Narrative in the Operations Process (Invited Paper)

Authors Sohail A. Shaikh, Robert D. Payne

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Sohail A. Shaikh
Robert D. Payne

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Sohail A. Shaikh and Robert D. Payne. Narrative in the Operations Process (Invited Paper). In 2014 Workshop on Computational Models of Narrative. Open Access Series in Informatics (OASIcs), Volume 41, pp. 2-8, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2014)


To counter the threat posed by adversary information activities, the U.S. Army has developed a new warfighting function, "engagement" which will institutionalize lessons learned over the past decade of warfare. Like mission command, sustainment, intelligence, or other warfighting functions that are critical to the successful prosecution of warfare, the ability to engage a population in a way that is credible, logical and emotional to people is far more likely to compel them to the national will than lethal options. The military as a whole, and more specifically the strategic land forces (consisting of the Army, Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command), are now in the process of determining the best way to implement engagement as a full-fledged function of strategic landpower. This paper will make the case that narrative is one of the key elements of engagement. The past ten years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught the U.S. military that future wars of the 21st century will be characterized by low intensity conflicts in increasingly complex environments. In spite of the U.S. military's preponderance of power and overwhelming ability to dominate an adversary in traditional maneuver warfare, resilient insurgencies have demonstrated their potential to successfully conduct asymmetric warfare. This has proven successful, at least in the near term, when employed against U.S. and coalition forces. While the military has consistently fulfilled its responsibility to defeat the enemy's conventional forces and seize, occupy and defend land areas, it has not been as successful in the war of ideologies. We will outline how narrative should align to the military decision making process, and give an example of a successful narrative operation (Voices of Moderate Islam) that can serve as vignette for demonstrating how to conduct a narrative in U.S. led operations. We also make the case for greater academic focus on the topic of narrative in a military context: The acceptance of "engagement" as a function of warfare is still premature so a close cooperation is necessary between the military and academic disciplines that study narrative. Collaborative partnerships with academia will be critical. Finally, we argue that the doctrinal institutionalization of narrative as part of the military decision making process (MDMP) will enable military commanders to effectively achieve the desired goals of national policy.
  • narrative
  • engagement
  • military
  • operations
  • doctrine


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