Understanding the Human Terrain: Key to Success in Afghanistan

Understanding the Human Terrain: Key to Success in Afghanistan

by Andrew Garfield

General Petraeus, in his recent Senate Confirmation Hearing, reminded everyone that in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, "the key terrain is the human terrain." Taking and holding the human terrain is the essential prerequisite for ultimate success in Afghanistan, as it was in Iraq. This battle for control of and support from a contested population can only be won if we understand the Afghan people, whose cooperation, trust and support we are trying to secure. Armed with this understanding, we can navigate the human terrain successfully. Without it, we continue to be confused by the complexities of their culture, faith and society; oblivious to their desires, grievances and opinions; distracted by the lies and distortions of our enemies; and blind to opportunities to enhance our reputation.

In much of Eastern and Southern Afghanistan today, the Taliban hide, recruit, train, prepare and attack from safe havens provided by the local Pashtun population. They remain hidden for extended periods simply by hiding in plain sight; well known to elements of the local population who are un—or unable to challenge their presence. If we are to challenge the Taliban in Kandahar and elsewhere in Afghanistan, and enhance the influence and effectiveness of the Afghan Government, our soldiers and diplomats must understand fully the society and culture in which they operate.

To develop an in depth understanding of the human terrain, one must first conduct comprehensive, systematic, timely, and ethically appropriate social science research and analysis. In order to do so, one must operate in the field and conduct primary face-to-face research, utilizing all available sources. One cannot learn how to navigate the human terrain in Afghanistan from the Internet.

Social Science research, which is primarily face to face research, helps our military understand why so many Kandaharis support the Taliban or are —to turn a blind eye to their activities. It tells them what Afghans' expect from their Government and what they need to survive and prosper. It tells our military how to avoid cultural missteps and explains the narratives that they must understand and utilize in order to communicate effectively with the population. It identifies Taliban behaviors and excesses that the population rejects and can be exploited, while providing Afghan perspectives on how to exert pressure on, and reconcile with, the Taliban.

Yet, far too little effort has been dedicated to the systematic, on-the-ground collection of this essential socio-cultural information. This type of human terrain data is being collected, however the budget for its collection is minuscule in relation to its importance. In addition to budgetary constraints, such research collection is attacked regularly by ivory tower academics that falsely question research ethics and methods based on personal ideologies, instead of defending the lives of Afghans, and U.S. military and civilian personnel.

Our military and diplomats must be given direct access to the full range of Social Science field research capabilities as a means to protect themselves and the people they engage and support. If this access is denied for budgetary, ideological or methodological reasons, many more Afghan civilians, and American and Allied soldiers will die, allowing the Taliban to prevail.

Andrew Garfield is the Founder of Glevum Associates, a Massachusetts-based social science research and analysis company that conducts extensive multi-disciplinary face-to-face research in Afghanistan and Iraq on behalf of the Department of Defense and other clients.

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We never asked tactical questions and the LNs understood that HTT was a different animal from the HCT, etc. Building rapport with the LNs was what made us useful to the 101st.

In 2005 and 2006, the two civilain LEPs (really ex Army CI) working with the 3/3 BCT at FOB warhorse were already doing this and had built an extensive security network just via rapport and they never asked a single tactical question--but they were getting hardcore actionable intelligence on Sunni insurgents that were attacking the local nationals as they went to work at the FOB--again an example of conducting HTS style work focused on MI without trained social science academics.

SECOND Example: Was able to convince the BCT Cmdr to release from detention one of the strongest local Sunni tribal leaders who had been "fingered" by the Shiites as a "sniper". During my conversations with him it became apparent that he had been fingered and he in fact supported the military but he could not openly say that out of fear of AQI in Diyala. Spent hours going over the tribe and their problems both with the Army and the Iraqi central government---they were being constantly raided by by the MoI "Wolf Brigade".

BCT Cmdr got the MoI reigned in and we released him out with full respect and with a payment for false imprisonment and even returned a 1938 revolver that had been taken from his home---his father had gotten it as a gift from the British.

From that moment on not a single IED went off on two of the BCTs main LOCs within his tribal territory---all done with massive rapport and tactical questioning. So sometimes alot of melon and tea can lead to some interesting results---it is all about perceptions.

So in fact HCTs and HUMINTERS can do the HTS mission if they understand just what it is they are to do and receive the training for it---again all of this experience was passed in conversations to the "founders of HTS" in 2005.

Then somehow a MI focused experience using rapport and culture got turned into the HTS of today that wants to like a HCt but not a HCT.

Ron Holt

Anonymous, Vox et al;
We never asked tactical questions and the LNs understood that HTT was a different animal from the HCT, etc. Building rapport with the LNs was what made us useful to the 101st.
There are many reasons why HUMINT people can NEVER equal the info that a good HTT can acquire. Our HCTs went out with us on a couple of occasions to observe how we worked and were amazed at what we got by standard anthropological methods.
Given the poor administration and hiring practices of HTS not all teams were or are successful. However the basic HTS mix of Social Scientists and military people is a terrific source of cultural information that can make a difference in any AO. I saw about an equal number of useless civilians and military in the field. Yes cultural information is also a type of intel, but if you cross-train HUMINT collectors you will not get the deep cultural insight that HTT should bring to the battle space--just more of the same.

