Peacekeeping: Cultural Awareness in Iraq and Afghanistan

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December 18, 2005: The effort to train the new Iraqi and Afghan armies has required that thousands of troops and civilians (usually former military) be brought in. Normally, the U.S. Army Special Forces handles training of foreign armies, and they are expert at it. While the Special Forces troops have the advantage of knowing the language and culture of the foreign troops they train, the instructors brought in for the massive training effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, generally do not. One lesson that was quickly learned was that, while you can teach these foreign recruits through an interpreter, it helps a lot if you get up to speed on the local culture. The Special Forces provided some of their people to help train the American trainers on that point, but over the past two years, a body of information and "lessons learned" has been collected, and used to help train the trainers. One of the more important lesson learned was that, even if you don't speak the language, spend as much time as possible with your trainees. That means eating with them, and living very close to their barracks. Be available at all hours, and keep a good translator handy at all times.

The cultural awareness, particularly in the case of Iraq, includes knowledge of the history of the Iraqi army, and respect for that. The Iraqis are particularly proud of how they held off the Iranians during the 1980s, and making positive references to that pays off. No mention of the two wars they had with the Americans. They already know all about that, and don't want to hear any more. The Afghans, on the other hand, have no sense of their army having been defeated by the United States, since everyone looks on the defeat of the Taliban as a group effort by the Afghan people and Americans to chase out some religious fanatics.

 


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