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Newsletter 10-64
September 2010

Chapter 3. Afghan Cultural Awareness

Section I: Assessments

Section II: Key Leader Engagements

Section III: Female Engagements

Section IV: Human Terrain Teams

Section V: Observations

Section VI: Conclusion

Awareness of the culture(s) of the Afghans in the area of operations is vitally important to commanders as they develop and implement plans to conduct both lethal and non-lethal operations in the counterinsurgency (COIN) environment of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Commanders need to know and understand the diverse Afghan culture of the local population in order to win the support of that local population.

To achieve cultural awareness, commanders have several tools available. These include patrolling, key leader engagements (KLEs), female engagement teams (FETs), human terrain teams (HTTs), and other interactions with the local population. The following means of achieving cultural awareness are the focus of this chapter:

  • Assessments
  • KLEs
  • FETs
  • HTTs
  • Observations.

Section I: Assessments

Commanders, when conducting preoperational assessments of their projected operational environment (OE) in Afghanistan, must look at the variables of the human population and the possible short- and long-term effects of the anticipated operations on the population who live in the projected operational area. The OE, as defined by Joint PFublication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, is "a composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences that affect the employment of military forces and bear on the decisions of the unit commander."

U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, describes OE in terms of the interrelated operational variables: political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time (PMESII-PT). At the tactical level, per FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency, commanders have to consider mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available and civil considerations (METT-TC). This includes areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events (ASCOPE).

Aspects of the population's influence and cultural imprint are contained within each of these variables. Although the human element is more prevalent in civil considerations, it can affect the others as well. Commanders must assess their operational and tactical environments to gain situational awareness of human variables and their impact on current and future military operations. An example of this is what element and percentage of the local population support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) or the Taliban forces occupying the area, and what are the agendas of those who neither support the GIRoA nor the Taliban? Are their choices of allegiance culturally driven? How will that information impact the operation? What concurrent actions must be taken to retain the support and gain additional support?

Dr. David Kilcullen, a former Australian army officer and COIN subject matter expert, in several of his 28 articles, addresses the importance of commanders gaining and assessing knowledge of the people who live within their area of operations. Below is an extract from Dr. Kilcullen's articles.

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Twenty-Eight Articles (Extract) Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency

Dr. David Kilcullen, Lieutenant Colonel, Australian Army

Reprinted with permission from Small Wars Journal. This article was originally published in the 1 March 2006 issue of Small Wars Journal.

1. Know your turf. Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion, and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district. If you don't know precisely where you will be operating, then study the general area. Read the map like a book; study it every night before sleep, and re-draw it from memory every morning until you understand its patterns intuitively. Develop a mental model of your area, a framework in which to fit every new piece of knowledge you acquire. Study handover notes from predecessors; better still, get in touch with the unit in theater and pick their brains. In an ideal world, intelligence officers and area experts would brief you. This rarely happens, and even if it does, there is no substitute for personal mastery. Understand the broader area of influence. This can be a wide area, particularly when insurgents draw on global grievances. Share aspects of the operational area among platoon leaders and noncommissioned officers. Have each individual develop a personal specialization and brief the others. Neglect this knowledge, and it will kill you.

2. Diagnose the problem. Once you know your area and its people, you can begin to diagnose the problem. Who are the insurgents? What drives them? What makes local leaders tick? Counterinsurgency is fundamentally a competition between many groups, each seeking to mobilize the population in support of their agenda. Counterinsurgency is always more than two-sided. So you must understand what motivates the people and how to mobilize them. You need to know why and how the insurgents are getting followers. This means you need to know your real enemy, not a cardboard cut-out. The enemy is adaptive, resourceful, and probably grew up in the region where you will operate. The locals have known him since he was a boy. How long have they known you? Your worst opponent is not the psychopathic terrorist of Hollywood, it is the charismatic follow-me warrior who would make your best platoon leader. His followers are not misled or nave. Much of his success is due to bad government policies or security forces that alienate the population. Work this problem collectively with your platoon and squad leaders. Discuss ideas, explore the problem, understand what you are facing, and seek a consensus. If this sounds unmilitary, get over it. Once you are in theater, situations will arise too quickly for orders, or even the commander's intent. Corporals and privates will have to make snap judgments with strategic impact. The only way to help them is to give them a shared understanding, then trust them to think for themselves on the day.

* * * * * * *

11. Avoid knee jerk responses to first impressions. Don't act rashly, get the facts first. The violence you see may be part of the insurgent strategy, it may be various interest groups fighting it out, or it may be people settling personal vendettas. Or, it may just be daily life; normality in Kandahar is not the same as in Kansas. So you need time to learn what normality looks like. The insurgent commander also wants to goad you into lashing out at the population or making a mistake. Unless you happen to be on the spot when an incident occurs, you will have only second-hand reports and may misunderstand the local context or interpretation. This fragmentation and disaggregation of the battlefield, particularly in urban areas, mean that first impressions are often highly misleading. Of course, you cannot avoid making judgments. But if possible, check them with an older hand or a trusted local. If you can, keep one or two officers from your predecessor unit for the first part of the tour. Try to avoid a rush to judgment.

* * * * * * *

20. Take stock regularly. You probably already know that a "body count" tells you little, because you usually cannot know how many insurgents there were to start with, how many moved into the area, transferred from supporter to combatant status, or how many new fighters the conflict has created. But you still need to develop metrics early in the tour and refine them as the operation progresses. They should cover a range of social, informational, military, and economic issues. Use metrics intelligently to form an overall impression of progress, not in a mechanistic "traffic light" fashion. Typical metrics include: percentage of engagements initiated by our forces versus those initiated by insurgents; longevity of friendly local leaders in positions of authority; number and quality of tip-offs on insurgent activity that originate spontaneously from the population; and economic activity at markets and shops. These mean virtually nothing as a snapshot-trends over time are the true indicators of progress in your sector.

