Village Stability Operations (VSO)



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Afghan War News > Security > Village Stability Operations (VSO)

What is Village Stability Operations (VSO)?

The VSO initiative was a bottom-up program that facilitated local security and development at the village level, connecting the local population to district level governance.  VSO is grounded in the tradition of rural Afghan villages providing for their own security, and focuses on Afghan communities with the will but not the means to resist the insurgents through grass-roots initiatives, especially in areas that have limited ANSF and ISAF presence.  3.

History of Village Stability Operations (VSO).  Village Stability Operations or VSO is a comprehensive plan to provide security, governance and development to communities in Afghanistan at the village or district level utilizing a "bottom up" approach.  This VSO concept has evolved from lessons learned from earlier local defense and community watch programs that the coalition forces have stood up in Afghanistan. It began on a trial basis as Village Development Initiative.

Village Stability Operations Shah Joy

Elders sit and listen to Shah Joy District Governor speak during
 a shura in Shah Joy district, Zabul province, Afghanistan.
Courtesy Photo CJSOTF-A Media Operations Center. 

Bottom Up vs. Top Down Solutions for Afghanistan.  The  Village Stability Operations program is an example of a "bottom up" approach to providing solutions to the Afghanistan insurgent problem.  Afghanistan has a history of weak central governments that provide little to nothing in terms of services to small, rural, and remote communities.  Many of the district and provincial governments are ineffective and and in many cases corrupt.  VSO attempts to tie the community and village to the local district centers where the government officials work and government are accessible.  If the local population feels that the government is legitimate and performs a service then perhaps the local population will support the Afghanistan government - and reduce its support to insurgents. 

For more on this see works by Dr. Seth Jones entitled In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan, Stabilization from the Bottom Up, and Afghanistan's Local War: Building Local Defense Forces

Also see "COIN in Practice: Bottom-Up Tactics to Develop the Districts of Afghanistan", DVIDS, April 30, 2010.

Selection of VSO Sites.  The potential VSO location must offer an operational or strategic value to ISAF and the Afghan government - this because of limited SOF resources and operational teams.  In addition, the site must be operationally feasible and logistically sustainable.  The Washington Post has a graphic or map that displays the disposition and locations of VSO sites in Afghanistan as of 2011 (accessed on March 18, 2012).

Shape, Hold, Build, Expand and transition.  The VSO methodology is comprised of four phases: shape, hold, build and expand/transition.  The goal of the shape phase is to gain a understanding of the VSO location, engage the local leaders and community, and gain local consent and an invitation for a SOF team to embed within the community.  During the hold phase the SOF team works with the local community and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) operating nearby to improve the security situation.  It is during this phase that the community may agree to form and support an Afghan Local Police unit.  During the build phase the Village Stability Platform (SOF team with augmentation from other functional teams) starts linking the village or community to the district government where governance and development activities are coordinated. This linkup provides for more interaction with the District Governor, coordination with representatives of the Afghan line ministries (MRRD, MAIL, etc.) who work at the district level, and working with other agencies such as USAID and NGOs.  Once a VSP is successful in fostering a connection between the village and the district center the expand and transition phase begins.  Ideally the VSO concept would spread to other villages in the district until the entire district has been stabilized - enjoying the benefits of increased development, governance and security.  4. and 5.

Village Stability Platforms.  The conduct of Village Stability Operations is done by a Village Stability Platform or VSP.  The VSP is a collection of coalition members (a small team) that works together to further the VSO mission.  Usually the VSP is built around a core element consisting of a SOF team (SF, SEAL, or MARSOF team).  Additional assistance is provided by tactical Psyop (now called MISO), civil affairs, military working dogs, interpreters, Cultural Support Teams (CSTs), Female Treatment Teams (FTTs), and other support (cooks, mechanics, intel, etc.) or "enablers".  6.

