Human Intel vs. Technology; Cultural Knowledge Important in Iraq

Article excerpt


Now that the election is over, the military will turn its attention to the mission of creating an advisory effort intended to transform newly minted Iraqi soldiers into effective fighting units. We have been here before. Long-term security on the Korean Peninsula was achieved in large measure with the creation of KMAG, the Korean Military Advisory Group in 1951. In spite of opinions to the contrary, the American advisory effort in Vietnam, MACV, did a very credible job of professionalizing the Vietnamese army. The American advisory effort in El Salvador gave the Salvadorans enough breathing room to begin the process of democratization.

Immediately after the liberation of Baghdad, I e-mailed an old friend who informed me that what he needed most to carry on the war was "interpreters I can trust." His concerns proved prophetic. The advisory period of the war in Iraq will continue to teach the lesson taught by this officer nearly two years ago. In an age of shock and awe, the American military's greatest shortcomings have been human rather than technological - cultural awareness, civil affairs, civic action, information operations (military-speak for our effort to gain the moral high ground from Al Jazeera) and, most importantly, intelligence.

Intimate knowledge of the enemy's motivation, intent, will, tactical method and cultural environment will prove to be far more important for success in the advisory phase than smart bombs, aircraft and expansive bandwidth. A successful advisory effort depends on the ability to think and adapt faster than the enemy. Soldiers must be prepared to thrive in an environment of uncertainty, ambiguity and unfamiliar cultural circumstances. This war will be won by fostering personal relationships, leveraging non-military advantages, reading intentions, building trust, converting opinions and managing perceptions, all tasks that demand an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture and their motivations.

Yet even after nearly three years of evidence to the contrary the Department of Defense still pins its efforts to fight this war in large measure on the concept of "net-centric warfare." Military theorists in the Pentagon claim that new information and computing technologies will allow U.S. military forces to "lift the fog of war." According to this view, a vast array of sensors and computers, tied together, can work symbiotically to see and comprehend the entire battle space and remove ambiguity, uncertainty and contradiction from the military equation, or at least reduce these factors to manageable and controllable levels. …