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Dutch AH 64s landing at Kabul International Airport.

Transformation and Airspace Operations in Afghanistan

by Captain L.A. Shrum

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Transformation of the Canadian Forces (CF) has been the topic of conversation in journals in recent years, frequently aligned with principles of the current Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Determining the desired end-state of transformation has been a difficult task. Some areas to consider, according to authors such as Elinor Sloan, include revolutionary technologies, doctrine, and organizations.1 Going slightly beyond Sloan’s discussion of the current RMA, I would add that there is a need to consider the entire operational dynamic, not merely organizations or technologies that give us capacities or outputs. Ideas about transformation may be assisted by taking some of the RMA aspects that Sloan mentions as capabilities, outside the traditional dimensions of land, sea, and air operations. Transformation needs to be aligned with the requirements of current operations that are affected by overwhelming changes brought about by various effects of globalization, including the reality of living in a highly mobile information age. This article will focus on one particular aspect of operations that requires a close examination in any consideration of the desired end-state of transformation. 

A new environment of warfare was created when technological advances allowed us to use airspace for aircraft and long-range weapons. As it is still a relatively new concept in warfare, a question needs to be addressed regarding airspace. Have we yet adapted our military discourse to allow us to function in and to use airspace to its full potential in modern military operations, or are we still bound by traditional divisions that prevent free thinking about joint operations? This article will raise issues related to transformation within the context of the current NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The discussion will focus on the operations and activities that affected or were influenced by the airspace overhead military forces in the ISAF Area of Operations. 

I will not describe in detail the airspace situation over Kabul, nor the activities or functions of the Airspace Coordination Centre (ASCC) of the Kabul Multinational Brigade (KMNB), in order to limit the length of discussion here. The Canadian officers who were appropriately responsible during the Canadian-led KMNB period have already presented such details in articles published by the Canadian Army Lessons Learned Centre.2 The Canadian detachments deployed prior to my experience (July 2004-February 2005) used exceptional ingenuity and dedication in adapting to a situation where tactical airspace coordination had truly been arrived at by afterthought. They laid the stepping-stones that enabled subsequent crews, typified by my own experience on KMNB Rotation VI, to develop a cohesive joint airspace operation. Readers should note that limits have been placed on the description of events and activities, due to the sensitivities of some information and of certain groups involved in the NATO-led multinational mission in Afghanistan. This is an unfortunate but necessary limitation. 

Map of Afghanistan

CMJ map by Monica Muller

Transformation – A Response to Global Change

Transformation of standing military forces is not merely a matter of adding new equipment, altering structures, or even of changing military doctrine. We may need to consider a change to our entire thought process, particularly regarding ‘jointness’ at the tactical level. This could entail moving transformation concepts outside traditional force generation notions, which still divide operational functions and structures into three separate environments (land, sea, and air), and encourage a checklist mentality of organizing our command and control structures. We may need to move beyond three separate levels (strategic, operational, and tactical) for our doctrinal basis, and out of the ‘boxes’ traditionally associated with brigade and division level structures. Jointness in operations needs to be developed very early in the force generation process, with concepts being reinforced during the training of our officers, in order to permit them to develop a mentality of jointness within the complexities of rapidly changing theatres. Lastly, transformation discourse needs to align with the complex dynamic of current operations created by global changes that accelerate societal interactions and reactions of groups to military activities. 

The fact that there is no longer a clear distinction between theatre and home nation or home front, based upon either geography or the Westphalian notions of nation states, that is, according to some assigned territorial boundaries, has had an impact on tactical level activities. We are seeing increasingly the rise of a ‘peoples’ concept that is not defined by physical boundaries, but rather by movements that are ideologically based. The threat to operations of standing military forces has become more elusive and ubiquitous. There is often no clear distinction between friendly forces and opposing elements, the latter defined often only by their use of terror tactics. The use of terror tactics by ideological movements is nothing new. What is new is the entire governance dynamic of globalization within which some of the more sophisticated groups may now operate. What is also new is the degree to which media coverage affects these movements, as do the governance institutions themselves. Instant global information about how institutions act and react to situations, and the moment-by-moment assessment of operations by military subject matter ‘experts,’ can be quickly assimilated and used by groups seeking to undermine our own operations or governance institutions. Tactical advantages for standing military forces operating in this environment could become strategic nightmares. The levels we traditionally associate with warfare – namely the political strategic, the military strategic, the operational and the tactical levels – have been transformed within the complexities of modern operations and a rapidly changing governance-citizen relationship, both globally and within operational theatres. 

