Showing posts with label human-terrain-system. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human-terrain-system. Show all posts

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Social Scientists and the Military - Collaboration Needed?

A U.S. military officer at West Point's Modern War Institute, Jonathan Bate, has wrote an article about the need for the military and academia to work together to enhance our understanding of war. He believes that there is an ongoing need for a program to foster collaboration - similar to the arrangement under the Human Terrain System (HTS). He believes both camps will benefit - the military tapping into a vast pool of intellectual talent while the social scientists get access to raw data pertaining to the military and conflict. Read more in "Getting the Military and Social Scientists Back Together: The Need for 'Expeditionary Social Science'", Modern War Institute, September 30, 2016.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Helmand Province

Helmand Province - District by District. The fight for Helmand province over the past decade has been one of the most costly for both the Coalition and the Afghan government security forces. The British, Danish, U.S. Marines, and others have spent lots of money and lives trying to rest this volatile province from Taliban control. In part, this was successful until the Coalition withdrew its forces over the past two years. The Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps and various police organizations were not up to the task. In addition, the government agencies were corrupt, absent, and terribly ineffective in establishing government functions and providing services. Overall, the Afghan government and security forces failed. Now most of the province is in Taliban hands.

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) does a comprehensive breakdown of the province - with an examination of who controls how much of each district. The report is in two parts. Read "Helmand: A crisis a long time coming", March 10, 2016 and "Helmand: the chain of chiefdoms unravels", March 11, 2016.

Govt Retreat from Helmand Districts. "Overstretched Afghan forces are pulling back from violent southern districts without a fight, ceding key territory to the resurgent Taliban as part of an unprecedented 'strategic retreat' that has stoked fears government control is slipping." Read more in "Afghan retreat from key districts stokes instability fears"Yahoo News!, March 6, 2016.

Govt Offices in Gereshk Attacked. Taliban militants have attacked government offices in Helmand province. The police headquarters and intelligence agency offices were attacked on March 9th. (Khaama Press, Mar 9, 2016).

Quetta Shura Leaders Now in Musa Qala. Some leaders of the Taliban's Quetta Shura are now in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province taking a prominent role in heading up the conflict with Afghan government forces. Read more in "Taliban Quetta Shura Leading War in Musa Qala of Helmand"Tolo News, March 6, 2016.

Different Perspective of Helmand. Much of the news in the Afghan and international media is about the security setbacks that the ANDSF have suffered at the hands of the Taliban in Helmand province. However, there is another side of the story. Helmand province offers much more than just conflict. Read "As the Taliban Menace Afghanistan, the Helmand River Offers Solace"The New York Times, March 8, 2016.

Alcohol, Helmand, & the Human Domain. Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) were established to help military commanders understand the local environment - specifically the human environment - or human terrain - if that suits you. Members of the HTTs were usually more attuned to the human environment due to their professional degrees, work experience, and time in Afghanistan (most did several back-to-back tours in the same province). However, that is not to say that the HTT pros were not surprised from time to time. One aspect of working with the Europeans (in this case the Danes) is their realistic approach to alcohol in a combat zone (versus the tightly-wrapped, zero-tolerance U.S. military). I will say that with three military trips to Afghanistan followed by three consecutive years as a contractor that I had some preferences; especially after having worked with the French in Kapisa and the Europeans in northern Afghanistan. So . . . back to the news report - "Johnnie Red in Helmand", by Ryan Evans, War on the Rocks,  June 19, 2014.

U.S. Advisors Retraining 215th Corps. The leadership of the 215th Corps was horrible this past year and has since been replaced. Soldiers of the corps did not receive pay, food, ammunition, or leave as a result of poor officership. Military advisors from the 10th Mountain Division are currently in Helmand province providing additional training to the ANA. Read more in "US soldiers retrain Afghan army battling Taliban ahead of poppy harvest", Stars and Stripes, March 10, 2016.

Defense News

U.S. Defense Spending Woes. A recent news story by Matthew Gault examines the national defense stance of the presidential candidates and where they stand on defense spending. And naturally, the F-35 comes under intense criticism. Read "Donald Trump is right about defense spending - and that should scare you"Reuters, March 2, 2016.

Countering Adversaries without War. The Arroyo Center of RAND Corporation has published a new report (52 pages, 2016) that it prepared for the U.S. Army. It is entitled The Power to Coerce: Countering Adversaries Without Going to WarThis paper explores the space in between hard military power and soft power. Evidently the short acronym for "Power to Coerce" is known as P2C . . . a new acronym for me.

