June 4, 2010:
The U.S. and Britain are joining together to win the psychological battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. A major focus of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) has been winning popular support from the civilian population. This is difficult enough in conventional warfare, but in a counter-insurgency situation, it can literally mean the difference between suppressing insurgents or creating more of them. Since the Americans and the British have the most forces in the Afghan theatre, they've started to work together more closely to get on the population's good side.
The issue of women in particular is a sensitive subject in Afghan culture. Most coalition troops understand that the Taliban treat women like cattle, but have a hard time grasping how to interact and engage with the local female population in the areas in which they operate. Saying or doing the wrong thing around women in a war zone like Afghanistan can quickly turn potential friends into very real enemies. The Americans and the British are trying to fix this situation with the establishment of Female Engagement Teams (FET). The U.S. Marine Corps just graduated the first British troops from the nine-day course. The course was originally a Marine Corps project, but since the British are also in Afghanistan in a big way, the Marines have accepted two British troops into the program.
The FET is basically an all-female training course that focuses on teaching coalition troops the intricacies of dealing with the female population in Afghanistan. The two British soldiers who graduated the course spent most of their time embedded with a unit of 50 female Marines, working and patrolling alongside them. The coalition has viewed programs like this as absolutely essential to gaining the trust of the civilian population, where an innocent mistake can be perceived as an insult or a threat. For example, traditionally, Afghan women are not supposed to be greeted by men outside of their families. Since 51 percent of the civilian population is female, this pretty much puts them off-limits to the male infantry soldiers that conduct most of the patrolling, intelligence gathering, and combat operations against the Taliban. The coalition's solution is to create specially-trained units to give female troops the skills to interact with Afghan females in situations where the male combat troops can't.
The FET course consists of training in patrolling, communications training, medical training, and hand to hand combat, among other things. The British soldiers that just graduated from the Marine Corps program are being sent back to their units to form their own Female Engagement Team within a rifle company in the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
The British have some programs of their own that they've been using to fight the psychological war in Afghanistan. The British Army has just created Defense Cultural Specialist Units (DCSUs). The purpose of the DCSU is to advise and assess the impact that operation conducted by combat troops will have on the civilian population. DCSU personnel, where they operate, are involved in a big way in the planning stages of offensives and raids, assessing how the local population is going to feel and respond to the coalition troop's actions. The DCSU troops conduct "human terrain analysis", building a picture of the tribal, cultural, and social networks in the war zone. With this information, commanders in combat units can better plan their operations and avoid doing anything that will offend or alienate the local populace. The DCSU personnel meet with the local community elders, Afghan government officials, Afghan security forces, and basically do anything and everything they can interact with the people who are influential in their unit's community.
Once combat operations commence, the DCSU personnel are often on the ground with the combat commanders, advising them as potentially problematic situations occur.