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Thread: Blending into the mindset of the Human Terrain

  1. #41
    Council Member jenniferro10's Avatar
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    Default While trying to avoid this thread's obligatory headache...

    ...it became painfully clear that all of us really are talking about the same thing with different words (as people much smarter than me have already pointed out). So, I'll offer this, in plain English:

    1. Our terminology changes as our understanding of a problem becomes more refined. A great example is Jennifer Chandler's discussion of our military's fractured, incomplete definition and understanding of what culture is. This thesis was written in 2005. I think we can all point out several examples of the changing terminology (for the better and for the worse) since then. What's the problem with that? IMHO, evolution is a good thing. Change for change's sake is not.

    2. Other than terminology/semantics, we've discussed the future of war and the possible role of our military in it. So far we have not discussed the corrolary implicit in the points of every person that's replied so far (at least, the ones that weren't pickin on people): how do we capture cultural information from the soldiers' experience, make it useful (operational) for the immediate future and in the decisionmaking going on way above that guy's head and for parallel operations of other branches and teams, and also feed it back into the training system?

  2. #42
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Smile Clarity indeed

    Jenniferro10,

    Welcome to the SWC and an impressive first post too! Just had a quick look at the linked document, in particular the templates advocated. They appear to be what some police officers inherently acquire with time, plus now appear regularly in training material and what in the UK are called 'Community Impact Assessments'.

    Perhaps some US "brothers in blue" will recognise the similarities?

    I acknowledge there is a big difference between police based in the area and the arrival of the foriegn military in an operational area.

    davidbfpo

  3. #43
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coined View Post
    I do not want to (re)train troops for stabilization ops.
    I suggest to train troops in a broader context as I have written a few times before. I you read the last part of my contribution you will note that.
    My mis statement, I did understand that, but I also thought you were advocating significantly more training in that broader context than is now the case. As others said; that context -- not fully as you have stated but nearly so -- is now being used by most NATO nations. The US is certainly doing so...

    Thus my slip to 'more.'
    “If you only do what you know you can do- you never do very much.”
    That sort of quote is cute but of little significance and distracts from your posts (as do some of my attempts at humor distract from mine). In that particular case, as stated, most NATO Armies and the US in particular are already doing what you suggest -- so how does that quote apply?
    “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
    Comment above applies. No one has said you were wrong in your focus, only that much of it in application is being done -- or not done for good reasons (Though you may not agree the reasons are good and that's understandable and acceptable to all).

    Since most western, certainly most NATO Armies and the US are using variations of what you say you want, no one is telling you that you are wrong with respect to the training issue. Everyone has agreed that some form of your suggestions is desirable. Thus we have another quote that does not apply.

    So much for training on which we seem to agree -- except that you say you wish it done and I say it IS being done -- and my understanding of your proposals. Could I draw your attention to my two other possibly constructive points above:

    - Regardless of degree of training, military forces do not do a good job in stability operations and their use should be avoided.

    - Problematic nations should first be assisted to the maximum possible extent by civilian efforts. I'll add to that should the security situation be dire or deteriorate, then military force can be used as necessary -- but the direction of effort and the primary stabilization work should all be civilian. Soldiers do not and will not make good nation builders...
    Last edited by Ken White; 05-01-2009 at 12:39 AM. Reason: Typo

  4. #44
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    Default If you say so ...

    from jen..10
    2. Other than terminology/semantics, we've discussed the future of war and the possible role of our military in it. So far we have not discussed the corrolary implicit in the points of every person that's replied so far (at least, the ones that weren't pickin on people): how do we capture cultural information from the soldiers' experience, make it useful (operational) for the immediate future and in the decisionmaking going on way above that guy's head and for parallel operations of other branches and teams, and also feed it back into the training system?
    this is what is being discussed - although to this perhaps dim-witted legal type, it cannot be gleaned by him from the OP etc. It can be gleaned by him from MAJ Chandler's article.

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    Default So, it is written ...

    from Ken
    - Regardless of degree of training, military forces do not do a good job in stability operations and their use should be avoided.

    - Problematic nations should first be assisted to the maximum possible extent by civilian efforts. I'll add to that should the security situation be dire or deteriorate, then military force can be used as necessary -- but the direction of effort and the primary stabilization work should all be civilian. Soldiers do not and will not make good nation builders...
    and so it be.

