David Rohde / The New York Times & Network of Concerned Anthropologists – 2010-08-14 23:19:54
Human Terrain System & War in Iraq
Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones
David Rohde / The New York Times
SHABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan (October 5, 2007) — In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.
Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her team’s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations — in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe — has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.
Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division unit working with the anthropologists here, said that the unit’s combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the scientists arrived in February, and that the soldiers were now able to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population.
“We’re looking at this from a human perspective, from a social scientist’s perspective,” he said. “We’re not focused on the enemy. We’re focused on bringing governance down to the people.”
In September, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates authorized a $40 million expansion of the program, which will assign teams of anthropologists and social scientists to each of the 26 American combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since early September, five new teams have been deployed in the Baghdad area, bringing the total to six.
Yet criticism is emerging in academia. Citing the past misuse of social sciences in counterinsurgency campaigns, including in Vietnam and Latin America, some denounce the program as “mercenary anthropology” that exploits social science for political gain. Opponents fear that, whatever their intention, the scholars who work with the military could inadvertently cause all anthropologists to be viewed as intelligence gatherers for the American military.
Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor at George Mason University, and 10 other anthropologists are circulating an online pledge calling for anthropologists to boycott the teams, particularly in Iraq.
“While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more secure world,” the pledge says, “at base, it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties.”
In Afghanistan, the anthropologists arrived along with 6,000 troops, which doubled the American military’s strength in the area it patrols, the countryâ€™s east.
A smaller version of the Bush administrationâ€™s troop increase in Iraq, the buildup in Afghanistan has allowed American units to carry out the counterinsurgency strategy here, where American forces generally face less resistance and are better able to take risks.
A New Mantra
Since Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the overall American commander in Iraq, oversaw the drafting of the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual last year, the strategy has become the new mantra of the military. A recent American military operation here offered a window into how efforts to apply the new approach are playing out on the ground in counterintuitive ways.
In interviews, American officers lavishly praised the anthropology program, saying that the scientists’ advice has proved to be “brilliant,” helping them see the situation from an Afghan perspective and allowing them to cut back on combat operations.
The aim, they say, is to improve the performance of local government officials, persuade tribesmen to join the police, ease poverty and protect villagers from the Taliban and criminals.
Afghans and Western civilian officials, too, praised the anthropologists and the new American military approach but were cautious about predicting long-term success. Many of the economic and political problems fueling instability can be solved only by large numbers of Afghan and American civilian experts.
“My feeling is that the military are going through an enormous change right now where they recognize they won’t succeed militarily,” said Tom Gregg, the chief United Nations official in southeastern Afghanistan. “But they don’t yet have the skill sets to implement” a coherent nonmilitary strategy, he added.
Deploying small groups of soldiers into remote areas, Colonel Schweitzer’s paratroopers organized jirgas, or local councils, to resolve tribal disputes that have simmered for decades. Officers shrugged off questions about whether the military was comfortable with what David Kilcullen, an Australian anthropologist and an architect of the new strategy, calls “armed social work.”
“Who else is going to do it?” asked Lt. Col. David Woods, commander of the Fourth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry. “You have to evolve. Otherwise youâ€™re useless.”
The anthropology team here also played a major role in what the military called Operation Khyber. That was a 15-day drive late this summer in which 500 Afghan and 500 American soldiers tried to clear an estimated 200 to 250 Taliban insurgents out of much of Paktia Province, secure southeastern Afghanistanâ€™s most important road and halt a string of suicide attacks on American troops and local governors.
In one of the first districts the team entered, Tracy identified an unusually high concentration of widows in one village, Colonel Woods said. Their lack of income created financial pressure on their sons to provide for their families, she determined, a burden that could drive the young men to join well-paid insurgents. Citing Tracy’s advice, American officers developed a job training program for the widows.
In another district, the anthropologist interpreted the beheading of a local tribal elder as more than a random act of intimidation: the Taliban’s goal, she said, was to divide and weaken the Zadran, one of southeastern Afghanistanâ€™s most powerful tribes. If Afghan and American officials could unite the Zadran, she said, the tribe could block the Taliban from operating in the area.
