2
The Situation in Afghanistan

In his keynote address, Major General Michael T. Flynn, U.S. Army, provided context and background for the workshop by describing the situation in Afghanistan. In particular, he described how the military currently deals with various sociocultural issues that influence the success of its mission there. MG Flynn is in Afghanistan as the deputy chief of staff, intelligence (CJ2) for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

THE IMPORTANCE OF CULTURAL AWARENESS

MG Flynn began by acknowledging the importance of cultural awareness to the Department of Defense’s mission in Afghanistan. “Understanding the local customs and culture is absolutely critical,” he said. But not just in Afghanistan. Many parts of the world are under extreme stress right now where the military could find itself at some point in the future, he observed, and it is important to have a good understanding of their culture and customs so that military personnel can prepare quickly for whatever new mission they are given. “Are we prepared now?” he asked. “The answer is probably not.”

The situation was similar when the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan in 2001. “Appropriately applying respect and sensitivity to local customs and culture can actually help you win the war,” MG Flynn said. “I think that’s where we made a mistake out here in Afghanistan, because it wasn’t something that we understood, and, frankly, for a couple of years



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2 The Situation in Afghanistan I n his keynote address, Major General Michael T. Flynn, U.S. Army, provided context and background for the workshop by describing the situation in Afghanistan. In particular, he described how the military currently deals with various sociocultural issues that influence the suc- cess of its mission there. MG Flynn is in Afghanistan as the deputy chief of staff, intelligence (CJ2) for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). THE IMPORTANCE OF CULTURAL AWARENESS MG Flynn began by acknowledging the importance of cultural aware- ness to the Department of Defense’s mission in Afghanistan. “Under- standing the local customs and culture is absolutely critical,” he said. But not just in Afghanistan. Many parts of the world are under extreme stress right now where the military could find itself at some point in the future, he observed, and it is important to have a good understanding of their culture and customs so that military personnel can prepare quickly for whatever new mission they are given. “Are we prepared now?” he asked. “The answer is probably not.” The situation was similar when the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan in 2001. “Appropriately applying respect and sensitivity to local customs and culture can actually help you win the war,” MG Flynn said. “I think that’s where we made a mistake out here in Afghanistan, because it wasn’t something that we understood, and, frankly, for a couple of years 9

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10 SOCIOCULTURAL DATA TO ACCOMPLISH DOD MISSIONS 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. WAYS IN WHICH THE MILITARY TAKES SOCIOCULTURAL FACTORS INTO ACCOUNT 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 cul- ture 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 communi- cate, 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 environ- ment, 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 deci- sion. That’s not how it works.” Instead, you meet with a group of people

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11 THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN who sit around and discuss the issue until everyone understands the issue clearly, and then they go back and have their own mini-shuras in their own villages. And it may be two or three months later before they return with a decision. Similarly, he said, it is important to understand the tribal nature of Afghan society and to work with tribal leaders in whatever the military is trying to accomplish. It is normal for Americans to seek out elected politi- cal leaders with whom to interact, he said, but in many parts of Afghani- stan such political leaders don’t exist. “So who is in charge? There’s the family elder, and then there’s tribal leaders. And what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to understand how to deal with them.” Human Terrain Teams and Atmospheric Programs In the question and answer session following his speech, MG Flynn discussed two other related techniques for understanding and working with Afghans. First is human terrain teams, which include social scientists embedded in deployed military units to assist in military decision mak- ing.1 The teams are intended to help military commanders understand the local culture and history and to help engage and communicate with locals. So far, he said, the teams have been quite valuable. “The number one performance measure is whether I can pry them out of the commander’s hands [to whom they are assigned] when I need to reallocate them on the battlefield. I can tell you I have not been successful, not once. In 2007, we had one human terrain team out here. By the end of this month, we’re going to have 23, so that should tell you that there is a desire to have this capability on the battlefield.” The human terrain teams provide commanders with an extraordinary amount of information and help, MG Flynn said, putting the commanders in a position to under- stand the social factors in the environment more accurately and thus to make better decisions. In the future, he would like to see the U.S. military have an expandable capability—in the sense that it would be possible to bring in the appropriate number of human terrain teams when they are needed—but he does not think it is necessary for each brigade to have a human terrain team as a permanent part of its structure. The second technique is the atmospherics program, which is not an intelligence program, but an information one, MG Flynn said. “This is a very challenging environment, particularly because of the security conditions, and the atmospherics people go out and operate in that envi- ronment. A couple hundred of these individuals put themselves at risk 1 For more information on the U.S. Army Human Terrain System, see http://humanter rainsystem.army.mil/Default.aspx [October 2010].

