In the early days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nobody was looking at cultural issues. When units rotated out, there would be a tremendous loss of knowledge concerning the complex tribal and cultural webs these societies represent. Montgomery McFate, one of the architects of the Army Human Terrain System, helped change that. Now, she and the social scientists of the Human Terrain Teams she helped develop are hoping to change the way the American military conceives of conflict.

Human Terrain Teams

By , , Feature

The three short articles by an anthropology professor from California seemed out of place beside a large area map and various military memoranda on a plywood wall at combat outpost Tarmiyah, about 20 miles north of Baghdad. Not long ago, the accompanying note demanding that all platoon and squad leaders not only read the articles, but pass the information along to their men, would have made most commanders in Iraq laugh at the thought of burdening their already overworked junior officers and NCOs with articles by college professors. But the conduct of the Iraq War has taken a decidedly cultural turn, thanks to the belated recognition of the realities of battling an insurgency in a country spiderwebbed with clan and tribal loyalties and rivalries.

When Gen. David Petraeus took over as head of Multi-National Forces--Iraq (MNF-I) in early 2007, he called for an end to the policy of "commuting to work," a tactic that had sequestered American forces on sprawling bases, separating them from the populace by large blast walls and acres of barbed wire. Part of the idea behind sending 30,000 more troops to Iraq in 2007 was to get Americans off those bases and into company-sized outposts in villages and cities. Living "among" the people would make American troops both more visible and more accessible, and force both sides to understand one another a little better. Or at least to try. ...

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