Saturday, 6 October 2007

NY Times: Afghan Terrain

Image Copyright © Tomás Munita/NY Times-All Rights Reserved

The New York Times has a slideshow of Tomás Munita's excellent photographs that accompany an article describing a $40 million experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. The objective is for the anthropologists to understand subtle points of tribal relations, and explain these to the combat troops.

As an example, one of the anthropologists identified an unusually high concentration of widows in one Afghan village, whose lack of income created financial pressure on their sons to provide for their families, and drove the young men to join well-paid insurgents. As a consequence, the US military developed a job training program for the widows.

It's clear that no one has any idea if this experiment will work long term, but at least it's a constructive step and hopefully may yield some results. The Afghans are justifiably suspicious of Western influence (aka interference), be it from Russia in the 80s or the United States, so I'm not holding my breath.

Whatever the long term outcome is, this experimental program is certainly intellectually and morally more in sync with our values as Americans than the thuggish and xenophobic behavior that we read about so often these days.

Here's The New York Times' Human Terrain