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Newsletter 10-64
September 2010


"Afghanistan isn't Iraq. Iraq is largely characterized by the Sunni/Shia/ (Kurd) split. Here [Afghanistan] it's ethnic diversity and complex tribal dynamics. We need to drastically improve our Afghan cultural awareness. Training for Iraq doesn't prepare Soldiers for Afghanistan. And they [Afghans] are too different to water down cultural training to a common denominator."

-Major General Richard P. Formica, Commander
Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan

U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, defines society as a population whose members are subject to the same political authority, occupy a common territory, have a common culture, and share a sense of identity. Afghanistan's society does not fit that definition. Afghanistan has a central government and a defined border, but the government does not control all of the country or population. Afghanistan does not have a common culture or shared identity. Afghanistan is a tribal/clan society with many languages. The mountainous geography has channeled the tribal/clan society into limited-access villages and has protected that way of life from invading armies and central governments. Therefore, understanding and applying knowledge of the Afghan tribal cultures and languages are critical components to success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Afghanistan.

What is culture?

Culture is the way people behave. Culture is a system of shared values, beliefs, behaviors, and norms used to cope with the world and each other. Culture is influenced and shaped by geography, history, economics, politics, art, religion, education, traditions, and ethnicity.

Why focus on culture?

History provides many examples of where failure to know, understand, and apply the culture of others often led to disastrous results. Afghans have defeated and driven from Afghanistan the British and Soviet forces who attempted to subjugate them. Could failure to recognize the unique and complex Afghan culture have led to the defeat of the British and Soviets? With Afghanistan being the home to a great variety of ethnic, linguistic, and tribal groups, focusing on local Afghan culture is critical to enabling Afghans and U.S. forces to do the following:

  • Earn each other's trust.
  • Communicate the needs of the local population and possible U.S. support.
  • Influence each other toward mutually agreed upon solutions.
  • Build confidence in the Afghan central and provincial governments.
  • Promote and develop economic and physical security.



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