ISAF Crest

Movements involving groups opposing ‘legitimate’ governance, as recognized by the international community of governance, increasingly involve well-informed, well supported (financial and manpower), and highly mobile groups. These groups are able to reach and manipulate the emotions of vast numbers of communities at a highly accelerated rate. This enables them to control with relative precision the reactions of governance institutions – institutions that are not only predictable, but that also have their every move and tactic made public by the media. Within this new warfare dynamic, we need to recognize that there is no longer a division, militarily speaking, between the various levels of operations in complex theatres such as Afghanistan. Complex theatres, for the purposes of this discussion, are considered those that are associated with failed or failing states, or where military forces at the tactical level are involved in supporting governance after initial intervention. Our discussion is based upon the premise that, within this new paradigm – that of international relations involving globalization, migration, and technological availability to non-governmental and transnational groups – the political strategic level has merged with the tactical level of military operations in a manner and to an extent that has not occurred before in the profession of arms. 

Operational Legitimacy – Blurring Doctrinal Lines

Current operations need to include a means to deal with this merging phenomenon in complex theatres. Planners need to consider how it is that the strategic level has merged with the tactical level, due to the dynamics of operational legitimacy. Legitimacy involves concepts of necessity and proportionality with respect to the use of force. It is a value-based concept related to a number of variables. It determines the amount of support an authority might have to provide when intervening in another nation state’s affairs by use of force, and, ultimately, how much support is required to conduct operations successfully. Support to military operations is needed at both the home nation and the host nation (normally operational or tactical) levels. Legitimacy influences public support at both the strategic political (policy) and the tactical levels. Legitimacy is an area of central importance in operations that involve an opponent whose centre of gravity includes a particular ideology. Legitimacy is often the centre of gravity for our own operational forces, as well as for the opposing forces, particularly for interventions involving use of armed force into the affairs of another nation state. 

Certain aspects of operations can affect the strategic level of legitimacy associated with armed intervention more dramatically than others. Airspace-related events – that is, effects related to the use of ballistics, explosives, and air vehicles engaged in operations – have the potential to quickly involve the strategic level. The merging of the strategic and the tactical levels was made obvious during the 1999 Kosovo intervention3 and during the friendly fire incident at Tarmak Farms during Operation Apollo. The incident where four Canadian soldiers became casualties in Afghanistan as a result of fratricide could have deeply affected CF involvement in coalition operations, and limited future operations, had there not been considerable national and international support for intervention in the immediate wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. 

Defining legitimacy is less relevant to this discussion than recognizing that the concept relates to a perceived authority to use force within the context of an operation. In complex operations, various aspects of legitimacy may influence the concept that a particular group or institution has the authority to use armed force during an intervention. One such aspect involves the fundamental right to use armed force. Another very different aspect relates to the authority, or right, to govern. The latter legitimacy aspect is significant to some degree in operational theatres such as Afghanistan, whether the intervention has been classified as an occupation or merely the provision of support for a transitional government. Legitimacy can be quite an elusive (and allusive) concept, and a discussion of its many facets is beyond the scope of this article. However, legitimacy at the tactical or host nation level can be jeopardized if airspace coordination fails to balance proportionality (that is, by limiting the number of casualties and the amount of collateral damage) with operational necessity, or if it fails to provide enough freedom of movement for a commander to ensure proper surveillance and security for host nation people and the agencies supporting nation-building. Intervening forces must ensure that they keep a balance between the factors that maintain legitimacy at the strategic and tactical levels. Doctor Max G. Manwaring, the noted Research Professor of Military Strategy at the US Army War College, has authored papers and books related to his own research on counterinsurgency operations, and he has conducted even more current research on peace support operations. He noted a tendency for the US military to define elements of the conflict, including centres of gravity, in military terms alone, which, he claimed, denies the essential roots of a conflict and the potential tasks required for its resolution.4 Planners and operators at all levels of military operations in complex theatres need to consider how legitimacy as a centre of gravity is affected by their decisions, due to this merge phenomenon between the strategic and tactical levels. 