RESPONSE: Ron---I trained in 2005 and 2006 HCTs to do exactly what you mention here in this comment and what HTS is currently doing coupled together with their MSO activities and daily meet and greet meetings---and actually it was this experience that was fed to the "founders of HTS" when they were in Baghdad in mid to late 2005---it worked then and it will work now--there is no need for HTS-just train selected HCTs more thoroughly than we do now--focus on one or two and have them immerse into the culture of the area they are deploying to--put real focus on the selected teams not send them off to the motor pool or packing equipment prior to deployment.

SECONDLY---require all interrogators and strat debriefers, S2s and S2Xs to focus on HTS styled PIR/CIRs collection requirements---you cannot imagine what was lost in that area in 2005 and 2006 because interrogators did not know anything about culture and was not asking the detainees anything about their tribes and intra tribal affairs as it was not on their radar and also they had no fundamental cultural background knowledge to work off of because it was not being taught at the USAISC at Ft. H.

Vox Veritas;

You raise a number of interesting comments. But for someone who has been doing military intelligence work for over 35 years, and has way over 8000 interrogations, screenings, and strat debriefings and has served in three different war environments I am still a firm believer in HUMINT---the problem is no one really seems to know just what HUMINT is or is to be. Reduced to it's core HUMINT is rapport pure and simple-without it you get nothing.

There is nothing rocket science style to HTS even though the academics like to argue you cannot do the job unless you are a social scientist-currently I hold advanced degrees myself but never felt that those degrees made me a better or worse HUMINTER--HUMINT and HTS are inherent skill sets that can be trained even at the 11B level. Give me four hours of concentrated time with a clearly gabby/talkative 11B and I can turn him into an effective cultural collection machine because rapport is the name of the game not a degree. Once that confidence is established meaning "hey I can in fact carry on a coherent conversation with a local national and I am a simple Pfc" one is in fact surprised at what can be gained for information. The core problem is that big Army cannot seem to think that you in fact must train and then trust a Pfc to do this job and then big Army needs to understand how to feed that information into the intelligence decision making processes.

To me HTS is really nothing more that the old military intelligence concept called Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefiled (IPB)---do it thoroughly and you are in fact pushing the cultural aspect as it is one of a number of critical items in IPB---the problem is that we are always saying we are to short of manpower or do not have enough tools to do the job so it really never gets done to the degree necessary and then the standard problem kicks in---it is never relentlessly updated everyday as a control mechanism. Too much "been there done it" gets in the way.

HTS should in fact reside in a new form of an USAR MI company---it should at least on the active Army side be placed in the new --not sure if it even exists still Linguist Company ie similar to the one based at Ft. Irwin---this is where an inherent cultural expertise base exists--it is just no one seems to know what to do with them. These individuals come straight out of their own cultural environments, have extensive intrepeter skill sets and have worked as lingusits---use them do not park them in the desert at Irwin.

The USAR MI HTS company should be similiar to a few Corp level standalone MI companies that use to exist in the early 90s which focused on HUMINT (ie CI/Interrogators coupled with an analyst team--which were much like the current JIDC concepts). Problem is as with all standalone USAR units---will they get the continued support and access to databases that they need to continue to learn as culture never stands still--all about future funding.

In the arguments carried here over HTS the main points have been that it is a defense contractor carried project making tonnes of money for the contractor and the HTT members with no real bang for the buck occurring on a repeated basis for each and every BCT/RCT---not the hit or miss that you see mentioned a number of times in this SWJ blog.

Let's compare for example the following defense contractor carried programs and which ones have made it to a start time as an Army Program of Record---COIC/JTCOIC---tonnes of money spent but successes at the CTCs as well as the deployment of a critical training database-years behind in schedule, HTS-tonnes of money spent still no PoR---TIGR started in 2006 projected PoR 2012, any and all other CIED programs-CEXC, WTI etc--still no PoR.

HTS should be retired into the USAR along with the lessons learned and there are a large number that have never been incorporated back into the BCTs/RCTs and NG BCTs. Those HTS lessons learned that are critical to IPB should be concentrated into the BCTs/RCTs S2/S2X processes as doctrine. Then one has the best of both worlds--a continued advanced form of IPB in the Active Army side and the backup for fielding teams from the USAR side.

It can work---the question is does big Army really want it to work? Money wise it is just shifting the pie around and stating everything in doctrine and in the FMs. Not all that difficult actually.

Last post was mine.
Please pardon my faux pas.
- Vox Veritas


Re your July 17, 2010 5:28 PM detailed concept for building a cultural lens onto Army HUMINT, concur. But like someone mentioned (maybe Ron Holt*), the cultural piece sounds like it will take a bit longer.

From what I understand HTS was established because three Army communities were not leaning in hard enough to apply a cultural lens and basic research methods to their existing work. Those communities were PSYOP, CA, and HUMINT. One thing that can be said, the HTS experiment has demonstrated the value of having the existing force structure (PSYOP, CA, and HUMINT units) develop and apply these basic skills.

Is it time to call it a day with the pilot and get serious about transferring the "lessons learned" and the funds to real Army and Marine Corps operational units (PSYOP/MISO/IO, CA, HUMINT) and call it a day? It may be useful to note that HTS is an experimental acquisition program with operational teams (HTTs) that are managed by a policy office of TRADOC (TRADOC G2) using OCO money. This creative approach is not likely to stand much longer...especially after FY11.

Once the HTS money and lessons are moved to real units, the contractors can be redirected to the next big project but what should be done with the existing HTS uniform personnel (mainly RC)? Should they get transferred to FORSCOM as a single purpose USAR Company under the MIRC. Or, should the existing HTS structure just be turned off as one would do with other experiments and the USAR personnel sent packing? I think the former is wiser for many reasons. Who makes this call?


