Recommended ISAF Guidance for Female Engagement Teams

[The following consists of the speaking notes for a presentation delivered by Major Maria Vedder of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System, from 23 February 2010, as a “strategic intelligence update.” The original file can be accessed here as a PPT file and here as a PDF.]


Good Morning Sir, It’s not who I am but what I am that brings me here today.

I am a soldier with an identifier that enables me to garner information and build relationships with the population that is not accessible by some others – that identifier is my gender.

But it’s my training as a civil affairs officer and human terrain member that enables me to conduct the engagements in a manner to garner information in a proscribed manner and to understand the importance of capturing that information in such a way to disseminate it and share it with others. I’ve been in Helmand for 5 months working on female engagements.


Good morning, Sir.

I am Maj Maria Vedder, a civil affairs officer and member of the Human Terrain System. I worked 5 months in Helmand Province with RCT 7 before transferring to ISAF HQ to write a report that provides background, detailed methodology, and tactical employment considerations for female engagement teams.


Author: P. Maria Vedder, MAJ, Civil Affairs, US Army Reserves, ISAF HQ, Human Terrain System Theatre Coordination Element (HTS TCE)/ Civilian ORSA for TRADOC

Primary Contributor and Advisor: MSgt Julia Watson, Civil Affairs, US Marine Corp, Female Engagement Team (FET) OIC, 2nd MEB

USMC FET Program Advisor: COL Edward Yarnell, US Marine Corp (USMC), MEB, FECC

Tactical Employment Advisors: COL Randall Newman, USMC, Commander, RCT 7; LTC Mark Dietz, USMC, Commander, 2-2

Teammate & Research Methodology Advisor: Ms Kristin Post, Social Scientist, HTS, RCT 7, Human Terrain Team 7

Supplemental contributions and oversight by:

Dr. Montgomery McFate, HTS, Senior Social Scientist (Topic: Relevance)

Rebecka Bell, Independent consultant (Topic: Triangulation)

Christopher King, HTS TCE, Social Scientist (Topic: Convergence)

Capt. Matt Pottinger, CJ2x (Topic: Purpose)

Ms. Jali Jalani (Topic: Translator Responsibilities)

Maj N.J. Karczewski, TFL G-3 Assessments Deputy OIC (Topic: Assessment)

LTC Dave Hudak, TRAC Monterey (Topic: Assessment)

Mr. Jack Jackson, TRAC Monterey (Topic: Assessment)

Mr. Tim Perkins, TRAC Monterey (Topic: Influence; Assessment)

MAJ Major Cameron Grams, 2D MEB ANSF OCC-P (Topic: Influence; Information)


I am recommending that you issue ISAF guidance for female engagement containing the specific elements listed. Such guidance will ensure consistency in reporting that is gained through quality training and engagement methods…the consistency is to ensure that we don’t end up doing more harm than good with unintended culturally offensive mistakes and to gather information in a concise manner.


Sir – you signed an order in November directing units to “create teams to build relationships with Afghan females” but there is little consistency in the programs across the country… with varying degrees of success in contributing to the information repository on the total Afghan population that we seek to understand as part of the COIN environment.

As such, the recommendation is to develop ISAF guidance for female engagement teams to ensure consistency in reporting that is gained through quality training and engagement methods…the consistency is to ensure that we don’t end up doing more harm than good with unintended culturally offensive mistakes and to gather information in a concise manner.


ISAF guidance for tactical employment of female engagement teams

Dedicated military females to engage the populace, focusing on Afghan females

Minimum 2 per battalion operating at company level

Task organized under civil military operations

Training Standards and Recruiting Protocol

Establish Assessment Tool

Defined mission

Measures of Performance and Effectiveness

Guided Question sets to inform the LOOs

Reporting standardized (CIDNE)


Many still question why we should single out females as focus of effort.

This stick guy represents the entire population.

In Afghanistan, you’ve got about half males, and half female.

But in Afghanistan, the culture segregates by gender. So the appropriate operational response that is culturally sensitive to that segregation is to interact male to male & female to female.

We want to understand 100% of the community by engaging them directly.

By doing so, we get the insight that we need, while being respectful of the culture, yet building the fundamentally essential social contracts founded on trust and established in a cooperative environment.….that social contract needs to be with the male and female population…both of whom are making decision about the future of this country, whether publicly or privately.


Cultural Sensitivity:

The Afghan culture segregates by gender.

“Population is Center of Gravity”

The appropriate operational response to be respectful of the cultural norms is to enable female members of the coalition force to interact with the Afghan female population directly.


A question posed was why must military females be responsible for female engagement…why not others?

In non-permissive environments, the majority of information is collected by military members because of the high threat levels. So if we are to get information from the female half of the population, then military females will be the one’s getting the information because they are the only females operating in high threat areas.

