An International Perspective

A coalition think tank provides vital analysis to U.S. military leaders


The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent declaration of the Global War on Terrorism ushered in a most dynamic chapter in history. The United States and its coalition partners launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Because of their leading roles, various coalition partners quickly established national liaison elements at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in the U.S.

These liaisons eventually led to the creation of the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG). Since its inception, the CSAG has grown and evolved from a temporary staff formed in response to terror attacks into a proactive international group of experts fully integrated into CENTCOM headquarters. CSAG officers’ advice and perspectives are regularly sought by the CENTCOM commander, deputy commander and other military leaders. These leaders gain important insights — from a non-U.S. perspective — on critical strategic issues spanning the gamut of political, economic, religious, cultural and informational challenges.

Representing countries from the Middle East, South and Central Asia and elsewhere, CSAG officers provide CENTCOM leadership with unique perspectives on security matters.

“It’s an important think tank,” said Lt. Col. Nawita Direkwuta of Thailand. Representatives from his country have participated with the CSAG for the past seven years.

“I think the CSAG has immense value for CENTCOM,” Lt. Col. Salar Malik of Pakistan said. He described CSAG as having an academic environment where open dialogue is encouraged so that all variables can be considered when addressing security challenges. “The more input you have, the better the decision you can come to,” Malik said.

CSAG History
The multinational nature of Operation Enduring Freedom created the need for an organization within CENTCOM that was capable of integrating coalition nations. By November 2001, the Coalition Coordination Center (CCC) was established with representation spanning more than 50 nations.

In 2002, then-CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks determined that headquarters should rapidly evolve into a true combined headquarters, incorporating international officers within its staff. These officers would be distinct from national liaison officers performing exclusively national roles. In September 2002, after a detailed staff study of the issue, Franks directed the establishment of a Combined Planning Group (CPG) embedded within his staff. His intent was to build on the success of the coalition and increase international military participation at CENTCOM headquarters.

In early January 2003, the CPG began with a staff of 20 international and U.S. officers as a full-fledged division in CENTCOM’S Strategy, Policy and Plans (J5) Directorate. CPG’s original mission was to support the Combined Forces Command for Afghanistan directly by developing strategic- and operational-level plans and assessments and by preparing political-military and civil-military analyses.

The CPG’s role is distinct from that of the Coalition Coordination Center’s senior national representatives, who are a part of the liaison elements at CENTCOM and perform strictly national roles mainly involving troop contributions in theater. In contrast, the CPG’s foreign officers are “embedded” members at the headquarters who support the commander.

Classification limitations posed a challenge for combined planning with partner nations highlighting the need for a change.

Commander’s Think Tank
The CPG evolved into the CSAG. It better defined the ongoing focus to provide timely, objective and cogent strategic analyses from a unique international perspective in support of CENTCOM planning efforts. The CSAG’s main tasks now include:

  • Advising the commander on issues of strategic importance from an international perspective.
  • Providing innovative strategic analyses in support of planning efforts.
  • Maximizing partner nations’ opportunities to  contribute to CENTCOM headquarters.

Additionally, the CSAG provides an enriching professional development experience for partner nation officers, as well as their U.S. hosts, and enables development of a network of partner nation “alumni” with knowledge of CENTCOM.

The CSAG structure consists of a director from Australia who is a one-star general and four branches supervised by colonels or their equivalents from Germany, France, New Zealand and the U.S. The Middle East branch and the Central Asia/South Asia branch are responsible for geographic subregions within the CENTCOM area of responsibility. The third branch is responsible for preparing the commander’s periodic “Theater Strategic Estimate,” an analysis of current and potential issues in the region, and for coordinating functions among the multinational staff of the CSAG, the coalition and CENTCOM. The fourth branch provides U.S. coordination and support.

Military officers transfer in and out, but CSAG averages about 35 staffers at any one time: 30 international officers from 29 nations, three U.S. officers, one noncommissioned officer and one U.S. Department of Defense civilian.

CSAG officers discuss complex strategic issues each day. They also are required to review, revise and produce detailed written analyses to CENTCOM standards that include NATO-level proficiency in English and a secret clearance at the level of Global Counter Terrorism Forces, criteria met by 85 nations.

CSAG conducts research in many languages using open sources, such as international news services, government and professional journals and think tanks. It crafts staff products and analyses in English for native-speaker editing and distribution. CSAG officers expand their horizons and hone skills to prepare such key products as the commander’s Theater Strategic Estimate; “deep dive” papers exploring multidisciplinary strategic topics; timely “strategic snapshots”; and information papers providing concise analyses and recommendations on regional issues, events and trends.

Continuing Excellence
Professional development is another part of the job, and CSAG staff officers participate in seminars conducted by the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA) in Washington, D.C. NESA supports the security cooperation effort of four regional U.S. combatant commands.

Participation in NESA seminars exposes CSAG and CCC members to the U.S. whole-of-government approach and to relevant speakers on the most pressing strategic issues in the Near East and Central and South Asia. The courses create an invaluable network of people who can share information and insights to improve understanding of key strategic challenges.

Ten-plus years since its inception, the CSAG has proven to be a successful combined initiative to permanently incorporate non-U.S. military staff into a U.S. geographical combatant command headquarters. Unlike other regions, the CENTCOM area of responsibility will be a dangerous neighborhood for the foreseeable future. CSAG’s unique combination of cultures, religions and experiences enables it to make invaluable niche contributions to CENTCOM.

In addition, hundreds of CSAG alumni are paying dividends for the command in terms of permanent relationships and understanding in members’ home nations. Five CENTCOM commanders have now worked with the group, and its continued existence is a testament to the value it provides.

Countries represented on the CSAG

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Czech Republic
El Salvador
Republic of Korea
New Zealand
United Arab Emirates
United States