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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Defense Department

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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Defense Department, People, tech

Human Terrain System's transitional pains

I’ve conducted a number of interview on the Army’s HTS this week, for a story I’m writing for C4ISR Journal. While that article will focus on the technical aspects of the program, which I’ll review briefly here, the program gets most of its attention from the controversy surrounding the idea of sending social scientists to assist the military in its mission by providing actionable sociographic and cultural information — in other words, using applied social science to reduce conflict with the locals in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to better interact with them in negotiations, interviews, and general interactions so there’s less likelihood of making people want to support insurgency.

There’s also something of a bump over how the program is handling its key assets–the people in the field. The Army unilaterally decided in the last month, using the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with Iraq as the reason, to convert the Human Terrain Team members from contractors to government employees. The deadline for converting was originally February 18, and was extended to yesterday. It’s not clear whether those who chose not to convert are going to be cut loose right now; I’m working on reaching the HTS program manager.

The way it’s been handled has not exactly given many of the people involved the warm-and-fuzzies. Chuck Thomas, the vice president and general manager for Systems Engineering Solutions at BAE Systems, told me, in regards to the changes:

I won’t say there hasn’t been some consternation inside of our own organization, but no real pushback. By that, I mean from the start the management here made the decision that we’ll support the government with whatever it wants to do on this, if that’s what will help war-fighting. And we have–if you’ve heard anything, it’s been at the individual employee level, which is only natural, because ultimately there was a lot of churn and ambiguity and uncertainty about what it meant for everyone, for each person, and that. . .but at the management level, the goverment told us what they wanted to do, we saluted and said we’ll do it. Didn’t like it much, but we’d do it.

All contractors in Iraq are facing the same problem — there’s uncertainty over how they’ll be treated by the Iraqi government

The change is for HTT members both in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has had its own SOFA agreement for some time now. Thomas said he believes the vast majority of the HTT members will take the conversion, because, he said, they’re in the program for “altruistic reasons” more than the money — which may be a good thing, as the move from contractor status to a government employee pay slot between GS-12 and GS-15 may come as something of a shock.

On the technology side, HTS has been trailing behind its deployment. Initially, the only way for the HTT members — the majority of whom do not have security clearances, just like the majority of the troops deployed in Central Asia–could only file field reports using email. The program has since moved to using TIGR for collection, and Microsoft Sharepoint servers for aggregation of data at the Brigade Combat Team level.

That doesn’t exactly provide much integration of data, and in the past it’s been difficult to share data beyond the brigade level. Information from HTTs can be pushed out to soldiers through TIGR, but the long term goal is to deploy a system called MAP-HT to the human terrain teams and to civil affairs units. The problem — the system that MAP-HT is based on is the Distributed Common Ground System-A workstation, and it’s currently a classified system, working only on SIPRnet, the DOD’s classified network. The MAP-HT development team at the Army’s CERDEC is working toward a declassified version of the system, which will allow for analysis and fusion of information pulled in from TIGR.

MAP-HT won’t be out in the field as the Afghanistan “surge” starts. It’s entering limited user testing this summer, and if all goes well it will start being deployed by November.

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People, tech

Human Terrain System’s transitional pains

I’ve conducted a number of interview on the Army’s HTS this week, for a story I’m writing for C4ISR Journal. While that article will focus on the technical aspects of the program, which I’ll review briefly here, the program gets most of its attention from the controversy surrounding the idea of sending social scientists to assist the military in its mission by providing actionable sociographic and cultural information — in other words, using applied social science to reduce conflict with the locals in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to better interact with them in negotiations, interviews, and general interactions so there’s less likelihood of making people want to support insurgency.

There’s also something of a bump over how the program is handling its key assets–the people in the field. The Army unilaterally decided in the last month, using the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) with Iraq as the reason, to convert the Human Terrain Team members from contractors to government employees. The deadline for converting was originally February 18, and was extended to yesterday. It’s not clear whether those who chose not to convert are going to be cut loose right now; I’m working on reaching the HTS program manager.

The way it’s been handled has not exactly given many of the people involved the warm-and-fuzzies. Chuck Thomas, the vice president and general manager for Systems Engineering Solutions at BAE Systems, told me, in regards to the changes:

I won’t say there hasn’t been some consternation inside of our own organization, but no real pushback. By that, I mean from the start the management here made the decision that we’ll support the government with whatever it wants to do on this, if that’s what will help war-fighting. And we have–if you’ve heard anything, it’s been at the individual employee level, which is only natural, because ultimately there was a lot of churn and ambiguity and uncertainty about what it meant for everyone, for each person, and that. . .but at the management level, the goverment told us what they wanted to do, we saluted and said we’ll do it. Didn’t like it much, but we’d do it.

