Dec 13, 2017 in Politics

Counterinsurgency and the ‘Human Terrain’ in Afghanistan


Nowadays the counterinsurgency has become a crucial issue in the international affairs. However, for the proper leading of the mission, the military Army requires the Human Terrain System which actually helps them providing the developing and integrating of the social sciences to gain the knowledge base. As a matter of fact, it provides the socio cultural understanding in the operational environment. However, there are a lot of supportive and critical thought and facts concerning both counterinsurgency and the Human Terrain System.  This research paper will analyze both opinions and provide the conclusions concerning the effectiveness of both issues.

Keywords: counterinsurgency, Human Terrain System, Afghanistan.

Counterinsurgency and the Human Terrain in Afghanistan

According to Headquarters Department of the Army a counterinsurgency campaign is a mixture of defensive, offensive together with stability operations which are conducted together with the line of other various operations. Generally speaking, it requires both Soldiers and Marines to use a mixture of familiar combat skills and tasks which are usually associated with nonmilitary agencies. However, it is obvious that the balance between them should depend on the local situation (1).  In general, there two oppositions, the insurgents are those who want to destroy the political authorities to have the control over the nation and on the other hand, there are counter-insurgents who try to protect the authorities being attacked and to decrease the supplanting authority and the influence of the other part (Arreguin-Toft). It can be said that all of the counterinsurgency operation are popular and commonly used during the war, various armed rebellions and during the occupation. Counterinsurgency is generally defined as the collection of various military, political, psychological civic, economic and paramilitary actions which are to be taken by the government to defeat the insurgency (U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps 1-2). It is obvious that all of the violent attackers against the civil populations must be taken away from the country completely but there should be various measured applications of force to be used (Melz & Millen). Counterinsurgency if it is used as a military strategy should provide opportunities for the political peace as such together with economic opportunities which will definitely show the respect to the local people and this will influence them to find some long-lasting solution to the problem (Metz & Millen). According to the Department of the Army manual (2009), counterinsurgency should be the number of actions which will help to outline the wide and long range plan. This plan must encompass such tactics as the support of the authorities’ forces, the security of the population, the establishment of the general civil control, the restoring of the basic services which should be provided to the population and the support of the infrastructure and economic development. Generally speaking, we should not forget that counterinsurgency encompasses different five tactics. The first one if called “the drain of the water”. It goes about the population control and it involves the change of location of the population from the area where the insurgent have the support to the area which is more secure and have no influence. The second tactic goes about the oil place or spot as it helps to concentrate the counterinsurgency forces in a region which is comparatively secure and this will help them to expand their territory. The third tactic involves the search and cordon. This actually means that the area where the counterinsurgency has influence is separated by a cordon. After that this territory is searched for various weapons or insurgents. However, this tactics usually depends on the largeness of the territory. Sometimes there might be not enough intelligence to provide the serious intense search. That is practically why this search is done only in close neighborhoods and tries to cause as little discomfort for the local inhabitants as it is possible. Another tactic which is used is the air craft operation. It might help to gather the intelligence and to transport both combatants and supplies. And the last tactic out of general five is the public diplomacy. It is used to secure the strong relations with the natives. All of this shows that it is very important to understand the natives, their culture, because it will show their relation with insurgents. Only afterwards the counterinsurgents will be able to win the support among the local population. The most crucial thing is such tactics is the usage of maximum force and the minimum of violence (Joes 156-167). Therefore, COIN has appeared to be a very important issue in the international affairs. When we speak about Human Terrain System we should remember that it is a United States Army. Generally speaking, this is a military intelligence program of support which employs people to work from different social disciplines of science. These are political science, linguistics, anthropology, sociology. All of these are the people who will help the commanders and the military staff to understand the local population in all of the regions where the actions are taking place (Human Terrain System 2-3). Generally speaking, counterinsurgency aims at finding the public diplomacy. The fact that military army could not communicate properly with the population caused a lot of problems and a whole diplomacy gap. And then, the military Army was influenced by the US army experiment which happened in Vietnam War. The very concept, however, and the general system was suggested by Montgomery McFate together with Andrea Jackson. They were the first who understood that it is crucial to understand the local population of natives and to be acquainted with their culture (McFate 18-21). Currently, this knowledge is taken and designed in such a way as to guide and help the commanders and the staff to address the native and to understand various cultural aspects of the population in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Generally speaking, a lot focus is dedicated to various cultural, economic, political and ethnographical aspects. The people help the military Army to gain this knowledge according to the timing when the action is to be done and they try to provide understandable and deep information to the staff to somehow omit the cultural gap (Human Terrain System 5). Generally speaking, Human Terrain goes about the cultural awareness. T. E. Lawrence defined the cultural awareness in the connection with Afghanistan, as the combination of the whole tribal structure, their religion, all of the social customs, the understanding of the language and standards (399).