District Stability Operations vs Village Stability Operations. Some have argued 9. that VSO is actually being transformed into DSO or District Stability Operations. In fact as all conventional forces in Afghanistan decrease in size the Security Force Assistance Advisor Teams (SFAATs) are "thinning up". So too are the SOF teams conducting VSO. Many of these teams are actually working at the district level (not village) training ALP from a number of villages. In the future, as the SOF footprint gets smaller many of the SOF teams will likely vacate district centers and start working at provincial or regional locations.

ALP as a part of Village Stability Operations or VSO.  The Afghan Local Police (ALP) program is a major component of the security line of effort found within the VSO methodology.  The role that the ALP plays in VSO is explained in  "Taking a Stand: Village Stability Operations and the Afghan Local Police", Special Warfare Magazine, July-September 2011. Read news reports about the ALP.

Cultural Support Teams.  The CSTs or Cultural Support Teams help the VSP get access to the 50% of the Afghan population that males cannot interact with.  CSTs are specially selected and trained females who undergo a rigorous training program conducted by United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) at Fort Bragg, NC.  2.

Role of Civil Affairs in Village Stability Operations.  Civil Affairs teams are an integral part of the Village Stability Operations concept.  CA teams comprise a part of the Village Stability Platform (VSP).  CA is a finite resource and not all VSO locations have a CA team - so the CA teams stay quite busy.  Read more in "The Role of Civil Affairs in Village Stability Operations", by CPT Neiman C. Young, Special Warfare Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 3, September 2011.

Other VSO Supporters.  Military members of the VSP team are not the only personnel or organizations that provide assistance to the VSO mission.  USAID, NGOs, and other agencies also are strong contributors.  In addition, contracts for specialized technical assistance are funded. For instance, the USAID stabilization program is of immense assistance as well as the occasional contractor.  7.

VSO - A Complex Operation.  Conducting Village Stability Operations is not easy.  It takes a well-trained and mature small unit to accomplish the many and varied tasks within VSO.  Some of the complexities of VSO are presented in "The Nuts and Bolts of Village Stability Operations", by CW3 Stephen Rust, Special Warfare Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 3, September 2011.

Future of VSO (and ALP).  The SOF community has almost reached the full extent of its capacity to support the expansion of VSO (and ALP).  Careful thought needs to be put into how to expand beyond the current footprint.  An article in Special Warfare magazine provides some history and background on VSO and also points to how to maintain the VSO focus and momentum - see "Forecasting the Future of Afghanistan", by COL Don Bolduc, Special Warfare Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 4, October-December 2011. Also of interest is "Shaping Coalition Forces' Strategic Narrative in Support of Village Stability Operations", LTC Scott Mann, Small Wars Journal, March 31, 2011.  The direction that would probably ensure the greatest success of the VSO program is pairing U.S. SOF teams with Afghan National Army Special Forces (ANASF) teams when conducting the VSO mission.  8.

Conclusion. VSO saw its greatest success during the 2010 to 2012 period. However, the U.S. mission was on a timeline and the support to the program diminished. Had the U.S. stayed in Afghanistan for the long-term (decades) the program would have been a game-changer.

Videos about Village Stability Operations (VSO)

September 7, 2017. In the Warlord's Shadow: Village Stability Operations in Afghanistan, New America. In this 1 1/2 hour long video, Dan Green - a book author, talks about his experience working with a U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Task Force conducting VSO in southern Afghanistan.

Publications and Reports on
Village Stability Operations (VSO) and Related Topics
(listed in chronological order)


Bolduc, MG (Ret) Donald C., "Going Back to the Future: It Is Time for Change in Afghanistan", Small Wars Journal, May 6, 2018. Bolduc proposes a request for forces (RFF) for additional special operations (SOF) and General Purpose (GP) forces for the re-establishment of a 'VSO' like program and enhancement of the ALP organization.


