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Old 03-31-2012   #901
Ken White
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Default Great question!

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Why would the 'US military contingent' need to understand the basics of agriculture?
I've been wondering the same thing while following this thread...
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Old 03-31-2012   #902
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I've often been curious about the fixation on Afghan agriculture as well, in regards to how improving it might somehow be a cure for insurgency.

I'm no expert on the topic, but I did grow up in rural Oregon and my undergrad was in forestry so I have some appreciation about those who live close to the land and what works and what doesn't work. I also spent a bit of time flying over Helmand, Oruzgan, Kandahar and Zabul provinces; and being fascinated with the grandeur of the place, and also very interested in the study of terrain as it shapes the fight, and the study of how man works to squeeze a living out of a harsh environment; I spent much of that time staring down at the ground and thinking in those terms.

From this I earned a tremendous respect for the Taliban fighter and his ability to defy our tremendous technology through his equally tremendous hardiness, dedication and ability to become one with his surroundings. Also for the Afghan farmers, who seemed to squeeze every drop of life out of the soil and water available with their efforts.

I also spent a couple hours standing on the roof of the Arghandab District center looking out over the Arghandab valley in conversation with a USDA SME discussing his work, his observations, recommendations, etc. So, no expert, but I have some experience on this topic.

I too don't get it.

People tell me how the Afghans don't know how to maximize the agricultural potential of their land. Bull####. With the tools and resources available to them they maximize it very well. Sure, if they had massive tractors, irrigation, computers, etc they could do ma ore to be like Americans farm in Kansas, but hey, Afghanistan isn't Kansas. Who is going to sustain and maintain those capabilities? To provide such a capacity would be as silly as building a massive Western-style Army that they cannot afford to sustain and that is inappropriate to the security concerns of the region...

Second, where in the history of conflict between those who are governed, and those who govern them (insurgency), has it been a function of said populace not knowing how to farm their land?? Not owning the land they farm? Definitely. That is a classic grievance for insurgency, one that Mao leveraged very well. Land ownership is one of the largest problems in Afghanistan today as well, but for very different reasons. In this "winner take all" patronage society, where fortunes have swung 180 degrees so often over the past 40 years there is truly no way to sort out the mess of who has best title to any of the very valuable plots of arable or city land.

But is there a role for military personnel in this? No, not really.
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Old 03-31-2012   #903
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Why would the 'US military contingent' need to understand the basics of agriculture?
If the strategists have decided upon undertaking a population-centric counterinsurgency and 80% of the population is engaged in agriculture, how could these same strategists even pretend to formulate strategy if they know nothing about agriculture?

But is the implicit question whether or not I think military professionals need to know something about agriculture? I don't see how it would help the young man scanning the Fulda horizon with his field glasses c. 1985; I don't see how it would not help the military governor of an agriculturally rich state then, now, or ever.

And my semi-informed opinion is that with COIN 2.0 the United States Military asks far too much of itself.
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Old 04-01-2012   #904
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Default Who are these Strategists of whom you write?

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If the strategists have decided upon undertaking a population-centric counterinsurgency and 80% of the population is engaged in agriculture, how could these same strategists even pretend to formulate strategy if they know nothing about agriculture?
Civilian or military, they need agricultural expertise in an advisory capacity, no question. They do not need to possess the knowledge themselves. In fact, I suggest if they were not bona fide agriculturalists / farmers with crop and area specific knowledge they'd do mor harm than good. If the Strategists did possess such knowledge it would be area and crop or product specific to such an extent that it could very easily be superficial and do more harm than good. There are few things more dangerous than a person with directive power who thinks he or she knows more than is the case...

(See Afghanistan and most US sponsored agricultural efforts therein...)

All that begs the question. The military function is combat. Period. Other applications are possible but all will have an adverse impact on the primary function -- and far more importantly, those other jobs will never -- never -- be done very well.