21. Exploit a single narrative. Since counterinsurgency is a competition to mobilize popular support, it pays to know how people are mobilized. In most societies there are opinion-makers: local leaders, pillars of the community, religious figures, media personalities, and others who set trends and influence public perceptions. This influence, including the pernicious influence of the insurgents, often takes the form of a single narrative, a simple, unifying, easily-expressed story or explanation that organizes people's experience and provides a framework for understanding events. Nationalist and ethnic historical myths, or sectarian creeds, provide such a narrative. The Iraqi insurgents have one, as do al-Qaida, and the Taliban. To undercut their influence you must exploit an alternative narrative. Or better yet, tap into an existing narrative that excludes the insurgents. This narrative is often worked out for you by higher headquarters, but only you have the detailed knowledge to tailor the narrative to local conditions and generate leverage from it. For example, you might use a nationalist narrative to marginalize foreign fighters in your area, or a narrative of national redemption to undermine former regime elements that have been terrorizing the population. At the company level, you do this in baby steps, by getting to know local opinion-makers, winning their trust, learning what motivates them and building on this to find a single narrative that emphasizes the inevitability and rightness of your ultimate success. This is art, not science.

------- End of article -------

Section II: Key Leader Engagements

Key leader engagement (KLE) is the primary means of conducting assessments of the leaders of the tribe and community. It is also the means of meeting with individual families since the family elder is usually the key leader. These KLEs are vital to fostering an environment of mutual respect and trust with the local population, learning and understanding the challenges they face, acquiring knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, and identifying possible ways you and they can benefit from each other. The following guidelines will assist when conducting KLEs:

  • Review and become familiar with the background of the area of operations.
  • Determine the meeting time, location, and targeted leaders.
  • Conduct route and site reconnaissance.
  • Establish and review your team's goals prior to the engagement (such as setting objectives in an agenda). Translate the agenda into the local language.
  • Be open-minded without making assumptions.
  • Rehearse the agenda with your interpreters and ensure they understand the overall focus for the KLE.
  • Encourage and incorporate interagency partner participation when feasible.
  • Stay on task during the KLE, avoid going down "rabbit trails."
  • Ask specific questions.
  • Avoid committing to actions and projects too early; wait until you are absolutely sure they are necessary, productive, and will be approved and funded.
  • Remember, the initial meeting will focus on getting to know each other, with a little time for business. Although follow-on meetings generally involve more business, the opportunity to refine personal relationships through repeated visits is critical and should be viewed as a success.
  • Plan your meeting. If your meeting objective will require an hour, keep in mind the translator has to translate your messages to the recipients and translate their responses back to you. If you planned an hour for the meeting, you may be lucky to address 25 percent of your meeting objective.
  • Conduct business and decision-making with the senior male.
  • Converse with men in mixed-gender meetings.
  • Do NOT shake hands with engagement attendees of the opposite gender.
  • Once a relationship is established, expect same-gender hugs or even three kisses.
  • In meetings:
    • Arrive on time but expect to wait.
    • Greet everyone in the room; seniors (tribal elder) first.
    • Rise if senior (tribal elder) enters or exits the room.
    • Shake hands with same gender only.
      • May be soft and limp.
      • Conveys formality or humbleness, not insincerity or indifference.
    • Do not give group farewell wave; inappropriate.
    • Accept or give (if hosting) tea and finger food.
  • If tea is not offered, especially in rural areas, it could be a danger signal, but it could also mean the individual is reluctant to offer tea or that he has personal problems preventing his ability to provide hospitality.
    • Expect "small talk," smiles, stares, and interruptions.
    • Expect deference or silence when a topic is difficult or confrontational.
    • Realize Afghan saying: "First meeting, a stranger; second meeting, a brother."
  • Home visitation:
    • Decline gracefully (if you must) to allow host to save face.
    • Do not expect a quick dinner or mixed-gender dining.
    • Remove shoes (conveys both respect and comfort) even if told it is not necessary.
    • Take gift if it is your first visit (such as something for host's children or a U.S. souvenir/memento).
    • Do not pull out your own food (even to share) or offer to pay.
  • Food and eating:
    • Praise the cook often and early.
    • Food is served and often eaten from common plates.
    • The host will force second and third helpings (refuse politely three times).
    • Do not eat with your left hand-it is considered to be unclean.
    • Forks and spoons are provided if available (otherwise use your right hand; you can use both hands to tear your bread or drink from your cup or bowl).
  • Verbal communication:
    • Loudness conveys anger or domination.
    • Do not lose your temper or get angry.
    • Remember to pause for translation.
    • Do not try to cover an entire agenda in one meeting.
    • Do not expect immediate answers or decisions.
    • Watch passive silence; could mean contemplation or conflict avoidance.
    • Often non-committal; answers are often vague.
  • Non-verbal communication:
    • Eye contact is averted with superiors and the opposite sex.
    • Physical gestures:
      • The right hand is clean and the left hand is unclean.
      • Placing the palm of your right hand on your heart is a sign of respect and sincerity or appreciation.
      • Placing the palm of your right hand on your Afghan counterpart's heart is a sign of friendship and mutual respect after a relationship is established.
    • Touching (same gender only unless there is a wide age difference).
      • Touching and kissing on top of the head conveys blessing.
      • Touching and kissing the hands conveys supplication.
      • Holding hands and hugging conveys friendship and kinship.
      • Do not show your emotions-it is a sign of weakness.
  • Public protocol:
    • For senior leaders, maintain rank-appropriate behavior (Afghan elders do not interact with children or teens).
    • Do not show a picture of your wife when developing personal relationships. Do show a picture of your children (including girls under the age of 12) to express/gain trust.
    • Placing your right hand over your heart is traditional when meeting elders, and is a sign of respect.
    • Taboos include the left-hand or sole of the foot.
    • Follow the lead of the Afghan host regarding wearing shoes in the Afghan's home. As a guest, he may tell you to leave your shoes on even though he has removed his.
    • Avoid showing open affection or having contact with the opposite sex.
    • Conservative dress: no shorts, low-rise/low-cut or skin-tight clothing.
    • No restriction of foreign wear of the native dress.
    • Western women are not expected to wear the hijab (head cover for woman); but it is appreciated.
    • Motorized vehicle transportation is too fast, too furious, and has no yield (car, truck, and bus horns are constantly in use in cities).
    • Waiting in line is the same as above (no restraint or courtesy); push and shove until at the front.
    • The left hand is unclean; used for personal hygiene.
    • Personal hygiene: all body fluids and discharges unclean (heavy tissue paper use).
    • Afghan males squat to urinate to keep splashes away from their clothes as they do not want their clothes soiled when they pray. Western males who stand to urinate are unclean.
    • Breaking wind and blowing your nose in front of Afghans are considered rude and immoral.
    • Never spit or urinate in the direction of Mecca (west of Afghanistan).
  • Religious customs:
    • Working mosques (Masjid) are closed to non-Muslims unless invited or escorted.
    • Always remove shoes (socks or bare feet are acceptable) if in a mosque.
    • Head is covered at all times while inside (men and women).
    • Men and women pray in separate spaces.
    • When a Muslim is praying, he prays toward Mecca; walk behind him. If you have to walk in front of him during prayer time, use good judgment and common sense.
    • It is polite to refer to "Prophet Mohammad." Afghans have a great deal of respect for their Prophet. Whenever you say his name, Afghans request that you add "Peace be upon him" in your speech.
  • Exceptions:
    • Many allowances are made because you are a Westerner/foreigner.
    • Accommodation often leads to greater hospitality and cooperation.
    • Be authentic, sincere, respectful, and informed (and maybe a little humble).
    • A female servicemember or civilian should be present when meeting with Afghan females.
  • Hospitality and sanctuary:
    • Guests must be honored and treated with absolute respect and selflessness.
    • Most Afghans (especially in rural areas) have little to offer except tea and hospitality.
    • Poorer families/villages may undergo financial strain to provide for guests.
    • Extends to protection of prisoners and fugitives. This is pashtunwali, the Pashtun tribal code of conduct which will be covered in Chapter 4. This causes concern for servicemembers working with local Afghans when reports are released of U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces abusing Afghan prisoners and other Afghans. Most Afghans become angry when hearing of the alleged abuse.