Political strategic level activities have merged directly with tactical level activities more during current operational dynamics than during past conventional wars. Evidence of the tendency of the strategic level to attempt to control the tactical level was amply demonstrated in the method used to prevent the loss of legitimacy for operations during the 1999 air war over Serbia (the Kosovo Campaign), when targeting was often controlled at the highest levels of NATO.5 Ultimately, legitimacy for the Serbian air war was challenged on several fronts. The Serbian president was quick to bring NATO members involved in air strikes before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). And on 28 April 1999, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) brought procedural claims against several NATO countries before the Court.6 The requirement for nation-state governments to defend their use of force before an international court added to the controversy of legitimacy, and it fuelled claims by human rights groups with respect to violations of the laws of war.7 The global norms of human rights provided the NATO intervention a measure of moral legitimacy, but legal legitimacy was less transparent. Even modern philosophers and social theorists, such as Jurgen Habermas, felt compelled to discuss the issue, noting that the politics of human rights had given legitimacy to intervention, based upon normative, if not legal, authority.8 Although powerful, the normative aspect of legitimacy can be altered quickly if the principle of proportionality is not balanced with operational necessity. 

Christine Gray, a scholar noted for her work in international relations and law, observed that the Kosovo campaign represented a new way of war for NATO.9 Herein, war was no longer defensive combat fought in an unlimited way, with military necessity being the measure of strategy. According to Gray, the determination of international legal legitimacy with respect to the use of force is largely dependent upon the ‘categorization of a conflict.’ She argued in support of the Serbian intervention on the legal aspects of types of war in relation to state authority. NATO’s new strategic concept, in this ‘new’ type of war, merged humanitarian necessity with jus ad bellum, or just cause, thereby giving it a moral, if not a legal, legitimacy. 

However, balancing the legitimacy principle in the current operational dynamic is more related to operational art than to doctrine. That said, Canadian Forces doctrine notes that commanders at the operational level are concerned with the planning and execution of campaigns to meet strategic objectives. It is the responsibility of command to ensure the political strategic objectives are translated into acts of warfare, or military operational conduct, and this is called operational art. Operational level decisions are affected by various factors, including political aims, legal issues, and media influences. The translation of strategic objectives by the operational commander must ensure that the political, legal, financial, and media pressures of warfare are handled to the satisfaction of either the current government, or, at the very least, within the concepts of military necessity as dictated by International Humanitarian Law (IHL).10 For the operational commander, this requires a comprehension and a willingness to apply limitations to the use of force within a broad understanding of the strategic context, and of the risks facing operational forces. Transformation concepts need to be oriented around changes in military organizations that will maximize flexibility in the application of operational art.

Enhancing Tactical Jointness – A Transformation Concept

As previously mentioned, airspace is a dimension of operations that can affect strategic political legitimacy dramatically. As such, we need to examine tactical level airspace operations. The term airspace operation, for the purposes of this discussion, is broad in definition, and includes all activities that influence or are influenced by airspace events. The aim of enhancing jointness in airspace operations at the tactical level must be included when considering the end-states of transformation. Airspace activities are linked to the centre of gravity for operations in complex theatres, such as Afghanistan. 

Combat-related multinational operations, such as those in Afghanistan, require good command, control, and coordination of airspace at the tactical level in order to reduce risk, and that includes risk to the centre of gravity, which may be founded upon a mission’s legitimacy. Tactical level airspace refers to the envelope overhead surface operations, extending up to 2000 feet above ground level (AGL). Transforming military structures to meet the current requirements of activities affecting tactical level military airspace should include elements of force generation and force employment, such as training, doctrine, and procedures. The objective is to balance the freedom of movement of the tactical commander while maintaining the operational legitimacy of the force and the mission itself. Transformation concepts must also consider the accelerated rate at which airspace activities and effects can influence strategic considerations. Therefore, pushing the responsibility for airspace control and coordination down to the tactical level is important in order to maintain the strategic centre of gravity for friendly forces in dynamic circumstances, as long as adequate expertise, personnel and equipment are provided to perform the functions required. 

