U.S. Army Starving its Civil Affairs Functions: Prefers New Age HTS, PRT’s

“If the expansion of the Human Terrain System gains traction at TRADOC it could kill any efforts to develop a cultural expertise construct by the Civil Affairs community, specifically the Civil Affairs Proponent at USA JFK SWCS.  Everybody is looking to get as much money as they can for their organizations as the Defense budget begins to get squeezed. Naturally there could be a potential dog fight between TRADOC and any other Army organization making claims for HTS-like capability. Once something becomes institutionalized in the military it is difficult to change the new status quo.”

Major Brad Striegel’s (US Army Reserve) paper titled “Civil Affairs Functional Specialty Review is an exceptional study of the US Army’s Civil Affairs past and present. Initially written in March 2008–and updated in December 2009–it’s a must-read for Civil Affairs students and military historians. U.S. Army leaders focused on cultural analysis/stability operations should—if they have not already–spend time with the paper. **

There is also an excellent reading list that includes the title Civil Affairs: Soldiers Become Governors written in 1961 by Albert Weinberg and Harry Coles. A fantastic read, the 900 page book focuses on U.S. military Civil Affairs activities in World War II. Adding support to the cliché “What is Past is Prologue”, there is this gem in the introduction:

“Because of the ideological aspect of the struggle and because the United States acted as a member of a coalition of Allies, U.S. military leaders sometimes had to add to their traditional roles as soldiers those of the statesman and the politician. They were beset by the problems of resolving conflicting national interests and of reconciling political idealism and military exigency. On another level–in feeding hungry populations, in tackling intricate financial and economic problems, and in protecting the cultural heritage of a rich and ancient civilization-they had to exercise skills that are also normally considered civilian rather than military.”

In 2009, 47 years later, Edward Burke’s Leaving the Civilians Behind: The Soldier Diplomat in Afghanistan and Iraq would examine the same subject.

So it turns out, writes Striegel, that  U.S. Army Civil Affairs has been at the type of tasks performed by the Human Terrain System and Provincial Reconstruction Teams in various forms since 1847. According to Striegel (citing FM 41-10, 1/93),

“In the conduct of military government in Mexico in 1847, General Winfield Scott demonstrated that properly conducted CMO saves the combat commander problems with the civilian populace. He maintained that CMO saved lives, money, and supplies and often guaranteed military success when no other factor was effective. General Scott exercised the specialized functions of CA that we know today as the CA functional specialties. In using these functions under military control, he used reliable native personnel in existing civilian agencies of government in support of his military control over the populace.”

Canaries in a Coal Mine

“We had this [Human Terrain System] in World War II” writes Striegel.

Striegel believes that the Human Terrain System is a forgotten Civil Affairs competency.  He writes that new civil affairs like constructs such as U.S. Army TRADOC’s Human Terrain System and Provincial Reconstruction Teams are

“canaries in a coal mine that warn of the capability gaps of CA FX SP. Concepts like targeted recruiting and providing direct commissions to produce functional specialists, much like the specialist branches of today, have not been implemented since WW II, although a recent initiative a USA JFK SWCS now proposes such direct commissioning. No real overarching plan was ever implemented for CA FX SP training after World War II.”

Since that time, Striegel writes that the Civil Affairs community has been sleeping at the wheel while the rest of the Army was filling capability gaps that Civil Affairs should have nurtured, developed and updated.

“The same thing is happening with Agricultural Detachment Teams run by the National Guard. These are both Civil Affairs functional specialty capabilities and we are supposed to have them in our formations but we don’t. The community was blinded and distracted by its Special Operations moniker for decades until it was divested from Army SOF in 2006.”

Striegel writes that more people in Civil Affairs cared about jumping out of airplanes (a costly exercise) and tactical Civil Affairs than the Operational and Strategic Civil Affairs capabilities that Civil Affairs Functional Specialists (like those in HTS) now provide.

Human Terrain System Growing? Allies Joining?

Tony Bertuca of Inside the Army recently interviewed Colonel Sharon Hamilton, program manager of the HTS. In New Director Makes Changes: Army Increasing Number Of Human Terrain Teams”  Hamilton claims that HTS is expanding and cites a CENTCOM request for more Human Terrain Teams and that the HTS program is cooperating with “allies” although she would not name them.

Five of those allies are Germany, Israel, the UK, Australia, and Canada.

The fact is that the world’s major military powers already have their own versions of HTS.  Many of them will be at the Defense Geospatial Intelligence Conference in the UK in January 2011. A feature of the conference is the Human Terrain Analysis Focus Day. An American company SCIA will be leading a seminar on GIS and Human Terrain Analysis according to the program bulletin. Dr. Swen Erik Johnson, senior social scientist at SCIA—who claims to have developed the first HTT for DOD in 2005—will likely be in attendance. The US Army Corps of Engineers and an element of the US Marine Corps will also be in attendance.