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12 SOCIOCULTURAL DATA TO ACCOMPLISH DOD MISSIONS and go in and out of villages and towns and urban areas, and they just get a sense, kind of a fingertip feel, and they push that information back into a broader information system.” That in turn gives MG Flynn and his analysts a flow of information that allows them to see trends in the environment. In particular, he said, it allows them to notice when patterns begin to move away from the norm. Stability Operations Information Centers Previously, MG Flynn used a kinetic concept of an operations infor- mation cell as a tool in the pursuit of Al Qaeda. Recently, he said, he has adapted and expanded those cells to a different purpose and renamed them Stability Operations Information Centers, or SOICs. “We were using it in a previous life where I was worried about how many Al Qaeda we needed to capture or kill, but now I’m worried about how many people we need to protect.” Stability is the focus now (for more information on SOICs, see Flynn et al., 2010). “Stability Operations Information Centers are really critical,” MG Flynn said, as “a different and effective approach to better understanding the motivation and the concerns of key centers of the local population. We’re into our second iteration out here right now, and the feedback has been great, and the application has really helped.” Intelligence During the Iraq war, MG Flynn said, the U.S. military began using fusion centers, or units in which several capabilities are integrated in order to deal with a specific problem or problems. They were focused mainly on the kinetic war—the conflict with armed enemy fighters—in which the goal is to kill or to capture. Recognizing that greater attention needs to be paid to the population and the government of Afghanistan, the military has adapted the fusion centers to have a broader and some- what different focus. “We brought the concept here a couple years ago,” he said, “and this past year . . . we just morphed how they operate and what they do and how they integrate.” Now they are focused primarily on the nonkinetic war, on “understanding the elements of governance, the elements of development, and the elements of the social fabric” with which the military is working in Afghanistan. DEALING WITH INFORMATION In an environment like Afghanistan, MG Flynn said, information needs to be processed, managed, and shared as quickly as possible. “We

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13 THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN will win if we can decide faster and adapt faster than the enemy,” he said, “but one of the things we weren’t doing very well is, we weren’t leveraging our ability to communicate with each other and to flatten our structures to speed up decision making.” People in many organizations, but particularly the military, are con- cerned that if they flatten their organization structure—that is, remove some of the need to communicate up and down a rigid command struc- ture and instead focus more on communications across the organiza- tion—then they may lose control. But, he said, such a shift actually makes it possible to gain more control by flattening the information flow so that “when a decision needs to be made, it gets to the decision maker much faster, and the decision maker is much better informed because he’s been informed over time rather than waiting to be informed at the last minute.” A great deal of flattening has taken place in the U.S. military and other military forces in Afghanistan over the past year, he said. There are still improvements that can be made, but things are much better today than they were a year ago (for more information on MG Flynn’s perspectives on this issue, see Flynn et al., 2010). Afghan Mission Network One of the ways that the military has begun using technology to leverage knowledge is to expand what is called the Afghan Mission Net- work, MG Flynn observed. “We basically created one communications system . . . that brings in 47 nations on one network,2 and it goes back to the United States, it goes into Europe, it goes into any of those nations that are non-NATO as well.” It took about a year to get the single com- munications system working well, he said. “We’re not quite there yet, but we’re much, much better. I would say we’re probably 80 percent today.” This is how all joint operations involving a number of different coun- tries should be run in the future, he said. “If you’re operating on different systems in a coalition environment, forget about speed of information, for- get about speed of decisions—you’ll always be behind the adversary.” Providing more details about the Afghan Mission Network, he explained that it is the coalition’s primary C4ISR (command, control, com- munications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) platform. It is a virtual single domain for all of the national networks, including the U.S. military’s CENTRIx, the LPSF system of Canada, the Caesar system of Italy, and Overtask of the United Kingdom. 2 Asof December 2010, there are currently 49 nations participating in the Afghan Mission Network.