    Not surprising when we consider the first of Dobbins' priorities (link in my post on p.2 of thread):

    Security: peacekeeping, law enforcement, rule of law, and security sector reform
    of which only "peacekeeping" is a military function (peace enforcement in a forced entry situation requires much more military input - Dobbins gives 10x as something of a norm). The remaining security functions are primarily "blue coat" and "black robe" things - although a gendarmerie-type force well might be required in a rougher environment. In any event, they are aspects of criminal law enforcement within a criminal justice system.

    Dobbins' remaining five priorities are neither military nor criminal justice functions: Humanitarian relief; Governance; Economic stabilization; Democratization; and Development. In legal terms, these are all civil law sectors in a normally functioning nation - e.g., in the US and UK, civil law matters dwarf criminal law matters.

    This is not to say that soldiers should be oblivious to these civilian considerations. They may well become involved in situations (e.g., in Vietnam, as Ken has pointed out in the past) where one district has HIC, another district virtually no conflict, and a third has LIC - with not many klicks separating the districts.

    Another consideration (US) is that the normal legal structure established by Congress (having to do with appropriations and turf protection) gives the civilian component primacy. When in a stability operation the military is ordered to step in having primacy in fact, the result is kludgey.

    My perception - very much civilian-driven.

  6. #46
    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Military Language

    Quote Originally Posted by jenniferro10 View Post
    ...it became painfully clear that all of us really are talking about the same thing with different words (as people much smarter than me have already pointed out). So, I'll offer this, in plain English:

    1. Our terminology changes as our understanding of a problem becomes more refined. A great example is Jennifer Chandler's discussion of our military's fractured, incomplete definition and understanding of what culture is. This thesis was written in 2005. I think we can all point out several examples of the changing terminology (for the better and for the worse) since then. What's the problem with that? IMHO, evolution is a good thing. Change for change's sake is not.

    2. Other than terminology/semantics, we've discussed the future of war and the possible role of our military in it. So far we have not discussed the corrolary implicit in the points of every person that's replied so far (at least, the ones that weren't pickin on people): how do we capture cultural information from the soldiers' experience, make it useful (operational) for the immediate future and in the decisionmaking going on way above that guy's head and for parallel operations of other branches and teams, and also feed it back into the training system?

    The reason the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines bicker amongst themselves is that they don't speak the same language. For instance, Take the simple phrase "secure the building".

    The Army will post guards around the place.

    The Navy will turn out the lights and lock the doors.

    The Marines will kill everybody inside and set up a headquarters.

    The Air Force will take out a 5 year lease with an option to buy.

    v/r

    Mike

  7. #47
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default UK training site

    As if on cue, a UK MoD "spin" story on a new training facility in the Uk for Afghaanistan: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/news...n-Norfolk.html

    davidbfpo

  8. #48
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jenniferro10 View Post
    .

    2. Other than terminology/semantics, we've discussed the future of war and the possible role of our military in it.
    I submit we have not discussed this. THIS IS the problem. We have a significant community who wish to paint a picture of future conflict that fits their desire to innovate and complicate. Central to this is their to change the military to fit their image of the future.

    If armies did not do something in the past, it is extremely unlikely we need to do it today or even in the future.

    how do we capture cultural information from the soldiers' experience, make it useful (operational) for the immediate future and in the decisionmaking going on way above that guy's head and for parallel operations of other branches and teams, and also feed it back into the training system?
    If this means simple and effective education, I agree. You can teach any English speaking army how to interact with the Bedouin, in 1 day! That is, how not to unintentionally offend them. In 99% of cases, nothing more is needed.

    Capturing operational lessons from conflict is pretty simple and their are at least 2 good examples of best practice, with a proven track record, so their is no need for anyone to invent anything new.
    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

  9. #49
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default What he said

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    ...In 99% of cases, nothing more is needed.

    Capturing operational lessons from conflict is pretty simple and their are at least 2 good examples of best practice, with a proven track record, so their is no need for anyone to invent anything new.
    With an American cynical caveat to an optimistic British figure -- I'd say 90%. There will always be 10% who can muck up anything...