HTA Day features this:

“This day will focus on the need for every defence intelligence organisation to develop a human terrain analysis strategy. Most intelligence and geospatial organisations in defence forces around the world are or will soon be tasked with developing and implementing a human terrain strategy. This means you will have to learn about human terrain analysis, set goals and implement an effective strategy in your organisation. Join this focus day to learn from the pioneers, who have already implemented an HTA strategy and who have run programmes and projects in Afghanistan. Build your strategy based on ideas, mistakes and successes of the pioneers. Learn from the experts in HTA about the best solutions, technologies, strategies and implementation processes.”

No doubt, Colonel Hamilton has done some excellent work while at the helm of HTS. Bertuca’s article cites some of the changes Hamilton has forced: bringing work in-house, jettisoning incompetent personnel, creating oversight, reaching out to academia, etc.

Those actions are arguably the result of the US Army AR 15-6 investigation; the Center for Naval Analysis report; some good people in the media, DOD and the U.S. Congress; plus the 100 or so “sources” speaking through the 47 article HTS series written over the past two years. Those sources have been vindicated on just about every level—they deserved better than they got. And those killed and wounded while with HTS? It’s tragic and a shame.

At any rate, skeptics within DOD are not sold on HTS. They say it is too early to tell how HTS will evolve from this point on: the new system has only been in place for a heartbeat.  Many in academia believe that HTS has such a bad reputation that highly qualified social scientists will never apply for work in the program.

Others believe that the comments made in Bertuca’s piece are little more than a public relations gimmick engineered by Maxie McFarland to gain scarce funding from the US Congress. In this view, the Inside the Army piece is just the beginning of a strategic communication effort that will find its way into the MSM.

Whatever the case, it is unclear why U.S. Army Civil Affairs—rich with history and lessons learned—is being left to wither away. HTS-type functions always belonged in U.S. Army Civil Affairs as has been stated throughout this HTS series.

**Inside the Army – 12/13/2010

New director makes changes: Army Increasing Number Of Human Terrain Teams; Advising Allies

The Army is ramping up its controversial Human Terrain Systems program and will be sending more teams to Afghanistan this summer while simultaneously working with allied nations seeking to develop their own HTS capabilities, according to the program’s director.

The HTS program operates by embedding anthropologists and social scientists with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan to help provide commanders with a sense of cultural understanding when making decisions. It has been controversial among some in the anthropological community who question its value and ethical practices.

But the program continues to grow, despite various criticisms from academia and government. Col. Sharon Hamilton said in a Dec. 8 interview that U.S. Central Command has issued a requirement for 31 HTS teams in Afghanistan — an increase of nine teams — by this summer.

“I use that definitely as a metric for the success of our teams,” she said.

“The fact that Central Command increased the requirement for the number of teams they would like on the ground says a lot. CENTCOM has a limited amount of resources it has been allocated, so any time they request a human terrain team, it’s a zero sum, there’s something else they cannot request.”

There are now 10 HTS teams operating in Iraq and Hamilton said the Army has decided to keep them there as long as American forces remain in the country.

“The fact that we have 10 teams there when many of the enablers and support elements have been withdrawn from country — the human terrain capability is one they want to keep as long as U.S. forces remain,” she said.

Hamilton also said her program has been working with allied nations that want to develop their own HTS programs. She would not say which countries were interested, but noted that a Canadian general was said to be very impressed with the program.

“We directly support six allied nations and they are all very interested,” she said. “Several of the allies have approached the Department of the Army wanting to develop their own capability because they have our teams with them in Afghanistan. We’re doing knowledge exchanges [and] we’ve have several representatives from other countries visit our training, visit our teams on the ground in Afghanistan.”

The program, however, has been marked by controversy for several years, with troubling reports in academia and the media culminating in a House Armed Services Committee decision to direct a review of HTS earlier this year.

Shortly thereafter, HTS director Steve Fondacaro was released and replaced with Hamilton, who began serving as interim HTS director in June. Hamilton said the program is also no longer advised by Montgomery McFate, the once-celebrated social scientist who was instrumental in the development of HTS.

Hamilton said a new chief social scientist, Chris King, had been named to replace McFate and would begin in January once he returned from working with an HTS team in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the congressionally mandated report was conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses and presented to the House Armed Services Committee and the Defense Department in September. The report has not been cleared for public viewing, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

Hamilton said she could not discuss specifics in the report, but said its overall message was that the government needed to be more involved in the administration of the program and rely less on contractors.

“There were definitely some assessments we needed to respond to,” she said.

“Previously, we had very few government personnel in the structure of HTS and not a good situation as far as government oversight. I think it validated the fact that we needed to have processes and standards in place.

What it really reinforced was that we truly were an organization that needs to switch from an entrepreneurial approach to a more established institutional approach, which means you put standards and processes in place so that you do have recurring actions, so that you do have normalcy with how you handle administrative processes.”