Lofdahl, Dr. Corey, Implementing Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: Lessons from Village Stability Operations and Afghan Local Police (VSO/ALP), The Institute of World Politics, December 10, 2015. A 47 minute long video of a presnentation by Dr. Lofdahl of Charles River Analytics.


Green, Lt. Cmdr. Daniel R., "Retaking a District Center: A Case Study in the Application of Village Stability Operations", Military Review, March-April 2015, pages 118-124.


Moyar, Dr. Mark. Village Stability Operations and the Afghan Local Police, JSOU Report 14-7, October 2014, Joint Special Operations University (JSOU). Moyar provides a history of the VSO and ALP programs from their inception in 2010 to 2013 when the VSO program ended and the ALP program was completely transferred to the Ministry of Interior.

Center for Naval Analysis, Risky Business: The Future of Civil Defense Forces and Counterterrorism in an Era of Persistent Conflict, October 20, 2014.

"Women's Rights in Afghanistan: The Village and VSO", JCISFA, July 2014.


Brown, Mark L., Jr. "Village Stability Operations: An Historical Perspective from Vietnam to Afghanistan". March 28, 2013. Small Wars Journal. An SF major compares the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) program of Vietnam with the Village Stability Operations (VSO). Accessed here.


Austin Long, Stephanie Pezard, Bruce Loidolt, and Todd C. Helmus. Locals Rule: Historical Lessons for Creating Local Defense Forces for Afghanistan and Beyond, 2012. A publication prepared for the Special Operations Joint Task Force - Afghanistan by the RAND National Defense Research Institute. Accessed here on September 20, 2012.

CJ Radin.  Report: Afghan local counterinsurgency programs prove successful.  Threat Matrix Blog of The Long War Journal, April 4, 2012.  Accessed here on April 5, 2012.

Seth A. Shreckengast. The Only Game in Town: Assessing the Effectiveness of Village Stability Operations and the Afghan Local Police, Small Wars Journal, March 27, 2012.  Accessed here on March 27, 2012.

USSOCOM, "Village Stability Operations - 101", The Donovon Review, January 2012. United States Special Operations Command, Directorate for Intelligence. see page 20 for a short explanation of the importance of IO and the RIAB in VSO.


The Importance of Vertical Engagement in Village Stability Operations, by Andrew R. Feitt, November 1, 2011.  Published by Small Wars Journal.

"One Team's Approach to Village Stability Operations". By Rory Hanlin, Small Wars Journal, September 4, 2011.

Transitioning to Afghan-Led Counterinsurgency.  By Seth G. Jones, Rand Corporation, May 10, 2011. Testimony presented before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Counterinsurgency from Below: The Afghan Local Police in Theoretical and Comparative Perspective.  Joe Quinn and Mario A. Fumerton, Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team (CAAT), posted on Ronna-Afghan, November 2010.

A Comprehensive Approach to Local Engagement in Afghanistan. By Eric Furey, Small Wars Journal, Oct 2010. ()

"It Takes the Villages".  By Seth G. Jones, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010.

"Community Defense in Afghanistan". By Seth G. Jones, Joint Forces Quarterly - NDU, 2nd Quarter 2010. (Adobe Acrobat )

Afghanistan's Local War: Building Local Defense Forces. By Seth Jones & Arturo Munoz, RAND Corp, 2010. (Adobe Acrobat )

Stabilization from the Bottom Up.  Seth G. Jones, Rand Corporation, February 2010.  Testimony presented before the Commission on Wartime Contracting.


"One Tribe at a Time". A Strategy for Success in Afghanistan. By MAJ Jim Gant, 2nd Edition, 2 Dec 2009, Nine Sisters Publications. Posted on Steven Pressfield Online. (Adobe Acrobat )

Green, D., "Enlisting the Population in its Own Defense: A Village-Based Strategy to Defeat the Taliban Insurgency", Foreign Policy, September 1, 2009.

"Community-based Security and Justice: Arbakai in Afghanistan". IDS Bulletin Volume 40, Issue 2, pages 20-27, March 2009.

