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Thread: Lost in Translation

  1. #1
    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Default Lost in Translation

    A revealing video:

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=fdb_1213651866&p=1

    Though one wonders, even if a fully accurate translation had occurred, what exactly might have occurred. It's clear that we don't have the strength to hold border crossings from Pakistan. The Soviets couldn't do it with 3x the number of troops we have in the country now.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Classic

    What an illustration of the problems for fighting in Afghanistan, superb.

    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Most revealing thing about it is that may not be

    the sloppiest patrol I've ever seen but it was in the top five. Sorry to see the Herd has gotten that careless. Sad...

    Still, at least they didn't go into rank overkill and send a Field Grade...

    The interpreter is about par for the course and that's why all NCOs should at least learn some basic phrases; no real excuse not to do that. You're correct in that even an accurate translation would have made little or no difference in the situation stated.

    We wouldn't have the ability to seal the Afghan border with Pakistan if we had a million troops there; to even talk of it as if it were a good idea is IMO not thinking clearly.

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    Default An accurate translation

    would have, at the very least, told the patrol the story of the ants the village elder told. Clearly, the ants were a metaphor for the Taliban. That communication could have begun a dialog between the elders and the soldiers that over time might well have led to first, protecting the people of the village, second, their cooperation with the Americans and the Afghan government, and third, some really good intel on Taliban movement, and possibly a village self defense unit. Not just translation but culture and the need for the US troops to see the world around them through the village elder's eyes.That kind of empathy leads to understanding the nature of the problem which is the first step in attempting to resolve it.

    Sad

    JohnT

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    In a perfect world, John, but it doesn't appear that we have enough troops to really provide the security that the villagers need. Without that prerequisite, no trust. Even if we could plant an outpost to give them overwatch, it would simply attract attacks from across the border and endanger the villagers further. The safe havens across the border are the nut that that must be cracked.

    Also, let's be honest, the NCO didn't really appear to comprehend why the villagers weren't attacking the Taliban themselves - encouraged by his terp. He didn't look like he was much in the mood for metaphors about insects, rather he wanted the elder to risk his village to shoot some Taliban in the face.

    He might have been better off asking himself why he wanted the villagers to risk their lives to protect his FOB from Taliban rocket attacks. Indeed, a better question might be what the purpose of the FOB and its soldiers is, if not to protect the villagers from the Taliban?
    Last edited by tequila; 10-25-2008 at 01:30 AM.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Is that what he wanted?

    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    He might have been better off asking himself why he wanted the villagers to risk their lives to protect his FOB from Taliban rocket attacks. Indeed, a better question might be what the purpose of the FOB and its soldiers is, if not to protect the villagers from the Taliban?
    Or would he just like those villagers and most in Afghanistan to run the Taliban off so there's no need for the FOB (which could be where it is for many reasons, none having much to do with protecting the village)...

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Or would he just like those villagers and most in Afghanistan to run the Taliban off so there's no need for the FOB (which could be where it is for many reasons, none having much to do with protecting the village)...
    At which point, why should the village risk their lives against Taliban fighters who certainly outgun and probably outnumber them, for ... what, exactly?

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Exactly.

    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    At which point, why should the village risk their lives against Taliban fighters who certainly outgun and probably outnumber them, for ... what, exactly?
    They shouldn't -- and they probably won't unless they get some very persuasive reasons to do so. That's unlikely.

    Thus little will change. Welcome to Afghanistan.

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    Default My point exactly

    Tequila. The NCO didn't have any sense of the culture let alone the language. Hence, the obviouls metaphor went right over his head. The other point I would make here is that the US and its Western allies will never have enough troops. Rather, we will have to work with, train, advise the Afghan National Army, police and government until they can defend themselves.

    I suspect GEN Petraeus' JSAT will develop a strategy to do this.

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    Default Let's hope the JSAT's get it right...

    I would hope that GEN Patraeus doesn't take the Iraq model and expect it to fit nicely over the Afghanistan problem. My fear is a 'cookie cutter' approach will be used for a very unique problem that is Afghanistan. In speaking with Commander's on the ground in Afghanistan, they too hope the powers above them take a good look at Afghanistan and not simply take the Iraq strategy and template it over OEF. We will see...

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    My only contribution to this is the fact that I used to teach soldiers how to use translators, and what was shown broke every rule in the book, then tore up the book, and denied a book ever existed.

    Off the top of my head and thinking back 15 years...

    a.) The translators needs to be trained, and exercised, like any other military skill. It is not a "pick up game." Translators should not talk, unless they are saying something you said. They should never initiate a conversation.
    b.) Only one soldier speaks. The translator stands behind the soldier who is speaking.
    c.) The soldier controls the pace of the conversation.- politely, but forcefully. Learn to say, " Excuse me. I don't understand," to cut short rambling and allow the translator to catch up.
    d.) The exchange should be kept as simple and short as possible.
    e.) The soldier should make extensive use of "check words" - or have another soldier do the same thing.


    ...remove dark glasses!!! - and helmets if possible.

    ...don't take my word for any of this. Check this against your CoC.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    My only contribution to this is the fact that I used to teach soldiers how to use translators, and what was shown broke every rule in the book, then tore up the book, and denied a book ever existed.