Another Attack on HTS. Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today just can't say enough bad stuff about the Human Terrain System (HTS). His misguided and uniformed attacks are inaccurate and an attack on a very valuable program. Read his latest in "$725M program Army 'killed' found alive, growing", USA Today, March 9, 2016.

F-35 - "Huge Mess". The U.S. Director of Operational Test and Evaluation - DOT&E - recently released a scathing assessment of the F-35 - sometimes referred to as a plane that can do anything but nothing very well. Read "The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Is Still a Huge Mess", War is Boring, March 9, 2016. See also "The F-35: Still Failing to Impress", Project on Government Oversight (POGO), March 7, 2016.

F-35 - "A Great Success". Air Force LTG Christopher Bogdan, the program executive for the F-35 Lighting II joint program office, provided his insight on the F-35. He says that we are having slow, steady progress with the questionable aircraft. If he can fly an airplane as well as he transitions his water bottle from hand to hand then he is quite an aviator. So . . . want to listen to a little spin? Watch a 60-minute long DoD News video posted on March 10, 2016 on DVIDSHUB.

Book Review - Selling War. A new book details how the U.S. military lost in the information war early on in Iraq. For a glimpse of what this book is about read a review by Adam J. Tiffen in "The Information War That the US Lost in Iraq", Task & Purpose, March 7, 2016. The book Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine is now available on

MISO and Marines. The USMC may soon be expanding its psychological operations (PSYOP) capabilities with the use of an expanded Military Information Support Operations (MISO) program. This is certainly a welcome move given the inability of the U.S. government and military to "control the narrative" in recent conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. Read "Marines May Expand Psychological Operations With New Specialty",, March 11, 2016.

CA Papers. A Civil Affairs Syposium was held in November 2015. Various associations and agencies took part. Five papers are presented in this report entitled 2015-2016 Civil Affairs Issue Papers: A Force for Engagement and Conflict Prevention. The papers cover topics on Counter-Unconventional Warfare, State Partnership Program, Conflict Prevention, International Police Engagement, and Developing Human Networks.

Paper - Enhanced Army Airborne Forces. Several authors have collaborated on a RAND Corporation paper (132 pages) that examines the role of the U.S. Army's airborne forces in the future, the challenges it will likely face, the capabilities that it will need to face those challenges, and how to prioritize those capabilities. (RAND, Mar 2016).

Navy Loosens the Rules. It appears that the Navy is going to be a little lax in the physical fitness category. It seems some are wondering why being able to do those pushups and run fast is important. The Navy's body fat restrictions changed in January and many sailors are getting second, third, and fourth chances to pass their physical fitness test. Read "Navy loosens body fat rules to retain sailors", Military Times, March 7, 2016.

Closing GITMO. Congress required the president to submit a plan for how to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Obama had made this a presidential imperative but up to now has not come up with an alternate plan (other than releasing terrorists) to downsize the population and to continue to detain those deemed too dangerous to release. The White House submitted a plan in early March 2016. You can read the 21 page document posted on entitled Plan for Closing the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Human Terrain System (HTS) - In the News Again

The Human Terrain System or HTS is under attack once again. From my point of view, having worked with the Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) deployed in Afghanistan, this was a novel approach to educate and advise brigade commanders and their staffs on the local Afghan environment - specifically the human domain. To a large degree the small 3-5 man HTTs were successful; although the program had its share of failures, fraud, and a bumpy start. But overall it was an enabler for the Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) that deployed to Afghanistan. Two fierce critics of the HTS are Tom Vanden Brook, a reporter for USA Today, and Representative Duncan Hunter (California). While they rightfully point out abuses by the HTS program they carry the attack too far. Read Vanden Brook's latest rant about the HTS where he re-iterates past wrongdoings again in "Army's rebranded social science program draws flak", USA Today, February 9, 2016. Pete Turner, a former HTT member, responds to the USA Today article in "Guest Post: Duncan Hunter and Human Terrain System by Turner",, February 14, 2016.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

U.S. Aid Worker Killed in Afghanistan

Photo from "Lisa Akbari
Foundation" Facebook
A U.S. aid worker was killed in Kabul by an Afghan man. Lisa Akbari, an Afghan-American (age 35), was shot while leaving the gym in her apartment complex and returning to her room. She worked for the DoD as a member of the Human Terrain System from 2009 to 2013, and then for several humanitarian aid organizations in Afghanistan. Her father is from Afghanistan and her mother from Iran. Lisa grew up in California. The attacker was captured shortly after the incident. A non-profit organization called the "Lisa Akbari Foundation" has been established to raise money for Afghan women and children.

