Cultural Awareness in an Asymmetric Environment

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I believe all experienced military leaders, both noncommissioned and commissioned, realize the importance of knowing every facet of the enemy and their environment. Throughout history, we have studied, witnessed and experienced great examples of the use of cultural knowledge during combat operations. Lieutenant Colonel T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) of the British Army documented his experiences while living among the Arabic people. He learned about their society and culture in order to improve his military expertise (McFate, 2004). With constantly changing interests, influences and enemy TTPs in today’s asymmetric environment, Soldiers on all levels are often focused on new strategies, equipment and tactics and unintentionally lose focus on the importance of cultural awareness. In today’s contemporary operation environment, cultural understanding and knowledge is a key element to successful counterinsurgency operations. This paper will stress the need for intensifying cultural awareness training in preparation for today’s asymmetric warfare and will emphasize the effectiveness of this principle of war.

Cultural Awareness in an Asymmetric Environment
Any WWII or Korean War Veteran can probably tell you how the phrase “combat operations” had a completely different connotation back in their day. Where conflicts of the past may have been focused on manpower, fire superiority and maneuver, today we are focused on variables like sociological demographics, politics and economy. Currently, U.S. forces are engaged in asymmetric warfare where the insurgents are adapting their strategies to avoid the direct fight and attempting to exploit the weaknesses of U.S. forces. The insurgents have the upper-hand; they know the customs, geography, influences and people and are able to maneuver unnoticed. To combat this, we have adjusted our training by implementing cultural familiarization in pre-mobilization training and inserting COIN doctrine into many leadership courses. However I argue that Soldiers on all levels, but especially the junior leaders and tacticians who are often engaged in the midst of the local populace, do not fully understand the value and second/third order effects of properly implementing this principle of warfare. Today, more than ever, we need to focus our training on cultural awareness and employ this knowledge to reverse the trend of the insurgency exploiting our cultural ignorance. Argument

Just as a college football coach studies the footage of their opponent’s previous games; we need to study the norms, interests, relationships and socio-political patterns of our operating environment. In the last decade, we have taken measures to emphasize this principle of war but most significantly the publication of FM 3-24 has developed doctrine to defeat counterinsurgents with lessons learned in combat. It teaches the importance of cultural awareness in an asymmetric environment and stresses to avoid imposing our ideology of what we think is normal upon a foreign society (2006, p. 1-15). Today’s COE demands a more robust pre-mobilization training package on the culture, language, geography and anthropology. Training for this principle of warfare has been trivialized to higher-level familiarization of COIN doctrine and lower-level “check-the-block” pre-mobilization training. We need comprehensive training that involves every Soldier and incorporates advanced studies with scenario based exercises. Sergeant Elkhamri, a U.S. Army translator that spent 18 month with a Special Forces unit in Iraq, explained that the way to increase the Iraqi support in our fight against terrorism is to “improve the quality and increase the quantity” of pre-mobilization cultural awareness training. He further emphasizes how the we cannot expect deploying Soldiers to get a full understanding of Iraqi culture in a two hour PowerPoint class (2007, p. 110). The Philippine Insurrection

The Philippine Insurrection is one of the...
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