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Special Operations: The Importance Of Tea Time
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May 7, 2009: In Afghanistan, American troops are adopting techniques developed over many generations of U.S. Army Special Forces experience. From the beginning, in World War II, the Special Forces (then a component of the wartime OSS, or Office of Strategic Services), adopted a cultural approach to dealing with situations like Afghanistan. Special Forces operatives thus had to become members of an elite force, who learned the languages and cultures of the region they specialized in, as well as being the most proficient infantry in the army.

Since September 11, 2001, the Special Forces have been increasingly influencing the way the army deals with irregular warfare. Thus the increase of American forces in Afghanistan is accompanied by new techniques for connecting, and working with, Afghans. This is important, because there is no cultural glue holding Afghanistan together. The country is a patchwork of tribes, each of them looking inwards, rather than outward. Thus the foreign troops find it more effective when they work with the locals on personal and tribal concerns. This is what gets the attention, and cooperation, of rural Afghans. The tribes see the national government as a necessary evil, and provincial government as a source of oppression (unless their tribe controls it.)

The local and personal approach requires, as the Special Forces puts it, "drinking lots of tea." In other words, troops enter a village as if on a social visit. Bring gifts and have a long chat. Not just with the local notables (tribal elders or wealthy families), but with ordinary people. The teenage kid who spends most of his time out in the hills looking after his sheep, knows a lot about who is moving through the area, especially groups of armed Taliban.

A little money goes a long way in Afghanistan, which has an unemployment rate of over 40 percent. Afghanistan has always been a place where you just scraped by, and died young from violence or disease. Afghanistan was always isolated, but that has changed. Young Afghans know of another world out there, and the cell phone is tangible evidence of that better place they can aspire to. Several hundred thousand Afghans a month are getting cell phones, and loving it. The spread of videos has made Afghans aware of wonders their parents could not even imagine. The Special Forces made the most of this, and have demonstrated these methods to other army troops.

Thus when foreign troops come by, with medicine and magical procedures that cure afflictions that have cursed Afghans for centuries. Magic pills and injections, plus all the gadgets from this fantasy world, are welcome. Especially since the cell phone, which is increasingly available in the most remote areas, lets millions of Afghans hold in their hands, assurance that this magic outside world really exists. The Old Ways haven't got a chance.

Many foreign governments have a hard time wrapping their heads around the alien culture of Afghanistan. This is a medieval place, where realities that disappeared in the West centuries ago, still thrive. But Afghans, especially the young ones, are eager to connect with friendly, and generous, foreigners. At that point, human nature takes over, and the troops find that all manner of useful information and cooperation is available.

The Special Forces used this technique to organize armed resistance to common enemies. Since the Taliban tend to bring in alien ideas (religious and social customs from other tribes), and use terror and intimidation to get their way, it's not too difficult for American troops to gain cooperation against a common foe. All you have to do is make friends. Thanks to the methods developed by the Special Forces, U.S. troops can do it.

Next Article → SURFACE FORCES : Cold War Reignites Off The Chinese Coast

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Chris       5/7/2009 12:45:21 PM
Its nice to know that something modern (other than weapons) is finding its way into Afghanistan...
But the articles I read (for example, on aren't nearly as rosy as many of those I read here on StrategyPage.  Here one would think that we're kicking the Taliban's can and that they are run by hicks and idiots: but elsewhere it seems obvious that they have been doing very well in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
If effect, there is a new and historical twist on civil war that is shared by both Afghanistan and Pakistan: They are both in the midst of a civil war against the SAME united enemy (i.e. the Taliban and Al Queda), and are not faring well.
At least in Pakistan it is notable that they stopped complaining about our drone attacks on Taliban/Al Queda leadership, and their president is now in the US asking for more military assistence (including drones!).  Fortuntately the new president (administraiton if you prefer) is directly involved with Pakistan planning now (unlike his predecessor, who gave them $10B to combat terrorism but instead spent on buying weapons and training for war with India) and they are finally getting the picture (that the biggest problems are within Pakistan, and not "outsiders").
Even the Pakistani military is starting to finally see that the Taliban (that they created to stabilize Afghanistan after the USSR left and the US lost interest) is out of control.
Hopefully Afghanistan and Pakistan will hang together and work effectvely with the US to nail the united Taliban and Al Queda - otherwise they will surely hang separately.
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KenMcGovern       5/9/2009 8:47:41 AM
This article is very accurate. I ran a US Army Police Mentoring Team in Uruzgan Province and was fortunate to work with Special Forces. Drinking chai with the locals was routine. First glass or two was all pleasantries, then you'd get down to business. Very civilized, relaxing way to get things done.
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leftwinger       5/9/2009 5:18:53 PM
I believe OSS stood for Office of Strategic Services.
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Bonjour    Afganistan-How cultures make or break countries   5/9/2009 7:09:58 PM
It is almost impossible for most westerners to even imagine but once upon a time (about two thousand years ago) Afghanistan was perhaps among the more culturally advanced places on earth.  Sophisticated sanskrit grammar (unchanged to date) was invented in Afghanistan around 800 BC. There were mathematicians in Afghanistan developing sophisticated treatise.It had access to Universities such as Taxila (its ruins are in Pakistan) more than 2500 years ago. Greeks left behind in Afghanistan by Alexander created the eastern most branch of Greek culture known as Bactrian Greeks which created its unique advanced works of art.  Afghanistan's ultimate ruin started after the Arab invasions which wiped out the prevailing Buddhist culture and its institutions forever.  Trust me, no matter how people see Afghans today, these people are not idiots, just cursed with unfortunate geography.
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