by Dan Cox
The Army is globally engaged and regionally responsive; it is an indispensible partner and provider of a full range of capabilities to Combatant Commanders in a Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multi-national (JIIM) environment. As part of the Joint Force and as America’s Army, in all that we offer, we guarantee the agility, versatility and depth to prevent, Shape, and Win.
Army Vision from 2012 Army Strategic Planning Guidance
The 2012 Army Strategic Planning Guidance issued by Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno includes a revised Army Vision (shown above) and details four imperatives in support of that vision:
- “Provide modernized and ready, tailored land force capabilities to meet Combatant Commanders’ requirements across the range of military operations
- Develop leaders to meet the challenges of the 21st Century
- Adapt the Army to more effectively provide land power
- Sustain the All-volunteer Army”
According to GEN Odierno and Secretary McHugh, “[t]hese imperatives drive a set of coordinated actions the Army will take to support the eleven missions outlined in the President and Secretary of Defense’s Sustaining U. S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” Two near-term actions that the Army plans to take in support of the eleven missions are Train for Operational Adaptability and Regionally Align Forces. The former action keys on building capability to operate in a complex environment with an emphasis on the Human Domain. The latter action supports the former by standing up U. S. Army brigades through the ARFORGEN process that are focused on a particular geographic region in support of the Army Component Command of each of the Geographic Combatant Commands. This endeavor is occurring in an attempt to build in some much needed and readily usable cultural expertise within the brigades themselves. This concept is not new and has been used with great success by U. S. Army Special forces and to a lesser extent by the U. S. Marines for many years. The experts produced in both cases were never expected to be at the Ph. D. level of deep academic knowledge, but that should not allow one to easily dismiss the knowledge that U. S. soldiers gain from focusing on a specific geographic region, and hopefully even specializing in a few counties and at least one language. In fact, language skills are one of the severe shortfalls many scholars have noted in both the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. In his Foreward to the 2012 Army Strategic Planning Guidance, GEN Odierno states that these efforts “will require leveraging the capacity and capabilities of the Total Army – Active, Guard, Reserve, and Civilian.” A key enabler for the Army to achieve success in both of these actions is the Human Terrain System (HTS).
HTS was created in 2006 to satisfy a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS) to fill a void in joint capably to understand, visualize and describe the Human Domain of the operational environments in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Admittedly, HTS has a mixed record of success, but the concept is sound: provide decision-makers with deeper sociocultural understanding of their operational environment through primary and secondary source research and analysis. Currently there are 31 HTS teams providing operational support to U. S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan from the Brigade Combat Team/Regimental Combat Team level up to the highest level of military command in country, and the same operational support was provided in Iraq up until the withdrawal of coalition combat forces. Additionally, HTS has recently fielded pilot liaison teams to U. S. Army Africa, U. S. Northern Command, and U. S. Special Operations Command.
The concept of regionally aligned forces is focused on the basic maneuver unit of the Army, the Brigade Combat Team. However, the idea is not to send entire brigades at once to an area but instead to send smaller subordinate units to participate in exercises, engage in Security Force Assistance (SFA), and building partner capacity activities all while gaining valuable knowledge about the Human Domain in that particular country or region. United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the first combatant command to develop regionally aligned brigades but General Odierno is quick to note that Pacific Command (PACOM) is next on the list because of its great strategic importance, especially in light of the recently ballyhooed “Asian Pivot” in U. S. foreign policy and strategy. This emphasis on understanding the Human Domain during shaping operations and prior to combat operations nests nicely with General Odierno’s increasing emphasis on the Human Domain of war.
General Odierno is on to something when he states that “nothing is as important to your long-term [military and strategic] success as understanding the prevailing culture and values.” He notes the U. S. Army lessons learned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have driven this point home and these lessons should be built upon. In an era of increasing budget constraints and force reductions, increasing not just the cultural awareness, but the cultural understanding prior to and during any type of military operation or activity overseas makes sense. The increased knowledge gained prior to entering a foreign area of operations and increased once there will help units navigate more efficiently in these foreign cultures and environments. The foreign force will have a better chance of approximating the agile swimming fish Mao so highly valued in his insurgent fight against the Nationalist government of China.
As more emphasis is placed on advise and assist missions, like the U. S. Special Forces mission against Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, cultural expertise will become paramount. But gaining deep country knowledge solely from living and working within a foreign culture is sub-optimal. There is a better, multi-pronged effort that can create sharper and more agile expertise with little to no additional cost.
What if the units sent to gain regional expertise in various countries had access to people working on the ground, in many cases for years, and subject matter experts from academia? What if this group of people already had an established, robust education curriculum these units could plug into for their first few weeks or months prior to visiting the country or region that enabled them to hit the ground running? They do. It is called the Human Terrain Systems (HTS).
As mentioned above, HTS does not currently have an element supporting every Combatant Command so in order for the following plan to work, HTS will have to expand to cover all the major Combatant Commands. However, since HTS is a U. S. Army organization, the Army would direct where new HTTs are established, likely following the same approach that it will take in forming the regionally-aligned brigades. The current pilot efforts of providing liaison teams to COCOMs, or at least to the Army Component Commands, should be expanded to all of the COCOMs. This will provide an interface between COCOM-level strategic and operational planning and shape HTS operational support. HTS teams could be sent forward to embassies in countries deemed significant by military planners and act as an advance enabler to the country team and then to follow-on ground forces if that potentiality is realized. For instance, if the U. S. Army is worried about combating piracy and Islamic fundamentalism in Africa, then HTTs could be established in both Somalia and Nigeria which are currently suffering from both problems. Alternately, or perhaps concurrently, Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) could be stood up with the regionally-aligned brigades and serve for the duration of their ARFORGEN cycle. While home-stationed HTTs would not be able to conduct primary source research, that is, conducting interviewing, surveys, and polls among the target (usually indigenous) population, HTT team members will be able to conduct secondary source research and analysis, provide training, and enable regionally-specific exercises for their brigade in preparation for potential deployment to their focus area of the world. Academic experts could teach soldiers the rudiments of social inquiry so that knowledge could be better gathered, categorized, and disseminated throughout the brigade. In keeping with the previous examples, small units from brigades would be sent to Nigeria and Somalia but only after going through HTS training on these two nations (and the surrounding region as well as the overall area of responsibility of U.S. Africa Command) and then link up with the local HTT, or their parent unit HTT could accompany them and coordinate with the HTT already deployed to the embassy. The local HTT will have deep knowledge of local players, culture, and interactions it could then relate to the Army soldiers visiting and the knowledge gained by these individuals will be manifestly deeper and more useful to the regionally aligned brigade. In short, the regionally aligned brigade would multiply its cultural expertise knowledge and effectiveness.
In sum, two of the Chief of Staff’s near-term priority actions could be significantly enabled by an already existing Army capability: the Human Terrain System. To maximize the benefit of the capabilities of HTS to regionally-aligned brigades, the capacity of HTS must be adapted and expanded to meet the new demands of the 21st Century Army. In the long run this will be a cost-saving measure, even if near-term expansion of HTS requires increased expenditures on the program, due to the increased capability to focus efforts in training and operations to maximize sociocultural effectiveness while reducing sociocultural miscues that can be costly diplomatically, informationally, militarily and economically.