The Human Terrain System (HTS)

"J" sent me this citation for the official Army Training and Doctrine Command website for the HTS.  As I have written before, this program fills a massive lacuna in Army capability.

Today’s US Army produces specialist officers who are generally part of the active force and who fill high level military-diplomatic and general staff positions.  They are called "Foreign Area Officers" (FAOs) Such officers require lengthy academic and on the ground preparation in qualification for a career filled with such duties.  They are not usually available to advise battlefield commanders at the brigade (3,000 soldiers) level.  There are not enough of them for that and there will not be enough.  It is a question of Army personnel priorities.

Something usually emerges to fill a vacuum, and the HTS program emerged after the beginning of the 9/11 wars to fill the need experienced by combat brigade commanders for advisers who could explain local populations to them and in turn explain coalition forces to the locals.

I have participated in the educational end of preparing some of these teams for deployment to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  I found them to be very good students.  The teams are typically made up of retired or reserve military personnel who manage the effort, indigenous interpreters and the civilian social scientists (political science, anthropology, economics) who are the core of the capability provided.  So far, commanders in the field express great satisfaction with the service provided.

The social science associations have expressed some reservations about this program.  They should think that over a bit.  The Army has been careful not to make these teams part of the unit’s intelligence function that produces intelligence that drives combat operations (kinetic).

This program is developing and evolving in a dynamic way that is responsive to the needs of the present and probable future engagements.  The social science associations should seek to be involved in that development.  pl

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15 Responses to The Human Terrain System (HTS)

  1. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    This sounds like a rational consequnce of the vacuum that was created by the failure of the State Department to do its job.
    Hasn’t this approach, i.e. the pulling together of information from a variety of disciplines so as to provide the US with what it needs to know in order to understand how best to interact with other countries throughout the world traditionally been a State Department job?
    Haven’t Obama’s people been focusing on restoring this function to State with the understanding that other cabinet level departments would be contributing their expertise using State as the lead?
    Doesn’t this approach by DOD also reinforce the idea most recently promulgated by Rumsfeld that by virtue of its de facto presence in a foriegn country that therefore de jure that the military is the best agent for engaging in diplomacy?
    I’m not questioning the need for the information HTS is generating. I am, however, questioning how it shoud be controlled. This may also have something to do with the reluctance you report of the social sciences to participate.
    At another more whimsical level it reminds me of the dispute between the Air Force and the Army as to which service should be in charge of things that fly.

  2. Patrick Lang says:

    The State Department is in charge of diplomacy, not analysis of foreign cultures. They also have consular functions. So far as I know the SD has never had a function of advising the military in the way that we are talking about here. They provide what are called “Political Advisers” to commands headed by 4 star officers, but not even they take those guys seriously. Most of their people are addicted to the same Political Science induced aversion to local culture that one found throughout the government until recently.
    The intelligence community, specifically thas national agencies do the kind of analysis that you are talking about.
    The State Department would be aghast at the idea of providing people to serve with the infantry. Where could one get a good “latte” in such circumstances. pl

  3. R Whitman says:

    Sounds like the old Soviet Political Commisar(sp?) Program to me.

  4. Patrick Lang says:

    R Whitman
    If that sounds like political commissar to you then you are probably too ignorant to grasp the idea that political officers in Communist armies were there to keep the communist soldiers under control. The HTS people have no function whatever of that kind. pl

  5. barrisj says:

    All of these various intellectual underpinnings gloss over the (obvious) central theme: it’s all about controlling an occupied population in one regard or another. Sure, candy-coat all this with “hearts-and-mind” jargoneering and warmed-over CORDS business from Vietnam, but it all comes down to the VERY basic issue of bending a local population to accept the views of a foreign power. Any way you slice it, COIN means beating down a significant segment of “the enemy” to conform to the US paradigm of “good government”. Whether it’s aggregating various and sundry warlords in Afghanistan to “see our vision”, to Predator raids over FATA, the effect is simple imperialism, full stop. Spare me the GWOT rhetoric, please; too many geopolitical issues have been caught up and subsumed in the “war on terror” rubric for any of this to suffice as an overall strategic plan for securing so-called “US interests”. Obama has an extraordinary opportunity to break through the blinders of self-defeating US policy of the past 8-12 years; will he seize the moment is the question of the day.

  6. mlaw230 says:

    Colonel: This is fascinating to me, as I have several friends in both worlds, the State department and a few SF officers. Many liters of Bourbon have been sacrificed on the alter of some mutuality of interst.
    My connection to them is largely long ago college or post grad association, but time and tide has resulted in them being fairly high ranking in their fields.
    Until very recently, the SF officer recommending “non-kinetic” means was considered a, well… not a warrior, and the SD guy was trained that a resort to force was the very definition of failure.
    Yet, even Ghandi knew that backing his non violent revolt lay the threat of a violent revolt.
    With some notable exceptions, including the new Africa Command, and pretty clearly Petraeus’s fundamental ideas in Iraq, we simply do not have the Latte Battalion of educated, culturally aware folks, willing to get dirty, to which the government can rely t0 mae policy.
    We need a military wiling to admit that diplomacy is important. But more importantly, they need to realize that the two are not exclusive.

  7. J says:

    your — The State Department would be aghast at the idea of providing people to serve with the infantry. Where could one get a good “latte” in such circumstances. pl
    state weenies need to educated do like what many have done in the past — open up their coffee packet, turn it up and empty its contents into one’s cheek — yummm….. and there you are, a ‘walking latte machine’ in action. 🙂

  8. dano says:

    It seems to me that Army Special Forces were the version 1.0 (Mark I, Mod 0) of this concept in that they took the time to learn the local language and customs before deploying into an area and working with the local people. Fifty years later and the Army is figuring out that the way to win hearts and minds is to understand those hearts and minds and work with them, not to pound on them until they agree to comply.
    This program is a good idea; I hope the Army figures out how to make it work better and doesn’t let some guy who’s trying to shape an area according to his own tactical ideas come along and kill it. (And protect those HTS specialists – they are high value targets for the enemy and it takes a lot of time to acquire replacements for those that are lost.)

