I have a lot of trouble understanding how people can condemn others who sacrifice to mitigate the suffering and deaths of innocent people and their own countrymen, and improve the lives of some of the most desperate people on Earth – while in the end bringing victory to their nation. I wonder if they care, or is the blood, treasure, and sacrifice of others mean nothing to them when there is attention to be gained and consequence-free self-righteousness to be had.
Time to attack the messenger – and his message. There are times when you have to.
It is easy for some with their nice jobs in academia with a captive sycophantic audience and no-challenge paycheck to spout off in self-important tones to a self-congratulatory cloister of the rich, spoiled army of the clueless. It is easy for them because their betters are out there doing the hard work that actually saves lives; the lives of their countrymen and the people they are trying to help. First though, let’s review the good.
SHABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan — 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.Praise for SECDEF and praise for the military opening its mind to any tool available to bring victory. More than that, praise to 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.
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.There never was a feeling that there was strictly a military solution to AFG. The military can only provide the security so that the true keys to victory – rule of law, reconstruction and development – can take place. That has always been the case. We just don’t’ have all the intellectual capital we need inside our five walls. Goodness knows The State Dept isn’t going to provide it.
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.
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 you’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 Afghanistan’s most important road and halt a string of suicide attacks on American troops and local governors.Nothing totally new here, but as an institution we allowed outselves to forget the non-kinetic parts of victory in “Small Wars.” Re-learning, but learning nonetheless.
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 Afghanistan’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.”
Now that we are through with the huggy-lovey, let’s roll over the rock and look at the septic mess that flows from the foundation of the Ivory Towers.
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, I know you are not stupid, therefore you are either ignorant or just shamefully wrong. I will just for now call you ignorant. I suggest you talk to Tracy, go yourself to Afghanistan, or at least accept the fact that without the help of your colleagues, more and more innocents will die.
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.”
One last note for my pet trolls,
In Afghanistan, the anthropologists arrived along with 6,000 troops, which doubled the American military’s strength in the area it patrols, the country’s east.They went because the promises made by out “international partners” to commit to AFG never panned out. We tried – and are still trying.
A smaller version of the Bush administration’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.