  10. #50
    Council Member jenniferro10's Avatar
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    Default still unaddressed...

    ...for all the "success stories" that you guys are pointing out, there seem to be many more failures. As I come accross them in the interviews I'm doing lately, I've noticed a pattern in the "Monday AM quarterback" discussion of why things happened the way they did: someone, somewhere, did not relate or document what they had learned.

    There's a certain amount of that that's human and understandable. And, there are some people, it seems, that are making it a personal crusade to systematically collect and distribute cultural information that they are learning "in the field". But between contracted training classes ("owned" by their creators), and the scattered authority for creating and evaluating the cultural training US soldiers get, then I think it's to be expected that there's no real institutionalized method to avoid problems like the one I heard the other day: about 25 soldiers received language training specific to a particular region that, when they got there, was useless because all of the local people spoke a very dissimilar dialect. Not one person ever asked these guys: Hey, was your training useful? No? Why? What do they speak there, if not what we thought?

    I became interested in this topic out of curiosity, and have been literally deluged by responses from enlisted folks. Anthropologists, history professors, and adult ed professionals are delivering cultural training to US troops, many of whom could probably teach the class themselves for 5% of the money in 10% of the time. People ask them about the functioning of their weapons, in order to improve the weapon or training to use it, but there's no similar system (outside of some informal loops, or "on paper" processes that aren't executed) to do the same for cultural training.

    I remain open to discussing directly with interested parties...
    Maimonides: "Consider this, those of you who are engaged in investigation, if you choose to seek truth. Cast aside passion, accepted thought, and the inclination toward what you used to esteem, and you shall not be lead into error."

  11. #51
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Perhaps I missed them but I didn't note any success stories

    Quote Originally Posted by jenniferro10 View Post
    ...for all the "success stories" that you guys are pointing out, there seem to be many more failures.
    on this thread. If you're referring to comments on other threads, I'm sure there are some success stories -- and I'm equally sure there are far more failures.

    That's mostly due to priority of effort followed by the size of the Armed Forces and a lot of bureaucratic impediments. It's also due to this phenomenon:
    "...People ask them about the functioning of their weapons, in order to improve the weapon or training to use it, but there's no similar system (outside of some informal loops, or "on paper" processes that aren't executed) to do the same for cultural training."
    Rightly or wrongly -- and I'm making no excuse, just telling you what 'is' -- the weapon is seen as important, the cultural training is seen as as nice to have by most (not all) at all ranks. 'Important' beats 'nice to have.' That also means there's no good answer to your original question re: how do we capture cultural information from the soldiers' experience, make it useful... and also feed it back into the training system. The issue isn't seen as important enough to make a full scale press on it -- which is what your query would entail. The system is too big and too broadly focused (which culture is important next year? In 2015? 2025?)
    "...then I think it's to be expected that there's no real institutionalized method to avoid problems like the one I heard the other day: about 25 soldiers received language training specific to a particular region that, when they got there, was useless because all of the local people spoke a very dissimilar dialect. Not one person ever asked these guys: Hey, was your training useful? No? Why? What do they speak there, if not what we thought?
    Bad, wrong -- but stuff like that happens frequently; not only with language or cultural training but with other even more important and more expensive training. A unit is destined to do something somewhere and before they arrive, events occur that mean a unit is needed elsewhere for a different mission. The planners have to weigh priorities and assign someone to the most important mission regardless of training. That again is not an excuse, just a reason. It shouldn't happen; we could certainly do better but it's a chaotic system, not a smooth machine and, again, the priority goes to life and death stuff, not aids to performance.

    I'm old and long retired, so I can't talk about now with any facility, I can only tell you, based on experience, the 'why' of some things and wish you luck in your quest:
    I remain open to discussing directly with interested parties...

  12. #52
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default

    Hi Jennifer,

    Quote Originally Posted by jenniferro10 View Post
    I remain open to discussing directly with interested parties...
    I'm pretty sure that Ken has nailed the main reason - institutional (read "organizational cultural") bias / history. Evaluations such as what you are talking about are, strangely enough, rather tricky to do. It's pretty easy to ask "Did the gun fire" six months later after a mission. It's much harder to evaluate cultural training six months later.