  9. Patrick Lang says:

    It sounds like you have a problem with the US finding an effective eay to do business. pl

  10. The State Department would be aghast at the idea of providing people to serve with the infantry. Where could one get a good “latte” in such circumstances.
    Some of you may remember (for some odd reason) that I used to work for that glorious institution and I have made my thoughts clear here before about what I think of the average Foreign Service Officer, as well as the culture of the DoS as a whole.
    Even I, however, will admit that some FSOs – most likely prior military – do some hardship style tours, even though “hardship” for them is probably still pretty posh compared to infantry. And ole Joe Wilson doesn’t strike me as a latte drinking wimp if the public accounts are to be believed. (I tend not to mix in such circles and can’t say for sure!)
    FSOs do tend to live in a cocoon while overseas, though, partly due to the stupid security requirements. In Honduras, I lived in the “off limits” part of Tegucigalpa across the river in Comayagüela. I’m not even sure DoS employees could visit my neighborhood during daylight hours, much less at night. (BTW – I was a DoD contractor in Hondoland, not a DoS guy, so I didn’t have to listen to the Embassy security folks which they didn’t seem to like much.) All the DoS employees lived in “better” areas of town in little enclaves authorized by the local embassy’s security staff. While their homes and cars were getting burgled right and left, I never had one problem for the 13 months I lived in the dangerous part of town! And it’s not like I stuck out or anything – a lily white, blond haired, blue eyed, 6′ 3″, 230 lb Gringo lumbering around in a sea of latinos! (El Gringo Rubio!)
    Why didn’t I have any problems? I’m guessing because I got along well with my landlady, who came from a pretty powerful family as far as I know. I think the word on the street was don’t mess with Doña Alma’s Gringo tenant.
    What was my point again in this rambling?
    Oh, not all DoS folks live in bubbles overseas. There are a few adventurous ones. And sometimes the bubbles are imposed by security requirements. Sadly, I don’t think it’s the majority, though.

  11. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Being a content civilian, it seems to me that the way to make your way around the human terrain of another culture is twofold and really not that complicated. One, respect the other culture. Two, from a man’s perspective, don’t try to play Rambo with the aim of picking up some woman of the other culture. Create a brotherhood first. Create a brotherhood and then people will start giving info.
    The “hunt” for Eric Roberts in Western North Carolina may provide a civilian analogy. Eric Roberts, to refresh the memory, ultimately was the primary suspect following the Atlanta Olympic bombing, among other terrorist acts.
    The feds, in my opinion, did much wrong and it all originates out of some type of arrogance. In an attempt to use military vernacular, perhaps they failed to understand the “human terrain” of western North Carolina.
    Number one, the feds refused to listen to some top notch GBI (Ga. Bureau of Inv.) investigators who were adamant that Richard Jewell (the bubba bomber, for those who recall) had nothing to do with the Olympic bombing. The GBI warned the feds time and time again but to no avail, as apparently the GBI advice was “beneath them”. The US Attorney in Atlanta then publicly played it all wrong because he refused to emphasize that Jewell was merely a suspect, not a convicted terrorist, only confirming the arrogance of the feds.
    Number two, when Roberts became the prime suspect and the search began in western North Carolina, the feds alienated the local culture. It was beyond belief. They came swarming in on helicopters and what not, with enough technology to pick up the sound of a leaf falling in China. And, from what I can glean, some of the feds did some serious swaggering as they were walking around the small towns.
    It would have much more efficient if some fed had simply driven into Murphy or Andrews NC in a beat up pick up and had coffee with the locals. Respect the local culture. Create a brotherhood, don’t try to score with the waitress cause you have convinced yourself you are some damn Hollywood star in some insipid melodrama.
    If the feds had not alienated the locals, then people would have talked. Instead no one would talk.
    Now, all feds did not act arrogantly. No way. But little doubt that someone, somewhere botched the search for this suspected terrorist in the remote mountains, and I just don’t see how the mistakes did not arise out of some type of hubris.
    Of course, Eric Roberts was captured after the feds left the scene. Ultimately some local deputy saw Roberts rummaging around a trash bin. I am sure the feds would have not given that local deputy the time of day when they were running the show.
    If the search for Eric Roberts is apropos, then the HTS may help.

  12. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Eric Rudolph not Roberts. I sure do miss my legal assistant who use to review my dictations and so forth. She saved me innumerable times.

  13. G Hazeltine says:

    Col. Lang – I wonder if the critical and perhaps under appreciated problem here is not language. I think you had some comments recently on that subject in regards to intelligence gathering. And in the field, who will interpret the interpreters, so to speak?

  14. bstr says:

    Dear Sir, you recently responded to a writer that you suspected he had a problem with the US finding an effective way to do business. I think that our country is actually finding it difficult to determine in what business we should be involved. Are we in the business of promoting democracy? Are we in the business of safe borders? Are we the economic saviors or economic shmucks of the world? Israel is pumping up something fierce with attacks in Gaza and threats of inflicting high civilian losses in Lebanon. How are we going to define our roles in that part of world for the next four years so that it relects an effective way to conduct our business?

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    G. Hazeltine
    The language is important as part of the culture. It filters their thought. To understand the locals you have to understand the way that filter works. The actual communication in Arabic, French, etc is less important but obviously necessary. pl

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