So-called population centric COIN is a holdover from the colonial era when the colony's nominal government was integrated and military governors existed -- with copious civilian expertise provided by other government agencies in a more or less unified effort. We, the US, did not have that tradition, do not have it today and should have foregone the COIN bit with our abject failure in Viet Nam. We're slow learners...

Changes in both US and world societal norms since the 1960s have made those types of operation even more difficult and made even marginal success less possible.
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And my semi-informed opinion is that with COIN 2.0 the United States Military asks far too much of itself.
Amen! May or may not be be less than fully informed but it's a quite accurate assessment.

It asks too much of itself and our system of governance and budgeting forces it to do so. It just cannot say "It's not my job..." even though many things it does are clearly not its job and in fact detract significantly from ability to do the principal job.
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Old 04-04-2012   #905
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Originally Posted by ganulv View Post
If the strategists have decided upon undertaking a population-centric counterinsurgency and 80% of the population is engaged in agriculture, how could these same strategists even pretend to formulate strategy if they know nothing about agriculture?

But is the implicit question whether or not I think military professionals need to know something about agriculture? I don't see how it would help the young man scanning the Fulda horizon with his field glasses c. 1985; I don't see how it would not help the military governor of an agriculturally rich state then, now, or ever.

And my semi-informed opinion is that with COIN 2.0 the United States Military asks far too much of itself.
May I offer another perspective on all this.

The assumption that COIN has to be either enemy- or population- centric is an error IMHO.

An analysis of each specific insurgency should lead to a unique course of action being adopted as COIN policy.

Not every grievance cited as contributing to the insurgency can be addressed. If for example the true motivation behind the insurgency is more ideological than economic, more religious than the pursuit of human freedoms or more ethnic than a demand for democracy then a 'political settlement' will be unlikely.

Certainly the current US approach to COIN being what can be called 'cheque-book COIN' where money is thrown around to buy off the opposition and buy support from those caught in the middle is quite ridiculous and destined to fail.

Ken's (good) point about the use of foreign troops to support the 'state' is valid. And of course the US know that the longer the troops stay in the country the more the locals see them as occupiers and want them to go (this also happened to the Cubans in Angola).

It is well worth having another look at Wilf's paper 'Killing your way to Control'

If we accept that at the highest level 80% of the COIN policy is political the 20% comprising the military action will often prove to be critical in determining the outcome of the insurgency.

It should be obvious that the armed 'wing' of the insurgency must be confronted with armed force. The armed insurrection must be suppressed or at least contained to to allow the political process to run its course. If the armed insurrection is not suppressed then it is not possible to negotiate from a position of strength (as is the case in Afghanistan).

Wilf writes:

Quote:
The population will obey whoever exercises the power of law over them. Power creates support.
IMHO I would use the word 'submission' rather than support.

The people need to submit to the rule of law. The people need to submit to peaceful negotiations (whether a minority gets what it wants or not). etc etc

Those who resort to violence must be met with kind.

...So I would not spend a cent on agriculture in Afghanistan... in fact the next trick should be to destroy their irrigation system if they use continue to use them to cultivate poppies. Just give them the Gypsy's warning on that... and if they don't listen... then let the Engineers have a little fun with demolitions.
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Old 04-04-2012   #906
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An analysis of each specific insurgency should lead to a unique course of action being adopted as COIN policy.
Agree completely with that, but I'd hope that analysis would be conducted not only to determine what course of action is needed, but also to determine whether any action is called for at all. One of the problems with all our talk of COIN is the visceral assumption that insurgency by definition is something that needs to be countered, even if the specific insurgency in question is really not something we need to be concerned with.

