we thought we could kill our way out. At the very beginning of the war, we just sort of bombed our way into Afghanistan and drove the Taliban and Al Qaeda back into the FATA [federally administered tribal areas].”

Since that time, however, the military has come to understand the importance of taking sociocultural factors into consideration, he said, and it has put into place a number of programs and policies that reflect that new mindset.


Part of the military’s new approach in Afghanistan is attitudinal, with an effort being made to recognize the ways in which the local culture is different from American culture and to respect those differences. But there are also more concrete ways in which the military is taking sociocultural factors in the country into account. MG Flynn described several specific examples of these new approaches.

Showing Respect and Sensitivity to Local People and Customs

Women make up half of the population in Afghanistan, playing a major role in Afghan families. Thus, MG Flynn said, he has come to appreciate the value of female engagement teams, who communicate with local Afghan women apart from the men, leading to often extremely insightful information collection. “The Marine Corps has done a great job of recognizing that early on,” he said. “They organized themselves in one regiment, and then that caught on, and then they subsequently organized themselves within the Corps.” It would be a good idea if the Army would take that approach in the same way, he said. “Some commanders do apply the female engagement teams, and they’re very successful, but it is based on the commander. When that commander leaves, the next guy comes in and he doesn’t think it’s such a hot idea.” Thus it would make sense to turn this into a much more widespread, centrally based practice.

A second example of showing respect and sensitivity to the local culture is understanding how to work with the shura, or Islamic council. “It’s more than a meeting,” MG Flynn said. “It’s how these people communicate, it’s how they make decisions.” This can be frustrating for Americans who desire immediate and definitive decisions, despite inherent delays of the American bureaucratic system.

“A shura can last a couple of hours, or it can last a couple of days. What we’ve got to understand is that that’s the process of this environment, that’s how they decide. So when you go to talk to someone, you don’t go talk to a district governor or a tribal leader and … make a decision. That’s not how it works.” Instead, you meet with a group of people

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