Tactical airspace coordination must adapt to an ensemble of operations, including combat operations, special operations, nation-building, humanitarian support, and an assortment of other governmental, non-governmental, and host nation civil and governance-related activities. These activities to some extent affect, or they are crucially affected by, airspace related events. It is important to consider current operations, such as those being conducted in Afghanistan, for ideas about transformation, while keeping the wisdom of past military philosophers in mind. With respect to the requirement to deal with operational realities, Carl von Clausewitz noted: “Without personal knowledge of war we cannot perceive where its difficulties lie.”11 


Author’s collection

Turkish UH 60 Blackhawk with Dutch AH 64 escort.

Afghan Airspace – A Complex Operational Environment

At the tactical level of the Afghanistan campaign – those relating to Kabul Multinational Brigade (KMNB) operations – just about everything affected airspace, and airspace events affected almost every task. The airspace conditions during KMNB Rotation VI dramatically changed when strategic goals to civilianize control came into competition with the security-related tasks of the commander at the tactical level. From August 2004 until January 2005, the Theatre Air Operations Cell (TAOC), located at the operational level (ISAF Headquarters), expanded its capacity somewhat. This theatre level air operations centre did not have authority or structure (read manning) to assume control and coordination of the airspace over the ISAF area of operations. Although the strategic level TAOC formally lacked authority for airspace coordination, its staff, from time to time, attempted to impose restrictions on the tactical level KMNB, with respect to the use of airspace. 

When the TAOC staff attempted to assume command and control of KMNB tactical airspace, they de facto began to control KMNB operations. However, the theatre operational level could not react quickly enough to meet the rapid demands of airspace activities occurring at the tactical level. The TAOC employed mostly air force personnel, whereas KMNB Headquarters employed primarily land forces personnel. The distance between the operational and tactical level reality had both physical and mental components, and there was a distinct lack of vertical jointness being practised at times. KMNB personnel, as well as some theatre operational level staff, observed that the theatre operational level was too far removed from the tactical level to control tactical airspace. However, there were shortfalls in tactical level capabilities, since most personnel lacked essential training in airspace management and deconfliction. Tactical level airspace personnel, namely, the KMNB airspace coordination centre (ASCC), needed to understand when certain restrictions were excessive (i.e., when to object), but also, when KMNB activities jeopardized air safety. These understandings were essential in order to balance the maintenance of tactical operations with the preservation of strategic level legitimacy. Observations generated by NATO forces in Afghanistan produced a glaring need. Most military doctrine operational discourse remains lodged in concepts that divide military operations into three distinct environments that suddenly become ‘joint’ when elements of those environments merely operate in the same area or as part of the same mission. It soon became obvious in Afghanistan that jointness needs to become a mindset related to function, and not merely to a state of resources. 

Afghanistan Airspace Operations – A Case Study 

The intent of this case study is to provide observations from current operations, specifically those made at the tactical level of the Kabul Multinational Brigade Headquarters (KMNB HQ) airspace coordination centre (ASCC). It is hoped that these observations will stimulate thought for future transformation related discourse. The discussion is oriented around my personal experiences garnered during a six-month tour in the KMNB HQ, from July 2004 to mid-February 2005, as part of KMNB Rotation VI. It was during this time that operational necessity made it imperative to test some new concepts in coordination and control of airspace-related activities. 

The KMNB ASCC was formed originally by Canada with an intended mandate to coordinate the operations of the Sperwer unmanned target acquisition and surveillance drone, but under the signature of General Hillier, when he was Commander ISAF, the KMNB ASCC was given control authority over tactical airspace. During ISAF Rotations IV and V, from 11 August 2003 until 9 August 2004, the responsibility for control and coordination of airspace had been delegated down to the tactical level within the ISAF Area of Operations, and with good reason. In short, this was felt to be the best way to deal with the airspace requirements within the complexities of an organization that was not prepared to meet a new operational dynamic. 