I agree with you about the value of having a real PhD Anthropologist in a Bde especially if the person has actually studied amongst the people in the past (without the military association). I'd find your comments about the following helpful as well...

While there is always room for a specialists like you, it is fairly difficult to build them into the force structure long-term for many reasons. More importantly, we need different specialists at different times based on the mission, phase, etc. We don't need "generalist" specialists on the books as the model doesn't provide what we need and it costs too much. So the questions is, what should the Army do with the real, high-end specialists like you once the HTS experiment is ended? Thanks for the feedback.

Ron Holt

Anonymous, Vox et al;
We never asked tactical questions and the LNs understood that HTT was a different animal from the HCT, etc. Building rapport with the LNs was what made us useful to the 101st.
There are many reasons why HUMINT people can NEVER equal the info that a good HTT can acquire. Our HCTs went out with us on a couple of occasions to observe how we worked and were amazed at what we got by standard anthropological methods.
Given the poor administration and hiring practices of HTS not all teams were or are successful. However the basic HTS mix of Social Scientists and military people is a terrific source of cultural information that can make a difference in any AO. I saw about an equal number of useless civilians and military in the field. Yes cultural information is also a type of intel, but if you cross-train HUMINT collectors you will not get the deep cultural insight that HTT should bring to the battle space--just more of the same.
As a PhD in anthropology you have access to the Brigade and Battalion leadership that HCTs never had in my experience. As a SME Ph.D I could question COAs beyond the point of a green suiter..
It would take alot more than an ASI of two months to equal the deep cultural knowledge of a strong anthropologist/SS.
Part of the problem HTS and the ARMY face is that tendency to use TIGR or other software to make money for non-deployed contractors and the TERRIBLE tendency to replace human with technology. Much of the training I received at Leavenworth was on computer software and totally useless along the Pakistani border where HUMAN relationships are everything.
Granted that we desperately need an archival system to deal with the huge amount of information generated by a good HTT!
I replaced Michael B. when he was killed by an IED. In 2008 most of the "burden" was carried by non-DOD isstitutions. Now all HTT personnel are DOD.

Concur with Dave. Yes, SF soldiers are historically trained in insurgency, as that is what UW is all about. My point is not that only SF can understand insurgency; but rather that anyone who sets out to either learn more about COIN or to perform some role in a COIN effort is best served by building a foundation of understanding of insurgency itself before delving into learning TTPs for COIN.

Its about about context.

Hey Anonymous: Let's not start a flame war here. We do not need the we-they argument. It is not one force or another - we need good strategy supported by a holistic campaign plan that is underpinned with understanding the nature of the conflict and the conditions that give rise to it and then the wisdom to know what is doable and what cannot be done (and not jump into something with the Type A "can do" attitude that thinks we can solve any problem in the world).

So the 0.5 percent must be those pesky green berets since they are the only ones trained in insurgency?

COL Jones you must know that no one wants to listen to those green berets especially now that they had their chance with Gen McChrystal - wasn't he a green beret trained in insurgency (who served for about a year in SF in 1979)? Why would you propose such a thing? I mean the new village stability operations is a variation on what SF guys have been trying like hell to do since 2002 and they have continually been thwarted (and remember what happened in Al Anbar and with HR in Tal Afar was actually conceived and recommended by some SF team guys but the Marines and 3d ACR get all the credit - see the Rand Study on COIN vice the popular narrative by the COINdinistas).

Although you are right above you are also dreaming that anyone would listen to SF guys and what they know about insurgency (unless they are in places like Africa, Colombia and the Philippines where the big guys are not playing)

But great analogy anyway above.

So, three guys walk into a bar. One is an expert on security, one is an expert on development, and one is an expert on governance. Realizing they might need help, they bring along an expert on the people who regularly attend said bar.

Which one knows if their drinks are made properly?

The one trained to be a bartender.

Ok, so this same group of heros go to some country deemed to be a "failed state"; an "exestential threat"; a "terrorist sanctuary" and an "insurgency threatening to become a civil war."

Which one has the best understanding of what must be done, and how it must be done to have the best chance of producing the desired effects of addressing US National interests in said country?

The one trained in insurgency.

Now, any of these guys can be trained in insurgency, it isn't some mystic art. But the fact is that 99.5 percent (ok, that's a total swag, not a fact) are not.


When you were armed, traveled by MRAP, could your line of conversation with the local population be defined as tactical questioning, field expedient interrogation, or strat debriefings all in fact which can be been carried out by well trained HUMINT Collection Teams?

Or is it really an evalated form of strategic debriefing which could in fact be carried out by well trained strat debriefers?

If a armed HTT member gets killed in an ambush or attack does in fact DOL cover the "damages" along with the Defense Contractor or does DoD carry the burden as it does for all military members---one could interpret that it is DoD's responsibility as they are the one's authorizing the carrying of weapons and DOL could wave off on the claims does it not? Especially since the 1943 Base Act really only forsaw civilians in support roles not armed civilians on the battlefield. If captured do the Taliban treat you as a armed civilian "spy" or a member of DoD also an interesting legal question.

FYI Anonymous:
I was the lead Social Scientist(anthropologist) at FOB Salerno on an HTT in 2008. We carried weapons and moved on the ground by MRAP and on foot patrols all the time. We gave the brigade staff plenty of "ah-ha" moments that made an operational difference.
I agree with Gregory C. That culture is a "no-brainer" as did our battalion, squadron and brigade commanders. Social Science can make a difference in conflict and especially pre-conflict zones. But, admittedly, it takes a special kind of social scientist to integrate with the military mission and work at the "down and dirty" level.
I hate to see the administrative problems with HTS over-shadow the good work of many HTTs.