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The people need to submit to the rule of law. The people need to submit to peaceful negotiations (whether a minority gets what it wants or not). etc etc

Those who resort to violence must be met with kind.
What if it's the government that ignores the rule of law, refuses to negotiate, and resorts to violence? It happens, and it's a good reason to be very careful about choosing what governments we want to support and deciding what insurgents need to be countered.
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Old 04-04-2012   #907
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Originally Posted by JMA View Post
Wilf writes:
Quote:
The population will obey whoever exercises the power of law over them. Power creates support.
IMHO I would use the word 'submission' rather than support.
IMHO the use of force can almost always ensure compliance but it may or may not ensure cooperation. In a scenario in which you possess unlimited recourse to violence and they do not you can bludgeon them into compliance before they are entirely exterminated. (Probably.) You might even mistake that compliance for cooperation. But should your recourse to violence decrease and theirs increase they might give you a nasty lesson in the difference between the two.
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Old 04-04-2012   #908
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IMHO the use of force can almost always ensure compliance but it may or may not ensure cooperation. In a scenario in which you possess unlimited recourse to violence and they do not you can bludgeon them into compliance before they are entirely exterminated. (Probably.) You might even mistake that compliance for cooperation. But should your recourse to violence decrease and theirs increase they might give you a nasty lesson in the difference between the two.
This is exactly why I said 'submission' and not 'support'.

This is also why I stated (elsewhere) that the US needed to make greater use of proxies to fight these wars because - like in Rodesia but not in Zimbabwe - the US is not willing to indulge in the brutality required to defeat the insurgents and match their methods which force the population into the submissive compliance required.
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Old 04-04-2012   #909
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This is exactly why I said 'submission' and not 'support'.

This is also why I stated (elsewhere) that the US needed to make greater use of proxies to fight these wars because - like in Rodesia but not in Zimbabwe - the US is not willing to indulge in the brutality required to defeat the insurgents and match their methods which force the population into the submissive compliance required.
Yeah, to me the most problematic statement in Owen’s article is that "[t]he population should not be asked to pick sides" on p. 37. No, they shouldn't be, but they will, and not nicely. The worst case I can think of is being stuck between the Sendero Luminoso and the Peruvian security forces. There are probably worse, sadly.
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Old 04-05-2012   #910
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Back to the agriculture issue:

1. Those anthropologists/social scientists who do not understand agriculture tend to be idiots who are not worth their weight as landfill. By "tend", I mean "they are, without a doubt". Ivory tower idiots with multiple degrees and no useful experience.

2. In some localities, there is zero knowledge of farming, because entire generations have been wiped out, and the locals are returnees with no ag experience or interlopers with no ag experience. It is not uncommon to see these guys make really bad ag decisions, like dumping a bag of seed on the ground in a pile in their field, or spraying melons for worms after they are infected. And then selling them in the market. These "farmers" then starve and can be picked up by the insurgents fairly easy as recruits to make ends meet.

3. The presence of someone with practical ag experience plus a bit of anthropological education might keep the US from doing stupid #### like the Helmand/Argandab Valley Authority project like we did in the 1950s and 1960s, which is precisely what others in this thread warns about. In other words, local ag standards, executed correctly, are often superior to 'Murrican methods.

Finally, on the subject of HTS personnel. In short, they suck. They suck because they tend to be morons and idiots. Most are catastrophically unqualified and the few that are "qualified" are unsuited for this sort of work. I know one actual social scientist who is currently deployed who really knows how to do this sort of work. I had the honor of working with him the last year and a half.

On a related topic, this HTSer, myself and an Afghan-American in another program outproduced the entire $227 million HTS program last year, in quantity of reports alone. Now, if you consider "quality" of reports, we outdistanced that $227 million program a hundred fold. Their reports tend to be recycled data and "I like poop. Do you like poop?" kind of quality, whereas ours was real data, collected, analyzed and given to grateful ISAF/DoS personnel. Or quashed by the chain of command as being just a little bit too much of an uncomfortable truth.

The problem with inserting Anthropologists/Social Science types into this situation is that the skillset and mindset are so shockingly rare that it isn't worth the pain. There are maybe a couple of people that could really do the job and would want to do the job.