All contractors in Iraq are facing the same problem — there’s uncertainty over how they’ll be treated by the Iraqi government

The change is for HTT members both in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has had its own SOFA agreement for some time now. Thomas said he believes the vast majority of the HTT members will take the conversion, because, he said, they’re in the program for “altruistic reasons” more than the money — which may be a good thing, as the move from contractor status to a government employee pay slot between GS-12 and GS-15 may come as something of a shock.

On the technology side, HTS has been trailing behind its deployment. Initially, the only way for the HTT members — the majority of whom do not have security clearances, just like the majority of the troops deployed in Central Asia–could only file field reports using email. The program has since moved to using TIGR for collection, and Microsoft Sharepoint servers for aggregation of data at the Brigade Combat Team level.

That doesn’t exactly provide much integration of data, and in the past it’s been difficult to share data beyond the brigade level. Information from HTTs can be pushed out to soldiers through TIGR, but the long term goal is to deploy a system called MAP-HT to the human terrain teams and to civil affairs units. The problem — the system that MAP-HT is based on is the Distributed Common Ground System-A workstation, and it’s currently a classified system, working only on SIPRnet, the DOD’s classified network. The MAP-HT development team at the Army’s CERDEC is working toward a declassified version of the system, which will allow for analysis and fusion of information pulled in from TIGR.

MAP-HT won’t be out in the field as the Afghanistan “surge” starts. It’s entering limited user testing this summer, and if all goes well it will start being deployed by November.

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Defense Department

Human Terrain System – A reporter's notebook

[updated]

I’m currently doing some inquiries for an article I’m preparing on the Human Terrain System — a program that’s had more than its share of controversy surrounding it, and as far as I can tell, a lot of political FUD-spreading.

The name of the program is somewhat misleading to those who don’t know about it, because the primary element of the HTS in place is HTTs — Human Terrain Teams, made up of social scientists, who have been providing “human terrain” data — information on local anthropological, sociological and political systems in Iraq and Afghanistan–to help the Army resolve as many potential conflicts without using “kinetic” action (blowing things up). An admirable goal, no doubt.

But the program has been getting smeared quite a bit–some of it being legitimate, but a great deal of it being…well…like I said, FUD. I’ve seen enough FUD in my time to know when I see it. And apparently, so has Old Blue over at Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure. Take a look, and see what I mean, as he takes apart a story that ran in Men’s Journal on the program, and its author. (The Army responded to the article, and the author to the Army’s response, which you can see here.)

HTS is interesting to me for a number of reasons. There *is* a technology element to the program — a reporting system called MAP-HT, which is supposed to provide for data collected by HTTs to be distributed to units as part of a geospatial intelligence system that tells unit commanders not just about the physical terrain they’re entering, but the people who live there, their customs, and potential sources of conflict. But human analysts — HTT members– have to collect that data, and they’ve often found themselves in harm’s way.

The program is evolving, in part because of the Status of Forces agreement in Iraq (which has changed the game for Army contractors considerably), and in part because of the shift of emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan. I’m hoping to get an accurate picture of what’s going on with the program as I dig–a balanced view, based on the facts. Of course, I won’t be bringing whiskey to Afghanistan to do that…

Update: Today, I interviewed Dr. Bill Stuart, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, for some background on why anthropologists are so disapproving of HTS, and the relative merits of the program minus the ideology.

Stewart said, essentially, that the problem with the program from the American Anthropologial Association’s standpoint was largely based on a post-modernist, ideological view of the nature of anthropology.

ome in our discipline (Anthropology) are heavily ideological in the stances they take. .. and that many of them are users/champions of a more-or-less “post-modernist” stance that (i) the traditional distinction between “fact” and “value” is a phony – and perhaps pernicious one; and that (ii) it is the right (perhaps responsibility) of anthropologists to see our discipline as a “moral” rather than strictly “scientific” one and that, accordingly we must address and assess issues in terms of matters of “justice” rather than in terms of “truth”. Thus anthropology becomes first and foremost a Normative/Moral rather than a Postivist undertaking. [Perhaps Nancy Scheper-Hughes has given most articulate voice to this position. See her “The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology” (Current Anthropology, Vol 36, No 3 (Jun., 1995), pp. 409-440.). Her position was challenged by Roy D’Andrade (Moral models in anthropology. Current Anthropology, 36(3) (Jun., 1995), pp. 399-408) . Thus, it’s especially those who take the manifestly “left-of-center” postmodernist or critical anthropology to take ideology-informed stands…they have converted even applied anthropology into a heavily ideologized undertaking, including the limiting of applied anthropology to approved topics and tasks… where such a list of approved applied anthropology would not include HTT.