Most KLEs will occur with village elders and/or local government leaders. These are mostly male. There are growing numbers of females working in the various levels of government and in commercial enterprises. If a local woman engages a Western male in conversation, maintain a friendly but serious demeanor.

From KLEs, it is often possible to build relationships. The familiar saying "It's all about relationships" applies to commanders achieving success in Afghanistan. Relationships result from a need, a unique experience, or a common bond. Commanders of U.S., GIRoA, and coalition forces have a common goal: defeat of the Taliban while establishing the creditability of the GIRoA. Therefore, one of the first tasks is building relationships. This is done through meetings with leaders of the provincial and local governments, villages, tribes and clans, commerce, education, and religion-key leader engagements.

Dr. Kilcullen addresses, in his Twenty-Eight Articles Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency, the importance of developing relationships among the local key leaders within the area of operations.

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Twenty-Eight Articles (Extract) Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency

Dr. David Kilcullen, Lieutenant Colonel, Australian Army

Reprinted with permission from Small Wars Journal. This article was originally published in the 1 March 2006 issue of Small Wars Journal.

* * * * * * *

13. Build trusted networks. Once you have settled into your sector, your next task is to build trusted networks. This is the true meaning of the phrase hearts and minds, which comprises two separate components. Hearts means persuading people their best interests are served by your success. Minds means convincing them that you can protect them and that resisting you is pointless. Note that neither concept has to do with whether people like you. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, if you successfully build networks of trust, these will grow like roots into the population displacing the enemy's networks, bringing him out into the open to fight you, and seizing the initiative. These networks include local allies, community leaders, local security forces, NGOs and other friendly or neutral non-state actors in your area, and the media. Conduct village and neighborhood surveys to identify needs in the community, and then follow through to meet them, build common interests, and mobilize popular support. This is your true main effort: everything else is secondary. Actions that help build trusted networks serve your cause. Actions, even killing high-profile targets that undermine trust or disrupt your networks help the enemy.

14. Start easy. If you were trained in maneuver warfare you know about surfaces and gaps. This applies to counterinsurgency as much as any other form of maneuver. Don't try to crack the hardest nut first. Don't go straight for the main insurgent stronghold, try to provoke a decisive showdown, or focus efforts on villages that support the insurgents. Instead, start from secure areas and work gradually outwards. Do this by extending your influence through the locals' own networks. Go with, not against, the grain of local society. First win the confidence of a few villages, and then see who they trade with, intermarry, or do business with. Now win these people over. Soon enough the showdown with the insurgents will come. But now you have local allies, a mobilized population, and a trusted network at your back. Do it the other way around and no one will mourn your failure.

15. Seek early victories. In this early phase, your aim is to stamp your dominance in your sector. Do this by seeking an early victory. This will probably not translate into a combat victory over the enemy. Looking for such a victory can be overly aggressive and create collateral damage, especially since you really do not yet understand your sector. Also, such a combat victory depends on the enemy being stupid enough to present you with a clear-cut target, a rare windfall in counterinsurgency. Instead, you may achieve a victory by resolving long-standing issues your predecessors have failed to address, or co-opting a key local leader who has resisted cooperation with our forces. Like any other form of armed propaganda, achieving even a small victory early in the tour sets the tone for what comes later, and helps seize the initiative, which you have probably lost due to the inevitable hiatus entailed by the handover-takeover with your predecessor.

------- End of article -------

Engaging Afghan: KLE Keys to Success

Capt. Don Moss, U.S. Air Force

Reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School. This article was originally published on the Naval Postgraduate School website on 1 November 2009.

A pillar of Coalition Force/United States Government (CF/USG) efforts in Afghanistan is to separate the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan from insurgent groups such as the Taliban, Haggani Network, and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, and unite the same populace with their fledgling government. In order to do this, the men and women undertaking this effort have access to the latest in information, training, and high-tech equipment. But possibly the most important asset any Soldier, Airman, Marine, Sailor, or civilian can possess is the ability to engage. Not the enemy on the field of battle, but the Afghan civilians he or she encounters on a daily basis.

It is through mastering the art of the key leader engagement (KLE) that strong relationships, which are the cornerstone to victory in COIN operations, can be truly fostered. Believe it or not, your time in Afghanistan is short and the quicker you can establish a strong relationship with the populace of your area the greater the results you'll see in a shorter period of time. Your actions during the longest of meetings or the shortest of convoy stops will leave an impression that will last much longer and spread much farther than you can imagine and may be the key to success or failure for you or other units during future encounters.

What is a KLE?

While normally reserved for meetings with senior officials, for the purposes of this perspective, a KLE is any interaction with an Afghan national. It may be face-to-face (F2F), a phone call, an email, or just passing by on a convoy. All of these interactions shape the way the Afghan people view not only you and your unit, but CF/USG in general. If you say to yourself "well it was only one person during that one time" then you're wrong. Because the tribal structure of Afghanistan and the reach of word of mouth throughout the country, what you do, say, and suggest, even in the shortest of meetings, will reach more Afghans than you can imagine.

Note: While the majority of the tips below pertain to F2F encounters, as many as possible should be considered during any type of interaction you may have. With that said, below are suggestions of who to engage and how to engage them when conducting any KLE.