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Old 04-06-2012   #911
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Yeah, to me the most problematic statement in Owen’s article is that "[t]he population should not be asked to pick sides" on p. 37. No, they shouldn't be, but they will, and not nicely. The worst case I can think of is being stuck between the Sendero Luminoso and the Peruvian security forces. There are probably worse, sadly.
Lets look at his whole paragraph shall we:

Quote:
The population should not be asked to pick sides. They should merely be informed that the Army will win, and that should be demonstrated to them, as forcefully and unequivocally as possible. No one should be confused that if you fight the Army/Security Forces, you will die or be captured. Evidence should be literally laid before them. There should be no more complicated message than that.
The idea here is good but easier said than done.

Clearly this has not worked in Afghanistan despite the Taliban taking significant casualties. There seems to be a never ending supply of those ready to take the money the Taliban offer (much from poppy derivative proceeds) and take up arms.

So the message has not got through to the population that death or capture will be the end result of joining the Taliban.

So is Wilf's model achievable?

My position is that it is not with the restrictions placed on the US and Brit armies in Afghanistan. Rules of engagement and (horrifyingly) increasingly attitudes of officers (some displayed around here) which are more suited to work with the Peacecorps than with an army at war.

Then inexplicably the US have appeared to forgotten the simple lesson they learned in Vietnam - where a segment of their Viet Cong enemy were 'farmers by day, soldiers by night'. (If they have not forgotten then they have no #*!# idea how to deal with that)

This comes back to the need - IMHO - to use proxies who can fight by the same lack of rules as the Taliban. Use of such tactics or methods would not be possible for use by US or Brit forces. (Nor would - most likely - the US Congress allow such proxies to kill in the name of the US)

Edward Lattwak is always a good read to counter the namby-pamby stuff that the new breed of COIN experts churn out.

I suggest you start here: What would Byzantium do?

The prognosis is not good for successful US/Brit military interventions in the future.
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Old 04-06-2012   #912
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Default drooling idiots

If I may take this conversation down a couple of notches (to my intellectual level) and back a page, I have always been curious to know whether idiots by default drool, or if a "drooling idiot" is another degree of idiot (in a spectrum of smarter and dumber idiots) or if a drooling idiot is an idiot with some sort of neurological problem or chronic infection. Also, is the ivory tower idiot a smarter idiot or does the adjective, "ivory tower" automatically, in this context, mean a dumber kind of idiot?

By the way, I am a PhD student in Anthropology doing my dissertation on "the idiot as a metaphor for the anthropologist in the human terrain system".

Thank you for your insight. please respond to me in simple language, free of jargon and if at all possible, expletives.
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Old 04-06-2012   #913
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Default Moderator at work

A large number of the recent posts concern the Afghan drug problem (cultivation) not HTT and after a review have been moved to the existing thread on those issues:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=1234
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Old 08-12-2013   #914
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Default HTS: worth every penny

After what I see as a lull Human Terrain System HTS is back on the agenda. There is today SWJ Blog 'System Failure: Anthropologists on the Battlefield', which links to a very poor USA Today piece:http://www.usatoday.com/story/nation...gists/2640297/

There is a far better link to a NYT column 'How to Read Afghanistan':http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/op...pagewanted=all

Bearing in mind another thread on lessons learnt this phrase is so simple:
Quote:
GOOD intelligence requires good reading; you can’t have one without the other.
The article concludes:
Quote:
What happened to Paula Loyd reminds us that understanding what motivates our enemies and the people we’re fighting among is a long and painful undertaking. But turning away from this effort, as many in the military did in the wake of Vietnam, ensures only that more Americans will die in other wars, in other far-flung corners of the world.
Finally, with hat tip to the UK-based blog on Afghanistan, Circling the Lion's Den:
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US security writer John Stanton has written many articles over the last few years on the US Army's Human Terrain System, some of which have been referenced by this blog. Now 115 of his pieces have been published as a collection. The US Army Terrain System 2008-2013: The Program from Hell costs just $6.66 (ooh er!!), but is worth every penny.
Link:http://circlingthelionsden.blogspot....n-terrain.html
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Old 08-12-2013   #915
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Default The Stanton book

