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Should anthropologists help US military in Iraq, Afghanistan wars?

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“I wish I could say I’ve seen something that made me feel better [about HTS], but I haven’t,” says Hugh Gusterson, a professor of anthropology and sociology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who has had concerns about the program since its inception.

This spring, US Marine Maj. Ben Connable voiced concerns that the program was hurting the military’s ability to develop what he termed “cultural intelligence training programs” in an article published in the Military Review.

“HTS has sapped the attention or financing from nearly every cultural program in the military and from many within the military intelligence community,” wrote Connable, who argued that although the military lacked cultural intelligence abilities in the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they’ve since improved in this regard.

Other critics point to the difficulty of determining the value of HTS due to the lack of empirical evidence about its performance. At the present time, the program does not track statistics about its impact. As a result, David Price, a longtime opponent of the program and co-author of “The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual,” says it’s impossible for anyone to objectively measure its merit.

“I want to see some external results here and they’re not doing it. It’s a boondoggle,” he says.

Anecdotal results support social scientists

But the social scientists out doing the work say the anecdotal results they see day to day are clear enough. Ahead of the US withdrawal from urban areas in Iraq last summer, for example, Kathleen Reedy and the other social scientists on her team spent nearly a week speaking with Iraqis about their attitudes toward and concerns about the withdrawal. While US soldiers had short conversations with locals about these issues, Reedy and her colleagues spent 30 minutes to an hour speaking with each individual.

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