Who to Talk to?

Established religious/governmental/ANSF and tribal leaders. The order in which you engage these individuals is important as well. (Example: My unit made a concerted effort when we first arrived in Paktya to engage the provincial religious leaders-who were overlooked by the previous PRT-and it has paid huge dividends. The religious figures, because of their place in the Paktya community, have facilitated security discussions with people that we never would have met or even known to have existed. This was a direct result of constant and continuous engagements with religious leaders.)

Suggestion. Take the time very early on (preferably through a predeployment turnover with your predecessor) to identify the true power players in your province and engage them early and often. If the senior Mulawi (higher than a Mullah) of the province is the individual that the majority of the populace heeds and he is the last one you engage, you're already fighting an uphill battle because of the loss of face he has suffered. The more engagements you have with different Afghans the more you'll be able to pin down who truly has the pulse of the populace and should be engaged more often.

GIRoA/provincial officials. These figures will be evident and some of the first you meet upon your arrival. They represent the GIRoA, so in order to establish any legitimacy for GIRoA (one of our end goals) it is very important for the populace to see CF/USG working closely with elected/appointed Afghan leaders.

Note: Working with leaders may become a dilemma when dealing with those who are corrupt. The best course of action is to report incidents of corruption to the appropriate Afghan authorities and make your reservations known. However, until that official is removed by the GIRoA you still have to deal with him. If you refuse to deal with a corrupt official you are subverting GIRoA's authority and decision-making. It's not an easy situation but something that must be dealt with from time to time.

Tribal/village elders (or "white beards" as Afghans call them). Sometimes easier said than done. We have had multiple engagements where villagers have said we're talking to the wrong elder/tribesman. That is usually because those parties were the first to come and identify themselves when a convoy stopped in their village. If someone is willing to immediately help you and seems to have knowledge when you're out on patrol you attach authority to that person because he made your job easier. Anyone dealing with tribes must be very careful that they not give the wrong people too much power. You'll get an individual's perspective on issues/solutions rather than the tribe's perspective. Try to deal primarily with the elders/leaders when discussing issues that will affect the tribe/village as a whole.

Note: The key is identifying the true village and tribal leaders in the area. This can be done through talking with multiple villagers to see if they all identify the same leaders, or by actually attending a village/tribal shura. The shura members will know and identify the influencers.

Talking to the right people is critical. You can talk to any villager all day long, but he may not have the ability to sway the village or tribe, and help in the overall mission. It is the village/tribal leaders who will win you the most support.

Should you take the time to talk to as many Afghans as possible? Certainly; but make sure you focus your engagements where appropriate depending on the time you have.

Keys to the KLE

Show respect. This is a constant theme that will be noted throughout this paper. Most Afghans feel that, throughout history, they have been disrespected and looked down upon. Showing respect, when dealing with anyone from the provincial governor to a local villager, is essential. If anyone you deal with feels they are being disrespected, they will be less willing to help you and more willing to harm you or allow you to be harmed. Respect doesn't mean giving everything or even anything requested during a KLE. It means treating the other party with a good "do unto others" attitude during the scheduling, execution, and aftermath of a KLE.

Note: Some Afghans, especially those from rural areas, rarely have the opportunity to engage CF/USG. The amount of respect you show them has an equal if not greater effect on perceptions of the populace.

Set the tone of respect early. If meeting on a CF/USG installation, the Afghans will have to run the gauntlet of security measures just to enter the base or compound. Once a meeting time has been established, ensure the entry control point is aware of their arrival and the proper respect, security permitting, is exhibited by the installation guards. These are individuals who represent hundreds, if not thousands, of people in some cases. They should not be yelled at or disrespected by a disgruntled E-4 manning the gate.

A good practice is to meet your party at the gate or send a representative. You want to avoid leaving the Afghans waiting at the gate for an inordinate amount of time. Think of it as welcoming someone to your home. You do not want them standing on the doorstep for a half-hour waiting for you to answer the doorbell.

It's not all business. Engaging leaders with early discussion on daily topics (health, family, recent travels, etc.) prior to getting down to business is very important in showing respect and that you care about them as individuals versus a means to an end. From time to time, invite leaders and villagers to your base just to have lunch and talk about life in general. It is not a waste of time. Personal engagements such as this help cement a deep relationship with these figures that continues to pay off in information exchange and rallying support for CF/GIRoA efforts.

Very small things make very big differences when dealing with Afghans. Placing your hand over your heart after shaking hands shows respect. Learning basic phrases (hello, how are you, nice to meet you, thank you) in the language of the area (Pashto or Dari) will instantly break away layers of ice as well as earn you respect for taking the effort to learn their language (this cannot be overstated).

Taking The Time To Learn 3-4 Phrases Will Make A World Of Difference

Take every opportunity to engage. Our unit has had several cases where elders have shown up at the gate unannounced. If there is an opportunity we've brought them onto the FOB [forward operating base], served them chai, and discussed issues as if they had arranged a meeting. In the Afghan culture, hospitality (melmastia) is one of the pillars of Pashtunwali (it is strongly urged that anyone who will be conducting missions/business in Pashtun areas know Pashtunwali. It's a cornerstone of their culture).

You should try to be hospitable at any time in any place. If you're unable to entertain a party of Afghans that drops in unexpectedly, still make the time to go out to the gate to at least talk to them face-to-face and get initial ideas on their issues as well as point of contact information for a follow-on call. Afghans realize that when they show up unannounced there is the possibility they won't get the time they'd like, but make the time if at all possible. If nothing else, they will certainly appreciate the respect shown by meeting them at the gate versus having the entry control point getting their number and asking them to leave.

Note: Impromptu KLEs are common.

Sometimes it takes hours to get from place to place in a convoy. During those trips the convoy may stop once or twice. Depending on where you stop, you will almost immediately be surrounded by local villagers. Security permitting, you should use this opportunity to engage locals. All convoys travel with a host nation linguist or two. Request assistance from one and start talking. Many villages are secluded and cut off from most national news. Use the time to talk to them about national events, tribes and villages in the area, and local issues.

You can both give and receive a lot of information in a short period of time. It is always wise to bring a healthy supply of ISAF newspapers which discuss national events in English, Dari, and Pashto. Usually the only thing villagers will see of CF in some places is the tail of HMMWVs [high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles] or MRAPs [mine resistant ambush protected vehicles] as they pass by. Jump out (security permitting), smile and engage whoever is willing. You can make a huge difference in a very little period of time and leave a lasting impression.