When we speak about the counterinsurgency, we should remember that it is a reaction on the insurgency. The last began in Afghanistan when such groups as Taliban started serious and continuous efforts to take the control over the government. The most violent groups are the Taliban and they operate I the Southern and Eastern parts and along the boarder with Pakistan (Barno, 24). One suggestion is that these actions were done just to provoke the U.S. Army to show its ‘kill and capture’ style. However, according to Steven Metz and Raymond Millen, there were three main problems which caused the insurgency as such. The first was concerning the lack of a proper state structure and the absence of this state structure around the country. The second reason was the inability to secure the rural territories for the normal and positive economic development. And the third and the last reason was the absence of the improvements of level of live of the most people in the southern parts of the country (28). These are the actual reasons which show that the cultural awareness plays a crucial role in Afghanistan, as it is a quite traditional society. Afghanistan is generally dominated by ancient practices which are very tribal by their nature. Their culture is Islamic and these people might be quite suspicious to various outsiders and foreigners. Counterinsurgency by itself cannot defeat the insurgency, as the people who want to help have to be knowledgeable of the situation which will help them to gain a trust from the natives. Only sympathetic people will be able to receive it (Kilcullen, 224). That is why the activity which can help to find a solution which will be accepted by the Afghanistan society is not the violence and war as such. It is a tactic-level counterinsurgency. However, counterinsurgency which has to be successful might take a lot of years. Often it takes a decade or even more (Metz & Millen 7). There are a lot of supportive ideas to the counterinsurgency activity, but first and foremost, it should be mentioned that we live in the different world now. That means that the large-scale traditional was between the states id very unlikely. However, any country might suffer from various problems, among which we can name collapse of economic and social order, environmental decay, transnational organized crime, the failure of economic development and the population pressure cause the insurgency to become common and even strategically significant (Metz &Millen 1). That is why the counterinsurgency has to constantly develop. If we take the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, that counterinsurgency depends on intelligence, as its main function is to understand the environment of the operation, minding the population and the host nation and never forgetting about the insurgency. They are analyzing the main sociological and cultural factors which are important to elevate people. These are first of all the very society and the social structure, then goes the culture and the language and the last points are the power and authority and the general interests. There are also several operations which play a highly crucial role for the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance operations. First of all it is a focus on the local population, seconds goes the collection which occurs at all of the echelons. The third point focus on the localization of the insurgencies. The fourth goes about the insurgent usage of the complex terrain as such (3-24). To analyze all of the advantages and disadvantages f such operation as counterinsurgency, we should look on this process from the viewpoint of historical principle. With two cases which are Dhofar ad Malaya, the counterinsurgency showed the brilliant result and the cases were ended with a definite counterinsurgent victory. However, the third case which was a Vietnam War, it defeated. The obvious plus there was the fact that they actually developed the special tactics and strategies which included the cultural awareness to neutralize the insurgent operations. Lyyn A. is one of the supporters of the counterinsurgency. However, he understands that there is a lot of criticism of this program. He believes that these operations are in the future of the World. He insists that such principles as state building and counterinsurgency are the main issues for the U.S. Armed Forces. It happened so because the military conflicts now are of different nature and this should be taken into account (22) counterinsurgency works the best as it identifies an enemy and concentrates only on him. Their aim is to pursue, catch or even kill only the enemies and to do everything possible not to hurt a neutral population (Lynn 24). Generally speaking, for the counterinsurgency to gain success, the most of the native population have to understand that insurgents are the outlaws. They have to become the source of the insecurity and people should stop trusting them. Only after that insurgents will appear in the situation when they will lack money, food, and people for recruits. That will be the moment when they will change for the noble onto ignoble (Lynn, 27). However, this tactics receives a lot of criticism. There are a least six reasons why counterinsurgencies lose showing their mistakes. James Cahill provides the world with all six reasons. First of all counterinsurgencies are not able to recognize the insurgency at the beginning of the war and as the result they fail to understand and recognize the political strategy of insurgents. Usually insurgencies use some indirect tactics and they attach the support for the population. The third mistake is the over-reliance on the offensive and sometimes aggressive and violent military force. And this is an awful failure as insurgents are hidden within the civilian population. And even despite the fact that insurgents are generally weaker, counterinsurgents will los any support. Sometimes the mistake of counterinsurgents lays in the sacrifice of legitimacy. As insurgents often use manipulation, or intimidation and terrorism, the only thing required for the victory is the legitimacy and it should be protected in all circumstances. They also fail because of unilateralism. They should not forget about the importance of training and mobilization of the citizens in the securing apparatus. And the last mistake is the failure to isolate the population and the insurgents. Generally speaking, it is very hard to identify the insurgent from the usual person because they are not identifiable until the population supports them (1-4). Counterinsurgency might have gained a lot of followers among different people, despite the fact that the dissatisfaction increases inside within the military troops.  