News Articles about Village Stability Operations (VSO)

May 25, 2015. "VSO/Afghan Local Police: A Square Peg in a Round Hole". By David Phillips, LinkedIn Pulse. The VSO/ALP program was started too late and abandoned too early.

March 24, 2014. "In Afghanistan, A U.S. Special Forces Major's Meteroric Rise and Humiliating Fall". The Huffington Post. The military career of one of Special Forces promising officers and strong proponent of VSO comes to an end.

May 29, 2013. "It takes a village to raze an insurgency".  The AFPAK Channel. The author explains the Village Stability Operations program by CJSOTF-A.

September 19, 2012. "Viewpoint: Counter-insurgency lessons from Vietnam". BBC News Magazine.

July 26, 2012. "What VSO Is and Isn't". Scott Mann on The Kabul Cable Blog.

July 25, 2012. "Framing the Strategic Environment for Village Stability Operations", Scott Mann on The Kabul Cable Blog.

July 14, 2012. "Why VSO Will Ultimately Fail".  The Kabul Cable Blog.

July 10, 2012.  "Village Stability Operations (VSO) a Primer". The Kabul Cable Blog.

March 26, 2012.  "Special ops forces trying to stabilize rural Afghan villages".  Tampa Bay Online.

March 17, 2012.  "Analysis: Searching for truth in Afghan massacre".  CBS News.

March 16, 2012.  "About the Rampage in Panjwai". By Graeme Wood, Latitude Blog,  International Herald Tribune.

March 15, 2012.  "Karzai Urges NATO Withdrawal From Afghan Villages".  Voice of America.

February 12, 2012.  "Fort Irwin training creates new sort of soldier".  The Sun.

January 31, 2012.  "Fort Riley's "Iron Rangers" Applauded for Afghanistan Mission".  This infantry battalion, 1st Bn 16th Infantry Regiment, was under the command of the CJSOTF-A and engaged in Village Stability Operations (VSO) at the provincial, district and village level over a wide geographical area.

January 25, 2012.  "Special Operations Presence Alters Afghanistan Political Landscape".  Signal Magazine.

December 15, 2011.  "Prospects for Progress if We Stay the Course".  The Journal Times.  Representative Ryan (Wisconsin) recognizes importance of VSO.

November 10, 2011.  "In Afghanistan, special units do the dirty work".  USA Today.

November 8, 2011.  "Communities embrace literacy program throughout Afghanistan".  DVIDS.  VSO efforts assisted with radio literacy program.

November 6, 2011.  "In search of long-term stability in Afghanistan".  By Melissa Skorka,

October 13, 2011.  "In Faryab province, Village Stability Operations show success".  DVIDS.

September 2011.  "Taking a Stand: Village Stability Operations and the Afghan Local Police".  Lt Col Catanzaro and MAJ Windmueller, Special Warfare Magazine, July-September 2011 edition.

August 30, 2011.  "Hearts, minds, and revenge: local resistance to the Afghan insurgency".  The Long War Journal.

March 14, 2011.  "Beating Back the Taliban".  Foreign Policy.

December 1, 2010. "COIN Leadership Course Students Gain Insight about VSO". NTM-A Blog.

October 24, 2010. "A Comprehensive Approach to Local Engagement in Afghanistan". Eric Furey, Small Wars Journal.

September 30, 2010. "The Village Engagement Center". Small Wars Journal.

July 26, 2010. "Local Communities in Afghanistan Can Play Crucial Role in Improving Security". By Seth Jones and Arturo Munoz, RAND Corporation.

July 22, 2010. "Village Stability Leads to Security Gains and Development in Adirah". ISAF Facebook.

July 21, 2010. "Afghan Village Force: Moving Forward". Hekmat Karzai, East West Institute.

July 21, 2010. "Program has Afghans as first line of defense".  Sean Naylor, Army Times.