Be patient. The majority of Pashtuns in RC-East rarely get the opportunity to speak with CF/USG leaders. When they do they may have a litany of issues to discuss. Be prepared for a long meeting and allow several members of a tribe, village, or group to talk at length. At times there may be one individual who mainly speaks for the group. At other times it may be several members of the delegation who take turns bringing up specific problems. This sometimes translates into a lot of listening and very little talking by the CF/USG member.

Keep your composure. Some issues will generate heated discussion. For instance, we had Gerda Serai District villagers come to the PRT [provisional reconstruction team] to address recent CF operations which had detained members of their village suspected of emplacing IEDs. The leaders of this group were very emotional in their opposition to operations conducted without their knowledge as well as how long the suspects had been detained. One elder was especially vocal and visibly angry.

Be prepared to weather these outbursts. While some are heartfelt, others are mainly displays for the rest of the group. If a village asks their leaders to address CF/USG about a "hot" topic, reports will come back to the village on how forcefully the leaders tried to get their point across. Leaders, in private, usually do not get as aggressive in their discussions as they do in front of their peers/followers. This is the way of public speaking in most countries, not just Afghanistan. The face a leader portrays when attempting to address an important topic is a factor in how his group/village/tribe perceives him.

If the leader is passive when addressing or negotiating a critical issue for a village, he will be perceived as weak which is a poor trait to be attached to a Pashtun leader. Withstand the barrage, keep your composure, and speak professionally and intelligently to the issues addressed. This will both serve to mitigate any escalation in tensions, which may derail the conversation entirely, as well as earn you respect for keeping your cool.

Note: In most cases the discussion will continue in a more subdued manner after the issue is initially addressed. However the speaker becomes belligerent and overly volatile, then it is certainly appropriate to ask them to leave without addressing their issues. If the group is coming to make a demand or request they will certainly return, and usually in a much more cooperative manner. In addition, the group will respect the fact that your tolerance of outbursts is limited and will conduct their negotiations more professionally.

Follow through. A simple phone call to an Afghan with the current status of a project or issue that is being worked goes a long way and shows the proper respect. In follow-on meetings, even on other topics, if you bring up previous issues it reflects that you are both listening and actively working to solve issues.

Things happen. Anyone who has been to Afghanistan can tell you how dynamic the daily schedule can be. At any time an event can arise which trumps your scheduled KLE. If this happens, immediately make every effort to contact the party and reschedule. This happens as much on the Afghan side as it does for CF/USG so they will understand. If unable to contact the party (which in mountainous eastern Afghanistan is quite possible), ensure that you designate a stand-in for the conversation who is properly briefed on the topic and can engage appropriately. Some visitors drive for hours to attend these meetings so making every effort to minimize their inconvenience or maximize the effectiveness of a KLE you are unable to attend shows respect and helps to maintain or even foster the relationship. The last thing you want is to have a party drive for two hours only to be turned away at the gate.

Keep Your Promises

When speaking with any Afghan, be certain of your words and intentions. If you say things like "I think we can do that" or "that sounds like a good idea," and you do not caveat it with "but I have to check before I can promise anything," they will take that as a promise to do something. If you don't follow through with that promise, you lose creditability and one of the bricks in your "relationship wall." You would prefer this wall to not get shaky. The Afghans have had years of broken promises laid upon them. Don't add to that pile. If you're certain that you can do something and know with a 99-percent probability that it will happen, then go ahead and promise. Once you keep your promise, you will gain respect and it will drive those you interact with to keep their promises as well.


  • Show respect. To each Afghan, regardless of placement within the government, tribe, or village.
  • Seniors first. Serve chai or food to the senior Afghan first.
  • Know names. You will possibly meet hundreds of Afghans during your stay. Afghan and Taji names are foreign sounding and sometimes difficult to capture. While difficult, do your best to take down names of those you meet. Forgetting someone's name in a follow-up meeting is just as embarrassing in Afghan culture as it is in Western culture.
  • Respect Islam. Depending on when you are meeting leaders, have prayer rugs and a quiet place nearby where they can pray if need be. This is another huge sign of respect for them as well as Islam as a religion.
  • Smile. The Afghans are naturally warm and welcoming people. A large portion of the populace view CF/USG as cold and businesslike. Break that perception early. It is one of the first steps to shaping a lasting, beneficial relationship.

Don't (Some of these are well-known, others not so much.):

  • Lose focus. If you have the opportunity to meet multiple Afghans, you may very well meet the same groups who bring up the same issues over and over. These groups may also show up at the most inopportune times. Regardless of the inconvenience, show them the same amount of respect and attention you would if you were talking with the provincial governor. Showing Afghans a lack of respect during a meeting is a slap in the face and is multiplied when they are surrounded by their peers. Once you engage in a meeting, engage. Bring your "A game" and focus on what they are saying. During any meeting with any Afghan a valuable piece of information could be passed relating to a security threat, tribal conflict, or governmental issue.
  • Flatulate or blow your nose during a meeting. This is considered exceptionally rude to Afghans.
  • Show the soles of your feet.
  • Talk down to anyone in the delegation (anyone in the group at some point could become invaluable or be the next leader of the delegation).
  • Rush to close. If you do not have time to conduct a proper meeting, ask to meet them again. Inviting someone in for a meeting and then shooing them out after 15 minutes is rude. Be prepared to discuss the topic at hand without checking your watch every 5 minutes.

Final Thoughts

It is always said, but can't be said enough; Afghanistan is not Iraq. The overwhelming majority of interactions are with individuals from small cities or smaller villages. Many CF come to Afghanistan from Iraq and believe it is the same environment-there will be multiple bombings and attacks, and the majority of Afghans are nothing but future terrorists. This couldn't be further from the truth. The people of Afghanistan have a rich, dynamic history that is incredibly interesting. The people themselves, after 30 years of warfare, want little more than a safer village, district, province, and country. They are looking for our help and, if engaged in a respectful manner and treated as equals, will respond in a positive manner.

The impression you make in any engagement will be a lasting one. How you respected or disrespected someone in your words or actions will be mentioned far and wide. Stay professional, respectful, and alert. Then the road to success in your meetings with the Afghan people will be much improved.

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While not considered key leaders, female family members may have information of value to operational planning and execution. Unfortunately, they are not readily available and it is not smart for Western males to seek opportunities to meet with them. Since females comprise half of the Afghan population, it is wise to create a means to garner their support while collecting information they may possess.