The initial information gathered in the clear and initial hold phases of operations informs all future operations and sets the stage for non-lethal effect packages.

Long term, would hopefully find total transition of responsibility to GIRoA and the international community supporting sustainable development, pursuing economic prosperity , and human rights.

But the groundwork is done in those critical moments from the clear to hold phases….first impressions matter and the set stage for all future efforts. And women in this society must be considered because limited mobility creates constraints in their access to the needed support.


Because military females are the only females with access in a non-permissive environment when first impressions matter and when the commander’s critical information requirements are being gathered to determine the sustainment phases of the operation.

There are near term and long term value in all information collected on the battlefield.

The information collected by patrols in the battle space build the picture for future operation decisions such as how and where to apply CERP funds, how to develop IO packages, and where to focus security assets. Again, to know how to best use distribute our non-lethal resources for maximum gain in influencing the whole population, we must know what will appeal to the females too…particularly in consideration of their limited freedom of movement which requires more creative IO/CA/Medical response.

As security improves, the expectation would be more joint efforts with governance teams and R&D experts who have the money and the expertise to start making large scale improvement in the region.

Long term, would hopefully find total transition of responsibility to GIRoA and the international community supporting sustainable development, pursuing economic prosperity , and human rights.

But the groundwork is done in those critical moments from the clear to hold phases….first impressions matter and the set stage for all future efforts.


The population is “center of gravity” in COIN operations.

The whole purpose of engaging members of the local community is to understand what this enigmatic population is thinking and perceiving as we conduct operations.

The Human Terrain is composed of men, women, and children that must be targeted to gathering information.

In Afghanistan, we observe rather consistent themes

Men = interpret information and tell you what they think you want to hear

Women = see and hear what goes on behind the walls

Children = the children run free in the community; they see and watch and are involved in nearly every activity in the community

The population must determine whether to support EF or GIRoA

To understand which direction they are leaning, we must get feedback from all 3 entities

By doing so, we:

Corroborate what each entity is saying

Clarify what was meant by information gathered

Get convergence on the common theme that resonate with the population

And the overall caliber of the information we are gathering increases

Of note, the children are a delicate engagement endeavor as we do not want to put them at risk. However, approximately 45% of the population is under the age of 16…impressionable and vulnerable…prime target for enemy force recruitment. The future of Afghanistan rests with the children. If we don’t engage, then the enemy will so they need to be considered in our human terrain targeting construct.


Post-Conflict Sustainable Stabilization:

In order to develop a population capable of self governance and internal security, the future generations of Afghans need the basic tools for development

To include but not limited to education, an active economy, basic sanitation, and infrastructure. Females are responsible for nurturing this community

The concept of triangulated engagement was presented by Rebecca Bell, an Independent Consultant on Governance, at a meeting arranged by MAJ Rice, Australian Major, Chief Instructor/Training and Learning Development Officer at the

Counterinsurgency Training Centre – Afghanistan Camp Julien, Kabul in December 2009.

The concept has been adapted by MAJ Vedder to represent female engagement in a tactical scenario and to describe the benefit of the 4 C’s. The adjustments are not the responsibility of Ms. Bell nor does the credit of this idea infer her support of the application of this technique in this environment.

The Marines employ their females as military teams. As such their missions are guided by standard military decision making process.

FET is useless if the information gathered doesn’t support the unit mission and if the work is not operationally relevant.

and properly rehearse.

This is NOT a good will mission.

Interaction to build good will is beneficial but as a military unit, there is a more important security responsibility that should be supported with guided purpose and intent for employing tactical units like FET.

Starting with the commander’s guidance and creating a plan with a concept of operations. This is particular critical so that the receiving units Know how to support the FET mission…to include understanding time on station requirements and named areas of interest. This makes it easier for the patrolling units to prepare for the operation

But the column on the far right is particularly critical. Likewise, if the information is to be captured for trend analysis, there must be guidelines and reporting requirements for topics discussed during engagements to Create a collective pool of knowledge from which can be extrapolated broader Conclusions applicable to the entire ISAF community

Background Notes:

Caliber of information is only as good as the interviewer, so training on how to Properly engage matters. But again, what comes OUT of the engagements, must go IN to a central repository for dissemination.

This concept brief was originally designed for the Human Terrain Team 7, RCT 7. It was adapted to FET because of the similarities in team employment.


Respecting the male role in conservative Afghan society is the most effective manner to enable female engagements.

When the elders are involved, the community supports, and they take responsibility for protecting the gathering of their females or opening homes to allow for military females to visit.

A military male leader requesting Afghan males to support female engagements has consistently been the most well received of the methods to organize female engagements.