Until HTS and their HTTs are willing to carry arms, move on the ground in armed patrols and are willing to contribute to intelligence driven operations that in fact might be aimed at their target audience I see no future for them.

The items above clash with the core academic beliefs of a number of the HTT personnel and the HTS leadership--which in turn is hard to sell in the recruiting process of new academics.

Being new to the COIN doctrine it is always risky providing input to this debate, but it is an area that fascinates me. SWJ is great online learning environment.

There are two points to make from my time in Afghanistan: 1) over complicating things; 2) difficulty collecting information.

I came at COIN in Afghanistan from thinking about how society has been trying to tackle the socio-economic environment that allows violence, abuse, gangs etc to fester in our home towns. Police cant just shoot and arrest their way to zero crime. We need to understand the drivers that make/force people choose. Isnt this then similar to the human terrain in Afghanistan?

I wrote a piece recently "What have the Taliban and Hells Angels got in Common" or could be Sons of Anarchy if you are from the US.

If the HTT people can help PRT and Battlespace CMDRS better understand the complex tapestry they face this will help them decide to engage in shooting to kill or rebuilding a road or a combination of both? Surely this is a good thing. The same applies to our criminal justice and social services systems.

What seems to get in the way, either HTT in a war zone or in the bad neighbourhoods, is over-complicating the analysis that then leads to setting expectations way too high for the current stage of development for the given population. What people want tends to be the same. So destilling all the information down to a simple construction that helps with tangible outcomes is key.

2) Given the limited ability to engage deep into the community the HTT guys I saw did a superb job with the information they were able to get. However, it was obvious they were chomping at the bit to go over the wire without the MRAP and severely restrictive rules of engagement (not shooting back - just when and where they allowed to go) So perhaps more creative collection methods need to be adopted to ensure a deeper and more accurate picture of the environment can be built.



Also gotta add that it's not perfect. The same dudes studying wicked problems gave us that monstrosity that ended up on the Daily Show :).



"What is a wicked problem in regards to warfare?"

Depends on how you define the boundaries of the problem. Warfare like politics and many other social endeavors are wicked problems. When I use the term, I am speaking directly to the burgeoning academic field on how to deal with such problems through alternative approaches. It is a very technical field.

Take an example like water rights in NorCal. Fishermen, farmers, and the major population centers of SoCal are all competing for a limited supply of water. Who should get what? How is it divided? How is the problem communicated and what is the process towards negoitiation and bargaining? How do you deal with the spoilers- those that regardless of the outcome will seek to inflame emotions and grievances towards violent protest or action?

This field attempts to find least bad solutions to intractable problems through redefining the problem, creativity, collaboration, consensus building, or simple giving up on the problem.

Here's a brief listing on the existing literature.




Just asking because I have a thing about overused terms. What is a wicked problem in regards to warfare? I am of the mind that it's all wicked. Terms such as this one and others, COIN is the graduate level of warfare is but one more example, do nothing in moving things forward as they tend to generate a lot of unnecessary debate over "words", which of course have meaning.


Greg Cabrena,

It sounds like you're asking the right questions. I imagine that the answers very from unit to unit and place to place as each commander struggles with his own problem set.

The major that you talk to has the same views as this major on a lot of things Afghanistan.

IRT Salinas, I was not happy that it was dubbed a COIN experiment. It isn't. We were attempting to see if we could help in a complex, wicked problem. It was much more FID than COIN. Currently, I'm studying another wicked problem for the political advisor in my hometown.



Vox Veritas:

If one is interested I do have the concept in bullet points as this has been a "work of love" that has gone nowhere as I have watched the HUMINT field not grow in my years of being attached to it and I have literally ground my teeth at lost intel opportunities in Iraq by young HUMINTers who had no experience, were learning on the job, had no interest or simply did not care.

HUMINT is at a crossroads in the field --the core question is will it recognize that it needs to revamp or will it simply fade away---HTS came along in answer to a HUMINT failure, MSO become important as a failure of HUMINT, the LEP program came along in the failure of HUMINT to understand policing, culture, gangs etc., the AWG was formed because HUMINT did not answer the need, CIED came along for the same reasons---the list goes on.

Great discussion; some questions come to mind as a result of this post and commentary:

1. What do commanders in the field identify as their main problems in establishing security, development, and governance? What kinds of cultural issues are they facing?

2. What incentives do Afghans have to support legitimate governance? What makes the Taliban an (il)legitmate alternative? How do Afghans envision the future of their village, province, and county?

3. What motivations stand behind the decision for an Afghan male to join the Taliban? How does this decision resonte with their historical and cultural traditions?

4. How do military units process and utilize socio-cultural information to inform their decision making process? To what extent is the voice of the people (or population) taken into account in the design of battle plans?

As an applied anthropologist, I tend to focus my efforts on using ethnographic research and cultural analysis to inform decision points, design, and future plans. I feel a little weird admitting I'm an analyst for HTS in Afghanistan given the context of the conversation, but these are some things I think about: how to better support military practitioners.

To me, understanding culture is a no-brainer, most people I have worked with "get it" (I think), but what keeps me awake at night is how that information is used by decision makers, and what they learn about changing complex social systems and military interventions in the process. Is the "ah'ha factor" in doing this kind of work simply about exploitation? Or is there something greater to this effort that can transform how military practitioners intervene in the lives of people?