    Now, having said that, it is pretty easy to evaluate the spectacular failures of cultural training, such as the one you mentioned. But how about successes? With languages, some evaluation is possible or, rather, testing for language competencies is possible. That does not necessarily mean that the language can be used in the field (check out TOEFL scores vs the actual ability to network in a f2f setting).

    "Cultural training" is even worse. All too often, it is 1-3 hours sandwiched in during the "real" stuff. Even if the students want more, they often don't have the time for more. All too often, the courses are canned - designed by a committee, delivered by anyone and, as the Bard opined, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". In the rare cases where you have a top notch instructor who knows the material well and is great at it (Paula Holmes-Eber comes to mind, but I know of others), you still have that institutional time limit.

    Should there be a feedback loop to help improve the training? Yup, there should. The problem, of course, is that that type of training is often not evaluable by the students until after they have gone in the field, so such an evaluation often breaks down into a popularity contest in the infotainment field.

    BTW, I'm not trying to be egregiously negative here . I'm just pointing out that there are some problems inherent in the evaluation process when you take subject matter that should be taught as education, not training, and attempt to apply evaluation criteria that were designed for training.

    Cheers,

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    The issue isn't seen as important enough to make a full scale press on it -- which is what your query would entail. The system is too big and too broadly focused (which culture is important next year? In 2015? 2025?)
    Right on the money. Training should and education should focus on widely applicable fundamentals, to lay the bedrock for things that are deployment or mission specific. - and BTW in 1992 the British Army's Intelligence Corps deployed a recently qualified and fluent Mandarin speaker to Northern Ireland, not Hong Kong - because his "other" skills set was needed their. You can't tell the future.

    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    BTW, I'm not trying to be egregiously negative here . I'm just pointing out that there are some problems inherent in the evaluation process when you take subject matter that should be taught as education, not training, and attempt to apply evaluation criteria that were designed for training.
    I concur, but the formula to avoid the pitfall is that education has to be kept simple, relevant, and be delivered by someone the military community can trust, in language they can understand.

    ...and that means not using silly words and phrases, like "human terrain."
    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 Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Question Although I'm pretty sure I know exactly where your coming from

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post

    ...and that means not using silly words and phrases, like "human terrain."
    Could you remind me again : Is it guns that kill or Humans with guns
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Uh. Er. Humans with guns. Or rocks. Sticks. Knives...

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Humphrey View Post
    Could you remind me again : Is it guns that kill or Humans with guns
    and other items including occasionally even bare hands while ON terrain -- or flying above it or sailing on or under the sea that is overlaying some of it???

    I think he means that anyone who tries to navigate the human 'terrain' will find out humans are not terrain -- and thus they are not truly mappable. Thus to try to equate people and the ground is to delude one self that a cursory recon will allow a great route to be chosen...

    Or he could just mean it's not a well grounded idea for a term. I can dig that.

  16. #56
    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Question As usual perfectly capable of disabusing one

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    and other items including occasionally even bare hands while ON terrain -- or flying above it or sailing on or under the sea that is overlaying some of it???

    I think he means that anyone who tries to navigate the human 'terrain' will find out humans are not terrain -- and thus they are not truly mappable. Thus to try to equate people and the ground is to delude one self that a cursory recon will allow a great route to be chosen...

    Or he could just mean it's not a well grounded idea for a term. I can dig that.
    Of such silly notions as attributing supposed knowledge of the human condition as being on par with awareness of the balance of power in the weapons and physical terrain.

    One aspect of confusion on my part though. Perhaps the reason it is held as important to actually delineate human terrain(awareness of that an environmental factor worth consideration) is that so often we seem to forget this part-

    and other items including occasionally even bare hands
    In other words just because I know where the weapons caches, airfields, command and control facilities, ports, etc are doesn't mean that I might not need to be aware of how I talk or interact with "X" human. Or that ignoring that may not cost me a whole lot more than I want to pay.

    Would it be too much to suggest that a lot of this emphasis has to do with the fact that in stability ops have a whole lot more in common with police and detention than they do with HIC ops?