David, I just finished reading the excerpts of the Stanton book found on Amazon. The biggest problem is that his sources are nearly all anonymous and he presents no data to actually support what he has to say on those pages. It is not like reading Bob Woodward, Tom Ricks, or Linda Robinson where most sources are either identified or identifiable (and where they are not their credibility is strong both because of the detail provided and the corroboration from other sources). The pages are also filled with ad hominem attacks on various individuals none of which are supported. Unless the rest of the book is better, I would dicount it.

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Old 08-12-2013   #916
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John,

I haven't read Stanton's book yet, but I actually do know who a number of his anonymous sources are. I agree, it's not in the Woodward or Ricks category, but he does have legitimate (and sometimes scared) sources. My primary concern, however, is that there is very little information coming out of the program post-2011, so all of the arguments may be moot.

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Old 08-12-2013   #917
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here's a column I wrote on Stanton about 3 years ago

http://grognews.blogspot.com/2010/05...-fire-aim.html

bottom line is this: he can't get publicly-verifiable facts right, so why should I believe him when he says "trust me" about stuff I can't verify.

I know a few of his sources, too, and I spent lunchtime over a (few) beer(s) at a restaurant in Fayetteville with one of those who was downright pissed at the way his information to Stanton was portrayed. The dude was burned enough on Stanton that he wouldn't let me publish a thing to set the record straight.
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Old 08-13-2013   #918
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Default See what nice mess David stirred up LOL

Good column Brant. I was just responding because I am interested in HTS and looked at the book to see if I might want to buy a copy (hardcopy or Kindle is practically the same price on Amazon), Obviously, I don't want to spend the almost $6....

Gee Marc, it is great to see you on the Council again. Course, I have been absent somewhat myself so it is a case of the pot calling the kettle....

My suspicion is that some of the issues with HTS have to do with the fact that the mainstream anthro community wants no part of the military - most anybody's - and this, among other things, hampered recruiting for the program. But what do I know?

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Old 08-13-2013   #919
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My suspicion is that some of the issues with HTS have to do with the fact that the mainstream anthro community wants no part of the military - most anybody's - and this, among other things, hampered recruiting for the program. But what do I know?
Hating on HTS has long been coin of the realm for the bigger part of anthropologists out there, it is true. But my impression is that the program was not originally intended solely for anthropologists.

I don’t know much about the program so I have no idea how much it is/was intended to rely upon rapport. As I and others in the thread have said previously, there are things you should be able to get without even talking to people. But if rapport is an expectation, I have to question the why. I don’t know if Gezari means to suggest that with enough time, energy, and resources that the right kind of outsider is going to be able to achieve true trust and rapport with most of the folks living in an area of long term violent conflict. I myself am dubious.
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Old 08-13-2013   #920
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Default Anthropologists and HTS

McFate, who is at the very least the voice (and leader) of HTS is an anthropologist and has been in the center of the conflict within the discipline. Although I am a political scientist (my wife says that is an oxymoron - and she is one too), I was trained in part by anthropologists and make use of their methods in much of my field research.

My concern is that in a totally male dominated culture like that of many of the tribes of Afghanistan, female anthropologists are unlikely to be able to establish any kind of rapport with the male leaders in the villages. I worked in Latin America and it was easier for me to gain access and rapport with the male leaders because I am male than it was for my female counterparts although it was not impossible. Still, Latin America is a Western culture and was changing significantly in the 1960s in the same directions that the US was going but at a slower pace. Given that, is it any wonder that the HTS anthropologists who were killed (cited in the article by Gezari) were women?

As to whether rapport is necessary - if one wishes to really comprehend a culture - to see it through the eyes of its members - than rapport is an essential step. The need to comprehend a culture in this way for military operators is the ability to predict behavior.

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