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Bullies Versus Elitist Killers
by James Dunnigan
February 16, 2012

American efforts to discover what causes the infrequent (once every month or two) incidents of Afghan security personnel killing NATO troops were shocked to find that a lot of it is all about culture clash. For example, a random survey of Afghan soldiers and police about how they regard their NATO allies found that the Afghans regard the foreign troops as arrogant bullies who engage in crude (to the Afghans) behavior. Asking the foreign troops the same question about Afghan soldiers and police elicited responses stating that the Afghans were ignorant (often willfully so), while also prone to drug use and stealing. The Afghans were regarded as lazy and not eager to learn military skills. This led to poor use (and care of) weapons, sloppy tactics, bad discipline, poor morale, and unwillingness to keep themselves clean and healthy. The Afghans did not encourage the development of good NCOs (who could supervise and be responsible for their troops). Afghan officers were much like their troops and corrupt as well. Troops and officers would even make deals with the enemy, selling information, or weapons. The Afghans were also brutal towards civilians, especially those not from their clan or tribe. A lot of this was just the result of Afghan culture, which is more brutal than found in the West. Stealing ("loot" in Afghan parlance) and abuse of women and children is considered traditional and the foreigners are seen as insensitive for not respecting this and other Afghan customs.

All this is nothing new and the only way to cope with the culture clash issue is to use troops who are sensitive to these differences and skilled in ways to handle it. The U.S. has their Special Forces, who train for this, and are more respected by the Afghans because of it. But in Afghanistan today many more ordinary troops are interacting with Afghans frequently and on a personal level. There have been efforts to educate the Western troops but this only goes so far. The U.S. Army Special Forces take years to get their troops to a level of skill that does not create culture clash. Despite efforts to speed up the process it still takes a lot of time. As more and more U.S. troops return to Afghanistan the level of "culture fluency" increases but not high enough or fast enough to eliminate the tensions.


 

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