July 21, 2010. "Going old school: U.S. Army Special Forces Return to the Villages". The AFPAK Channel, Foreign Policy.

July 16, 2010. "The U.S. Goes Local in Anti-Taliban Fight". Time.

July 10, 2010. "Perspectives: Building a government; Reaching out to Afghan tribal leaders is key to a U.S. victory". Pasadena Star-News.

June 17, 2010. "U.S. Hopes To Win Afghan Trust, Village by Village". NPR.

June 9, 2010. "Special Forces Training Afghan Villagers".

May/June 2010. "It Takes the Villages". Dr. Seth Jones, Foreign Affairs.

May 27, 2010. "Local Defense in Afghanistan: A Review of Government-backed Initiatives".  Afghanistan Analyst Network.

February 11, 2010. "Tribe and prejudice: America's 'new hope' in Afghanistan". The National Conversation.

January 17, 2010. "Jim Gant, the Green Beret who could win the war in Afghanistan". The Washington Post.

January 8, 2010. "Exploiting Afghan Tribal Militias for an Optimal Counterinsurgency Campaign". Veterans Today.

December 9, 2009. "What About Those Afghan Militias?" The Washington Independent.

October 26, 2009. "One Tribe at a Time". Dave Maxwell, Small Wars Journal.

October 19, 2009. "The 'How' of Tribal Engagement". Steven Pressfield Online.

September 28, 2009. "One Tribe at a Time". By Jim Gant, posted on Steven Pressfield Online.

September 26, 2009. "Living among the Afghans: Special Forces troops move into town, build ties with locals". SF Examiner.

September 13, 2009. "Local Afghan patrols invested in peace". USA Today.

September 2009. "Afghan Village Militia: A People-Centric Strategy to Win". Small Wars Journal.

August 27, 2009. "Tribal guards add little". The Washington Times.

 November 7, 2008. "A Tribal Strategy for Afghanistan". Council on Foreign Relations.


Return to Top of Page


1.  Joe Quinn and Mario A. Fumerton, "Counterinsurgency from Below: The Afghan Local Police in Theoretical and Comparative Perspective", November 2010.  (Adobe Acrobat PDF file accessed on December 29, 211 at ).

2.  Fritz Butac, "Women Receive Vocational Training in Khas Konar", DVIDS, August 23, 2011.  See also the Paula Broadwell article entitled "CST: Afghanistan", The Best Defense blog, Foreign Affairs, February 8, 2011.

3.  Definition of VSO taken from "United States Plan for Sustaining the Afghanistan National Security Forces", Department of Defense, April 2011.  Page 61.

4.  The Shape, Hold, Build, Expand and Transition methodology is explained in "Village Stability Operations: More than Village Defense" by COL Ty Connett and COL Bob Cassidy, Special Warfare Magazine, July-September 2011 edition.

5.  An example of VSO expansion is provided in the following article where the VSP (SOF team with augmentation) of one village (Owimast, Qeysar District, Faryab Province) turns its attention to a neighboring village (Khwaja Kinti) controlled by insurgents.  "Program builds trust in villages, weakens Taliban influence", ISAF, September 20, 2011.

6.  The activities of a VSP is explained in "Transforming the Conflict in Afghanistan", by Joseph A. L'Etoile, PRISM 2, no. 4, September 2011, NDU Press.

7.  Agricultural experts are provided to SOF teams conducting VSO through a contract mechanism.  See "Oak Grove and TigerSwan to Support Afghan Afgricuture", Oak Grove Technologies, June 14, 2011.

8.  The Afghan National Army Special Forces detachments, which are very similar to U.S. Special Forces (USSF), are ideally suited for Village Stability Operations or VSO.  See "ANA Special Forces team 'incredible'", Outside the Wire,, October 27, 2010.  Accessed here Feb 2012.

9. In Small Wars Journal one can find an online article by Christopher Wilkerson who discusses the concept of DSO versus VSO (published March 19, 2013).


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