Hamilton said several administrative changes had been made since she took the helm and brought on more government personnel. She has hired a senior civilian to oversee administration and logistics support of teams in theater, brought on an information technology director and hired a civilian training director and assistant training director.

“These are all new positions and all positions that were previously done by contract personnel,” she said.

Hamilton said she also has stepped up the program’s engagement with the academic community by attending conferences for relevant groups, namely the American Anthropological Association, an organization that has remained steadfastly critical of the program.

Robert Albro, a professor of international communication at American University and a member of the AAA commission that authored a 2009 report criticizing HTS, called the program a “non-starter.”

“If you’re going to say that you’re bringing anthropologists to bear, then you have to allow the people you’re calling anthropologists to work in ways that meet their own professional obligations,” he said in a Dec. 9 interview. “Human terrain teams operate in a context where it’s very hard to understand how ethical considerations aren’t made deeply problematic. It’s hard to do ethnography at the point of a spear. It’s done over long periods typically measured in years, not even months.”

A congressional source who had knowledge of the CNA report told ITA that it mainly criticized the program for managerial issues.

“In reality, the program office until very recently was pretty thin and that actually accounted for a lot of the problems,” the source said. “The HTS management office didn’t have a great interface with TRADOC and that resulted in not having a lot of the back office support you would have expected. The Army is going back now and professionalizing it. It brings it more into the TRADOC fold.”

The source also said the report identified many problems with training HTS personnel, mostly the high number of candidates who “washed out” late in the process because they were not properly evaluated by the Army.

“The problem with using that [Army evaluation system] with a brand new specialty is that it has a high false-positive rate,” the source said. “They were kicking out a lot of people who subjectively appeared qualified.”

— Tony Bertuca

4 thoughts on “U.S. Army Starving its Civil Affairs Functions: Prefers New Age HTS, PRT’s

  1. David Price

    Nice piece John.

    Major Brad Striegel’s claim that something similar to HTS existed in WWII is extraordinary. I can’t tell if he simply doesn’t understand exactly what anthropologists did during the Second World War, doesn’t understand how HTS functions, or is misrepresenting what HTS is; or perhaps all three of these possibilities. It is possible that he knows about some sort of previously undisclosed WWII program, but I doubt it. It would be interesting to ask him exactly what WWII era program he is talking about; my guess is that he’d have no concrete answer. Cutting back on Civil Affairs in favor of HTS would be a real disaster.

  2. John Stanton

    Max–From the US House/Senate Bill funding US defense dated 10 December 2010

    H. R. 6523
    To authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2011 for military activities of
    the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense
    activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel
    strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes.
    DECEMBER 15, 2010

    9 (a) LIMITATION.—Of the amounts authorized to be
    10 appropriated for the Human Terrain System (hereinafter
    11 in this section referred to as the ‘‘HTS’’) that are de-
    12 scribed in subsection (b), not more than 85 percent of the
    13 amounts remaining unobligated as of the date of enact-
    14 ment of this Act may be obligated until the Secretary of
    15 the Army submits to the congressional defense committees
    16 each of the following:
    17 (1) A validation of all HTS requirements, in-
    18 cluding any prior joint urgent operational needs
    19 statements.
    20 (2) A certification that policies, procedures, and
    21 guidance are in place to protect the integrity of so-
    22 cial science researchers participating in HTS, includ-
    23 ing ethical guidelines and human studies research
    24 procedures.

    The Terrorism and Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, led by Chairwoman Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), is responsible for overseeing approximately $28 billion for U.S. Special Operations Forces, chemical and biological defense, counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Information Technology (IT), defense-wide Science and Technology (S&T), chemical demilitarization, and other areas focused on defending our nation against unconventional threats.


    There are increasing concerns that the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS), designed to
    leverage social science expertise to support operational commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan has not paid sufficient attention to addressing certain concerns. The Department is encouraged to continue to develop a broad range of opportunities that leverage the important contributions that can be offered by social science expertise to support key missions such as irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, and stability and reconstruction operations. The bill limits the obligation of funding for HTS until the Army provides revalidation of all existing operations requirements and certifies Department-level guidelines for the use of social scientists.

    1. Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores

      Re: Items 20-24, specifically is going to be a tall order. Besides the ethics of those researched is the question of the ethics of dealing appropriately with HTS social scientists so that their integrity for the mission remains intact. How will the Army ensure those ethics in light of all the military brass in theatre who couldn’t be bothered with HTS personnel’s needs to perform their mission, part-time Army officers who are using Iraq and Afghanistan as a job fair, HTS managers who were little more than war profiteers, and poorly vetted HTS personnel who said they had PhDs to do the scientific work of HTS, but who were really high school graduates, and others like them who impeded the Real McCoys? I’d like to see a prospectus.

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