Author’s collection

Italian FAC team at mountain ranges near Bagram during a live shoot at East River Range.

NATO forces, who assumed the ISAF mission in Afghanistan commencing in 2003, were not entirely prepared for all the tactical level complexities of nation-building, while simultaneously conducting combat-related operations. This was later typified by the events that occurred following the crash of a Kamair Boeing 737 near Kabul in February 2005. The accident produced a state of tension between ISAF forces and newly forming host nation institutions. Issues related to host nation and international legitimacy came to the forefront, and they altered the relationship between the political strategic and the tactical levels. The former began to impact directly upon tactical tasks, which, in turn, could have compromised the legitimacy of the intervention force, as well as national support to some of the ISAF forces of KMNB. A highly chaotic situation in the tactical level airspace developed when ministers and other high level personages wanted to be the first at the crash site. Much of the authority and capability of the KMNB Joint Operations Centre (JOC) and the ASCC to control the airspace in the area of the crash site had been removed in a continuing effort to establish the legitimacy of the newly-elected government. However, the legitimacy of the mission could have been placed at risk on several fronts if airspace issues at the time of the crash had not been resolved quickly at the KMNB tactical level.

The Kabul airspace operational dynamic embraced a complex mix of norms of peace and the necessities of combat. It was administrated by a mélange of civil peacetime functions and measures for airspace management. The traffic included military and civilian peace and security missions, functioning simultaneously with combat-related and counterinsurgency operations. At times, European and westernized approaches seemed to be incompatible with the complexities of the Afghan situation. The difficulties in fulfilling the tactical level ASCC mandate – that is, to manage airspace – increased as it became necessary to balance the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism (MoCAT) guidelines with the local regulatory military procedures and NATO airspace procedures, the latter having been designed for European theatres. Possibilities for fratricide and air accidents or incidents were major concerns during periods of high tempo operations. Most internal coordination and deconfliction problems were related to a gap between NATO nation capabilities and structures at the tactical level, and the current operational dynamic. 

The traditional airspace organizations of NATO nations did not meet the needs of the ISAF in Afghanistan. There was no functional centre capable of coordinating or controlling tactical level airspace in the ISAF area when NATO took charge of ISAF in 2003. At the commencement of KMNB Rotation VI during the summer of 2004, there was a coinciding lack of capacity at the KMNB JOC for controlling operations. This condition existed for several reasons – some of which were resource-related and some that were attributable to the multinational character of the ISAF mission, such as the differences in procedures, training, doctrine, experience levels, skill levels, as well as linguistic abilities and issues. This entire situation made it very apparent that there was a need to have a joint cell that could deal specifically with complex airspace operations in the ISAF area for activities being conducted up to 2000 feet above ground level. NATO manning did not reflect either the responsibilities or the mandate of the KMNB ASCC, because the ASCC function or mandate did not align with traditional military functions or organizations at the tactical level. In short, conventional organizations of battle were inadequate for permitting the jointness of function required for this particular operation at the tactical level. Consequently, no organizational concepts or doctrine existed that fulfilled the specific requirements of KMNB or the ISAF mission in practical or tactical terms. 

In such a volatile situation as the Afghanistan operations, where legitimacy of forces could be easily lost, it was important to be able to control operations through well-coordinated airspace procedures, but this alone was not enough. Not having a means for positive control over airspace, and often not even having a communications capability with airspace users – other than through KMNB assets – meant the staff of the ASCC had to be deconflicting traffic within an unpredictable environment. The KMNB ASCC had no way to fulfill its mandate of airspace control in the ISAF Area of Operations at 2000 feet AGL and below. There was no capability, in practical terms, to maintain positive control over airspace users, since there was no radar. At the time, it seemed clear that both troops and civilians were being put at risk, unless the KMNB ASCC could somehow improve the airspace situation. The dilemma for me, when I initially took over the responsibilities of Chief of ASCC, was how to use the existing structures of KMNB to balance freedom of movement for KMNB forces while preserving the legitimacy of the mission. 

