New U.S. strategy for Afghanistan

The World

This province in eastern Afghanistan has been living through a spike in violence. The NATO forces here have acknowledged it needs more troops to help with security, but the U.S.-led troops say those troops won’t be used in the traditional way. Each week, the U.S. security forces meet with their Afghan counterparts to discuss security and reconstruction. According to the brigade commander, the issue is to identify the right people to meet�those populations at the center of commerce or who hold persuasion over others. Figuring out the real power brokers is easier said than done because there are at least a dozen different tribes in this region. To understand them, the army is turning to academics to understand more nuanced versions of the people here, as this professor says. He was contacted by the Pentagon to embed social scientists into combat units to help the military use less force and make fewer mistakes�part of understanding that counterinsurgency is a different type of battle. Being aware keeps the troops for going into local struggles. It goes both ways according to the professor. He says his job is to translate between the culture of the U.S. and that of Afghanistan. He uses the perception of democracy, for example�Americans regard it as a positive thing, but the Taliban and others have taught Afghans to think of it as restriction of religion and culture. The project is not without controversy and the American Association of Anthropology has expressed concern that taking part in the project is unethical and makes anthropologists indistinguishable from soldiers. For that reason, none of the professors here wanted their full names used. But the professor from earlier says his colleagues who criticize his participation are hypocritical. The convictions of this team were galvanized last may when they lost a colleague to an improvised explosive device, which also killed two other soldiers. Another professor on the team says his death reinforced her conviction about being a part of this project. She says if we can lead to less soldiers and less Afghans being killed, then it’s a job well done. The program has been praised by General Patreaus. But even proponents admit the program brings the U.S. even a small step closer to understanding the complex culture of Afghanistan.

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