Paramilitary: February 9, 2004


One of SOCOMs (Special Operations Command) less well known components are the 13 Civil Affairs battalions. These units are actually company sized (about 140 troops, half of them officers) and were originally designed for one of them to support one division in combat. Only one of these battalions is active duty, the rest are reserve units. Most of the officers in the reserve battalions are government officials, business executives and professionals (doctors, lawyers and even a few clergy.). That experience, combined with the specialized training they get from the army, enables them to take care of displaced, hostile or leaderless civilian populations on the battlefield. This worked quite well in 1991, when reserve civil affairs officers quickly organized the civil administration in Kuwait right after the war. The civil affairs battalion was able to turn things over, in such good shape, to the returning Kuwaiti officials, that the Kuwaitis asked that they stick around for a few extra months. 

All of the civil affairs battalions have been mobilized, usually more than once, since September 11, 2001. A lot (SOCOM won't say how many) of the civil affairs troops have since left the service (either by not re-enlisting, resigning their commissions or getting a transfer to a less active unit) because of the heavy work load. The civil affairs battalions proved very useful in Afghanistan, and particularly in Iraq. Unlike civilian aid workers, the civil affairs troops are armed, and have gotten body armor and some armored hummers. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, there are local Islamic radical groups who want to keep conditions primitive in order to get the population sufficiently terrorized to accept the radicals running things. The civil affairs troops have played a major role in keeping a lot of the civilians they work with content, or at least less hostile (and more willing to provide information.) SOCOM is organizing another battalion as an active duty unit. Adding another active duty battalion will help, but it's hard getting the same quality civil affairs officers the reserve units possess. SOCOM is trying to entice some of the reservists to become permanent active duty soldiers. But that's a tough sell to someone who might make a lot of money, or simply have a very attractive civilian job. Another possible solution is to hire civilian contractors to handle some of the Civil Affairs duties. This would be expensive, but would solve the problem of getting the needed skills into these critical units. 


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