The U.S. Army's Failed Anthropology Experiment
In 2006, a program dubbed the Human Terrain System was introduced to the U.S. Army as an anthropological effort to learn more about the culture of the Iraqi and Afghan people. The program aimed to combine social science with military intelligence to gain more Intel on the cultural factors at play in the countries’ high level of extremism and terrorism. HTS faced substantial criticism from the start, from both experts in anthropology and war, as well as from both left and right-sided politics. The program cost taxpayers an estimated $700 million over a span of seven years before it was halted. The program ended in September of 2014, but the defeat of the program was widely unknown, at least from a public standpoint, until just recently.

Despite the criticism, a multi-sector approach to the conflict in the Middle East could have the potential for tremendous reward. The brisk implementation, lack of adequate organization and training and high level of criticism seemed to completely deplete any and all advantages that HTS could have brought to U.S. efforts. It is widely known and supported that investment in encouraging development in areas of underdevelopment is generally a long term investment in decreasing conflict and therefore strengthening homeland defense. In fact, 84 percent of military officers said that strengthening non-military tools, such as diplomacy and development efforts, should be at least equal to strengthening military efforts, and yet the U.S. spends a tiny fraction of foreign spending on alleviating poverty. Understanding the culture in which soldiers are living and interacting within would be of a tremendous value for U.S. troops. So, why, then, was the introduction of HTS faced with so little support?

For one, the program was developed and implemented rather quickly, and without adequate research and planning. There was little training for workers who would be immersed in an area of high combat, intense climate and a language barrier, which not only put the workers in danger, but also took away from their ability to adequately gather information and inform troops.

Additionally, posing the project as an anthropology initiative posed serious ethical concerns. Some viewed it as the U.S. army gaining knowledge of the culture and its people to more efficiently subjugate violence against them. The anthropological community strongly upheld that argument, which contributed to a lack of support and expertise in that area contributing to the program. Additionally, on the ground, this dilemma brought on varying degrees of suspicion among Iraqi and Afghan people, which could further put the HTS workers in danger.

Also, the lack of adequate leadership and development of the program left room for major problems in mismanagement, corruption, racism and sexual harassment. The program was cited for hiring unqualified workers at all levels. The impossible work environment and lack of general expertise and professional knowledge rendered the program nearly ineffective.

Overall, the program, at first glance, would seem potentially invaluable for both domestic military leaders and for the troops actively engaged on the ground. However, the mismanagement and lack of seriousness of the program made for an ineffective and potentially dangerous program. The quiet termination of the program was needed, but it also further complicated the issue of future efforts in combining social science with military activism. Instead of using the program as a one time effort that failed and from which we can move on, we should use the failure as a learning opportunity. Using experts from both fields to create a working program with credible leadership and intensive training could not only give the U.S. Army an advantage, but also decrease overall violence in the areas where implemented. We also need to remove some of the strict labels put on such projects due to the political associations they may have, which could influence the support of projects, something they really lack.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Bloomberg, Foreign Policy
Photo: Newsweek

The Story of Iraq’s Baby NoorA few days before Christmas in 2005, a home was raided in Iraq’s city of Abu Ghraib. Within the home, Col. Kevin Brown and his soldiers discovered an infant. That child was Baby Noor.

Baby Noor was found at only 3 months old. She had been born with a severe case of Spina Bifida, a spinal cord defect. Without medical treatment, the defect would certainly kill her. In war-torn Iraq, proper medical care would be next to impossible to find.

The soldiers immediately wanted to move her to a place where she could find the care she needed. Col. Brown urged the U.S. Army to help the child. His persuasion worked. Soon Noor was on a C-130 transport plane with her father and grandmother en route to Atlanta, Georgia. It was there where doctors successfully operated and treated Noor’s Spina Bifida. During her stay in the United States, Baby Noor charmed the world. Photos of her smile were soon spread across television screens and newspapers. “Iraq’s Miracle Baby” enthralled the country.

Noor returned to Baghdad six months later in June 2006. While life may have seemed blissfully hopeful in Atlanta, reality soon set in. For a poor family, caring for a child with special needs was extremely difficult. Noor was paralyzed from the waist down. She was prone to urinary tract infections, and she had headaches caused by the shunt doctors inserted into her brain to collect fluid buildup. Noor was also quickly running out of medical supplies, and her family could not afford to repurchase them.

In addition to the challenges of raising a special needs child, Noor’s family also faced retribution for their association with Americans.  Her father claims that he was kidnapped and accused of spying by men associated with Al Qaeda who demanded a ransom from the poor family.

While Noor was growing up, Col. Brown never forgot about her, wondering what happened to the child he had rescued. Then one day, Brown saw CNN’s story “The Unfinished Miracle of Baby Noor.” As it turns out, readers had responded to the story of Noor by donating money to Childspring International, the very same charity that helped Noor stay in the US the first time. With the money collected, Childspring was able to purchase a two-year supply of medical equipment, including a wheelchair and many children’s toys.

Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to reconnect with Noor, Brown stepped in to help ship the large package to Baghdad. Through his connections with the U.S. Embassy, Brown was able to enlist the help of USAID’s Iraq Access to Justice Program and the Iraqi Alliance of Disabilities Organization. Along with CNN staffers, these groups coordinated to bring the shipment to Noor’s home in Baghdad.

Is Noor’s story finished then? Certainly not, Noor will continue to need medical supplies for the rest of her life. However, the story of Iraq’s miracle baby is not only special because she was saved once; it is truly a miracle because her story continues today.

– Grace Zhao
Sources: CNN, Viral Nova
Photo: Flickr