Certainly, I agree with those who posted before me, let's focus on the problem and leverage each other's strengths to solve it (a recent encounter with a Major who wrote a paper on tribes cemented this point). I don't think the answer is more inter-disciplinary people as much as it is finding people with backgrounds appropriate to the problem. Relevant and timley, applied anthropological research, in my opinion, can lead to smarter, more culturally astute decisions, and hopefully save lives on both sides. However, getting to this point where population-focused research is a habit, and leadership looks to the voice of the people (hopefully represented by the anthropologist) is the biggest hurdle of all.



P.S. Mike Few: You mentioned Salinas, California, that's my hometown. I know that area very well. Although, now that I know it is a "lab" for couterinsurgency, I might not share that with too many folks.

Vox Veritas:

To answer a thoughtful response. Firstly I indicated that social science is already a part/portion of HUMINT but many HUMINTers just do not realize it-stand by that statement.

Will answer the how to convert a portion of the HCT process to HTS---relatively easy and in two months as an ASI (additional skill identifier)course. With an ASI the HUMINTer can be selected and deployed anywhere the Army needs him or shifted back an forth within his Division as needed.

To degress for a moment--I had received a briefing (early May 2005)for the JIDC interrogators given by a PhD profiler (forgot his name but he had served in Berlin/ex SF/Delta) who had long years of HUMINT and was there to work with the 524th MI BN from Korea--he spent over four hours on the use of culture in the interrogation process and had a list of 11 items that he thought were necessary to be a good interrogator---none of them was in fact USAISC training---did not go over well with the assembled interrogators who were school trained. Needless to say no one really understood the culture concept from the school trained 97Es.

1. first require 35Es to have at least one rotation as a true interrogator not just in MOS name only.
2. require the 35E to have been trained in and or led a MSO team
3. ACCEPT strategic debriefers into the ASI as they are good at conversations--allow military strategic debriefers to led HCTs-vice versa allow experienced interrogators to be ASI'ed in strategic debriefing
4. training by SMEs in the social science portions effecting the country they are deployed to, training in the use/importance of USAID/NGO projects as a COIN element, training in social network analysis, DEEP training on the Kilcullen "ecosystem" concepts from his 2005 writings, DEEP training on "open source warfare", courses in UW/IW techniques/concepts taught by either IW or ex SF SMEs, DEEP classess on the cultural environment of the country they are deploying to taught by former/actual citizens of that country
5. rework TIGR to accommodate collection areas necessary for HTS that a Company Cmdr/BN Cmdr can understand-- presented during Leadership Training Program (LTP) conducted at CTCs- inject a two hour block focused on HTS collection areas and requirements for their input into TIGR followed then by four threaded injects during a CTC FSO rotation scenario
6. Require all CTCs to build a four HTS threaded inject processes into the FSO portion to push trained HCTs to work the HTS collection/assessment processes as a form of graduation exercise and cert. HTS injects shoudl be tied to intelligence driven ops

Supporting then deployed HUMINT/HTS teams with centralized reachback databases via either CPOF or DGCS.

HUMINT/HTS focused teams residing at and tasked by BN S2s feeding lower and higher-allows for ease of use of the teams as they are then closer to the ground environment.

KEY: Build a key personality driven selection list that is used to select interrogators and strategic debriefers for the HTS ASI training---was proposed in 2005 for all interrogators, but rejected by TRADOC in the drive to train the hundreds of newly required interrogators that were missing on the manning side---rule in USAISC in 2006 ---just about any one who could breath and talk became an interrogator.

All is relatively cost wise easy to do in the two months, cost would be normal for a ASI course, course should be held in the DC area where a number of the SMEs are readily availbale and it allows the interaction that the students need to develop their mindsets for the subject---straight schoolhouse environment does not do well.

Definitely saves a ton of money now being paid for products and personnel that do not have their mind in the game and it builds a long term HUMINT/HTS capability for the coming COIN global conflicts. Just how many military personnel can we fund on a single HTS 200K salary, the profit margin for the defense contractor/and their instructors, and the overhead build into the defense contracts?

Win/win as we have a HUMINT/HTS concept that understands intelligence needs, is armed, can deploy when needed, and does not have to answer to the ethnics of the academic world which is that you do not target the population you are working with-sometimes though it cannot be helped when as Mao said the "fish swims in the ocean".

CORE issue is the rethinking of the HUMINT skillset and then placing more emphasis inside the normal interrogator career on all aspects of the INT's (all source) that tie into the HUMINT field as well as the required social sciences--that will build long term the assets needed going forward.

I respectfully disagree with you Anonymous (July 16, 2010 5:29 PM). HUMINT is not social science and vice versa. Both take a years of study and practice with a good mentor in overwatch to get really good plus the skills required are different. HUMINT guys just don't make a bunch of noise about it (part of the whole HUMINT low profile thing I guess) However...

I agree with Anonymous (July 16, 2010 5:39 PM)'s idea to get the HCTs some skill in collection of HT-type info. This appears worthy of discussion by people who know more about it than I do. A few questions to get rolling...

How do we get our HCTs trained in this HT-specific collection method to a high enough skill level that it makes a difference as a HUMINT guy, doesn't take 6-12 months, doesn't draw more fire from the academics, and doesn't make a another expensive mess not under the direct control of uniformed officers?