In order to enhance coordination and control, the expertise of various functional cells within KMNB HQ needed to be integrated into a cohesive planning and current operations cell. Jointness was enhanced during KMNB VI by merging elements of the ASCC with the Aviation (helicopter) and Air (fixed wing) Cells, and integrating airspace operational control directly into the KMNB Joint Operations Centre. This new cell became known as the Tactical Airspace Operations Cell (TASOC). For a short period, this unorthodox arrangement was implemented during tactical level operations, and it proved to be highly effective. However, the integration of air and aviation expertise was only part of the equation. The functions associated with fire support coordination and explosive ordinance activities were also included as part of the joint modular concept. That said, even this integration of expertise was not enough to accommodate the complexity of operations in Afghanistan. 


Author’s collection

Dutch AH 64 pilot, (left) Captain Linda Schrum and Lieutenant-Colonel Spindler ready to mount the Turkish Blackhawk for reconnaissance north of Kabul.

Force protection and freedom of movement in Afghan operations relied upon an ability to coordinate and often control the many simultaneous types of operations and diverse assets impacting upon and using the Kabul airspace. The capability to manage the airspace and concomitant airspace operations in a timely, dynamic manner involved the authority to do so without necessitating referral to higher levels. Again, the sensitive nature of the situation in Kabul concerning the use of force included the delicate balance of proportionality and operational necessity. There were also technological factors associated with joint operations, and fast air support elements that could respond in seconds to new information. Accuracy of information was as important as the ability to quickly alter the information given to firepower elements supporting an operation. The airspace management aspect had to include the appropriate ‘authority’ pushed down to the lowest command and control element, so operational art could be applied effectively. This meant someone in command at the lowest level had to be informed and knowledgeable enough in use of force concepts to make the right decision in the few seconds available, without having to go higher in the chain of command. 

Within the new integrated, functional TASOC cell, various sub-sections were developed. One section specialized in routine daily airspace coordination. Others worked within the JOC for control of airspace-related activities and operations. The cell was made fluid by having modular sections that could be put together to act as deployable airspace coordination and control teams. This included representation from various groups and agencies (military, civilian, and other governmental agencies) at the planning table, and often they were present during the execution phases of operations. The primary objective was always to ‘push’ airspace operations controllers down to the lowest possible level of operations, namely, the operational ‘coal face.’ This was to be accomplished while maintaining the necessary expertise, and also ensuring that there was sufficient delegated authority to command and control the operation at the lowest possible level, including the control of close air support and direct or indirect fire support elements. 

The TASOC became tactical in every sense, ‘plugging directly into’ various ISAF and coalition operations. We deployed airspace management elements – normally of two or more persons – for liaison, coordination, and operational control during specific operations and on live fire exercises, in order to analyze the procedures of the Joint Forward Air Controllers (JFACs). Joint FAC teams participated in almost all operations. These teams were involved at every step of the planning and execution phases. They were not able to manage airspace, but they could control the air resources for the co-located airspace manager, and they could act as scouts, escorts, and coordinators during operations. The JFAC teams were critical elements of many KMNB plans and operations. 

The TASOC was one of the operational cells most affected by the non-traditional nature of the KMNB VI situation. It was caught between different levels and mindsets with respect to operations. The integration of the KMNB airspace-related cells into the TASOC could not have occurred without the cooperation and foresight of several staff willing to go ‘outside the box’ to challenge the status quo situation. And the ‘parent’ ASCC needed to be the most diverse of all the cells associated with current operations at the tactical level headquarters, particularly with respect to expertise and knowledge of the objectives and centres of gravity at all levels, namely tactical, operational, and strategic. 

