Continuing from the last item on this topic, the following are more examples of recent European press coverage of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System and its embedding of civilian social scientists in counterinsurgency missions. One thing that immediately stands out from most of these articles is the emphasis not on “civilian social scientists,” but specifically anthropologists. Still written as if this were 2007, and with the aid of people in HTS such as Montgomery McFate and Ted Callahan, no effort is made to minimize mention of anthropology–despite the fact that in the North American media the increased emphasis is now on “social scientists” in the program, and HTS itself tells the home audience that few anthropologists have actually joined the program, and in some circles, that it is not an anthropology program. Abroad, the story is different–anthropology is still being used to sell HTS. As to what the purposes behind such press coverage may be, that is open to question. If the articles are meant to sell the war in Afghanistan as “winnable” if fought in a “smart” way, then the articles are a waste of time: the majority of Europeans oppose the war, and they are still a bit too wise to be bought with little fluff pieces about American “smarts” and American “can do.” The danger might be that people just remember about “anthropologists” aiding in counterinsurgency, serving to eliminate the boundary between an independent and critical anthropology, and one that is blurred beyond recognition as a tool of military planning. No wonder then that the American Anthropological Association is keen to create as much distance as possible between anthropology and HTS. These articles suggest that they have been partly successful, even if in most instances anthropological criticisms of HTS are relegated to a minor paragraph, included as a formality, a token to “balance.” Thus far, as far as I know and recall, outside of the U.S. (many of whose media are themselves international) there has been press coverage of HTS in media outlets based in Canada, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Italy, Germany, Austria, the UK, Romania, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, and South Korea.
Here is the latest batch:
I do not speak or read German, and therefore I am unable to offer anything more than links to the severely deficient services of Google Translate.
GEO first ran an extended magazine article on 05 May 2010, the whole of which can be viewed and downloaded from here, titled “Ein Ethnologe im Krieg.” It is a grandiose, richly illustrated piece, that seems to focus on the work of anthropologist Ted Callahan.
On 30 June 2010, Die Presse ran a story story titled “Ethik: Anthropologen an die Front?” (“Ethics: Anthropologists at the front?“)–and once again anthropologist, like ethnographer, is in the very title. However, this piece gives much more attention to criticisms of HTS, especially on ethical and political grounds, and benefits from the input of Roberto J. González.
On 05 July 2010, the Romanian newspaper, Adevarul, published “Pentagonul recrutează antropologi pentru Afganistan” (“Pentagon recruited anthropologists to Afghanistan“). Despite being Italian, I still find that reading Romanian poses many challenges. This story seems to feature yet another HTS anthropologist (or at least anthropology is implied in the article), Patrick Carnahan– “He went from house to house, seeking interaction with Afghans. He had no weapon, and was the only American. His background is not in the military but in the social sciences….[part of] a controversial U.S. military-funded program, which proposes creating joint teams of military and anthropologists.” A minor paragraph on the ethical problems of HTS appears at the bottom of the story, fogged up by being enveloped in details of Paula Loyd’s killing. As far as short media pieces go, this one is virtually indistinguishable from countless published in the U.S. over the past two years.
There have been a number of media reports about HTS in the UK over the past two years, mostly in the BBC (a radio documentary, a BBC commentary by anthropologist John Gledhill, a recent extended blog post, and other items). Most of the materials have been quite detailed, informative, and sometimes critical (at the very least, sober).
On 11 June 2010, The Guardian published James Denselow’s “Scholar soldiers in Afghanistan are on dangerous terrain” with the subheading “Using social scientists in military human terrain teams blurs the lines between independent academia and partisan militarism.” In my opinion, this is among the better pieces we have seen in the mainstream media, for its depth of context, its critical analysis, and its refusal to engage in the usual boosterism. About media coverage in the UK and US, about HTS, Denselow writes (careful not to repeat that HTS is anthropology),
One of the US military’s experiments with harnessing civilian power has been the creation of human terrain teams (HTT). This embedding of social scientists into military brigades to provide cultural understanding and intelligence has received little coverage in the UK while in the US it is seen as one of the most controversial aspects of the war.
Denselow comes to the conclusion that, “It is this dangerous blurring between independent academia and partisan militarism that is at the crux of understanding the human terrain system.” He also relies on feedback from Hugh Gusterson for this article.
Not news media as such, I should mention an “intriguing” article by the UK Ministry of Defence, “Military develops its cultural understanding of Afghanistan” published on 24 February 2010. There is a lot in there that is worthy of note, and commentary. Essentially the MOD has come up with its own answer to HTS, with what it calls the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU). It promises to do what HTS does, and more: cultural awareness training for troops, and providing “cultural specialists” to be deployed (who appear to be, for the most part, linguists). A DCSU was involved in the recent failure, Operation Moshtarak, in the so-called “Marjah region.” The DCSU is based at Royal Air Force base Henlow, and officially came into being this past April. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Windmill, from the MOD’s Afghan specialist implementation team, set up the DCSU. The DCSU’s “cultural advisors,” deployed in Afghanistan, perform a mission very similar to that of HTS: “They…help identify and understand issues relating to the local cultural, political, economic, social and historical environment to help commanders make better and more informed decisions.” There are 25 such individuals, assigned to senior military commanders, with the intention of increasing their number to 40. Each one speaks either Dari and/or Pashto. This article makes no mention of any attempt to recruit civilian social scientists, giving the impression that all DCSU staff are themselves military. Only in one case is there a mention of a civilian: a civilian cultural specialist, Sippi Azarbaijani-Moghaddam. Perhaps, as with Canada’s “white situational awareness teams,” the British have found more indirect ways of recruiting social scientists.