What would it take for Marine Corps/Army/Defense HUMINT leaders and trainers to put this together on a pilot basis (like a specialized HUMINT function with special course, etc)?

Can part of HTS (money, program, etc) be converted into an HT-HUMINT company or battalion to pay the manpower and funding bill for the Army? How does the Corps get this done? This is fairly tactical so does DIA need to be involved?

Would it make a difference given Robert C. Jones' excellent post about knowing insurgency first?

I leave it to the insurgency and HUMINT experts...

-Vox Veritas

I am not sure these people are going to like us any better no matter how we much we try and understand them. Perhaps it is better we just get out of their way and let them figure it out.

Is Afghanistan that important that this all has to work out today? Maybe small sure steps is a better approach.

Dave D.
Thanks for putting Foust in his place. He is most irritating. I hope he and everyone else reads your post to better understand what SWJ does for the COI and that we can prevent the degeneration to name calling and drive bys to which so many blogs succumb. We need to focus on expanding our knowledge base and avoid the petty bickering and useless arrogant comments that for the most part we have been able to avoid. Thanks for the great work you and Bill do.

Taken from today's John Robb Global Guerrilla blog:

Some standard GG insights from Afghanistan in a recent article by Kaplan in Slate:

•Co-opting infrastructure. The brand new $100 m Kajaki hydropower plant in southern Afghanistan (contrast this to the lack of new infrastructure in the US) is being co-opted by the Taliban. They are charging locals for the power (via door-to-door visits) and redirecting it to private uses. Not only does this provide them funding, it provides them legitimacy.
•Resilient power? To get more credit for the benefits of the new infrastructure, the US military wants to build local power systems, which is very much in line with resilient community thinking. The problem is that they want to install diesel generators in each locality (which substitutes another form of dependence that can be co-opted). They should be thinking in terms of systems that are completely local and they should broaden their thinking on what energy means.
•GG political goods. The Taliban have set up an effective (free and fast) justice system in areas that they control. As Kilcullen points out: if you show up at an Afghan police station with a complaint, they'll beat you up for bothering them. If you take someone to an official court, it takes months to get a judgment, and it will go to the guy who pays the biggest bribe. This is classic. The first political good that GG groups provide is almost always justice. It also demonstrates that the Afghan government is a hollow, illegitimate, corrupt shell and that counter-insurgency efforts that support it are akin to pushing on a string.
•Open source counter-insurgency. The first move by Petraeus in Afghanistan was to get Karzai to sign off on local militias. A move towards a large collection of autonomous militias is the hallmark of an open source counterinsurgency and was the secret sauce behind the limited success in Iraq. Of course, to fully replicate that in Afghanistan would greatly weaken Karzai. As a result, they have watered down the proposal: they new militias would be "police" and get uniforms and pay from Afghanistan's Interior Ministry.
All of the above appear to be classic open source warfare dilemmas. They should be thinking in terms of autonomous resilient communities that are protected by local militias.

Kind of sounds like we should have paid better attention to the Kilcullen premise of the "ecosystem of an insurgency".

HTS today uses a social science word similiar to "ecosystem" when they speak about populations, but strangely the NTC scenario intel planners show a great reluctance in using it.

Do intelligence types even read articles out of the 2004/2005 timeframe any more?


Nothing like arriving home after a TAD/TDY and rather than relaxing, editing and doing what I do here, having to figure out why Joshua Foust simply refuses to get what SWJ is all about.

Josh, I have to wonder about you. We all know you are the smartest guy in town, youve told us as much many times. I've explained to you via e-mail and in person what we do here. You just don't seem to grasp our open tent philosophy.

Go past the original posts and look at the discussion in the commentary. That is where the meat is. Many things would fester if not for the comments by our community of interest and practice. Yea, I knew this article was a free advertisement and thought about whether I should post it or not for that very reason. At the same time, knowing our COI/P pretty well I also knew the author was taking quite a huge chance in submitting the article because it WOULD BE OPEN TO CRITICAL COMMENTARY and this site is read by some very influential people. I do give credit to the author for that and am disappointed that you choose to just dismiss without offering up alternate approaches on how to improve on the issues raised here.

We put out the good, bad and ugly for all to see, then discuss. You really do not seem to grasp that and if you feel SWJ is "dumbing you down" than just go some place where you might still be welcome. You have a lot to offer but have a habit of jumping down people's throats and many, much smarter and experienced than I, are on souring any type of beneficial relationship that might develop.

Dave D.

The population is always in contention-has been that way all through history.

If a HUMINT team was in fact well trained in the social science area then it would not be a big problem to use that knowledge in figuring out the ins and outs of a village, town or for that matter a city. 3/3 BCT used this concept very effectively in the run up to the elections in Diyala in 2005 in identifying friend/foe.

The problem is in the fact that HCTs are never staffed with experienced personnel from the get go--there are always weaker teams and stronger teams--the BCT S2 needs to identify that issue prior to deployment--then see no problem in using them in the HTS collection role and it definitely solves the academic argument of not wanting to get involved in intelligence gathering and targeting.

Social science research = one part of HUMINT.

Intelligence is everything regardless of media.

HUMINT + all source analysis = intelligence driven operations

Nothing should be undertaken in the fight for the control of the population unless there are 100% intelligence driven operations.

But all of the above is not the on the ground daily reality of the Afghan COIN/UW/IW fight.

Maybe that is why SF has had good success in using local irregluars.

Anyone disagree?

Always thought HUMINT was the way forward---a thoroughly well planned ISR effort focusing on the exact needs of the Cmdrs intent and for intelligence operations.

