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    Human Terrain Teams building friendships and future



    Story by Sgt. John Zumer 

    40th Public Affairs Detachment

    BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Coalition forces have been successful over the last seven years on the battlefields of Afghanistan. True and lasting success, however, lies in understanding Afghans and the recent implementation of Human Terrain Teams could become a large building block for victory.

    The HTTs were developed in 2005 in response to military gaps in understanding of the Afghan population and culture. Their mission is to provide field commanders with the relevant social and cultural understanding necessary to meet daily operational requirements.

    The teams fall under the Human Terrain System framework. Whereas HTTs operate in the field, Human Terrain Analysis Teams are analytical teams attached to divisional staffs, and largely analyze field data and other information.

    It is the first time that social science research, analysis and advising has been done systematically and at the operational level.

    "Much can be accomplished by approaching things as a social rather than a security problem," said Jim Emery, lead social scientist of an HTT attached to Task Force Warrior in Bagram. The Department of the Army contracted social scientists, analysts and researchers to join military personnel in the composition of an HTT.

    Five pilot teams were created at the program's beginning. Four went to Iraq, and the fifth was attached to Task Force Fury in Khowst province, Afghanistan, in January 2007. HTTs have embedded with U.S. Army and Marine units, and while normally attached at the brigade staff level, they also provide general support for subordinate units.

    The embedded teams of social scientists, analysts and researchers gather and update institutional knowledge on Afghanistan, research background and historical documents and conduct research in the field. These efforts have already yielded many successes.

    HTTs have already accounted for a reduction in violence in one Afghan province, according to Col. Scott A. Spellmon, brigade commander, Task Force Warrior. Problems in Kapisa province had been tied to the difficulty in understanding numerous local dynamics. The population was mixed with Pashtun and Tajik peoples, a fact which can be problematic, said Spellmon. Tensions in the air were reduced when the HTT talked with local elders.

    Emery feels the success has yielded an even-greater reward.

    "One of the measurable qualities in Kapisa is that you have people coming forward now with information," he said.

    The ANA is taking much more prominent roles, and as far as Emery is concerned, success is largely measured by the respect and cooperation of villagers.

    "If you provide hope for the future, then you provide viable alternatives," said Emery.

    The HTT process of defeating the enemy is neither quick nor trouble-free, however.

    "Sometimes it takes six to eight months to build that trusting relationship," said Larry Rice, research manager of the HTAT attached to CJTF-101. "It is important to target key villages as if they were spokes on a wheel."

    "Success can then emanate outwards if natural lines of communication are developed and maintained," Rice added.

    Non-verbal cues that reinforce the verbal message are also vital to success in changing the theater and forging relationships, added Rice, citing body language of Coalition forces that can be interpreted differently by Afghans.

    Spellmon said he wishes the HTT concept had arrived even sooner, considering the visible successes.

    "I would have loved to have had this team in our train-up prior to coming to Afghanistan," he said.

    The combat training centers, where HTT also provides information and guidance on what to expect in-theater, are great in providing a deeper understanding of the Afghan people, he added.

    Despite the many HTT successes, challenges remain. The size of Afghanistan coupled with few HTTs limits the amount of time spent in villages, but the absence of their own logistical assets can also be stifling. Quality time spent by the HTT in villages is the most pressing need, however. "Just going out on a postcard run and not really talking to people does us no good," said Emery.

    Military forces also need a better understanding, which requires the building of friendships. Time spent on the ground in days, not minutes, is vital in building friendships, Rice said.

    "Afghans don't like to be treated poorly and only be showered with provisions," Rice added, echoing a frequently heard complaint that some commanders gauge mission success by the amount of food and supplies distributed.

    "Tribes don't always behave as co-ops in either Afghanistan or Iraq, and that has to be taken into account," said Josh Foust, a senior analyst for the HTS program. "Differences and the way they're handled matter," he added.

    Negative and inaccurate stereotypes of Muslims and Afghans also need to be overcome.

    "Friendship, hospitality, good manners, honor, loyalty, respect for elders and love of children are core values of Afghan culture," said Emery. "It is important that our Soldiers learn these and other positive characteristics of the Afghans in order to have a positive change in how they plan and carry out missions. The main goal in Afghanistan is security, stability and prosperity but you have to establish good personal relationships first."



    Date Taken: 02.28.2009
    Date Posted: 02.28.2009 05:13
    Story ID: 30554
    Location: BAGRAM AIR FIELD, AF 

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