Some news stories of the incident are below:

"American women killed in Kabul wanted to help Afghans, sister says", CNN, Dec 22, 2015.
"Mullah Accused of Killing Afghan-American Woman in Kabul",, Dec 22, 2015.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Report - Human Terrain System

Dr. Christopher Sims has wrote a 526 page report entitled The Human Terrain System: Operationally Relevant Social Science Research in Iraq and Afghanistan, dated December 2015. The author presents ". . . an examination of the organizational origins of the HTS, and a tactical history delineated through the experiences and insights of former Human Terrain Team social scientists, set against the backdrop of a wider debate in the academy and media on the efficacy and ethicality of the program." The provides an overview of the HTS program and examines the wider debate around social science and the military. This study of the U.S. Army HTS by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College is the story of civilians conducting social science research in conflict in order to help win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Note: My personal experience in Afghanistan is that the men and women of the Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) working at the Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) provided extremely helpful advice and information to the warfighters because of their knowledge of the area of operations, culture, and situation. HTTs staff members tended stay in country for a number of years while BCTs rotated in and out every 9-12 months.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Quiet Demise of the Human Terrain System

The Human Terrain Teams or HTTs deployed to Afghanistan did some great work; at least in my view - having spent parts of every year from 2010-2014 in Afghanistan. Like all new programs rapidly put together (funding, organization, recruitment, training, and employment) there were some early problems. In addition, anthropologists went into a huge panic causing a lack of support in the public arena. However, the HTTs soon proved their worth to brigade and battalion commanders in the fight. While some critics point out the errors of the HTS they seem to recognize the need for an organization that fulfills the function of the HTS. Read more in "The Quiet Demise of the Army's Plan to Understand Afghanistan and Iraq", by Vanessa Gezari, The New York Times Magazine, August 18, 2015.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

COIN and Social Psychology

A new manual recently published is entitled Trust, Attitudes, and Social Influence: The Cross-Cultural Social Psychology of Counterinsurgency. The abstract below describes the pub.
"Dr. Sarai Blincoe wants to provide soldiers with what she believes to be the most effective weapon in contemporary warfare: not an M-16 but the ability to win the trust of local civilians. How U.S. armed forces can leverage psychology to wage successful counterinsurgencies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan is spelled out in a recently published manual co-authored by the Longwood psychology professor. The key to gaining the political support of the local population is understanding and utilizing principles of persuasion, influence and trust, accompanied by cross-cultural awareness, say Blincoe and her co-authors."
Well, everything above is true. But in Afghanistan, even though someone wants to use the methodology described above, there are other factors that will hinder a counterinsurgency effort. For one, massive corruption within the host nation government will be a stumbling block - eroding popular support for the government and security forces. Another problem is the illegitimacy of the supported host nation government (fraudulent elections are an Afghan pastime). Still a third is a host nation army modeled after western conventional armies (with the requisite D-30s, C-130s, MRAPs, multi-echelon corps level operations, etc.). That doesn't mean that the publication presented above is not useful. After all, the war in Afghanistan is a counterinsurgency fight. I know the Resolute Support HQs crowd would say the RS mission is Security Force Assistance (SFA) through its regional and centrally located Train, Advise, and Assist Commands or TAACs but the ANDSF are doing counterinsurgency (or at least they should be). So the pub is worth a read if you are a commander or advisor in Afghanistan.

Read a description of the publication in "Psychologist hopes to aid counterinsurgency efforts with social psychology manual", Longwood University News, August 14, 2015.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rebranding Human Terrain System

Lots of articles have recently appeared about the demise of the Human Terrain System (HTS). There are some very strong critics of the program (many are anthropologists) and some very strong supporters (usually someone who participated in or benefited from the program). While spending time in Afghanistan for much of the past five years it became apparent to this writer (AWN) that the Human Terrain Teams (HTT) offered a valuable resource to brigade commanders and staffs in Afghanistan that was seldom available elsewhere. The team members, usually in 3-5 person elements - provided a cultural knowledge to brigade staffs that could not be found within the BCTs that deployed to Afghanistan. You can read some viewpoints on the need for a "human terrain" type unit or mission in the two news articles below.

