Cultural Awareness and COIN

Discussion in 'Officers' started by Desert_SCRA(T), Feb 15, 2010.

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  1. Just a wet finger in the air for now. What are people's views on Cultural Awareness training either as part of Campaign Form or as normal trg?

    There seems to be an unhealthy feeling circulating that this is seen as an officer sport. Of course any Pl Comd worth his salt will attempt to 'translate' the trg for his guys, and brief down, but shouldn't the soldiers have their own trg?

    I know the ETS have been tasked with this, but there are some COs out there who don't seem to think it's a priority for the soldiers. Is this a case of patronising the soldiers, or just a time management issue?
  2. There is only so much you can teach an 18 year old soldier about how to conduct himself in the UK, let alone Afghanistan. Most of them couldn't give a flying **** about Afghans, apart from wanting them to appear as up-and-hold targets.
  3. ASR,

    I have some sympathy for that argument, but when one of said soldiers appears with a little 'message' on his knee pad for the whole world to see (Soldier Mag), who gets the interview without coffee? CO, OC, Pl Comd or Pl Sgt? IMHO it should be all four.

    I know we shouldn't expect choirboys to close and kill with the enemy etc, but we also don't want to live up to all of the negative stereotypes that the liberal press has waiting for us.

    Soldiers aren't dumb, but have they got the time or the inclination to learn about the Host Nation. In this new era of cooperation with the ASF etc, it's an accident waiting to happen.
  4. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer

    That message actually said "Get some PAX in" a popular graffiti line at the time alluding to the prolificacy of traumatic amputation casualties. Though it was also redundant as each soldier (in our battalion anyway) was required to take out the maximum PAX insurance.

    As to your main point, yes I do think a lot more could be done and it usually works best when conducted by a good Afghan instructor. Most of our cultural awareness (I am an Infantry JNCO and am speaking from the point of view of the ORs) happened in theatre c/o the interpreters.

    The OPTAG lesson was good, but very brief. Further briefs from OC and PC were watered down, heavily slanted with their own opinions and prejudices (I'm thinking of our Coy OC here) and really didn't add much.
  5. RP,

    I stand corrected on the knee pad.

    You raise a good point about the OC/PC slant on things. I'm sure they would say that they know their troops best, but I worry that too much 'watering down' or personalising of the training by the hierarchy twists the teaching objectives.

    I know we have precious little time as it is in today's army, but other than time on the ranges, I can't think of anything more important than CA in today's operating environment.

    Just finished watching the entire season of Generation Kill, from HBO, and other than having a good ole laugh, the CA issues falling out of it, and i'm sure it's no different to a Brit Inf Coy, is dangerous at the very least.

    Would be interested to find out what an Inf Coy Comd or even CO thought about it, as I pontificate from a fairly safe CS point of view
  6. How much/what Cultural Awareness do you want taught?

    As part of my PDT I specifically sought the advice from OPTAG of which additional CA training I should be undertaking. They suggested X and Y because "they were specific to the area and role you are undertaking". X proved to be useless (because it focussed on what we had failed to learn from Iraq and wasn't particularly relevant to Afghanistan) and Y proved to be completely uninformed (because its basic assumptions were wrong). If it were not for my interpreter I wouldn't have noticed how poorly I had been trained.

    What does a soldier need to know beyond good manners? The 'soft skills' which CA informs are mostly inherent in most soldiers. But then again I assumed that we were beyond beating up detainees...
  7. I don't think it so much a question of quantity, but quality and relevance as you point out. The problem is, as usual, we have started this way too late.
    The OPTAG stuff we received was all about saying hello and not showing the soles of your feet, of minimal use. Actually it's not so much the interpersonal Culture I think useful, but an understanding of how tribal the culture is, and how much honour is key in all the Afghans do, ANA, ANP as well as the En.
    An understanding that every villager that takes a pop at us from behind a rock is not Taliban. Not that that is any comfort to us, in particular the poor sod who takes the bullet.
    I just worry that we are becoming anaethestised to the conflict and are becoming more like the Yanks every day. As lads deploy on their third tours (Herrick that is) it is becoming all a bit 'GroundHog Day', all Afgans/Pakistanis become the same homogenous enemy, and survival becomes the overriding aim.
  8. Well - there are far more topics that are far more urgent and important that the lads don't have enough time for prior to deployment. I'm talking about even being trained on the equipment to support basic life functions. The time is just not there.
  9. Fully agree - by the time everybody is fit, trained on all the weapon systems, trained on the vehicles, all the kit has arrived, been distributed, packed and sent, the unit has reached CTC4 and you've squeezed in a couple of weekends off then it's time to go!

    And sending 1 clever bloke per platoon on a language course is just not feasible.

    I got a counterfeit copy of Rosetta stone Pashto and the US Marine Pashto language/CA training game (which is actually quite good) and did that.
  10. Have to say great topic and great question!!!!!!