    Thus the necessity for such analytic practices as Human Terrain awareness.
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Default

    Thus the necessity for such analytic practices as Human Terrain awareness.
    Human Terrain is a meaningless phrase, or should be. There is terrain and their is the population. They are very different things. The population has social, political and religious beliefs - call it.. er culture?

    If you are a military organisation your gain information as part of your inherent functions. It's what you do. Therefore, in security operations, and/or combat, you gain information about the population. That is an enduring, normal and historic practice. Good Armies did it long before we had "Human Terrain Teams." It was called "gaining relevant information.." - or err.... intelligence.

    If we can't use a coherent professional language, free from silly jargon and buzz words, we'll start calling rifles "Bang Bang sticks."
    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 slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Humphrey View Post
    Would it be too much to suggest that a lot of this emphasis has to do with the fact that in stability ops have a whole lot more in common with police and detention than they do with HIC ops?

    Thus the necessity for such analytic practices as Human Terrain awareness.
    Ron,It is police work 101 but we sure never called it Human Terrain Awareness(I thought that was girl watching)

    You don't need 14 college degrees either. I know some double clutchin detectives that could run most intell ops with 3x5 cards and I don't think there is a college degree between the whole bunch of them. But if you ended up on there to do list....they would map your terrain alright

  19. #59
    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Post All true

    In relation to both silly jargon and police 101.

    To the first though it may be silly to the soldier how silly is it to those external actors involved both on the diplomatic and social areas of your operations?

    On the second consisdering I still haven't managed to complete even the requisit BA I'm with ya 100% there.

    However that said sometimes that particular radar is easily misdirected by emotional appeals to immediate perceptions and whole lot of time could be saved if the right questions were asked.

    Finding what those are involves a little more than instinct.
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

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    Default Feedback/Cultural Info---The gap

    Jennifer:

    I love the discussion on language, cultural training, feedback loops, and institutional retention/use of information.

    Wonder why, in 2009, SIGIR called Iraq's 6-year long reconstruction effort a $141 Billion Fiasco, and Secretary Clinton, after touring Afghanistan, declared our effort there to be "heartbreaking?"

    Your comments really start to cut to the heart of our reconstruction/stabilization efforts, with three additional caveats.

    1. Institutionalization of knowledge/learning in an environment of constant rotations. How much is learned? By whom? In what fields (cultural, economic, social systems and structures)? How is it retained/passed on/acted upon?

    Arriving in Iraq in December 2007 as a senior reconstruction planner for DoS (PRT), I was amazed at how little was known in so many civilian spheres.

    When approached about dropping off a batch of portable generators to a village without power, I asked, in the fifth year of Iraq, how many years in a row were these things dropped off? No one knew anything beyond their rotation date. I asked why these things might not be working (lack of fuel, theft, lack of parts/arabic-language repair & maintenance manuals). No one knew. I asked whether there was someone in the village who had the ability and resources to actually sustain the generator's on-going operation. No one knew.

    The real answer was that we had been dropping off portable generators every year, but they required fuel, parts, and careful maintenance (dust, 130 degrees, etc...). No one in the village had the where-with-all to sustain the generators, so they ended up as an expensive paperweight which was later sold for whatever could be gotten.

    The big problem was agriculture---a lack of agricultural infrastructure support, and a pervasive drought. For decades before the US came along, Iraqi farm folks had been deserting the farms in what historian Pheobe Marr called "the ruralization" of Iraq's cities. Every failure to restart/support agriculture only built more pressure and instability in Baghdad, Mosul, etc... as farmers abandoned the farms for the cities. But we had no systematic responses or elevated focus on the need for agriculture, and, as of early 2008, the US did not know about poultry feed systems, or the scope of aquaculture. Clueless...

    In 2008, we were just learning these things?

    2. Collection/action on useful civilian knowledge. In Iraq in 2008, once the action shifted from war-fighting to economic restart, no entity (DoD, NGA or DoS) had the systematic information to support a sustainable civilian reconstruction program. Great imagery, and physical mapping, but there was no composite source for information on what people did there before, what assets were (or had been) available to support public services, industries, agriculture and value chains, what transportation linkages were essential to reopening the economy.

    Our system was devoid of any useful information upon which to develop a cohesive reconstruction strategy, so health clinics and school buildings were fired off like grenades, hoping the smoke would protect the soldiers under some brigade or battalion commander's care, but with little understanding of how they would, or would not, fit into a sustainable Iraqi system of public health or education.

