Cultural Understanding in Counterinsurgency: Analysis of the Human Terrain System   [open pdf - 277KB]

"In the years following the invasion of Iraq, the United States military did not fully realize or understand the complexity of the situation faced by soldiers operating at the tactical and operational level. Coupled with the presence of multiple insurgent networks throughout the country, sectarian violence along ethnic and religious divides resulted in an escalation of violence. This violence forced a realization that the conflict had entered a new phase, and the military looked to classic examples of counterinsurgency (COIN). Consequently, theater strategy and doctrine development began to focus on identifying the population as the center of gravity (COG) of the COIN effort. Along with this new strategy came the requirement for a deep understanding of the Iraqi culture and the ability to conduct research and learn about the cultural aspects of the Iraqi society. This capability was found to be missing in U.S. combat formations. To address this deficiency, the Human Terrain System (HTS) was created in 2006 as a means for units to better understand and leverage culture at the operational and tactical level. Since the initiation of the program, the HTS has deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) to Iraq and Afghanistan to integrate with brigades and augment existing staff structures with social science expertise. Initial reports from the field indicate the program to be largely successful. Despite reported success, the program has been the subject of much controversy, and questions remain as to whether it is the right solution for integrating cultural understanding into counterinsurgency operations. This monograph finds that although the HTS adequately fills the intended requirement by providing social science expertise down to the tactical level, it is also necessary to increase the cultural competence of the entire force."

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