Posted by: Geoff Wing | September 22, 2009

From Afghanistan: US Army’s cultural intelligence efforts gone wrong

In Afghanistan, the US Army counterinsurgency operations are facing cultural intelligence challenges even within their own organization. Interpreters are considered key to building US Army cultural intelligence, but a lack of trust between military personnel and military interpreters is creating problems.

Let’s discuss: how and why does this happen?


  1. In an environment where the enemy is hidden among local civilians, a distrust of civilians can be expected. When your interpreter looks like a local civilian, how can we keep our emotions from hijacking our brains?

    • If you believe Al Gore’s thesis in his book “The Assault on Reason” you can’t prevent emotions from strongly influencing one’s political beliefs. When i hear expressions like “sand niggers” in Iraq i can’t help but believe racism plays a big part in U.S. military aggression on foreign soils.

      On the other hand, i hear anecdotes from active duty soldiers who work diligently with locals to “help their community” despite overwhelming evidence that very little has been accomplished to improve the quality of life in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan.

  2. I would say the problem is with the whole context of modern war. Enemies. Enemies are created in the mind. Although who the enemies are is not always clear and often changes, we still go to war based on the idea that some people are the enemy, are beyond the pale, are evil, etc. Until we give that up we’ll keep shooting ourselves in the feet.

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