    Having said that, once I began to seek it out, there was no end of wise CA officers who, at the end of their tours, would look me up to give me reams of data, site assessments and photos of critical economic and infrastructure assets. They always said, "I thought somebody might use this sometime."

    Then, terrain folks, working with CA and engineering, began to assemble enough pieces to develop systematic maps and analysis, and local government contacts began to bring critical info to the table. Pretty soon, we were able to identify important gaps, and develop strategies to tackle the big and small picture problems, usually in conjunction with provincial and national service ministry representatives. (But this is 2008, not 2003!?!)

    By early 2008, we had a functional economic map of Northern Iraq, including all the key economic and infrastructure assets needed for fast, effective reconstruction, and a basis for understanding critical economic linkages and transportation systems. From that, we were able to target civilian "systems" and get beyond the test project phase.

    But, against a US reconstruction program hell-bent on accountability for delivery of US-funded schools, health clinics, refrigerated bongo trucks, etc., there was no way to integrate any of this into the Washington-based program structure. Some of us knew it in the field, and understood why the US programs were missing the mark, but there was no format to take the information higher.

    Then, my tour ended and that of the folks I was working with. Like the departing CA folks, there was no one to give the info to, no out-briefing, and no lessons learned, so the info just sits in my head and on my hard drive in the States.

    I can only hope the new folks picked up where I left off. (Six years in Iraq, one year at a time.)

    2. Organizational awareness.

    In Iraq, there was a complex governmental structure, born of post-Ottoman (and french-like) bureaus, accented by soviet-style central planning, and decades of half-imposed bureaucratic reform initiatives (including the US efforts).

    Still, the revenge of geography dictated that Iraq, a large clay desert served by two rivers slicing through a central plain, with the key population centers arranged down the plain, was best managed by regional systems (public or private) of water, waste water, agriculture, etc..., and had been for centuries.
    Dates from Khanaqin and Balad needed to be processed in Baqubbah, and the big cities were the key markets for all the grain, citrus, and livestock products. Feedstock came from outside, and had to be transported, stored, blended and distributed across Iraq. Fertilizer had to be trucked. Water used upstream didn't travel downstream. Etc..

    After 2003, national ministries were to be avoided, and provincial government was to be created in isolation, even if from scratch. But the operational logic of locally-based effective governance was highly questionable in a country with such substantial inter-regional dependencies.

    Soldiers on the ground often saw an impoverished and minimally-literate local folk struggling to get water, power, and food. The reality was that these folks had been optimized for the system they were in before. The only fast strategy was to re-institute what they had before, or spend the years and billions it would take to bring forth a new system---while everything sat dark, thirsty and waiting. But few US folks understood what the old system was, let alone how to activate it.

    When I began meeting with national service ministry-types in Iraq, I found out that they were proud of having rebuild the country after the Iran/Iraq War, and having carried aging public service and infrastructure systems along through a decade of parts embargoes and strife. They were the key to addressing regional systems, not the provinces.

    As with the economic system analysis above, Iraq's regions were highly inter-dependent for trade, agricultural support/processing, and much of it was under the national service ministries' control. But, apparently, they were the "bad guys." So, the ministry engineers, lacking security, transport, and direction, often stayed in Baghdad while regional systems continued to fail.

    The Iraqis could basically fix their own systems, but weren't going to defy the US to do it.

    In 2008, MG Mark Hertling began to break the provincial/ministerial gridlock by routinely bringing national ministry officials up north to address problems (drought, transportation, electricity, agriculture, etc...), and cajoled, pressured, and supported their efforts. In March 2009, he was quoted as citing effective national ministerial engagements as an important part of stability in the north. But that was no small feat on his part, and building national ministerial engagement ran against US province-by-province reconstruction policy.

    Somewhere in my mind is the vision, borne of Iraq's efforts, of a Washington-based program to make sure every Afghan has a refrigerated bongo truck, whether they need it or not, and a whole lot of them on the black market in Kabul to bring much-needed relief to residents of the rapidly urbanizing slums.

    It would be nice if I was wrong.

    Steve

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