But he was unsure that using applied anthropology–“rapid ethnography”, as he called it, in the way HTS does is practical, since it would take long periods of field work to understand the dynamics of a community so well as to turn it into actionable information. In other words, the payoff from HTTs will likely not be very high without long-term deployment within the communities. “Perhaps more usefully such anthropological input as part of HHT would best be done ‘in the classroom’,” he said , “in briefings, before, and de-briefings after the combat teams did they onsite work, without an anthropologist being present. ”

[updated with clarification from Dr. Stewart]

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Uncategorized

Human Terrain System – A reporter’s notebook

[updated]

I’m currently doing some inquiries for an article I’m preparing on the Human Terrain System — a program that’s had more than its share of controversy surrounding it, and as far as I can tell, a lot of political FUD-spreading.

The name of the program is somewhat misleading to those who don’t know about it, because the primary element of the HTS in place is HTTs — Human Terrain Teams, made up of social scientists, who have been providing “human terrain” data — information on local anthropological, sociological and political systems in Iraq and Afghanistan–to help the Army resolve as many potential conflicts without using “kinetic” action (blowing things up). An admirable goal, no doubt.

But the program has been getting smeared quite a bit–some of it being legitimate, but a great deal of it being…well…like I said, FUD. I’ve seen enough FUD in my time to know when I see it. And apparently, so has Old Blue over at Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure. Take a look, and see what I mean, as he takes apart a story that ran in Men’s Journal on the program, and its author. (The Army responded to the article, and the author to the Army’s response, which you can see here.)

HTS is interesting to me for a number of reasons. There *is* a technology element to the program — a reporting system called MAP-HT, which is supposed to provide for data collected by HTTs to be distributed to units as part of a geospatial intelligence system that tells unit commanders not just about the physical terrain they’re entering, but the people who live there, their customs, and potential sources of conflict. But human analysts — HTT members– have to collect that data, and they’ve often found themselves in harm’s way.

The program is evolving, in part because of the Status of Forces agreement in Iraq (which has changed the game for Army contractors considerably), and in part because of the shift of emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan. I’m hoping to get an accurate picture of what’s going on with the program as I dig–a balanced view, based on the facts. Of course, I won’t be bringing whiskey to Afghanistan to do that…

Update: Today, I interviewed Dr. Bill Stuart, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, for some background on why anthropologists are so disapproving of HTS, and the relative merits of the program minus the ideology.

Stewart said, essentially, that the problem with the program from the American Anthropologial Association’s standpoint was largely based on a post-modernist, ideological view of the nature of anthropology.

ome in our discipline (Anthropology) are heavily ideological in the stances they take. .. and that many of them are users/champions of a more-or-less “post-modernist” stance that (i) the traditional distinction between “fact” and “value” is a phony – and perhaps pernicious one; and that (ii) it is the right (perhaps responsibility) of anthropologists to see our discipline as a “moral” rather than strictly “scientific” one and that, accordingly we must address and assess issues in terms of matters of “justice” rather than in terms of “truth”. Thus anthropology becomes first and foremost a Normative/Moral rather than a Postivist undertaking. [Perhaps Nancy Scheper-Hughes has given most articulate voice to this position. See her “The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology” (Current Anthropology, Vol 36, No 3 (Jun., 1995), pp. 409-440.). Her position was challenged by Roy D’Andrade (Moral models in anthropology. Current Anthropology, 36(3) (Jun., 1995), pp. 399-408) . Thus, it’s especially those who take the manifestly “left-of-center” postmodernist or critical anthropology to take ideology-informed stands…they have converted even applied anthropology into a heavily ideologized undertaking, including the limiting of applied anthropology to approved topics and tasks… where such a list of approved applied anthropology would not include HTT.

But he was unsure that using applied anthropology–“rapid ethnography”, as he called it, in the way HTS does is practical, since it would take long periods of field work to understand the dynamics of a community so well as to turn it into actionable information. In other words, the payoff from HTTs will likely not be very high without long-term deployment within the communities. “Perhaps more usefully such anthropological input as part of HHT would best be done ‘in the classroom’,” he said , “in briefings, before, and de-briefings after the combat teams did they onsite work, without an anthropologist being present. ”

[updated with clarification from Dr. Stewart]

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