    I would offer the following:
    - The OPTAG remit is NOT to deliver CA, this is a chain of comd issue. Should they offer advice - arguably yes but this will be based on personal experience and not mandated TORs; should they be the lead no, if yes then the grown ups need to resource this.
    - We as an Army need to get away from wanting to go out AFG and win all sorts of medals and kill the INS; Templar understood this in Borneo and Malaya. Yes we have to deal with the INS but as a by product of focusing on the local population, Gov and economics
    - CA is ultimately about empathy and understanding the setting and local context in which you operate.
    - I have to agree with one poster that some of our soldiers struggle to 'live' within the UK culture; to then expect him to go overseas into a VERY complex environment and be shot at means he reverts to what he knows; his basic trg and the LEADERSHIP he is given.

    So to the main question - I would suggest its about empathy for a different culture and to be able to generate that empathy starts at the earliest possible time.

    For AFG I found reading all PETER HOPKIRKS books on the Great Game etc was invaluable. Then using the inplace contracts provided by the CoC and LWC to get expat Afghanis to sit down and chat to the soliders time and time again. This constant exposure to Helmandis will allow the guys to begin to understand what makes the locals tick.

    This is a HUGE topic which I believe the system is trying to grapple with - hmmmmm to little to late or was the the DLO????? (sorry could help myself)

    SOme early morning ramblings
  11. A soldiers job has become far more technical over the last 30 years than it ever has been. In the old days warfare was, as far as the common soldier was concerned, a matter of killing the blokes in the foreign uniforms, just the other side of no mans land. And there were rules to be obeyed by friend and foe alike to make things simpler so you knew who the enemy was. Even after WW11. Nowadays things are much more complex and the identification of combatants can be less certain until the moment he or she pulls the trigger or erupts into pink furry mist. Soldiers generally are much better educated these days too and able to assimilate more information (mmmmmmm well many of them in the western armies at any rate). So it isnt too much to expect that they show enhanced discrimination when selecting targets. Discipline, especialy fire control are very important. Using just enough to achieve the aim is the optimum. For example the razzing of whole communities in response to a single sniper shot is counterproductive and the ordinary soldier should know that too. As is the torture and murder of of prisoners - whatever the enemy does is not an example for us to follow (unless it involves superior tactics). I am afraid that we have little choice in the matter of applying the hearts and minds philosophy from common soldier up to general officer. Unless we are intent on genocide, when it doesnt matter.
  12. I think it is also important to look at the wider context here. This is something that will be relevant in any future theatre. Perhaps we need to try and engender an awareness, and this will take time, that cultural difference are important (Starting to get a bit touchy-feely here I know) and get the guys receptive to different cultures and to learn to respect them. We have, as an army, come a long way since Op Grapple, where we had to learn new tricks and I suspect that, over time, CA will instill itself in the subconsciousness. It is a shame that the Foreign Area Officer (FAO) model (that of in-country military specialists and advisors) was not taken up (money and resources again).
  13. I agree with you Ops O, 100%, there is a lot of immediate operational imperative stuff being banded around, and quite right to, but we are in this, and if not AFG then COIN ops for the long haul.

    It is interesting that the perception is that our soldiers are getting brighter. The Basic Skills stats I have seen banded around, certainly for the INF and ARTY are abysmal, combine that with the preponderance of F and C soldiers in those cap badges and the likes of the RLC, and i'm not sure the picture is so rosy.

    The US have it right on this count. You cannot join until you are at GCSE level Maths and English!!! So the common view of Dumb Cleetus isn't that accurate.

    IMHO CA should be started at Phase 2 and continued throughout, but whether it is PC/COC business is up for debate. The ETS could follow the WW11 model and set up Cultural Schools in theatre that could be utilised during climatisation or in stand downs. Do we really need CLM in theatre? Re role the schoolies and/or Bde Staff to deliver at the coal face?
  14. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer

    Small correction; it was Walter Walker who was Dir Ops in Borneo. Your point stands though and is a highly pertinent one.

    In response to eodmatt, I don't know if CA is all that modern a concept. Wellington's peninsular campaign is a good example of a good example of a 'be nice to the natives' policy which had harsh penalties for transgressors. Perhaps there are even earlier examples?
  15. I think that we do have an opportunity here. The new cycle offers the chance to get more sophisticated (OK it actually just gives us the time we need for pre-existing training requirements) and would be an ideal time to drip feed CA and other aspects of what is becoming an increasingly complex environment. However, while it will probably be for the CoC to deliver, I shy away from proposing that the training is generated by individual commanders. We have the resources to generate something comprehensive but with wider scope than just AFG, and then cascade the lessons (a la OPTAG as a repository) down to the lowest level.
    In theatre is too late and misses the point. This needs to become instinctive muscle memory activity, not knee jerk short term stuff.
    When talking about our soldiers: we have what we have and have to do what we can with them. I think that 99.9% have risen to the challenges so far, given good leadership, and can continue to do so.