Section III: Female Engagements

The Afghan gender mix is almost 50 percent each male and female. Most KLEs and other engagements with Afghans are almost always between males, except where Afghan women are in leadership positions in government, business, or education. This limits sources of information and opportunities to win support of the GIRoA and U.S. to only Afghan males. However, that is changing as U.S. forces realize Afghan women, while not normally out in public, do possess information valuable to U.S. operations and that these women are more influential in their tribes, clans, villages, and families than previously thought.

* * *

Women Have the Power in COIN: Female Engagement Teams

Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Malevich, Canadian Armed Forces

This article is used with the permission of Lieutenant Colonel Malevich. It originated from his post on the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Counterinsurgency Center blog.

In 2005, I was sitting under a tree at Shira, in Kapisa Province with Minister Stanakzia who was in charge of the Disarmament of Illegally Armed Groups (DIAG) program. I was struck by the fact that there were no women to be seen anywhere. I mentioned this to the Minister and he explained to me that although there were no women present, in Afghan culture they were quite powerful in the home. He said that the great interest in cell phones and the riots that had taken place because of a lack of phone cards was generated by Afghan wives pushing their husbands to keep up with the Jones, or in this case, the Barakzias. Being married, I knew exactly what he was talking about. In spite of the fact that I was a rough, tough army guy, I too seemed to make very few decisions at home. It seems gender dynamics were not that different even in the backwaters of Afghanistan.

After eight years of engagement with the Afghans, someone has finally realized that we have been missing out on 50-percent of the population who have an enormous influence within the family and especially on adolescent males who make up the recruiting pool of the insurgents. Best of all, the Taliban by culture cannot talk to Afghan women and therefore, we have a monopoly.

The best way to exploit this is the female engagement team (FET). A FET is a small, all-female element, 4-6 members, with the task of engaging the Afghan female community. This construct needs to be better exploited in order to communicate and win the support of the most influential part of the population. We should start integrating this more into our training and TTPs [tactics, techniques, and procedures].

Several Army and Marine commanders have created FETs comprised of all-female servicemembers to open dialogue with Afghan females. The meetings between FETs and Afghan women are proving very productive as they are a means of obtaining new information, corroborating information, and winning the support of the Afghan women. FETs can include medical personnel to provide for the needs of Afghan females who rarely, if ever, have opportunities to obtain medical care.

However, to be successful and have Afghan male "buy-in," it is best to request the village elders arrange the engagement. This can be done by either the FET or a male coalition member making the request. Experience shows that having the male request the meeting is the more appropriate method as it maintains the Afghan culture of male-to-male interaction. Unfortunately, FETs do not always receive approval to meet with Afghan women, especially in areas with significant Taliban influence. Where they have met with FETs, Afghan females are more willing to approach U.S. forces. Interestingly, Afghan males are often more open in their meetings with the FET than with male servicemembers.

An additional observation is that children run free in the community; they see and watch and are involved in nearly every activity in the community.

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Twenty-Eight Articles (Extract) Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency

Dr. David Kilcullen, Lieutenant Colonel, Australian Army

Reprinted with permission from Small Wars Journal. This article was originally published in the 1 March 2006 issue of Small Wars Journal.

* * * * * * *

19. Engage the women, beware the children. Most insurgent fighters are men. But in traditional societies, women are hugely influential in forming the social networks that insurgents use for support. Co-opting neutral or friendly women, through targeted social and economic programs, builds networks of enlightened self-interest that eventually undermine the insurgents. You need your own female counterinsurgents, including interagency people, to do this effectively. Win the women, and you own the family unit. Own the family, and you take a big step forward in mobilizing the population. Conversely, though, stop your people fraternizing with local children. Your troops are homesick; they want to drop their guard with the kids. But children are sharp-eyed, lacking in empathy, and willing to commit atrocities their elders would shrink from. The insurgents are watching: they will notice a growing friendship between one of your people and a local child, and either harm the child as punishment, or use them against you. Similarly, stop people throwing candies or presents to children. It attracts them to our vehicles, creates crowds the enemy can exploit, and leads to children being run over. Harden your heart and keep the children at arm's length.

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Half-Hearted: Trying to Win Afghanistan without Afghan Women (Extract)

Capt. Matt Pottinger, U.S. Marine Corps Hali Jilani, Task Force Leatherneck Cultural Advisor and Claire Russo, U.S. Army Civilian Advisor

Reprinted with permission from Small Wars Journal. This article was originally published in the 18 February 2010 issue of Small Wars Journal.

By fits and starts, United States and allied military forces are realizing how difficult it will be to win the war in Afghanistan without correlation from half its population, the Afghan women.

One of the few military efforts aimed at earning the support of women began a year ago when a handful of female U.S. Marines and a civilian linguist formed the first "Female Engagement Team" (pronounced "FET"). The team visited rural Pashtun women in their homes and distributed humanitarian supplies, in the process, earning the goodwill of women who, before they had spoken with the Marine FET, had viewed international troops with fear.1

Since then, more FETs have stood up. The 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade now employs several teams on an intermittent basis in southern Afghanistan.2 U.S. Soldiers and Airmen in the country's east run FETs that, in cooperation with district governments, teach health classes to local women. All international and Afghan security forces were ordered in November to establish FETs of their own.3

Despite these steps, four factors are limiting our ability to intensify and replicate successful female engagements: 1) die-hard presumptions by battlefield commanders that engaging local women will pay no dividends; 2) erroneous hypotheses that female engagement will offend most Pashtun men; 3) a failure to involve FETs in the planning stage of operations, leading to poorly conceived missions; and 4) an unwillingness to establish full-time FETs made up of volunteers who are given the resources and time to train as professionals should.

All of these problems can be resolved by brigade and battalion commanders.

Consider the first factor. Some officers still imagine that engaging women is not worth the effort. "Pashtun women don't have enough influence or knowledge to make valuable allies," they argue. On the contrary, experience confirms that local women wield more influence in their homes-including over their husbands and their sons-than people uninitiated in Afghan family culture believe to be the case.

Rural Pashtun women are responsible for raising children, collecting water, cooking, and helping farm and care for animals, among other jobs. Though rarely seen by outsiders, they are keen observers and opinion-makers about the goings-on in their villages. "The women pass all the news in the villages," says an Afghan National Army colonel who cautions against ignoring half the country's population. "They know who is doing what, who should and should not be in the area. They talk around the well or while they are collecting firewood about the news they have heard from their husbands."

