Today, I had an opportunity to talk with Col. Daniel S. Roper, the director of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center at Ft. Leavenworth, as part of the series of Blogger Round Tables that DOD Public Affairs hosts.
I asked him about the role of “human terrain” — and the Human Terrain System, which I covered earlier this year for C4ISR Journal — in counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, as well as the challenges of getting good intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information.
Here’s part of that interview, with his response on HTS:
B+B: Could you talk about the role of human terrain data in couterinsurgency operations, in terms of the impact of the kind of data you’re getting from HTT’s in Afghanistan?
Col. Roper: THe Human Terrain System and the Human Terrain Teams , for everybody’s point of reference — they’re small teams of anthropologists and sociologists, people that have historical understanding of the human dynamics of a particular area. As a matter of fact, this week we were conducting counterinsurgency training and education as part of the pre-deployment course for the human terrain teams as they prepare for their particular area of operations.
If we go to the basic understanding that the challenges we’re in are about the people, the better you understand the people and the dynamics, the better prepared you are to operate in that environment. And that’s not just for counterinsurgency– that’s for any political venture. Politics is based on understanding the needs, desires and wants of a particular population group. So from a pure academic standpoint, it’s tough to argue that better understanding the people would not be of greater value.
It’s a relatively new concept, and we do not necessarily have people that are world class experts on every particular valley in Afghanistan, or any particular province in Iraq. We do have some people who have tremendous expertise, but being able to access those people who have volunteered to participate in this eneavor, and then to have a sustainable pool of those people, is something we’re still growing into. I think right now the number is up to 29 HTTs — that’s deployed both in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we had a meeting about a month and a half ago with one of the senior members, and they are working to build that up to be even larger and more sustainable. It’s one of those things, that quite frankly, I think will take a long period of time to quantify the benefits of having that expertise, but I think that it’s unquestionable that it’s benefiting us right now.
B+B: I understand the HTS , the technology, is also getting sent out with some of the Civil Affairs units going over?
Roper: I can’t speak to that specifically. I know amongst the concerns are being able to exchange information, so whether it’s with provincial reconstruction teams, with host nation security forces and other institutions, understanding the operational environment is really an interdisciplinary problem, and it requires interoperable people, so somebody’s expertise can help benefit somebody else and we can put the difft pieces of the puzzle together. But I can’t speak to what (equipment is going out with whom).