Cultural Intelligence is possibly a more important tool than conventional intel for counterinsurgencies. Insurgents and counterinsurgents compete to control the civilian population – much like two businesses competing for consumers. Conventional intel primarily helps the combatants fight each other, while cultural intel helps understand the needs and interests of the contested civilians.

Anthropologists once played a major role in American small wars. After a brief interlude during the Vietnam era, Anthropologists areagain playing a role in military operations.

The US Army deployed its first “Human Terrain Team” in Afghaninstan, with anthropologists working with the tribes and civilian populations.

The Human Terrain Team (HTTs) as well as Foreign Area Officers (FAOs), provide cultural and political knowledge of the region.
Here’s the description of the HTT concept.

The core building block of the system will be a five-person Human Terrain Team (HTT) [a leader, a cultural analyst, a regional studies analyst, a human terrain research manager, and a human terrain analyst.] that will be embedded in each forward-deployed brigade or regimental staff. The HTT will provide the commander with experienced officers, NCOs, and civilian social scientists trained and skilled in cultural data research and analysis.

…as the current conflicts have moved further away from combat involving regular formations and heavy maneuver warfare, and more toward insurgency operations with fragile stability operations requirements, it is now apparent that the technical information required for high-intensity conflict has diminished in importance relative to the requirement for the kind of ethnographic, economic, and cultural information needed to stabilize a polity and transfer power to an indigenous government.

The primary benefit of these teams is a standard methodology for unstanding cultures, in addition to actual expertise. Currently, most US commanders on the ground create ad-hoc methods through experimentation, so they lose valuable time and goodwill during stability and COIN ops.

Today in Afghanistan, one team has been deployed:

US commanders have doubled US troop strength in eastern Afghanistan in the past year. They are also fielding the HHT – a “graduate-level counterinsurgency” unit, as one officer puts it – to fine-tune aid and to undermine the intimidating grip of militants in the region.

Such insight is the grist of what US forces here see as a smarter counterisurgency. “We’re not here just to kill the enemy – we are so far past the kinetic fight,” says Lt. Col. Dave Woods, commander of the 4th Squadron 73rd Cavalry. “It is the nonkinetic piece [that matters], to identify their problems, to seed the future here.”

So “Tracy”, one of the anthropologists in the HTT has been working with the Afghan civilians. This type of cultural intel improve reconstruction efforts

Here’s one small reform:

One discovery that may help limit Taliban recruits in this rough-hewn valley: The area has a preponderance of widows – and their sons, who have to provide care, are forced to stay closer to home, where few jobs can be found. Now, the HHT is identifying ways to tap the textiles and blankets traded through here to create jobs for the women – and free their sons to get work themselves.

Here’s how this plays a bigger role. The drug cartels supply the Taliban with money, and the Taliban hire unemployed young men. Taliban activity weakens the Afghan police and gives the criminals more power. The cycle reinforces itself.

If the HTTs, PRTs, and other teams can expand employment opportunities and separate the civilians from the Taliban, they break the cycle.

So today, the US military is expanding its Provincial Reconstruction Teams, HTTs, civilian cultural advisors, foreign area officers, etc, in order to expand its cultural intel capabilities. One of the major COIN advisors in Iraq this year was LTC David Kilcullen, an Australian soldier-anthropologist.

Many of these cultural specialist “get” what the 4th Generation War is really about, moreso than the techies who think it’s all about electrical grids.

There has been a major shift in attitude in the armed forces over the past year and a half – particularly in the Marines and Army – towards a proper COIN mentality. This is symbolized by Gen Petraeus, but the change slightly preceeded him.

Since this is a long, long, long war, it’s better that we learned this early on.