Cultural Awareness and the Military project is established at the Watson Institute to study post-invasion military operations as an insurgency grows in Iraq. While U.S. forces start their second rotation in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib torture photos break, Keith Brown, James Der Derian and Catherine Lutz begin researching U.S. military efforts to become “culturally aware” in the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT).
In collaboration with the Naval War College and the Pell Center at Salve Regina University, the project holds a conference “Prepared for Peace?: The Use and Abuse of ‘Culture’ in Military Simulations, Training, and Education,” which brings together social scientists and military personnel as well as U.S. Senator Jack Reed (RI), who had just returned from Iraq. The conference begins analyzing how soldiers are being prepared for both peace and conflict operations.
Amidst growing resistance to prolonged U.S. occupation of Iraq, a group of “scholar-warriors” emerges at the Army’s TRADOC (Training and Doctrine and Command) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and begins developing the Human Terrain System (HTS) and a new Counterinsurgency (COIN) FM 3-24 Manual. James Der Derian goes to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside California to observe Marines engage in the first cultural sensitivity training exercises. Der Derian begins production with filmmakers David and Michael Udris on a documentary about the U.S. military’s new focus on “culture” in asymmetric warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Late in 2005, the Marines begin “Mojave Viper” urban and cultural warfare training exercises at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, California.
Filming for Human Terrain begins when James Der Derian and the Udris embed with the 1/25 New England Marines at The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California for “Mojave Viper,” a large-scale urban and cultural warfare exercise with mock Iraqi villages and Iraqi role-players. The Pentagon unveils its new Counterinsurgency (COIN) Manual, outlining a strategy for “culture-centric” warfare.
The Watson Cultural Awareness project holds a workshop with key civilian and defense intellectuals on the use of “culture” in the military.
Michael Bhatia leaves Oxford and comes to Brown to collaborate on the project. His research begins by attending a key conference on “Cultural Competency in the Military,” held at the Air University in Mobile, Alabama and presenting his analysis to the Cultural Awareness and the Military Project.
SPRING: The Military expands its “cultural awareness” doctrine to combat operations, igniting a controversy over the use of social scientists in counter-insurgency. A troop “surge” using COIN tactics begins in Iraq; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates launches HTS with a $41 million dollar investment; and The Network of Concerned Anthropologists forms to protest the enlistment of anthropologists in COIN.
The American Anthropological Association (AAA) holds a conference at the Watson Institute, to consider whether anthropological participation in military programs like HTS violates its Code of Ethics. Michael Bhatia participates in the conference, and publishes a photo-essay in The Globalist from his research in Afghanistan.
FALL: As U.S., Afghan and Iraqi civilian casualty rates increase, criticism about counterinsurgency intensifies and reaches American and international audiences. Counterinsurgency operations and cultural awareness tactics spread to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Michael Bhatia finishes two-months of training in Fort Benning, GA, and begins his assignment on Human Terrain Team One in Afghanistan, working with the 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in Khost Province.
The American Anthropological Association issues a statement outlining the ways that HTS violates its Code of Ethics.
SPRING: Michael Bhatia is killed by an IED in a military convoy on the way to mediating an inter-tribal dispute outside Khost, Afghanistan, and becomes the Human Terrain System’s first casualty. In response to Michael’s death, the controversy intensifies in the media over the embedding of anthropologists and other social scientists in military operations.
The Human Terrain crew films urban counterinsurgency training at Hogan’s Alley, Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposes an expansion of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan with a troop surge of over 20,000 U.S. forces.
FALL: In response to Michael’s death, the film shifts its focus to Bhatia and HTS. The crew interviews family members, his mentor, Jarat Chopra (pictured above), and finally visits TRADOC in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to speak with the architects of the Human Terrain System, Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro, as well as Michael’s HTS colleague and friend, Tom Garcia.
The U.S. House Armed Services Committee holds a subcommittee on “Building Foreign Language and Cultural Skills in the Military.”
President Bush deploys 4,500 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The military begins reviewing the Afghan strategy for the incoming Obama administration.
Richard Holbrooke, a Human Terrain interview subject, is appointed Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Obama Administration.
President Obama begins a review process for its strategy in Afghanistan. In February, the Obama administration deploys 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan on General David McKiernan’s command, and begins reviewing General Stanley McChrystal’s proposal to send 40,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan in enlarged counterinsurgency operations.
The Network of Concerned Anthropologists publishes “The Counter Counterinsurgency Manual” critiquing counterinsurgency and HTS strategies. The debate deepens in the U.S. media, think tanks, Congress, and the Pentagon on role and effectiveness of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism in Afghanistan. In a major address at West Point President Obama calls for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and proposes consideration of withdrawal in July 2011. Counter-insurgency and military cultural awareness training become central to NATO/ISAF strategy in Afghanistan.