No, this is not an (anti-imperialist) “rant” as one conservative blogger recently wrote in characterizing this blog, but rather the conclusion arrived at by a Major in the United States Marine Corps, Benn Connable, writing in the latest issue of the Military Review:
Connable, Ben. (2009). All our eggs in a broken basket: How the Human Terrain System is undermining sustainable military cultural competence. Military Review, March-April: 57–64.
There is no need for my narration here, although a selection (and thus editing) of some key points (from my perspective) is tantamount to narration. Readers should therefore consult the original source in its entirety, these notes and quotes are, as always, here primarily for my future ease of reference. The headings, however, are my own, as are the emphases in bold lettering.
••••••• ••••••• ••••••• ••••••• •••••••
HTS damages relationships with academia:
“Moreover, the practice of deploying academics to a combat zone may undermine the very relationships the military is trying to build, or more accurately rebuild, with a social science community that has generally been suspicious of the U.S. military since the Viet Nnam era” (58)
“Each human terrain team fields at least one civilian social scientist. In recruiting these social scientists for active military operations, the program staff has widened a long-existing schism between academics willing to work with the military and those who are not. The HTS program has provided groups like the Network of Concerned Anthropologists a legitimate target in their efforts to prevent social scientists from supporting the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan” (63).
“Members of this network and others contend that the civilians on HTT are violating academic ethical standards. These standards are in many ways akin to the Hippocratic Oath: field researchers are restricted from disturbing or harming the subject of their studies. Academic critics of HTS see social scientists wearing military uniforms, carrying weapons, and providing direct input to combat staffs that may use the information to apply deadly force” (64).
“Whether the criticisms or comparisons are legitimate is irrelevant; the controversy is real, and it degrades the ability of patriotic social scientists who help the military through less controversial means. Many cultural anthropologists working with the military have been ostracized by their academic peers as a result of HTS blowback” (64)
[Open Anthropology is proud to serve as part of the HTS blowback campaign.]
We do not need you, we already do culture:
“The other side of the debate, represented by the advocates of the Human Terrain System (HTS), calls for an immediate solution in the form of non-organic personnel, new equipment, and the direct application of external academic support. HTS essentially adds a quick-fix layer of social science expertise and contracted reachback capability to combatant staffs. This “build a new empire” proposal is based on the assumption that staffs are generally incapable of solving complex cultural problems on their own” (57).
“The HTS approach is inconsistent with standing doctrine and ignores recent improvements in military cultural capabilities. American military staffs have proven capable of using cultural terrain to their advantage in the small wars of the early 20th century, in Viet Nam, and contrary to common wisdom, in Aafghanistan and Iraq” (57-58).
“By doctrine, mission, and organization, the U.S. military is mandated to train and maintain organic cultural expertise. Staffs are required to conduct training in the navigation of cultural terrain. Cultural information is inextricably linked to the intelligence process. Reachback centers do exist and are actively supporting combat operations. There is no justification to support a, “we fight wars, we need to pay someone to do culture.” Despite the initial failures of poorly trained military personnel to “do culture” there is no valid, systemic requirement for nonorganic personnel or equipment” (59-60).
Redundancies, overlaps, misrepresentations of military operations:
“According to the [HTS’ own] website, the [Civil Affairs] CA staff is responsible for “developing, coordinating, and executing plans to positively influence target populations to support the commanders’ objectives, and to minimize the negative impact of military operations on civilian populations and interference by civilians during combat operations.” officers “provide technical expertise, advice, and assistance on FN/HN [foreign nation/host nation] social and cultural matters.” This doctrinal description almost directly mirrors the claimed capabilities of an HTS human terrain team” (61).
“According to the 15 July 2008 HTS briefing, the HTT is staffed by at least two officers or enlisted soldiers with FAO [Foreign Area Officers], CA, [Civil Affairs] Special Forces, or intelligence backgrounds. The team is led by an experienced combat arms officer. Why is it necessary to create a separate program, costing (at a minimum) tens of millions of dollars, to assign these personnel to the very staffs at which they were trained to serve? What do the Human Terrain Team FAO and officer bring to the table that organic and CA officers do not? If HTS can find these qualified officers, why can’t the U.S. military services?” (61).
“As early as 2004, the First Marine Division held regular tribal councils and established a ‘graybeard’ board of disgruntled former Iraqi general officers. Provincial reconstruction teams and infantry battalions often attend and support loya jurga meetings in Afghanistan. Without input from the Human Terrain System reachback cells, FAOs, CAofficers, and PSYOPS officers have been actively engaging with local leadership and proposing culturally savvy solutions since the onset of the war” (62).
“One quote published on the HTS ‘impact’ webpage stands out. Rreferring to the local populace, an Army brigade operations officer states, “We don’t ask them about their needs—paratroopers just don’t think that way.” By prominently displaying this quotation, the program managers imply that this officer’s inability to understand or execute simple counterinsurgency tactics is typical” (62)
HTS does damage to, or does not serve long-term military needs:
“Post-9/11 joint doctrine pounds away at the solution to the systemic weaknesses identified in cultural training, education, and intelligence: Soldiers, Marines, and combatant staffs must become cultural-terrain experts. Cultural terrain considerations must be closely woven into the full spectrum of military training and operations. excessive focus the Department of Defense (DOD) has placed on the extraordinarily expensive Human Terrain System has, and may continue to come, at the expense of precisely those long-term programs that will develop this mandated, comprehensive level of expertise” (58)
“The HTS program has attempted to create its own contracted reachback capability in the form of an expensive cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This cell provides feedback to HTTs but is incapable of providing cultural support to the full range of deployed forces around the world. Despite this demonstrated limitation of capability, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI) has seriously considered the HTS reachback cell as the best solution to provide cultural support to combat staffs” (63).
HTS is stuck between conflicting purposes:
“The civilian academic, the military cultural experts, and the leader of the team serve as special advisors to the brigade commander, providing a separate stream of data and advice that in theory is not “polluted” by the intelligence cycle. This separation makes it easier for the managers to sell the terrain team to academia and to recruit social scientists. If HTS is not related to military intelligence, then the fraught concept of applied academics seems more palatable” (59).
“The progenitors of took a requirement that called for a comprehensive and sustainable solution-train combat units to navigate the cultural terrain-and instead created a costly quick-fix response to an immediate need. That response relied heavily on nonorganic technology and contracted support. In theory, could have addressed the perceived immediate need while the services addressed the long-term programs. In effect, the fundamental flaws in the HTS concept put the system at cross-purposes with the services’ short-term goals and future needs” (59).
“The HTS team’s response to the cultural intelligence failures of the early war period was to argue that cultural information is generally unclassified and is best processed by academic researchers. This proposed solution ignores the fact that the intelligence staff is, by doctrine, specifically designated to collect and analyze cultural data. The inference that cultural information is inherently unclassified shows a clear lack of appreciation for the contemporary operating environment” (63).
What is a solution?
“The alternative to deploying academics into combat theaters is to enlist their support in training and educating our staff officers. In this role they do not risk endangering their research subjects, provide no direct input into targeting cycles, and they do not provide antimilitary elements within their own community any substantial ammunition with which to undermine the military-academic relationship. Keeping them in an academic setting will help build an untarnished and sustainable relationship” (64).
It is time for HTS to go:
“HTS has sapped the attention or financing from nearly every cultural program in the military and from many within the military intelligence community. The human terrain teams have given a number of staff officers an excuse to ignore a complex and challenging training requirement. We have been at war for eight years. When do the ‘quick fix’ solutions give way to long-term, doctrinally sound programs? It is time for HTS to give way” (64).