The problem is we never really intended for HUMINT Collection Teams to do the HTS effort--was never reflected in their training then or now.

Stand corrected if someone can point to current TRADOC training that in fact enables a HCT to in fact double as a HTT--the closest thing is maybe MSO if it doubled as a HTT collection effort.

HTTs are way over priced especially at the rate of a GS15 plus danger pay plus overtime--and their reports are not much better than some field analyst intel work-look what recently happened with the removal of the HTS Director when he shifted them to GS status and took the profit margin away from BAE Systems.

HCTs are always on the go and armed-- understand how to interview---now just cross train them in what is necessary to be collected.

We could go into the problem of HTS not being a Army program of record or the lack of total integration into the intelligence cycle--both subjects of a much needed critical reflection.

And on the top of that why isn't TIGR developing into the critical HTT tool that it should be---another critical reflection area.

There is really only one core area that everyone must understand to be successful in dealing with an insurgency, and that is the field of Insurgency itself.

I've read much of the COINdinista output, and by and large it lacks "soul", with soul being (IMO) an understanding of the nature of insurgency itself.

I've worked with the Human Terrain Team in RC(S) currently, they are smart people and I like them. They don't know F-All about insurgency though, and nobody besides myself seems to think that's a problem.

I work a lot with USAID, and I respect the hell out of what they do, and by and large relate very much with the smart, dedicated professionals that make up that fine organization. They will be quick to tell you that they don't work on 6-12 month rotations, that they know the language and the communities they serve. They are correct. But again, when pressed, it becomes quite clear that they don't understand insurgency.

I also work with military commanders at all levels; and these guys and gals are pros. They know their job, they understand their mission, and they are busting their ass out there. But again, by and large, they don't understand insurgency.

The results of not studying the problem, and instead only studying the cures, or as this author argues, the patients, one never really has a solid foundation to stand on.

Study insurgency first; then worry about understanding the populace that you are working with to help through their trials. You can't help them, no matter how much you empathy you have, unless you understand the nature of the problem they are wrestling with.

I don't any real skin in the HTT game. On the surface the idea seems right. Tragically the COIN debate (or lack thereof) has us in a place where we view, historically, wars like WWII as "easy" shoot and scoot wars while Afghanistan is "complicated" because of the nature of the human population. This is rubbish. I would dare say a very healthy population of American GI's in the ETO were no more than two generations removed from their European family ties - most were culturally aware simply by having parents and grandparents from the old country. The case was less so in Japan and the war there was different because of it.

We don't have a large or recent population of former Afghans to guide us with their real or imagined memories so we need to rely on, well..., educated guesses. This is where the HTT comes in but I'm not sure the approach they are taking is correct. As I see it we don't need to win hearts and minds by selling some tribe a bill of goods, we need to understand their history (again real and imagined) their power structure (this means tribes) and decide how we can provide the best parts of that with the security to develop with the GoA. Case in point, I am big believer that we need to follow through with the idea of creating tribal forces that can eventually become area militias and ultimately a form of national guard willing to work hand-in-glove with a national army.

So this goes back to the question - are the teams properly formed? I am biased so I think the army needs more historians. Anthropologists are fun but too often get caught up in ethical debates. I kind of chuckle at the suggestion that you use the good tools (soldiers) at a commander's disposal. I fear our force has not evolved to the point where most commissioned officers are willing to accept cultural and social advice that sound remotely academic from even the most seasoned NCO.

COL Gentile,

Agree on testing the assumptions, but disagree on the zero-sum nature of it. I know at least five professors that I'd kill (figuratively) to have down range with me as a second set of eyes on the problem set.

And most of them have no idea what a COINdinitas or COINstra are. I just like the way they think. Even better, I often disagree with them.



Not sure if this is okay to say but "Freakin' a right. Concur."

We need to test all the assumptions. And, we need to do so in manner that collegial and focuses on the content of the argument rather than the person.

Vox Veritas

To Joshua's point about not having been to an IRB...the larger ethical issue at hand may be the post itself...

Odd as it may seem to some, it is unethical and inappropriate to purposely and publicly disclose that one is conducting interview research through locals in Afghanistan in support of the military.

Does this post help ISAF, GIRoA or the Afghan population? No, it doesn't. It puts them at risk...and for what?

Vox Veritas


It depends; if you accept that the theory is sound and works in practice then sure it makes perfect sense to talk the mechanics, procedures, and tactics of it all. But if the theory is broken and has not been proved in history and practice then perhaps in the talking of the tactics we are spinning wheels for nothing.

Others dont view things that way, but i think at this point in Afghanistan it is time to start seriously questioning and challenging the assumptions, theories, and principles behind population centric counterinsurgency.


There is a great deal of conversation about how to change the teams but its the data that matter.

Shouldn't we be discussing how to fix the serious problems that Joshua surfaced - data accuracy due to questionable methodology and sourcing?

Vox Veritas


Problem as I see it is that the "tools" that we give to troopers on the ground may in fact be made up of flawed material, to use a lose metaphor. This is to say that if we are giving the troopers in Afghanistan the hammer of Coin, perhaps the head and staff are so brittle that when it hits the whole thing shatters.

