I suppose congratulations are in order. The U.S. military has been honored with an Ig Nobel prize for its “plan to develop a weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to one another, an idea later dubbed the ‘gay bomb.’” Lest you think that our military officials are a few bombs short of a full payload, though, the New York Times reported today on a slightly more common-sense approach to waging war on foreign soil, one that employs anthropologists to provide guidance and insight into the workings of the local culture:
SHABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan â€” In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.
Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her teamâ€™s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations â€” in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe â€” has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.
Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division unit working with the anthropologists here, said that the unitâ€™s combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the scientists arrived in February, and that the soldiers were now able to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population.
â€œWeâ€™re looking at this from a human perspective, from a social scientistâ€™s perspective,â€? he said. â€œWeâ€™re not focused on the enemy. Weâ€™re focused on bringing governance down to the people.â€?
In September, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates authorized a $40 million expansion of the program, which will assign teams of anthropologists and social scientists to each of the 26 American combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since early September, five new teams have been deployed in the Baghdad area, bringing the total to six. [full text]