To regress slightly, NATO-written doctrine and procedures for airspace were not well suited to the specific requirements of the KMNB. New brigade-level Airspace Coordination Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were developed during KMNB VI with a view to making those SOPs more ‘user friendly’ for a multinational headquarters with a mix of foreign nationals working in the ASCC. The new SOPs were based upon a combination of three elements, including only relevant NATO airspace measures, US practices currently being adapted to meet the needs of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi operations, as well as practices and procedures used for non-conventional tasks – such as for improvised explosive device ‘defeat’ teams and for special operations. New operational procedures for airspace coordination, not aligning with one particular doctrine or nation, had to be developed. 


Author’s collection

Spanish Cougar helicopter preparing to insert Slovenian rescue team onto mountain crash site of KAM 904 Kamair Boeing 737. 

The TASOC enjoyed a considerable diversity of expertise, experiences, skills, and capabilities. A relatively broad base of skills was provided by virtue of the multinational character of the ASCC, and also through associated cells. This included expertise in air defence (French, Canadian, German), artillery (Canadian), air force management (German), various forward air and close air support operatives, Joint FACs (consisting of multinational teams), explosive ordnance liaison officers, and Aviation and Air liaison officers and operators. Jointness at the tactical level was enhanced through the integration of airspace-related cells and expertise with land and air force staff expertise, all rolled into one joint operations cell. The advantage of having the cell permanently integrated, rather than merely having personnel tasked for a specific operation, was that the staff was fully accustomed to planning and operating together on a routine basis. This integration altered and streamlined their thinking, and it improved the reaction process. 

The capability of the TASOC was often demonstrated not by what happened during operations, but by what did not happen. On several occasions, incidents were avoided, due purely to the capability of the cell to exercise the authority and expertise readily available to apply operational art, and a capability to control the airspace from the lowest level. One ‘near incident’ that occurred during the presidential inauguration in 2004 can serve to demonstrate the effectiveness of the TASOC teams when deployed to the point of most concentrated tactical level airspace activities. In this particular case, some staff misinterpreted intent and wrong information was passed to the deployed tactical level airspace operations section controlling the operation. Information had been passed to a coalition element providing close air support to target a suspected rocket launch site. Simultaneously, friendly troops had also been ordered to move onto the site. There were several issues involved with respect to incorrect information that was passed. Terminology was a problem. The terms ‘target’ and ‘targeting’ were used figuratively by some nations – for example: ‘CIMIC (civil-military cooperation) targeting.’ The passage of ‘target’ information at a higher level added to the language difficulties, resulting in a literal interpretation at the tactical levels. 

There was also a lack of tactical awareness by staff at an operational command centre higher than the deployed TASOC element. Quick action by certain operators controlling the airspace activities averted a potential fratricide incident. However, one significant issue underlying the entire situation was related to the use of force, and to the nature of complex operational theatres containing multinational forces. The forces with the supporting firepower had a different operational mindset than the ground forces they were supporting. The close air support control elements, engaged in offensive operations in theatre, held an entirely different viewpoint with respect to the use of force – including the concepts of operational necessity and proportionality – from the supported element. The latter believed they were participating only in nation-building and peace and security support to the host nation. Failure to realize differences in interpretations of the principles of use of force, between national forces, can increase the chance of friendly fire incidents in multinational operations. Differences in rules of engagement or with respect to predispositions regarding the use of deadly force, including operational necessity and proportionality, proved to be just as dangerous as wrong information passed when seconds count during fast-paced multinational combat-related operations, such as those practised in Afghanistan. 

Fortunately, personnel at the deployed TASOC element, who were controlling the airspace aspects of the operation, discovered the error with minutes to spare. This and other incidents that could have affected the legitimacy aspect of the mission – and thus, the centre of gravity for intervention forces were avoided because the personnel with the right knowledge, skills, and situational awareness were in the right place at the right time. The TASOC deployed a control and coordination section forward to a location where most of the airspace activities would be concentrated. This tiny forward element contained expertise in airspace coordination and management, as well as in close air support and ground fire artillery support. The individual commanding the TASOC was involved in the planning of the operation and was conversant with strategic level objectives. Importantly, key personnel from the major coalition partner providing the close air support firepower joined the forward airspace section and assisted with airspace management and communications in order to control the close air support resources. Therefore, this deployed element was instrumental in ensuring that tactical tasks did not jeopardize the centre of gravity at the strategic level during the presidential inauguration. 