Respecting the male role in conservative Afghan society is the most effective manner to enable female engagements. A military male leader requesting Afghan males to support female engagements has consistently been the most well received of the methods to organize female engagements. When the elders are involved, the community supports, and they take responsibility for protecting the gathering of their females or opening homes to allow for military females to visit. “Utilizing the tribal and government leaders incorporates them into the process and gives them ownership of the effort. If they believe that value exists in altering gender roles, then they illicit change in the community, not outsiders. If they bring the change, they will own it and we can leave.” (MSgt Watson)

Honoring conservative values protects the female engagement team members from unintentionally offending Afghan males. To do so enhances mission effectiveness by incorporating the males into the process which earns their support and ensures a welcomed reception by the females after the male leader of the household invites the military females into the home. By showing respect to the traditional values, the FET and the partnered military males demonstrate a cultural competence that is well regarded. The men maintain their honor publicly and privately while the women earn the freedom to engage in open dialogue with no feeling of threat. With the proper type of introduction, better information is garnered from both the male and female conversations with no offense to either.

Pictured is the district governors of Nawa. In each KLE, the battalion commander and I developed an approach for speaking with each individual before we departed on the patrol. Then the BN CDR (Male Military Leader) made introductions to the Male Local Leader asking permission for me (Military Female) to speak with the Local Male Leader about military females meeting with local females. In each instance, the topic was well received and EVERY Male Leader offered specific guidelines and suggestions on how, where, and when the best FET engagements should occur. No two were the same, but each was appropriate for that district and all have been followed through by either the USAID Representative, Gail Long in Garmsir or by the MEB’s FET teams. Particular now that FET members are being assigned for prolonged duty in the same area, which facilitates long term relationships and acceptance garnered by familiarity.


(Picture should be on the screen)

The female you see here is approximately 28, on her 8th pregnancy, 4 living children, 3 that you see here,

The eldest female aged 13 who is is off to the side is pregnant with her first child, married to an ANP member.

The father is employed by the ANP as a cook.

The 3 dead children died before their 8th month, not from disease, but from mal-nutrition because of the mother’s inadequate breast milk.

Why do you care what she has to say? Because EVERY female engagement informs the lines of operations and adds a different dimension to understanding the total population picture.

(Next click should bring up chart)

This chart shows the dimensions used by the MEB for district assessments. When comparing male responses and female responses some elements were similar while others were significantly different.

*Governance paralleled with the men’s findings.

*ANSF was similar but more dynamically informed because of the family relations with the ANP.

*Security showcased as a distinct difference in definition. Men defined security in kinetic terms, while women were more concerned for the household and children’s safety.

But one area showcased as an opportunity to support improvement quickly. (link to next slide)


* Security was a major concern because the father feared for the women and even his son, because they were the only women within about a mile with no other families nearby; only single, young men of the ANP and road construction crews.

* Contributing to the enemy threat capability, the father discussed having been a prisoner of the Taliban in the past, which no one at the ISAF base knew.

*The wife’s health and daughter’s first pregnancy was an immense concern for the husband. This differed from the male military assessment.

* Assessment Tool

In the military, we gage unit success with assessment tools that are generally based off of measures of performance and measures of effectiveness that are linked to Individual and collective tasks. FET should be no different.

Use of Assessment Tool

guide female engagements

collect data on the female population

inform the command regarding the female population in the battle space

Nest with the ISAF Assessment Technique

Model after MEB Assessment Tool

Nests with the ISAF assessment metrics

Derived from the Sub-National Assessment Model

Assesses along the lines of the LOO’s



Reconstruction &Development


Establish MOEs and MOPs

Provides Topical Guides for Engagements

Information Collection Initiative for Trend Analysis


Taking what we learn from assessments and responding to the concerns when we can makes a tremendous contribution to the social contract we desire.

The primary income of the family was cooking for the ANP. The women cooked and the father took the food to the camp where he served meals with his son’s help. As such, the women were directly contributing to the economic stability of the family. Improvement in the family quality of life is directly impacted by their ability to produce more in the home. This was not capture as an economic indicator by the male assessment

More importantly, a small effort of buying a tea pot tripled there ability to produce tea to sell to the ANP and improve sanitation for the family. This small effort demonstrated that the concerns were heard, helping build confidence in the population that ISAF is present to assist GIRoA in taking care of them.


(Next Click brings up photo of tea pot and “Make No Promises” box.

During engagements, FET can not make promises, they can only listen. But when possible, answering a few needs can make a tremendous impact. An $8 tea pot bought in Golestan bazaar, flown on a CH57 back to main base, and put on a convoy back to Bakwa….meant that the family doubled their bread production and ability to serve more tea, faster to the ANP. Simply by asking for the commander’s support at the request of the father, the local translator started teaching the son. And a USO care package put socks on the youngest children. Simple, cheap and quick solution that endeared this family to the local base. We’ve been drinking 3 cups of tea, now let’s help them start making the tea.