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14 SOCIOCULTURAL DATA TO ACCOMPLISH DOD MISSIONS In planning for the network, the decision was made that there should be a single system that allows everyone in the entire force to communicate with one another and with their headquarters back in their respective countries. “We had to build technology to facilitate process, versus pro- cesses that have to adapt to the technology, especially communications.” The network did not require a great deal of technical adaptation, MG Flynn said. It required policy adaptation. It required someone to decide that it would be okay to share between the systems. Security consider- ations demand that appropriate firewalls exist between the systems, he noted, but technologically it was straightforward to do. LESSONS MG Flynn ended his address by recounting two overall lessons pro- vided by the experience in Afghanistan. First, he said, warfare has changed fundamentally. “Twentieth-century warfare was defined by fire and maneuver, the components of which were speed, distance, and lethality. Twenty-first-century warfare is defined by information and intelligence, and the subcomponents of that are preci- sion, perception, and understanding, more than speed, distance, and lethality.” The U.S. military has the technological capability to hit a target with a missile with exceptional precision, but its aim is only as good as the infor- mation about the target’s location. The military targeting process has five components—(1) find, (2) fix, (3) finish, (4) exploit, and (5) analyze—and four of those components have to do with information and intelligence, he noted. Only the “finish” is a kinetic process. “Now, put that model into a nonkinetic social engineering construct, and maybe it’s not find, fix, finish; maybe it’s find, feel, understand,” he said. “Two components that definitely stay in this cycle are exploit and analyze. Exploitation to gain advantage, or to further understand, or to further a decision-making process. . . . And analysis is still very important because there are volumes and volumes of information.” “But what is it that you are trying to do? If you’re trying to change the sense of the community that you’re dealing with and how they perceive you, you cannot do that kinetically. Trust me, you cannot do that kineti- cally. But if that is not an appropriate approach for a particular area, and you’re just dealing with the population . . . , you’ve got to understand what are the things that drive that particular area. . . . What drives that village? What drives that district or that tribe? What are their needs? In many cases, you find out that it’s not about the money; it may be about some basic services that they want. It may be that they want to put a road in. . . . It could be building a school.”

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15 THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN “But we’ve done stupid things over the years, like we’ve built schools, but nobody asked if there were any teachers in the village. . . . Nobody understood the environment, and therefore the school is now five years old and decaying, or it’s a safe house for the Taliban. It’s that basic.” To win that sort of war requires a very different approach and set of skills than winning a kinetic war. This is a particular challenge, he said, because military forces must still be trained to be effective on the battlefield, and they must also be able to succeed in this different sort of war. In response to a question, MG Flynn discussed the sort of training that he would like to see. First, it would be useful to have a number of analysts who are comfortable in different native languages. “We had one SOIC team out here, and one of the analysts in the team was a former Marine who spoke perfect Pashto and had a good, strong grasp of Dari. That SOIC team produced more of what we called DNA—District Nar- rative Assessment—just because of the entrée that that team had. . . . A white kid from Middle America talking literally perfect Pashto, and they love it, they absolutely love it.” Not everyone needs to develop a fluent language capability, he added, but it is useful to have “a one- to two-minute capability to introduce your- self, talk a little bit, just to show that you’ve tried.” Intelligence analysis in Afghanistan is not about order of battle (the number and organization of military forces) or the Taliban cell structure and organization, MG Flynn said. That is already well covered. What he needs are analysts who are trained to understand and learn about the local environment. “I need to know about what makes the people tick, what’s important to them, what’s not important to them, who are the leaders, who are the informal leaders, who are the referent leaders, who are the real power brokers, who are the malign actors, who are the people that they don’t like but in fact have to deal with.” Some of the training would be basic Psychology 101, and some of it would be more anthropological, with an understanding of the social fabric of the local area. The goal is to have analysts who can come in and think not only about the insurgency but also about all elements of the society. “If I could train every analyst like that and get them all to come in here understanding that, we’d be that much better.” The second overall lesson, MG Flynn said, is that it will be important to develop technologies to enable the processes that accompany this new type of warfare—and to do it quickly. “Within my department, sometimes we take years and years to produce something,” he said, and then it ends up not being used because it has already been overtaken by newer tech- nology. “I’ve got all sorts of gadgets that, because of our procurement process, we cannot make fast enough.” So one challenge is to figure out

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16 SOCIOCULTURAL DATA TO ACCOMPLISH DOD MISSIONS how to speed up the development of military technologies, given the Department of Defense’s big budgets and big programs. It is also important, particularly when operating in a culture such as Afghanistan, to design and build technology in the service of processes rather than attempting to adapt processes to the technology. “I use a side- walk analogy,” he said. “We build sidewalks coming out of a building at a 90 degree angle because it looks good, but kids will come out the door and they’ll cut across the front lawn, and over time there’s a new path built by the shortest walk between two points. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t bring this 90-degree attitude and 90-degree culture into a society that’s looking for the shortest path between two points. Again, we’ve got to build technology based on the processes that exist, and it will improve those processes.” Finally, he said, it is important to develop ways to speed up the sharing of information across both technical and cultural barriers. “We designed the Four Eyes system post-World War II [a system for intel- ligence sharing among the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia], and then Five Eyes [intelligence sharing among Four Eyes plus New Zealand], and now we’ve got eleven eyes for certain things,” he said. “We have to look at how we share information in a world where information is just exploding.” With both the number of partners and the amount of information increasing, it is becoming increasingly challenging to share information while keeping it protected from those who should not have access to it.