Generally speaking, counterinsurgency is a topic for a critical discussion for such people as Andrew Bacevich, Col. Gian Gentile and George Will. They actually showed various weak points and contradictions of this activity. It generally weakens the ability of the nation to conduct different traditional wars. Tim Hsia points out that Mr. Will was one of those people who said in 2009 that it is about time for military troops to leave Afghanistan. That fact actually showed that counterinsurgency was an impossible mission. The thing which seemed to be non-understandable was the very strategy, as it sounded like ‘clear, hold and build’. However, it will never be possible to make the territory clear. The Taliban forces will always be able to hide or to stop their activity and then return again knowing when the American troops are in too small quantity to hold gains. Sometimes the counterinsurgency is referred to as a thing which takes one step forward and requires at least two steps backwards. That is because of various contradictions. The counterinsurgency insists that the military is not the destroyer but also a creator. That means that they should not only destroy the enemy as such but also build the democratic institutions and provide the essential services required by the natives. However, the theory does not always meet the practice and the reality. Another point which is discussed is the trainings. The military is usually trained on various conventional missions and they include platoon level missions, different traffic control points or even logistical resupplies. But it is still difficult to understand how to train the counterinsurgency missioners. And that is one of the contradictions. How can someone train a soldier in such a way that he would like to win the heart of the local? Or how can a person without any special knowledge earn how to rebuild the nation? Sometimes it is just impossible, because some of the military forces will actually pay less attention to military skill being focused with the first aid or marksmanship. Professor Bacevich actually attacks mission from the viewpoint of strategies and moral vantage. He believes that this primarily military policy cannot change or alter the history or culture of the other nation so easily, that is why it is too naïve to believe in the success of such actions. The only conclusion which was made by the professor goes about the fact that counterinsurgency led the military to a boom, however, now it is leading the same military system to bust (Hsia). That is actually why they have to use Human Terrain. However, the very concept of social sciences becoming a support for the military actions received a lot of critics. First of all it was criticized because people had to sacrifice social science ethics to support the commanders. It also highlights the need to update and as a matter of fact to expand the rigor places for Human Terrain System all of the time concerning the employees, when we a re talking bout the ethics (Human terrain System 19). According to Ken Hanly, there are various serious problems and these include the sexual harassment, racism and payroll padding.  That actually sounds weird, because the programs is supposed to help to understand the local population and on the other hand, the very mediators in the process are absolutely neglected. According to the words of John Allison, the program of this system is far from being the reality. The proponents of the Human Terrain System are claiming that during the work they are supposed to deal with the ethnographic fieldwork and with education of military troops what will actually reduce the aggressive interactions between the troops and the occupied population. It is already known thanks to the detailed report which was written by the American Anthropological Association Commission that Human Terrain System is an ethical and as a matter of fact practical failure. It definitely had really poor safeguards. A lot of professional in the process of working understand that most of their educational gains and researches will be hardly or even never used in the military war. The worst is the fact that the status of Human Terrain System is still unidentified. The program is actually a Project. And the people involved in the sphere are trying to get the status of the ‘Program’, but the problem is with the budget line. Actually, the command is highly dominated by the military culture. And Human Terrain System is used to help collecting the intelligence which is useful in the support of kinetic missions. The fact goes also about the huge distance between the directorate of Human Terrain System and the trainees. Scientists there have no influence and most of the time they are resigning (Price). A lot of the truth and facts are shown in the film which is named ‘Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic’. This is a documentary movie which was directed by James Der Derain. The movie shows and analyses the history of the Human Terrain System Project. Generally speaking, the movie has two main story. The first one goes about the facts of director’s arrival to the training base of Human Terrain System where he had a possibility to take the interviews in the staff who worked there. And the second line tells the story of Michael Bhatia and explains his reasons of joining to the Project. The movie actually shows the critical information provided by Roberto J. Gonzalez and Hugh Gusterson who are one of the severe critics of the programs and the reasons provided by them are really strong. However, the film also shows the interviews with the most important figures who worked in the sphere and these are Montgomery McFate who used to be a Senior Social Scientist. The other important figure is Steve Fondacaro who used to be a director of human terrain System. It is very important that after the death of Bhatia, his mother allows to use all of his photographs, journals, various filed notes, audio files to show the story of the Human Terrain System from the inside. Michael Bhatia was the first U.S. civilian who was killed in Afghanistan. The film shows that there are definitely some virtual realities which are planed to be done, however, the reality is different and it shows that the objective is too high and too sophisticated, as a matter of fact it is too expensive, it is practically impossible to help young warriors to understand that they should apply the aims on Human Terrain in their life instead of just killing everyone as they were taught. Generally speaking, the most striking part is the part which shows the life of Michel Bhatia who was definitely grappled by a number of ethical dilemmas concerning the military actions. The most important fact is that the movie does not provide the readymade conclusions or answers to complex ethical and political issues and questions. The movie just provides information for a wide audience and gives the opportunity to make up their minds on their own. After all of the information provided it becomes obvious that the students and professors should be recruited only if they have their own desire to do this and the understanding of the risks.