Later, when a lieutenant-colonel from another nation assumed the Chief of ASCC position, there was an attempt to consolidate all related airspace cells. However, even when a single chief commanded all cells, operational functions became increasingly separate. Personnel were not accustomed to joint concepts. The revisions to operating procedures that had been designed to enhance jointness, reverted to more conventional procedures prior to the next rotation of the KMNB. Ultimately, due to a non-diminished capability within the KMNB Headquarters, most of the more complex tasks were subsequently ‘pushed up’ to a higher level of authority, namely to ISAF Headquarters. 


The preliminary lesson learned from this Afghanistan experience seemed to be that jointness at the tactical level is not arrived at through unification of the command structure alone. True tactical jointness was created through the functional integration of surface and airspace users into a single operational entity throughout the planning cycle, the conduct of operations, and during daily routine activities. It occurred only when the operators, or persons controlling the operations, planned and controlled the operation together, thereby maintaining jointness throughout each operation. Jointness, above all, proved to be a frame of mind. Transformation initiatives must acknowledge and embrace similar thought processes. Viewing tactical airspace operations as a joint function to be pushed to the lowest possible level, using a modular concept of airspace-related expertise, can be a means to enhance jointness in operations at the tactical level, and to reduce risks to operational legitimacy. The development of a truly joint cell came into being in Afghanistan, due to the support and the flexibility of the KMNB Commander and his staff, and this permitted the application of operational art at the lowest possible level.

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Linda Shrum, an artillery officer, is currently part of the J3 Land Operations staff at Canada Command Headquarters in Ottawa. During her Afghanistan deployment in 2004-2005, she first served in the KMBG Airspace Coordination Centre under French-German Brigade leadership, then in the Joint Operations Centre under Turkish leadership.


  1. Elinor C. Sloan, The Revolution in Military Affairs Implications for Canada and NATO (Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002), pp. 4, 6. 
  2. Major M.F. Murphy, “Airspace Coordination in Operations,” The Bulletin, Vol. 11, No. 3, July 2005. 
  3. Frederic de Mullinen, “Distinction between Military and Civilian Objects,” in Max G. Manwaring and Anthony James Joes (eds.), Beyond Declaring Victory and Coming Home – The Challenges of Peace and Stability Operations (Oxford, United Kingdom: Greenwood, 2000), p. 39.
  4. Doctor Manwaring claims legitimacy is part of a paradigm that involves counterinsurgency operations. The paradigm is built on six dimensions: Legitimacy, Organization, Military and Other Support to a Targeted Government, Intelligence, Discipline and Capabilities of the Armed Forces, and Reduction of Outside Aid to the Insurgents. 
  5. Frederic de Mullinen, “Distinction between Military and Civilian Objects,” in Christian Tomuschat (ed.), Kosovo and the International Community – A Legal Assessment (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2002), pp. 103-128. 
  6. Heike Kreiger (ed.), The Kosovo Conflict and International Law – An Analytical Documentation 1974-1999 (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2001), and NATO, KFOR, “Archive December 2002, Inside KFOR, accessed 9 January 2003, at <http://www.nato.int/ docu/update/2001/1112/e1117a.htm.>
  7. Amnesty International, “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo),” February 2000, accessed 8 January 2003, at <http://www.amnesty>.
  8. Jurgen Habermas, “Bestiality and Humanity: A War on the Border between Legality and Morality,” Constellations, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1999. pp. 263-272.
  9. Christine Gray, International Law and the Use of Force (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  10. Amnesty International 2000, Briefing to the Security Council KUN3 (1999) human rights abuses, NATO/Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, “‘Collateral Damage’ or Unlawful Killings? Violations of the Laws of War by NATO during Operation Allied Force,” accessed April 2003, at <http://www.amnesty.ca>. 
  11. Carl von Clausewitz, translated by Edward M. Collins, Politics and Power Selections from On War, and I Believe and Profess (Chicago: Henry Regnery Coy, 1962), pp. 71, 131.