“Call it what you want, it works,” said Colonel Woods, a native of Denbo, Pa. “It works in helping you define the problems, not just the symptoms.”
The process that led to the creation of the teams began in late 2003, when American officers in Iraq complained that they had little to no information about the local population. Pentagon officials contacted Montgomery McFate, a Yale-educated cultural anthropologist working for the Navy who advocated using social science to improve military operations and strategy.
Ms. McFate helped develop a database in 2005 that provided officers with detailed information on the local population. The next year, Steve Fondacaro, a retired Special Operations colonel, joined the program and advocated embedding social scientists with American combat units.
Ms. McFate, the program’s senior social science adviser and an author of the new counterinsurgency manual, dismissed criticism of scholars working with the military. “I’m frequently accused of militarizing anthropology,” she said. “But we’re really anthropologizing the military.”
Roberto J. GonzÃ¡lez, an anthropology professor at San Jose State University, called participants in the program naÃ¯ve and unethical. He said that the military and the Central Intelligence Agency had consistently misused anthropology in counterinsurgency and propaganda campaigns and that military contractors were now hiring anthropologists for their local expertise as well.
“Those serving the short-term interests of military and intelligence agencies and contractors,” he wrote in the June issue of Anthropology Today, an academic journal, “will end up harming the entire discipline in the long run.”
Arguing that her critics misunderstand the program and the military, Ms. McFate said other anthropologists were joining the teams. She said their goal was to help the military decrease conflict instead of provoking it, and she vehemently denied that the anthropologists collected intelligence for the military.
In eastern Afghanistan, Tracy said wanted to reduce the use of heavy-handed military operations focused solely on killing insurgents, which she said alienated the population and created more insurgents. “I can go back and enhance the military’s understanding,” she said, “so that we donâ€™t make the same mistakes we did in Iraq.”
Along with offering advice to commanders, she said, the five-member team creates a database of local leaders and tribes, as well as social problems, economic issues and political disputes.
Clinics and Mediation
During the recent operation, as soldiers watched for suicide bombers, Tracy and Army medics held a free medical clinic. They said they hoped that providing medical care would show villagers that the Afghan government was improving their lives.
Civil affairs soldiers then tried to mediate between factions of the Zadran tribe about where to build a school. The Americans said they hoped that the school, which would serve children from both groups, might end a 70-year dispute between the groups over control of a mountain covered with lucrative timber.
Though they praised the new program, Afghan and Western officials said it remained to be seen whether the weak Afghan government could maintain the gains. “That’s going to be the challenge, to fill the vacuum,” said Mr. Gregg, the United Nations official. “There’s a question mark over whether the government has the ability to take advantage of the gains.”
Others also question whether the overstretched American military and its NATO allies can keep up the pace of operations.
American officers expressed optimism. Many of those who had served in both Afghanistan and Iraq said they had more hope for Afghanistan. One officer said that the Iraqis had the tools to stabilize their country, like a potentially strong economy, but that they lacked the will. He said Afghans had the will, but lacked the tools.
After six years of American promises, Afghans, too, appear to be waiting to see whether the Americans or the Taliban will win a protracted test of wills here. They said this summer was just one chapter in a potentially lengthy struggle.
At a “super jirga” set up by Afghan and American commanders here, a member of the Afghan Parliament, Nader Khan Katawazai, laid out the challenge ahead to dozens of tribal elders.
“Operation Khyber was just for a few days,” he said. “The Taliban will emerge again.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
ANTHROPOLOGISTS’ STATEMENT ON HTS
Network of Concerned Anthropologists
The Network of Concerned Anthropologists (NCA) is an independent ad hoc network of anthropologists seeking to promote an ethical anthropology. For more information, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANTHROPOLOGISTS’ STATEMENT ON HTS
(More than 650 signatures collected!)
Congress is currently evaluating and considering the expansion of the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System (HTS) program, in which anthropologists have been recruited to assist with counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Please join us in expressing our firm opposition to the program and any expansion by agreeing to add your signature to the “Anthropologists’ Statement on the Human Terrain System Program.” Modeled after a well-publicized 2008 statement written by economists to oppose the Bush administration’s first TARP program, this statement aims to clearly and concisely state the factual grounds for our opposition.
