The Life and Death of the Human Terrain System
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An interesting article on the Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I don’t agree 100% on why HTS failed, though there are many good points in the article.
I would question the utility of “tacking on” a program to existing structures, using people who are largely unsuitable for combat service, doing questionable research, which may or may not be useful in a foreign war.
In my experience, HTS focused too much on surveys and meaningless research without a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan and the causes of conflict there. Much like the rest of the conflict, there was very little effort spent on developing relevant research questions, and much effort in “piling on” with questions that have already been asked a million times with little/no effort to addressing the issues, analyzing cause and documenting/disseminating valuable information gained.
Any future military cultural analysis needs to be systematic, thought out, and needs to include a robust staffing effort to ensure the right people are in the right jobs. (Personally, I think historians were grossly underrepresented in the HTS efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they possess useful skills without some of the baggage Anthropologists bring with them.)
Cultural analysis efforts need to be integrated with the (hopefully unified) Chain of Command, to ensure that unity of effort is there. “Tacking on” a team of Social Scientists of questionable provenance puts the effort at a built in disadvantage, imo.
Research questions need to be based on the kind of passive research by people who actually understand the operational environment to ensure they are relevant. If, for instance, water supply is not an issue in that community, it does no good to ask endless questions about water supply, because the respondent will feel the pressure to respond that “yes, indeed, there are issues with the water supply” because of the pressure in many societies to please questioners.
A village elder lies to a Human Terrain Team about how high the flood waters came.
Any data gathered by cultural research needs to be analyzed by skilled people who have some kind of contextual knowledge. The current system of Military Intelligence qualified only personnel with Top Secret clearances has created an echo chamber of people without important cross-disciplinary and contextual skills. (More on this in another post)
This post-analysis data then needs to be shared in a form that is accessed and searched easily. And, obtw, can be stored for future use as well as collated over time to expose further information through the passage of events. An institutional Wiki is ideal for this, and the DoD funded one for three years, before it withered and died do to lack of cooperation between organizations and lack of input by users.
This is a huge subject, and I will post further on each point, in greater detail. Hopefully, this information proves to be useful, or at least controversial enough to stir discussion.
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