World Politics Review: After Setbacks, Human Terrain System Rebuilds

25.11.09

Categorie: Afghanistan, COIN, David Axe, Research |

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by DAVID AXE

Two years after its formation, a controversial military program to embed civilian social scientists inside combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan is scrambling to recover from a string of crises. How the so-called “Human Terrain System” responds to a spate of combat deaths and a disastrous employee pay cut will determine whether the program survives in its current form.

Human Terrain System, headquartered at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas, is the brainchild of Montgomery McFate, a Harvard- and Yale-trained anthropologist. In a series of journal articles(.pdf) in 2005, McFate outlined the basic shape of what would become HTS. The organization’s mission would be to “understand the people’s interests, because whoever is more effective at meeting the interests of the population will be able to influence it,” she told Wired magazine.

The underlying assumption is that civilians trained for cultural engagements are better equipped than soldiers to communicate with the local populations affected by U.S. wars. “I can get people to like me because I’m old,” 57-year-old HTS member Ed Campbell told World Politics Review, only half-jokingly.

HTS deployed its first six teams — each numbering fewer than 10 people — to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. Today there are some 20 teams. In the spring of 2008, the organization lost two academics in bombings, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. In November, anthropologist Paula Lloyd was fatally injured when an Afghan man dumped burning cooking oil on her. Lloyd’s death, especially, rattled HTS.

Read the rest in World Politics Review.

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8 Responses to “World Politics Review: After Setbacks, Human Terrain System Rebuilds”

  1. Flash says:

    What would you recommend for those of us who want to join the HTS?

  2. John Stanton says:

    Flash–

    I would do a these things. First, read the 22 articles on HTS based on 45+ sources that I wrote. Within those articles are suggestions for improving the program. The book version is General David Petraeus’ Favorite Mushroom–Inside the Human Terrain System.

    Second, pick up Dr. George Lucas’ Anthropologists in Arms (just out like mine). He is out og the USNA philosophy dept. He also offers solutions to the mess.

    Third, read in Military Review Maj. Ben Connable’s All Our Eggs in One Broken Basket–HTS.

    Fourth, wait ’til the US Congress HASC has completed its Indy Assessment of the HTS program. That’ll be done in the May-June timeframe.

    Fifth, wait for two more HTS books coming out in the next few months–one from an insider and another from a WAPO reporter.

    Sixth, try to get the CD of a play based on HTS that was staged out in California–Anthropology or how to make friends in Afghanistan.

    Lastly, talk to former HTS’ers. You’ll find that the harshest critics of the program are those who have/are worked/ing in the program, the social science community notwithstanding.

    Contracting authority is now Redstone Arsenal, Missile Command in Huntsville. Georgia Tech won the $7.2 million for most recent HTS. That’s another story underway.

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  4. L A Payne says:

    Flash,

    John Stanton’s single-most goal in life, as if he cannot find any other pursuits more worthy of his time, is to slander and badmouth the Human Terrain System. This is not the “voice of reason” you ought to consult if you are interested in the program. I am a social scientist with HTS with one Iraq deployment under my belt and I am currently training for my next Afghan deployment. It is true that we have just as many mis-informed critics as supporters out there. It is also true that many ex-HTS’ers became disenchanted with the program and have their share of (arguably valid) grievances. But this program is a positive venture that seeks to help the military better understand the local populations they protect by providing them with socio-cultural information and analysis. That’s it in a nutshell. If you want to talk further about this, please contact me on lpayne2270@aol.com.

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  7. Christopher says:

    Flash, here is another email from someone who is currently on their second deployment with HTS as a social scientist.

    Christopher King (kingchri@gmail.com)

  8. L A Payne says:

    Chris, thanks for offering your information to Flash. Hopefully he–or whomever else–will contact either one of us for a more balanced perspective. If only I knew the full range of blogs that Stanton is wasting his time blathering on, I could at least offer an intelligent and credible defense of HTS.

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