The tactical benefits of speaking with women have already been well established. Pashtun women have on numerous occasions given FETs important information about local personalities, economics, and grievances, as well as about the enemy. The longer-term benefits of earning the confidence and support of Afghan women are more difficult to quantify but, on balance, are likely to be profound.

A second conventional wisdom-that addressing female populations is culturally taboo-is also incorrect. The idea that sending female Soldiers on patrol or to tribal meetings will outrage Pashtun men has been turned upside down. Experience over the past year demonstrates that this assumption is usually wrong. Many Pashtun men, far from shunning American women, show a preference for interacting with them over U.S. men. Pashtun men tend to view foreign women troops as a kind of "third gender." As a result, female servicewomen are accorded the advantages, rather than the disadvantages, of both genders: they are extended the respect shown to men, but are granted the access to home and family normally reserved to women. In many circumstances, this attitude opens opportunities to allied forces. Afghan culture turns out to be more flexible than many male officers have conditioned themselves to believe.

The third problem is the failure to involve FETs in mission planning, with the result that too many operations are limited in scope, duration, and effectiveness. For example, some maneuver units use FETs to search women or try to comfort them during a clearing operation. But as soon as the mission is complete, despite the goodwill achieved, the FET is withdrawn and never sees these women again. While using FETs in this way is entirely legitimate, there are better uses of the FETs in other types of missions that score bigger gains. Instead of using them exclusively in the "clearing" phase of counterinsurgency operations, they should be used more in the "holding" phase. FETs that are devoted to a district and authorized to make recurring visits to households deliver lasting benefits. When repeat visits are possible, FETs should go beyond identifying women's grievances to helping address them in partnership with local leaders, non-governmental organizations, and Afghan policewomen.

Last, the ad hoc nature of FETs, virtually all of whose members have full-time jobs in addition to their FET duties, limits their time for training and rehearsals and, as a result, hampers their effectiveness and safety. The teams should be comprised of full-time members, including female Pashtu linguists, and given the intensive training and resources they need. To do otherwise is a disservice to the mission and to FET members themselves, whose missions are dangerous. Poorly trained FETs are probably worse than having no FETs at all, just as poorly trained maneuver units tend to do-and suffer-more harm than well-prepared units. (Note: Marines will soon deploy the first full-time FETs to Afghanistan).


1. This FET was led by 2nd Lieutenant Johannah Shaffer of Combat Logistics Battalion 3, part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Afghanistan. An account of her mission is contained in the 16 May 2009 memo "Afghanistan Female Engagement Team After-Action and Way Forward."

2. The authors wish to thank Marine Expeditionary Brigade Commander Brigadier General Larry Nicholson and his battalion commanders for their support of the FET program.

3. See: JOINT OPORD OMID (HOPE), signed and issued by the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, National Directorate of Security (Afghanistan), and the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in November 2009.

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Section IV: Human Terrain Teams

Commanders may be fortunate to have input from a human terrain team (HTT) to contribute to their assessment process. HTTs were created to provide knowledge of the local population (the human terrain) to military commanders to:

  • Assist them in understanding the people within their area of operations (AO).
  • Enable them to make better-informed decisions.
  • Reduce the chance for negative effect responses such as improvised explosive device events directed at American Soldiers.

The HTTs fill the socio-cultural knowledge gap in the commander's operational environment and interpret events in his AO. The team, made up of individuals with social science and operational backgrounds, deploys with military units to bring knowledge about the local population into a coherent analytic framework. The team also assists in building relationships with the local community to provide advice and opportunities to commanders and staffs in the field.

The HTTs are regionally focused, modular, staff augmenters that bring to the unit capabilities that exist outside organic unit structures. They deploy as trained and organized teams and are attached to Army brigade combat teams, division-level headquarters, and higher command echelons. Each team is recruited and trained for a specific region. The HTT integrates into a unit's staff, conducts unclassified open-source and field research, and provides focused and operationally relevant human terrain information in support of the planning, preparation, execution, and assessment of operations.

Knowledge of the human terrain allows commanders and their staffs to make better decisions. By identifying local dynamics, grievances, and motivation; assessing governmental effectiveness; and making recommendations on how to address them, HTTs provide the unit nonlethal options, assist the unit in preventing friction with members of the local population, and track effects on the local population that are likely to occur based on planned unit operations.

* * *

Human Terrain Support for Current Operations (Extract)

CPT Nathan K. Finney, U.S. Army

Reprinted with permission from Infantry magazine. This article was published in the March-June 2009 issue of Infantry magazine

In the article "The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century," which appeared in the September-October 2006 edition of Military Review, the authors (Dr. Jacob Kipp, Lester Grau, Karl Prinslow, and CPT Don Smith) described the need for "giving brigade commanders an organic capability to help understand and deal with "human terrain"-the social, ethnographic, cultural, economic, and political elements of the people among whom a force is operating." For over a year, Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) have been addressing that need in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The teams have supported brigades in numerous ways, including identifying local populations' needs and perceptions from the "grass-roots" perspective; engaging influential political, military, business, tribal, religious, and other cultural leaders to cultivate credible local, provincial, and national governing institutions; and identifying the formal and informal centers of gravity and external influences on the local populations through social network analysis.

Operations Attal and Sham Shad, which were conducted in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan from November to December 2007, were two of the first fully integrated operations to include a HTT. The team successfully engaged and interviewed the local populations to map tribal dynamics, determine effects of coalition forces' (CF) operations, conduct market assessments, and identify the population's views on governance. This allowed the team to acquire a more robust and integrated socio-cultural, political, and economic awareness of the brigade's area of responsibility in order to provide CF with operationally relevant information related to the human terrain, improving the commander's understanding of the local populations.

Through field research, the HTT was able to support the commander and his staff by identifying developmental, governance, and security issues within the province. Development within the province was in a questionable state, with the local population perceiving that the severe joblessness was due to the government not fulfilling its duty to provide local jobs. Local leaders voiced their concerns that, without jobs, their people were susceptible to taking money and support from adversarial elements. Additionally, households were relying on remittances from distant family members and loans. As noted on an HTT report from Operation Sham Shad, "money earned through work abroad is sent back to families as remittances through the money transfer system (locally referred to as hawala), [which] is used to sustain families." Through applied social science methods, the team determined that a rapid price inflation of staples was straining this hawala system. According to the report, analysis by the HTT determined that the price increase was the "primary determinant of whether the local situation was improving or deteriorating; and whether the current government is good or bad." The team also discovered that the perception of the local government was linked to the price of staples. This analysis of the local populace's needs was then incorporated into the unit's planning and local operations, enhancing the development in the province, and stabilizing the area.

