HUMAN GEOGRAPHY: Cultural Awareness Needs Cited at Security Forum

July 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm 1 comment

In The Know

ASPEN, Colorado – Here at 4GWAR, we’ve written about the topic of Human Geography numerous times before. Nevertheless, we were surprised at how often that concept – if not the actual phrase – came up in discussions at the Aspen Security Forum in the Rocky Mountains last week.

(U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives)

(U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives)

Human Geography is a multi-discipline study of not only the physical nature of the earth but the people who live on it and how they relate among themselves and with others along political, economic, cultural, linguistic and geographic lines.

The need for cultural awareness and background knowledge of people and places where the United States may conduct future military and humanitarian operations came up several times during the four-day annual gathering of defense and homeland security experts from government, academia and the corporate world.

With U.S. combat activities in Iraq over, and ending soon in Afghanistan, speakers and panels discussed the new challenges facing the United States.

“You really gotta know the place,” said Ambassador Rick Barton, assistant secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, describing the complexity of sorting out potential partners among the scores of opposition groups in the Syrian civil war. Time, effort and money need to be spent on acquiring the right intelligence, he added. “If you’re really going to be effective in a place, you’ve really got to have a sense of the context and the balance” he said during a panel discussion on the U.S. role in preventing conflicts.

Speaking on the same panel, Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) – which oversees the Green Berets, Navy Seals and other special operations forces – said cultural awareness (one of the key aspects of human geography studies) was a key to training partner nations to defend themselves against terrorists. “When we put people into a country they need to speak the language, they need to be culturally aware of what’s going,” McRaven said. But after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan many of those skill sets have eroded for other parts of the world. “So we are reinvigorating the language programs and reinvigorating the cultural awareness programs,” he said. SOCOM units, like SEAL teams, will be realigned within the various regional combatant commands such as Africa Command and Pacific Command “so that the right people will speak the right languages and understand the right cultures,” McRaven added.

A youth watches incoming Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Ospreys carrying Malian and Senegalese troops near Bamako, Mali.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Purtell)

A youth watches incoming Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Ospreys carrying Malian and Senegalese troops during a 2008 exercise near Bamako, Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Purtell)

“The problem, of course is the way Americans always come into a country with which there is enormous cultural difference. They don’t always appreciate cultural difference,” Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told another panel discussion on Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of 20-something troops and contractors “not knowing how to be deferential to the elders, not knowing how to deal with the mullahs, not understanding the sectarian and religious concentrations.”

And the former head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham (ret.) noted “it’s a particular challenge in Africa, because of the diversity of cultures and languages” as well as religious, ethnic and tribal distinctions. “We have a long way to go,” he said. But he also noted that the assistance of experienced foreign service and U.S.AID officers has helped in the past and McRaven’s promised deployment of special operations forces with cultural skills tailored to the regional combatant commands’ area of responsibility will help in the future.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)

In a story out this week in Special Operations Technology magazine, your 4GWAR editor examines how special operators are combining new technology and old skills in human geography for missions like foreign internal defense and civil affairs operations. The explosion of social networking and geospatial imagery on the Internet has added many new tools for human geographers and intelligence gatherers. To read more, visit Special Operations Technology magazine, by clicking here.

Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Africa, Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Special Operations, Technology, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (On Saturday, July 20, 2013) FRIDAY FOTO (July 26, 2013)

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July 2013


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