Unlike our previous year-long effort to compile signatures for the Network of Concerned Anthropologists’ “Pledge of Non- participation in Counterinsurgency,” we want to collect the signatures of as many professional anthropologists as possible (including students!) as soon as possible so that our voice can be heard in the debate about HTS.
To add your name to the statement, please EMAIL your NAME, TITLE, and AFFILIATION to NOHUMANTERRAIN@GMAIL.COM. Include the subject line “Anthropologists’ Statement.”
Please encourage other professional anthropologists to sign as well. Thank you very much for your support!
ON THE HUMAN TERRAIN SYSTEM PROGRAM
To the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees:
We, the undersigned anthropologists, want to express to Congress our profound opposition to the Human Terrain System (HTS) program and its proposed expansion. We are heartened and encouraged by the Pentagon’s interest in expanding its cultural knowledge, and we believe that anthropologists have an important role to play in shaping military and foreign policy. However, we believe that the HTS program is an inappropriate and ineffective use of anthropological and other social science expertise for the following reasons:
1) There is no evidence that HTS is effective. There is no evidence, as some supporters have claimed, that the program saves lives. In fact, a special commission of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) — the largest professional anthropology society in the US — concluded in December 2009 that “there exist no publicly available independent evaluations of the effects of HTS’s activities, either positive or negative. Whether, or how, HTS might reduce conflict, in short, has yet to be evaluated.”
2) HTS is dangerous and reckless. To date, three embedded social scientists assigned to Human Terrain Teams have been killed in theaters of war. According to the journal Nature, “some scientists who have joined the program have complained about inadequate training,” while some military personnel reportedly complain that protecting Human Terrain Team members puts the lives of their soldiers at risk.
3) HTS wastes taxpayer money. In addition to its human costs, HTS has been costly. According to one report, approximately $250 million has been allocated to HTS since its creation in 2006.
4) HTS is unethical for anthropologists and other social scientists. In 2007, the Executive Board of the AAA determined HTS to be “an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise.” Last December, the AAA commission found that HTS â€œcan no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropologyâ€ given the incompatibility of HTS with disciplinary ethics and practice. Like medical doctors, anthropologists are ethically bound to do no harm. Supporting counterinsurgency operations clearly violates this code.
Moreover, the HTS program violates scientific and federal research standards mandating informed consent by research subjects.
For these reasons, we ask Congress to halt further appropriations to the HTS program, to cancel plans for expansion of the program, and to carefully consider alternative courses of action for securing peace in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond.
Pledge of Non-participation
We, the undersigned, believe that anthropologists should not engage in research and other activities that contribute to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq or in related theaters in the “war on terror.” Furthermore, we believe that anthropologists should refrain from directly assisting the US military in combat, be it through torture, interrogation, or tactical advice.
US military and intelligence agencies and military contractors have identified “cultural knowledge,” “ethnographic intelligence,” and “human terrain mapping” as essential to US-led military intervention in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Consequently, these agencies have mounted a drive to recruit professional anthropologists as employees and consultants.
While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more secure world, protects US soldiers on the battlefield, or promotes cross-cultural understanding, at base it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties. By so doing, such work breaches relations of openness and trust with the people anthropologists work with around the world and, directly or indirectly, enables the occupation of one country by another.
In addition, much of this work is covert. Anthropological support for such an enterprise is at odds with the humane ideals of our discipline as well as professional standards.
We are not all necessarily opposed to other forms of anthropological consulting for the state, or for the military, especially when such cooperation contributes to generally accepted humanitarian objectives.
A variety of views exist among us, and the ethical issues are complex. Some feel that anthropologists can effectively brief diplomats or work with peacekeeping forces without compromising professional values.
However, work that is covert, work that breaches relations of openness and trust with studied populations, and work that enables the occupation of one country by another violates professional standards.
Consequently, we pledge not to undertake research or other activities in support of counter-insurgency work in Iraq or in related theaters in the “war on terror,” and we appeal to colleagues everywhere to make the same commitment.
SPEAK OUT: Tell the American Anthropological Association (AAA) what you think about anthropologists collaborating with the “war on terror” by posting on the AAA’s Blog.