ANSF is growing its female representation. As the capacity grows, FET can help inform the recruiting effort and garner information about how the public percieve females in ANSF. And then partner with them for training and development.


A senior civilian asked, why are ISAF females engaging local females, why aren’t ANSF females engaging the local females. Excellent point…ultimately, ANSF taking care of ALL security needs is the endstate…to include female engagements.

But the problem of recruiting for ANSF is systemic. Recruiting males is difficult at this, presenting a myriad of hurdles impeding military age males from joining the force. These include low literacy, dishonorable reputation, low pay, separation from family. These exist for women too but in addition, a layer of difficulty specific for women is present to include traditional attitudes of negativity to women in the work place, association of women in the police force being disreputable, and perception of women being socially alienated from the community. These comments came from a focus group with ANSF males regarding their female colleagues.

The professionalization of ANSF is occurring in part through partnership with and mentorship from ISAF. CSTC-A has recruitment goals for both male and female ANSF members. But reaching these goals will require both partnership for both genders and understanding of the recruiting barriers and negative public perceptions.

FETs help to inform recruiting by asking women what would motivate them and their families to allow them to be in the ANSF. Likewise, FET can garner the female’s perceptions of other females in the ANSF because there is likely a substantial influence on the eligible females from the elder females.

Partnership would be similar to the males partnership efforts, both at the academies and in the units which support training and professional development.


Females sometimes think to ask questions that males will not.

With this doctor, discussion topics included abortions, birth control, female hygiene, vitamin deficiency leading to child malnutrition from inadequate breast milk, and sexually transmitted diseases.


None of these topics had been broached by the male corpsmen at the COP out of concern for being culturally rude in questioning the doctor. Likewise, they had made the assumption that no females visited the clinic because they never saw them. The doctor laughed at this suggestion, saying that the corpsmen never visited before 1000 and all women were seen prior to 8AM so that they could tend to their children and responsibilities at the home…therefore, he saw them first.


FET are engagement teams. While distinguished by their ability to engage females, they can also engage males.Males will interact differently with females, providing different insights.


Many males are very comfortable speaking with military females; finding them an anomaly, intriguing, and less threatening than male service members…particularly the adolescences who also happen to be the most impressionable for recruitment by enemy forces. Allowing for the natural instincts of young males desiring to impress females would be naïve, so using that desire to interact to our advantage is wise when done respectfully to both the female service member and Afghan males.

Females will generally get different and sometimes more in depth information from males than will other males. For instance, the men on the right are security guards for a construction company. When asked if they would join the ANA, they said yes. When asked if they would join the ANP, they said no because it was not honorable and paid poorly. This was reiterated in another village, going even further to say that the dishonorable ANP job would hurt their ability to marry as well. With wealth and marriage being a key tenant to Pashtu “nang” or honor…the statements provided unique insight into why recruiting for the ANP was so poor.

The kids and young adults in the picture on the upper left had never seen a female service member. In this photo, we are teaching each other how to count one to ten in English and Pashtu respectively. Their recurring request was for a school for their village. One young man stated that he wanted to be a pilot. Small statements on the surface but poignantly indicative of the desire for education and future employment in a professional occupation. Having educated youth who desire to be pilots will achieve more for long term security because at this point, their other options are limited, making them easy recruitment targets for the enemy.

In the time of Xerxes, it is documented that the king took advice from his queen which significantly impacted a political issue and prevented mass genocide.

We are still in Persia. Conversations still go on between men and women behind closed doors.

To understand those conversations and more importantly, how we may be able to influence them, we must be able to access the females.

FET is a proven concept that demonstrates that effective, culturally respectful engagements can support the mission and help build confidence with the entire population. The Marine’s are doing this well and they have a model that should be replicated.

To garner the full benefit of FET through out the country, comprehensive ISAF guidance needs to be issued to maintain persistent engagement with systemic information collection.

4 thoughts on “Recommended ISAF Guidance for Female Engagement Teams

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  4. Monex

    On patrols the women will carry M-4 rifles which are shorter and more maneuverable than the military s standard M-16s but once inside an Afghan compound and with Marine guards posted outside they have been instructed assuming they feel safe to remove their rifles and take off their intimidating battle rattle of helmets and body armor….In my opinion the article implies that these woman are being treated less-equal than the male Marines when behind the wire but isnt it standard operating procedure to remove armor and helmet?..UPDATE As some commenters realized I misinterpreted Afghan compound to mean inside their base of operations not inside a native compound… Many thanks to Mik for emailing me the link.

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