We live in the world of various threats and demands and it means that we should the way of our thinking. It should go beyond the conventional military actions which were sufficient and helpful tears ago. Now it becomes important too understand the nature of the war which will help to win the war as a tactical battle then we would not have to lead the strategic fight. It is obvious that now it is important to fight against the global extremism and against the ideology of hate and destructions. From the information which is provided in the research paper, it is obvious that counterinsurgency might become successful if all of the efforts are taken to solve the six problems which they constantly face and because of which they lose. They have to pay a lot of attention to cultural awareness and to the general program of Human Terrain System which is generally speaking a great innovation that helps to understand the Afghanistan culture and language. However, a lot differs from the written doctrine and the military structure together with philosophy needs serious strategic-level improvements. Some scientists believe that thanks to counterinsurgency which requires local together with bottom-up culturally aware concentration and the understanding of the Afghanistan culture has already helped to prevent the country of becoming such a cruel and aggressive state again. Generally speaking, it is important now to understand that nowadays the most crucial factors are the trust and confidence of native and not the fought of the armies on various battlefields. However the introduction of the Human Terrain System should not be overstresses as the people who are involved in the counterinsurgency need to gain the comprehensive clearance and understanding of the state and the nation together with the understanding why the population might support the Taliban and the very insurgency. Only because on that U.S. Army had to start the Human Terrains System teaching of the soldiers to forget about the military actions only and to remember about the respect. However, we also should remember about problems concerning HTS and the differences in the Project and the reality. The work there is considered to be quite dangerous and reckless and even unethical for social scientists including the scientists in International Relations. Generally speaking, the importance of international relations became obvious after the events of the 11th of September 2001 as they can explain the current international system and the reason together with mechanisms of it being evolved into the current Century. These scientists might also be important because of their knowledge concerning the ethnical conflicts and the role of nation-state. The information is very important for the cultural awareness as such, however the work in the sphere should be secure and without ethnical dilemmas and such high risks. 

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