Wednesday, 30 December 2009

US Army training emphasises hearts and minds

An unclassified memorandum on training requirements, circulated by US Forces Afghanistan HQ earlier this month and published on the Cryptome website, contains some fascinating details of military procedures on a range of subjects including the pros and cons of wearing body armour, the deployment of Female Engagement Teams, the selection of Forward Operating Bases, language skills and the poor training of soldiers in indirect (mortar) fire.
The memo shows that at least at leadership level the US Army is prepared to make major doctrinal changes based on experience in the field. Whether these changes are actually implemented by platoon commanders is more difficult to judge.
On language training, the memo says it is "as important as your other basic combat skills". Soldiers are to begin language training well before they deploy and every platoon commander must reach a basic level of proficiency in Dari/Pashto.
The memo notes that units deploying to Afghanistan cannot interact with the female half of the population and that Female Engagement Teams (FETs) should be used more widely. "FETs have the potential to significantly improve relationship-building within Afghanistan, enhance information gathering and cast US forces in a positive light", it says.
The memo notes that to date FETs have been used primarily by the Marines, but that this should now be extended to all units. It recommends culture classes to educate FET members on considerations such as dress, offensive physical gestures, customs and religion. They should also receive training in the Pashtunwali code "to better understand Pashtun culture".
The issue of body armour is a delicate one. In the UK, the lack of it was a major issue until the government made more money available to ensure all troops were fully equipped.
However, the memo states that although wearing individual body armour (IBA) can be an appropriate force protection measure, "its near-universal application in Afghanistan has become a hindrance to establishing bonds in this personal relationship and trust-based society."
It notes that wearing IBA has become a default position, but that to Afghans it conveys a message of distrust or uneasiness. Usfora's Counter-Insurgency guidance notes state that "excessive force protection is distancing, not inspiring". Instead, units should be trained to know when to take off IBA.
On the selection of sites for forward operating bases (FOBs), the memo notes that in one town, locals asked for the FOB to be built around the local cellphone tower, as a previous one had been destroyed by the Taliban. It says FOBs - of which there are more than 200 - should be built within population centres to encourage trust and support from the local population. Locals should even be involved in the selection of sites for FOBs.
Interestingly, the memo encourages soldiers to think of the Taliban in two distinct groups:
"Group 1 are the ideological Taliban who will never accept a Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as legitimate. This group must be eliminated. Group 2 are the 'upset brothers', a description in Pashto. When we address and alleviate their issues they will reintegrate with Afghan society. We can affect this goal with the 'upset brothers' by using our FOBs to enhance participation with the people."

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