students into smaller groups with various ministries/agencies evenly divided between the three groups. They then applied the lesson material to what they were facing in Afghanistan and in their ministries or agencies.”
“The students developed products that answered questions dealing directly with Afghanistan national policy, strategy and strategic environment,” said Doty. Afterward, all the students came together, and a spokesman from each small group briefed the results of the group’s work to the class. For the practical exercises, the students used some of their existing strategic documents to determine what was working or not.
Hanford said the instruction will help with inter-ministerial coordination in developing strategies and strategic plans. “The course provided practical conceptual tools and strategic planning framework they can use to develop and refine their strategies and plans now and in the future.
“The course also helped them to better understand their strategic environment, develop a strategic approach and identify and mitigate risk in accomplishing their national strategic objectives,” Hanford said.
Student feedback on the course was positive. Purvis said the students thought the material and concepts presented were very applicable to what they were doing. “They also liked using real issues facing Afghanistan in the practical exercises,” he said.
The instructors also appreciated the recommendations to improve the course. “The students in the first course thought the course should have been longer with more time given to the practical exercises,” said Purvis. “’We did listen and increased the time given to the practical exercises in the second course.”
The JAWS instructor said the interaction between the instructors and the students was inspiring. “The senior Afghan officers and civilians who attended the two classes were all very positive, realistic, knowledgeable, intelligent, and understood their country’s national issues,” Doty said. “They were able to quickly learn material and apply it correctly to their national situation in the region and world stage.”
The benefits of attending the course were evident. Doty said that one of the U.S. advisors to the Ministry of Defense and Interior told him that the first course was already having an impact. “He could see Afghan officials were using the material, terms and concepts we taught them in their various planning efforts. The advisor could already see a difference in their work in just the two months after the first course,” Doty said.
The instructors said they were inspired by the students’ optimism and dedication to improve the conditions for the people of Afghanistan. “It was a very professional group of people trying to make a positive difference for their people,” said Hanford.
Purvis noted that the Afghans plan to incorporate their own strategic planning course. “ISAF used the second course to include a “train the trainer” aspect for the officers from the Afghan Command and Staff College. Three of the school’s officers attended the first course and returned to help the JFSC instructors teach the second course.
“This was done to help sustain and improve the Afghan’s capacity to teach a similar course in the future. They may need a little help, but this is part of building the Afghan capacity and will help sustain this effort in the future,” said Purvis.