Or in actual terms, it is the theory of Coin that I question and what has turned into an article of faith that a given population is undecided between the insurgents and government and is just waiting to be won over by ours and the government's side. Such a characterization of a population didnt fit my assessment of the areas of Baghdad in 2006 that I had responsibility for. So when I came back home in December and finally sat down to read FM 3-24 in full I had to snicker a bit when I saw the simple diagram of a population that resembled a shoe box cover, with a line at the very top representing the hard core insurgents who could not be won over, a line at the very bottom represent a small portion of the population as on our side, and then the mass majority in the middle who are just waiting to be won over. Nope, if I had to use that same diagram for Baghdad in 2006 I would have drawn the line right across the middle of the rectangle, dividing it in half. The people had already decided, what was I to win over?


"Why do we assume that the population is "contested"? Maybe they have already decided which side they are on and are not a mass of curious fence sitters just waiting to be won over by an infantry LT or Human Terrain Team looking to establish an emotional, trusting relationship with them." By Gian Gentile

That is a really big question. Maybe the people prefer a Ruler of their country as opposed to a Governor of their country.

As someone who has worked in theatre with the human terrain teams and seen firsthand the dysfunction I can attest that there is no need for them to be doing any type of collection. I do feel that an analytical function on a staff closer to the BCT or even company level is not a hindrance and can be of some value added See the EPIC cells the USMC and 4th ID use. Train collectors to gather SC data and allow them to operate in the environment they are used to. Sending out some gray beard (obviously not referring to Mac and his awesome gray beard, Im sure he feels the same) pseudo intellectual who possesses no social skills in their own culture and expecting them to gather useful intel on a (very) foreign culture is insane. The only guys who were producing useful "green" intel in the HTS/HTT realm were ex intel guys who signed on for the check. Of all the "academics" I met in that program ONE stood out as someone who understood the problem set and the mission. Look to AF/PAK hands for success and forget the car sales pitch of Fondacaro and his circle jerk ilk. This may sound like sour grapes but that crew is the definition of waste, fraud and abuse.

Last comment was me.


Advertisement or not, what do you think about the concept of expanding the teams to be more inter-disciplinary?

COL Gentile,

Sir, Surge narratives aside, I'm just looking at this as another tool in the commander's toolbox particularly since we lack the political advisors from State and "gov't in a box."

In reality, a commander can pull some of the resources internally without contracting out. We have many enlisted and officers with social science degrees. I leaned heavily on one of my NCOs with a masters in sociology, and I was classically trained in economics.


Why do we assume that the population is "contested"? Maybe they have already decided which side they are on and are not a mass of curious fence sitters just waiting to be won over by an infantry LT or Human Terrain Team looking to establish an emotional, trusting relationship with them.

Is it not just a bit too premature to call Iraq a "success"? Yet writers, pundits, and experts alike have already turned the triumph story of Iraq into established fact. Nowadays it is customary for folks to state matter of fact like that the Surge worked and it was General Petraeus who saved Iraq from a desperate situation. Then, of course, the Iraq model becomes the exact template for Afghanistan.

Instead of a questioning of the narrative it has now turned into hardened fact and sadly our national reporters have failed us in that the majority of them blindly accept it all. Perhaps continued access is just all too addicting for them as well as the prospect of never ending war for reporters who have become themselves addicted to war and the reporting and writing of it.


Big words from Glevum. Their products are consistently bad--questionable sourcing, often lacking informed consent (in 2009 they were interviewing Afghans without telling them they were providing information to the U.S. military and selling that as a feature), and making outlandish claims like all of one people are renown sorcerers (which showed up in a Glevum "report" in Kapisa).

Yet, far too little effort has been dedicated to the systematic, on-the-ground collection of this essential socio-cultural information. This type of human terrain data is being collected, however the budget for its collection is minuscule in relation to its importance. In addition to budgetary constraints, such research collection is attacked regularly by ivory tower academics that falsely question research ethics and methods based on personal ideologies, instead of defending the lives of Afghans, and U.S. military and civilian personnel.

While true for a lot of the Human Terrain System's attackers, that can't be said for the myriad HTS people who complain about Glevum's terrible output (and the inaccessibility of their data). A complaint about methodology and sources is not the same as a complaint about ethics, nor is it a complaint about politics. I wish Glevum did a better job, given their access and generously-funded HTS resources.

Really, Dave, this is should be marked as an advertisement. He's begging the DOD for more money for his company. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but this isn't the first time it's happened on here.

I think everyone here is fine with advocacy, but when you have corporate officials advocating their programs get funded, they need to disclose why they're writing.

Just my thoughts...

Andrew makes an argument that I strongly agree with. Why? I have seen the collaboration of social scientist and military work well in breaking through rather complex, intractable problems. The Salinas Project is one example.*

The next step is to define who is on the team. It should be inter-disciplinary and not constrained to the lens of the anthropologist. I would include an economist, historian, psychologist, geologist, and sociologist. Each member brings a different research methodology and way to see the world.

In the heuristic sense, they can aide a commander in the same way his FSO, intel dude, and civil affairs staff do.


* http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/14/AR200911...

Oddly enough, Kandaharis do not support the Taliban. In fact, they despise the Taliban, by a 10 to 1 margin. You'd think someone selling Human Terrain would find something they are at least vaguely familiar with as an example.

Social Scientists are overly expensive and require way too much in the way of security and support to be effective in a war zone. They also have a tendency (especially among Anthropologists) to confuse "ethics" with "political dogma."

I am a rather outspoken critic of the US Military's efforts in Afghanistan, but I do not share the cartoonish idealism of the author that somehow, Social Science research by Social Scientists is the answer.

YES YES yes and yes. Andrew Garfield Genius.
Can't win the hearts and minds till you
get into their heads.