Rebranding the Human Terrain Mission. There are some critics who continue to attack the now defunct Human Terrain System (and the teams) and who are concerned that a similar capability will be established within the military - but with a different name. Read "Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military's Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture", CounterPunch, July 31, 2015.

Army's Need for Anthropologists. With the quiet death of the military's controversial Human Terrain System, America's Soldiers have lost a guiding light that is needed now more than ever. Read more in "The Army Needs Anthropologists"Foreign Policy, July 28, 2015.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Demise of the Human Terrain System (HTS)

A slew of news reports and articles explore the rise and fall of the Human Terrain System (HTS) - see news reports by Counterpunch and USA Today (June 29, 2015). Thomas Briggs provides us with recommendations for the aligning of SOF and Academia in the Human Domain field (Small Wars Journal, June 29, 2015). Steven Metz of the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College believes that the Pentagon's decision to cut the Human Terrain System is short-sighted (World Politics Review, Jul 10, 2015). Tobin Harshaw writes that the Army's anthropology experiment ended in defeat (Bloomberg View, Jul 15, 2015). David F. Eisler writes on the importance of embracing sociocultural intelligence in stability operations (Small Wars Journal, Jul 14, 2015). Ryan Evans, the editor of the War on the Rocks Blog and a former member of the HTT in Helmand province provides us with an insider's perspective of the seven deadly sins of the HTS but also points out that it was an invaluable program that provided great benefit in many situations (Geopoliticus: FPRI Blog, Jul 13, 2015). My experience with Human Terrain Systems (and teams) in Afghanistan was overwhelmingly positive and I found the Evan's article closest to the mark.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Army and the Human Elements of War

The Army is conducting an analysis of the Afghan and Iraq wars with the intent of discovering why they did not go well for the U.S. military. The Army is very well trained in conventional force on conventional force warfare, it has a high degree of technological capability, is organized to fight in many different environments, and can over match the enemy in almost all settings. However, it lacks expertise in the human dimension - which is important in irregular and asymmetric warfare. While the Army is discovering this deficit in its in approach to warfare it is at the same time eliminating the  Human Terrain System and Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) as well as the Army Irregular Warfare Center (AIWC) - reportedly these have gone away as of Fall 2014. Things that make you go "Hmmmmm". Read more in "Army Rethinks the Human Elements of War", Real Clear Defense, September 29, 2014.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Paper - Cultural Intelligence and COIN

A paper has recently been published on Small Wars Journal entitled "Some Recent Approaches to Cultural Intelligence Gathering" dated February 23, 2014. The paper, written by Stephen J. Fallon - a MA Candidate at King's College London, examines the Human Terrain Teams employed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can read the report here at this link.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Human Aspects in Afghanistan Handbook

The NATO HUMINT Centre of Excellence has published a valuable reference on the human terrain of Afghanistan. Human Aspects in Afghanistan Handbook published in 2013 by NATO provides information on history, population, social aspects, governance, political aspects, economic aspects, criminality and security threats, communications and media, ANSF, cultural aspects, dos and don'ts, food, clothing, and ethnic groups. This very detailed handbook is 326 pages long (5 MBs). There are ample graphs, maps, charts, and pictures to help the reader comprehend the topics. The Adobe Acrobat PDF is available at the link below.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cost of Human Terrain Teams (HTTs)

According to newly released budget figures the U.S. military has spent a lot of money ($746M since 2007) on sending social scientists (as members of Human Terrain Teams or HTTs) to work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The HTTs are part of the overall Human Terrain System (HTS). The program had a rough start in attracting qualified personnel in its developmental period and initial fielding. In addition, there were early charges of mismanagement and corruption. Those problems seem to have been ironed out and the social scientists have been value added in the fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan by providing continuity to brigades that are newly arrived in the battle space and with the perspective of the battlefield environment in terms of the human dimension. However, the program continues to have its critics -especially in this time of austerity where every dollar is being scrutinized (well, not exactly - many of our expensive and unneeded weapons systems hardly get a glance). Read more about opposition to this valued program from members of Congress in "Military social sciences tab up to $726M since '07", USA Today, January 2, 2014.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Human Terrain System - BAE Systems Failed Article Says

The BAE Systems contract for the Army providing staffers for the Human Terrain System (HTS) has been spotlighted by a recent news article.  See "Hundreds of Army Social Scientists Unqualified, Former Boss Says", Danger Room, December 21, 2010.