The team was also successful in identifying the local populations' perceptions and interactions with local governance. The HTT's analysis discovered that locals viewed "good" government as one that consults with elders, incorporating the local tribal structure into government decisions. The team's interactions among the local populace provided the following insights: "All respondents stressed qualities of listening, consulting with elders, fairness, equity, reciprocity, and bringing the government, tribes and people together." Prior to operations in the area, both Afghan officials and CF held strong perceptions that Paktika Province was an isolated, insular area. Once on the ground, the HTT discovered that a portion of the district was actually highly transnational, possessing world views that included concepts of government that came from the Arab peninsula and Afghanistan's neighboring countries. In some areas, this generally younger, transnational population of those who left Afghanistan primarily for work was viewed as the powerbrokers of an area based on wealth, rather than age or family status amongst the tribes. This analysis led the HTT to recommend to the BCT commander a different method of interacting with the local populace; one that did not center on the common assumption that the center of power is based on the elder tribal members of the area.

The HTT was also able to highlight the negative synergistic effects of predatory local government practices on the district population. The effects of this "bad" governance led to the collapse of a district shura and a feeling among a segment of the populace that only the Taliban could protect them. One elder had reported, "People were tired of the Taliban because they beat them. Now, if this government [also] beats them, what should the people do?" The HTT revealed to the BCT staff a case study that Taliban fighters in the area affected some of the population, but the effects of bad local governance affected all of the population. Ultimately, Afghans view the shura as the center of decision making, and the provincial and national governments need to take into account this model. This research analysis was a key planning factor for the brigade to support the need for provincial government officials to strengthen the ties to the local populace by meeting their security concerns. This improved interaction by the provincial government reduced the local populace's support of the Taliban.

The HTT best displayed this type of cultural analysis in Yousef Kheyl District, where the team was able to assist the brigade in coordinating humanitarian assistance distribution in a more equitable manner. The HTT discovered the problem with the distribution process by interfacing with the local population during Operation Attal. The HTT recommended that the brigade distribute the supplies through the district sub-governor (DSG). This new system was based on the tribal elders supplying a list of village families in the greatest need of support to the DSG, who would then provide the distribution information to the brigade through the Provincial Reconstruction Team. This system was more successful than the previous system by ensuring equitable distribution based on tribal consensus, rather than a less legitimate, Western manner. It also provided the brigade with accountability of distributed items. Lastly, this manner of humanitarian assistance distribution brought the local population to the government and aided in developing legitimacy for the DSG.

Finally, the team was able to address local perceptions on security. The local perception was that there was a direct correlation between the ability of the coalition forces to provide protection for the local leaders and their capability to protect the general population. According to the Operation Sham Shad HTT report, this view stemmed from the fact that "since 2004, Paktika has been the site of numerous attacks on Afghan civilians, including electoral workers, tribal elders, religious scholars, and professionals. A number of prominent tribal elders were assassinated between 2005 and 2007, most notably the head of the Sharan tribal Shura, a prominent Sharan tribal member, and the head of the Kushamond tribal Shura." These assassinations led to many effects identified by the local populace. These included government officials leaving the province, the local population unwilling to work for or with the government, collapse of the tribal Shura and anger at the assassinations. In fact, the report also noted, "One of the more profound effects both described and observed was elder self-censorship and fear of talking openly to both the CF and also to other senior Shura members."

The integration of this human terrain information gathered in the field by the HTT provided the brigade's common operating picture an added cultural perspective. Thus cultural perspective positively influenced the planning and decision-making processes of the unit.

The three examples described above keenly display the human terrain system's dedication to training and deploying HTTs to assist combat brigades. This support has taken many forms and used different methodological constructs, leveraging the socio-cultural aspects of the brigade area of operations and creating a clearer picture of the human terrain for both the commander and his staff.

While information gleaned from HTTs, HUMINT [human intelligence], FETs, and KLEs provide vital information, it is the daily monitoring of the local population that provides relatively current situational awareness.

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Section V: Observations

Throughout the course of preparing for and conducting operations, patrols, KLEs, meetings, and associations with Afghans, observations are constantly made that affect or could affect how commanders and Soldiers interact with the local population. Not only is it important to collect all the information you can during your initial visit, it is equally important to pursue follow-on visits and possibly even establish a continual presence. It is important to share these observations and make them a matter of record for use by others in similar situations. Such sharing should be incorporated into:

  • Patrol debriefs/products.
  • After action reports/critiques.
  • Update briefings.

Twenty-Eight Articles (Extract) Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency

Dr. David Kilcullen, Lieutenant Colonel, Australian Army

Reprinted with permission from Small Wars Journal. This article was originally published in the 1 March 2006 issue of Small Wars Journal.

* * * * * * *

10. Be there. The first rule of deployment in counterinsurgency is to be there. You can almost never outrun the enemy. If you are not present when an incident happens, there is usually little you can do about it. So your first order of business is to establish presence. If you cannot do this throughout your sector, then do it wherever you can. This demands a residential approach, living in your sector, in close proximity to the population, rather than raiding into the area from remote, secure bases. Movement on foot, sleeping in local villages, night patrolling: all these seem more dangerous than they are. They establish links with the locals, who see you as real people they can trust and do business with, not as aliens who descend from an armored box. Driving around in an armored convoy, day-tripping like a tourist in hell, degrades situational awareness, makes you a target, and is ultimately more dangerous.

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Section VI: Conclusion

Cultural awareness, a key component of relationship building, is gained through education, training, and contacts with and monitoring of the local population. U.S. forces have daily opportunities to gain additional cultural awareness information using KLEs, FETs, HTTs, patrolling, and all other interactions with the local population. The quality and quantity of the information received by U.S. forces depond on identifying the sources of information received or to be received, engaging the sources in conversation, and evaluating the information received to determine how best to use it.

Insurgents are initially one step ahead of U.S. forces when these forces move into new areas of operations because insurgents have cultural awareness of the local population. Commanders have the responsibility of assessing the local population to gain local cultural awareness and using that information. Done properly, assessments enable relationship building, which leads to partnering in efforts toward the U.S.'s objectives of:

  • Gaining the support of the Afghan local population.
  • Extending the influence of the GIRoA into the local area.
  • Removing the insurgent influence and presence.


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