Army, Marine Corps, tech

Human Terrain and Counterinsurgency

Col. Daniel S. Roper, director, U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, discusses lessons learned in counterinsurgency with Brigadier Farhat Abbas Sani, Pakistan Military Air Defense brigade commander, during the Third Army/U.S. Army Central's Counterinsurgency Information Exchange in Atlanta

Col. Daniel S. Roper, director, U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, discusses lessons learned in counterinsurgency with Brigadier Farhat Abbas Sani, Pakistan Military Air Defense brigade commander, during the Third Army/U.S. Army Central's Counterinsurgency Information Exchange in Atlanta

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.

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Is HTS headed for end-of-lifecycle?

I’ve filed my story on the Human Terrain System–I’ll link to it when it’s published. But I filed just as some interesting related news popped up. The Wired Danger Room blog reported on a Military Review article by Marine Corps Major Ben Connable, former lead on the Marine Corps’ Cultural Intelligence Program, which ripped into HTS as:

…a quick-fix layer of social science expertise and contracted reachback capability to combatant staffs. This “build a new empire” proposal is based on the assumption that staffs are generally incapable of solving complex cultural problems on their own. The HTS approach is inconsistent with standing doctrine and ignores recent
improvements in military cultural capabilities.

This may be, as someone commented on Danger Room, an interesting example of interservice rivalry. But it’s also a sign that some in DOD agree there’s questionable utility in sending social scientists out into the field in camouflage, undertaking operations that would otherwise fall under the realm of Civil Affairs. Interestingly enough, the MAP-HT system that’s being developed by the Army’s CERDEC was demonstrated to the Army’s Civilian Affairs and Psychological Operations Command as well, and they’re in line to get the same gear. CAPOC also has access to the TIGR collection gear already.

So, the question is, will the HTS program fade away, or fade into background as a supporting element of CAPOC ops, or will it continue?

Dan Wolfe, the technical director for the HTS program, has a grand vision of integrating all of the sources of human terrain data into an HTS knowledge management center down at Oyster Point in Newport News, using the facilities built for the Joint IED Defeat Organization. And work is underway to create the Subject-Matter Expert network (SMEnet). If that vision is realized, HTS may become institutionalized within DOD, either with or without the HTTs, as a clearinghouse for all human terrain knowledge.

But how long a life does JIEDDO have?

Also, the Associated Press has begun a series on Michael Bhatia, a Human Terrain Team member who died in Khost Province, Afghanistan. Three HTT members have died since the HTTs were deployed starting in 2007. The article by Adam Geller is a deep dive into the life of the HTS.

On a side note, I heard back from Dr. William Stuart at UMd — see the updated post–and he corrected some of the interpretations I made of what he said. (Thanks, Bill–open source and peer review’s one of the advantage of open journalism practices.)

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