Saving Lives, or Ending Them? Martin Schweitzer on Special Operations and the Human Terrain System

Previously we read here of the testimony by a Col. Martin Schweitzer, Commander, 4 / 82 Airborne Brigade Combat Team, United States Army, before the House Armed Services Committee, Terrorism & Unconventional Threats Sub-Committee and the Research & Education Sub-Committee of the Science & Technology Committee , on 24 April 2008. He repeats statements there that have been very widely circulated among numerous articles about the Human Terrain System (HTS), and how it has saved lives, according to his testimony from his experience in Afghanistan. In actuality, when forced to provide evidence for his claim, Schweitzer wrote to Price, “admitting that no such studies verifying these often repeated claims exist (and even if they did, they would be complicated by confounds of changes in other conditions) and that this claimed reduction is a loose estimate.”

But it gets more complicated. The complete video of Schweitzer’s testimony was uploaded here. One cannot rely on the PDF of his address, since it excludes the back and forth of questions and answers after his formal statement. What comes almost at the very end of the recorded session, long past when most of us would bother paying any more attention to the facile assertions, common place truisms, and milspeak, is a surprising admission. Listen to it for yourselves, concerning the work of Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan–whose sole job is killing, night raids, and not passing out candies to kiddies (indeed, they have killed a number of those kids in cold blood)–and their relationship with HTS:

“A continued sharp edge.” Fear, not just favour. Fear is the dirty secret of the American counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, which back home is portrayed by the compliant media as a war of delivering stuffed toys and sweet candies, when not too busy taking children by the hand to schools, and delivering notepads and pencils. If there is one thing American militarists definitely understand, if anything from observing their civilian compatriots at home, it is the power of fear for inducing obedience and support. What U.S. Special Operations Forces do in Afghanistan in some cases appears to be a deliberate targeting of innocent and unarmed civilians, subjecting them to executions.

The counterinsurgency gurus like to drop a lot of names of special authorities that presumably support their arguments. One of those names is David Galula. Galula, French theorist and practitioner of counterinsurgency in Algeria, certainly argued for such measures as gaining the support of the population, isolating and “protecting” it from the resistance (who also knew well the power derived from instilling fear), and building local civilian government. Yet, as Laleh Kkalili wrote, “Galula is mostly matter-of-fact about torture, and mentions that the ‘single most important improvement in our counterinsurgency operations in Algeria’ was the improvement in the detention and interrogation facilities of the colonial military.” Galula’s written work was developed in the U.S. in two core volumes during fellowships at the RAND Corporation and Harvard University. The second volume, Khalili tells us, “is now on the US Army Command and General Staff College curriculum, and has served as inspiration for the new US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.” Justin Raimondo also observed that, “in Algeria, a theater in which the war tactics recommended by Galula were carried out–in certain instances, by him personally–the French record was of brutality unmitigated by either decency or common sense. In order to cut the links between the insurgents and the populace, a large-scale resettlement program was carried out, leading to the massive disruption of Algerian society (and ultimately backfiring on the colonialists).”

It is already backfiring on the colonialists in Afghanistan. While the Taliban are no strangers to committing executions, and killing civilians as part of their attacks on occupation forces, there is an interesting anthropological issue at work here, noted but not commented on much: Afghans tend to resent killings of civilians by foreign forces far more than by the Taliban. While the Taliban part of the Afghan resistance may reap the rewards of both fear, sympathy and local anti-imperialism, the occupying forces reap hatred.

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2 thoughts on “Saving Lives, or Ending Them? Martin Schweitzer on Special Operations and the Human Terrain System

  1. Pingback: asks “The return of colonial anthropology?/ anthro roundup | Erkan's Field Diary

  2. Pingback: Revealing the Human Terrain System in Wikileaks Afghan War Diary « ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

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