Iraqi Insurgents Capture Human Terrain System Member: John Stanton

Iraqi Insurgents Capture Human Terrain Team Member: Issa T. Salomi

by John Stanton

Sunday, 07 February 2010

Steve Fondacaro and Montgomery Carlough, senior program management of the US Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS), were warned as early as 2007 that Human Terrain Team members in Iraq and Afghanistan would become prey for insurgent groups. They were advised repeatedly that training must emphasize the dangerous environment HTS employees would be operating in. That training needed to  focus on  practices and procedures for handling life threatening situations to include kidnapping.

Issa Salomi, a 60 year old HTT member operating in a combat zone, was taken in January 2010 by an Iraqi insurgent group and a video of him was released on the Net in February 2010 by the same group. This tragic event drives home, once again, the core failings of the Human Terrain Team System: the inability to find qualified personnel, to train them properly and to, quite simply, take care of them. Some allege that many team leaders and HTS management itself have no clue where many of their teams are. “Some HTT members disappear for days and then return.”

“They will tell you they are addressing this in the curriculum redesign but it’s too little too late. The students currently in training are not been thoroughly briefed on the situation on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan . There does  not  appear to be any attempt to implement anything in training regarding kidnapping. This is criminally negligent,” said observers.

Observers also indicate that those in charge of revising the HTS curriculum and training new batches of HTS students are not qualified to do so as their expertise is in private sector organizational behavior.  Some have had no military or field experience and, what’s more, hardly understand the US military culture they are embedded in. Yet they are offered contracts that extend, in some cases, close to one month at $1200 per day.  Some allege that conflicts of interests abound within HTS with one of them centered around the outlay of $2 million to a group called Cornerstone.

How much more will it take until the word “accountability” becomes relevant to the US Army’s HTS program? Where are the IG’s or the US Congress? Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may have held accountable the program manager for the Joint Strike Fighter whom he recently fired but no one died in that program.

Who in HTS, and those that command above it, will be held to account for the deaths,trauma and lives ruined for a military/sociological experiment gone wrong? Those below, and their families, deserve much more than a mention on the website or in court/medical records for their efforts. [MF: Note that the website for HTS has been down for at least several days now.]

Michael Bhatia, Nicole Suveges, Paula Loyd, Don Ayala (and the Afghan National murdered), Wesley Cureton,  Scott Wilson, Issa Solomi, and  those unidentified US soldiers wounded in their company.

John Stanton is a Virginia Based writer specializing in national security and political matters. His recent book is General David Petraeus’ Favorite Mushroom: Inside the US Army HTS. Reach him at


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10 thoughts on “Iraqi Insurgents Capture Human Terrain System Member: John Stanton

  1. Yes it does, and like in previous crisis situations, except more so this time, the HTS website is completely useless (now reaching the extreme of being totally offline for more than several days).

    There are important questions here besides those raised in the media reports and by John Stanton. One concerns the ability of the resistance to pinpoint and target this individual, which raises the question: why? It suggests that the League of the Righteous are aware of what HTS is, and who its personnel are. Whatever they knew about HTS, one thing seems certain: now they will learn even more about it.

    Another question is: does Salomi’s family receive compensation during the period of his captivity? Is Salomi paid danger pay and is paid while he is a hostage?

    In addition: what are HTS, the Army, etc., doing to seek his release? Will they negotiate?

    Do they train their personnel to deal with situations like this? How was Salomi able to leave the base without anyone knowing, especially in a situation where a Status for Forces Agreement stipulates that U.S. forces are to be confined to their bases, except in emergency cases or where Iraqi forces seek their backup?

    HTS’ silence is extreme this time, a rather irresponsible outfit that exposes its employees to great dangers. That’s also unethical of course.

  2. In terms of details, it may not be the case that Salomi had somehow wandered off-base unbeknownst to others. DoD described Salomi as being away on “excused absence” ( and media reports quote sources (unnamed) that he is of Iraqi origin and was visiting family ( This raises the possibility that Salomi’s work with HTS was incidental to the circumstances of his capture — except in the obvious sense that HTS brought him to Iraq in the first place!

  3. Many thanks. I had seen “excused absence” referenced somewhere last night, and lost track of it, but at any rate, your source is much better. In this case, the news media got that point wrong, although I wonder if a reporter just assumed Salomi had “wandered off,” which seems like more of an accusation.

    The second point is a more difficult one, “that Salomi’s work with HTS was incidental to the circumstances of his capture,” if I follow you. It does not seem likely that Iraqis captured an Iraqi for making demands on the U.S., for example. They could have captured any other Iraqis, and in greater numbers. It does seem that his captors knew he was working for the U.S. It’s not obvious to me how much they would have known about HTS in advance of his abduction, but they may now be starting to learn much more.

  4. Sorry, I should have been more clear: What I meant is that there are presumably any number of Iraqi-Americans working for the US occupation in non-HTS capacities, and that Salomi’s off-base foray (and hence vulnerability) may be related to his being Iraqi-origin more than his HTS work. So Salomi could have just as easily been an officer, a civilian contractor, a translator, etc. What is significant is that he is both Iraqi (additional context for being off-base) AND American (worth capturing as a hostage) — where HTS enters into the picture is less clear.

    In any event, arguments about the vulnerability of employees may not add much to the critique of HTS. They are arguments for making HTS “better,” safer, etc. not eliminating the program per se.

  5. Thanks for the clarification, and in the absence of any information to the contrary I would have to say those are safe/reasonable assumptions.

    You are of course very right on your last point: pointing to any failures of management, safety, etc., is not a valid basis for an argument that seeks the elimination of HTS. It is an argument for better management. I have been expanding on John Stanton’s points in this regard, much of whose writing is about management problems, and who by his own admission thinks HTS is generally a good idea but needs to be managed better.

    As some of the regular readers of this blog already know, John and I differ on this point. The issue that was more in line with my own argument concerns the ethics of a program that puts researchers at such great risk. I personally do not think such a program should be allowed to exist, and if I had been the creator/manager of a program that resulted in the deaths of my colleagues then I really do not know how I could live with myself and continue to uphold the program. Some of my other arguments against HTS do not apply, certainly not with as much force, given the fact Salomi is an Iraqi…and if one’s aim is to target collaborators, then certainly local Iraqis (rather than diasporic ones) abound.

    My hope is that he will be treated well, and released very soon. Being a man of a certain age, his captors ought to take into account what the stresses of this situation could do to Salomi and not take his health for granted. I am also hoping that they issued three demands, each one more difficult to satisfy than the one before, with the hope that at least one will be satisfied. The first demand simply involves the Iraqi government recommitting itself to an agreement which it had already endorsed. Otherwise, if we take their demands at face value, they are essentially promising to keep Salomi for a long time. I do not know if they have threatened to end his life if their demands are not meant, and I hope they have the wisdom, generosity, and the respect for an elder, not to even consider that as an option.

  6. This kidnapping would not have happened if management were of a certain caliber required for a program of this magnitude and standing. They have very few written policies, most of which are junk.

    Also, this wouldn’t have happened if management on the ground and in the States had a good handle on their employees. Instead, I doubt you would even be able to get a current roster of who is where and their contact information.

    Spoken from someone on the ground.

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