"Soft" Counterinsurgency: Human Terrain Teams and US Military Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Davies, Michael C. | Parameters, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

"Soft" Counterinsurgency: Human Terrain Teams and US Military Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan


Davies, Michael C., Parameters


"Soft" Counterinsurgency: Human Terrain Teams and US Military Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Paul Joseph

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The now-defunct Human Terrain System (HTS) was developed to improve the military decision-making process by facilitating a better understanding of the local population--the human terrain. The program garnered significant press attention, suffered from internal disquiet, and was the focus of numerous denunciations. Paul Joseph, professor of sociology at Tufts University, was one of the first external reviewers of the program. He gained insider access during the program's early days, and "Soft" Counterinsurgency is the outcome of the time he spent with program participants.

Joseph's work centers on the narratives that defined the program at its beginning and questioned whether it could be considered effective. He excels at answering this question. Based on interviews with 30 individuals as well as a large-group session of 20 more participants, Joseph tackles the key debates and concerns of the program from the perspectives of the participants--something distinctly lacking in all but a few works on HTS--while adding his expert analysis to each issue.

The book assesses five major topics, from the program's history and structure to its impact on military commanders, how success can be defined and claimed, the program's effect on operations, and the relationship between HTS and the broader US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joseph is blunt in his conclusion on whether HTS achieved its stated objective of altering military perceptions of the battle space and transforming operational outcomes: "No, it did not."

Like the assessments on HTS, Joseph outlines relevant examples of Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) embedded in combat units who provided soldiers and commanders with quality assessments of the human terrain. In providing a full account of the words of team members, Joseph shows the limited impact achieved; that while HTTs provided, "a generally accurate assessment of the situation [they] did not contribute to a needed revision" of US strategy in terms of goals, execution, or resources, let alone all three iteratively. This is the unique contribution Joseph brings to the literature on HTS. …

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