‘Human terrain’ style teams to deploy in Africa

Wired reports that social scientists are being sought as contractors by the US Military to support their Africa Command in the form of a “socio-cultural cell”.

Rather than being directly employed by the US Army, as with members of the existing Human Terrain System (HTS), the cells look like they’ll be operated by risk management firm Archimedes Global – who, if the link from the article is correct, have a website that is so generic as to actually be slightly sinister.

The Wired news item cites a job ad, which isn’t online, but clearly describes a Human Terrain style set-up:

According to the job ad, the teams will work support AFRICOM’s Special Analysis Branch, which among other things will provide “operational multi-layered analysis and Joint Intelligence Preparations of the Operational Environment.” Cells will include personnel with expertise in “human terrain, all-source and Geo-spatial analysis.” A second socio-cultural cell will stand up within six months.

I am interested in why the US Military has recently begun to specifically deploy ‘Human Terrain’ teams to understand the structure of society when they already have an extensive PSYOPS service.

I found this fascinating 2004 defence report from the UK Government in the parliamentary records that describes the British military’s “information operations” that suggests that a ‘human terrain’ style focus, including the use of civilian social scientists, is already well integrated:

DTIO [Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations] provides strategic guidance on targeting and the cross-government information campaign, as well as advice to Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff. In DTIO itself, the staff of 98 includes a psychiatrist, an anthropologist and other specialist staff.

At the strategic level the British have been paying an American consultancy firm, the Redon Group, to provide advice on information campaigns for some five years. DTIO also has contacts with a variety of experts in the United Kingdom in universities and other institutions.

And as we discussed back in June, British PSYOPS already includes anthropology in its core techniques.

The report also hints that at the time, the US military was not addressing these issues, with a British Air Vice Marshal suggesting that the American forces were lacking a sensitive knowledge of the local cultures and that the UK forces were better at understanding the needs of the people.

However, it’s interesting that US military chose to address these issues by create a new ‘human terrain’ programme rather than simply assigning their existing PSYOPS units to the task.

Link to Wired on ‘Human Terrain’ teams for Africa.
Link to 2004 UK Government report on ‘Information Operations’.

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