    Off the top of my head and thinking back 15 years...

    a.) The translators needs to be trained, and exercised, like any other military skill. It is not a "pick up game." Translators should not talk, unless they are saying something you said. They should never initiate a conversation.
    b.) Only one soldier speaks. The translator stands behind the soldier who is speaking.
    c.) The soldier controls the pace of the conversation.- politely, but forcefully. Learn to say, " Excuse me. I don't understand," to cut short rambling and allow the translator to catch up.
    d.) The exchange should be kept as simple and short as possible.
    e.) The soldier should make extensive use of "check words" - or have another soldier do the same thing.


    ...remove dark glasses!!! - and helmets if possible.

    ...don't take my word for any of this. Check this against your CoC.
    A lot of that depends on the terps. If the terps are locals then they will have a better understanding of the local culture than I will. It may be better give them a certain amount of leeway. I have had some awesome terps who understood what it was we were after in a given exchange and they could get us there a lot better then simple mechanical translation. I have also had some that were only good for simple mechanical translation (and maybe not even that). As for controling the pace of the conversation, well that depends on who you are talking to. Arabs as a rule seem to be given to rambling. If it is just some random guy I may try to cut him short and keep him on point but if I am talking to a sheik or anyone else who thinks that he is important then it is often better to let him go rather than to offend him.

    d.) The exchange should be kept as simple and short as possible.
    That depends entirely on what the exchange is about.

    SFC W

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Uboat509 View Post
    As for controling the pace of the conversation, well that depends on who you are talking to. Arabs as a rule seem to be given to rambling. If it is just some random guy I may try to cut him short and keep him on point but if I am talking to a sheik or anyone else who thinks that he is important then it is often better to let him go rather than to offend him.
    As I said, the items I outlined were not teaching points. Merely an illustration that the poor Soldier/officer concerned, had clearly been given no guidance as to the correct use of a translator. - previously I assumed all deployed US officers had been given some training.

    The guidelines we used were strictly for gathering info at the tactical level, EG: "Seen any Serb Fighters here?" - and assumed a pretty low level of Interpreter skill, so completely inappropriate for meetings of negotiations.

    That depends entirely on what the exchange is about.

    SFC W
    Yep. Context, context and context.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Just watched it - devastating.

    Notwithstanding the translator issues, the fundamental fact that the SFC couldn't empathize with the elder's security delimma worried me. He should know by now and at his rank that the locals often can't cooperate if they are not protected from retaliation. His 'shoot 'em in the face' answer was unrealistic. In that case, the old guy's clan would all be shot in the face.
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
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    Council Member Hacksaw's Avatar
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    Default Ugh... Devastating is kind

    The exchange was certainly lacking regardless of adherence to any particular TTP. Just putting yourself in the Afghan's shoes is chilling...

    Pragmatic... As for cookie cutter solutions/strategy, I know the proof is in the pudding... However, I have had the opportunity to plan for P4 in two different capacities... Intellectually lazy (my term, but a fair description of those who utilize cookie cutter solutions) is not a term I'd apply to the man or, as importantly, the people with whom he surrounds himself. If anything, I'd characterize P4 as an enormously nuanced thinker, who sometimes lacks patience with those not keeping up intellectually (classic Myers-Briggs NT).

    I can say this with great confidence... He will arrive at his decision and implement it with absolute conviction that it is the right approach regardless of the barbs of pundits and wannabes.

    Again, I understand time will tell as to whether he/we get it right (or just not wrong), but it will not be intellectually lazy and uninspired.

    Live well and row
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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hacksaw View Post
    If anything, I'd characterize P4 as an enormously nuanced thinker, who sometimes lacks patience with those not keeping up intellectually (classic Myers-Briggs NT).
    Let's hear it for all the NT's!

    (ENTP) Full of enthusiasm good ideas, but follow through is often lacking. You know that though.
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    INTJ here....
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Does anybody know his Platoon leader???? His platoon leader should sit him down and make him watch the video....and then send him back there and do it right this time. My idea of PME.

  19. #19
    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    Does anybody know his Platoon leader???? His platoon leader should sit him down and make him watch the video....and then send him back there and do it right this time. My idea of PME.
    You know, even given this, the SFC leading the patrol is doing the best he knows how. In his defense, his unit is taking casualties and he can't find the insurgents, so he does what many poor counterinsurgents do - gets mad at the population instead. Which is part of what the insurgent wants anyway, because it generates further political support.

    It's tiring doing COIN like that, and over awhile you do callous things. 12-15 month tours are too long in that environment, IMO. Looking from here, it's egregious. Looking from A-Stan after 10-12 months, I would have argued that we're a bunch of REMF second guessers who have the comfort of criticizing from back home.

    It argues for more, and better COIN education, which TRADOC still has not mandated. (beat drum again)
    Last edited by Cavguy; 10-28-2008 at 10:35 PM.
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  20. #20
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Cavguy, I didn't say that to be mean. But if he could literally see himself it might increase his awareness of how he is coming across to people. That is why his Platoon leader or Platoon Sgt. should do it with him as training not as a punishment and then let him go fix it.
    Last edited by slapout9; 10-28-2008 at 10:39 PM. Reason: fix stuff

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