9 years, 10 months ago
In my article Religion and Insurgency: A Response to Dave Kilcullen (and associated comments), I responded to Dave Kilcullen’s article Religion and Insurgency at the Small Wars Journal. In order to continue the conversation, let’s tackle a real life instance where cultural and religious sensitivities come to bear in the counterinsurgency campaign. Whereas it might have been assumed that the only application to my claims was that of seeing the insurgent as a jihadist, religiously motivated and completely unamenable to our COIN efforts (certainly this is one application for some number of them), there are far more applications where a proper understanding of religion and culture would help frame the discussion.
FORT LEWIS – The commander says the loss of two soldiers hit everyone hard. We had a rare opportunity to speak with Col. Stephen Townsend from Baghdad Tuesday.
The 4,000 Fort Lewis-based soldiers have been there since last summer and now are in the hotspot, Baghdad.
“We feel pretty fortunate to be doing what we’re doing,” Col. Townsend said. “Right now, the Arrowhead Brigade is employed in a role that is ideally suited for a Stryker Brigade. We’re being very mobile. We’re going to where the tough jobs are. We’re helping out with both the Coalition and the Iraqi security forces there where the tough jobs are.
“We’re pretty fortunate about that. It’s pretty gratifying to see the progress the Iraqi security forces are making. In fact, the operation that we’re in now an Iraqi general is actually running the operation and I’m working for him rather than an American general.”
Col. Townsend and the 3rd Brigade have been to Iraq before, but this is their first time patrolling Baghdad.
Cpl. Jason Ratliff out on patrol says on video provided by the Army, “We always look for weapons and we try to see if people know anything.”
PFC Elizabeth Turan on patrol says, “It’s kind of scary because you don’t know if someone is going to pull a gun out. But it’s not that bad.”
‘Elizabeth’ is not one of those names that can be mistaken since it is not a gender-neutral name. ‘Elizabeth’ is a woman, and she is on patrol in Baghdad. We might make several observations about this.
For whatever reason (meeting recruitment goals, political pressures), the Pentagon wants women in combat. Of course, there are practical matters with which to contend, including unit cohesion, lower torso strength of women, a higher rate of lower extremety injuries, etc. (in fact, the Russian campaign in Afghanistan saw a much higher rate of lower extremity injuries in women). But leaving behind the practical effect on U.S. forces, has anyone stopped to consider what we are communicating to those whose hearts and minds we want to win?
In the heavily patristic and tribal society that is Iraq (and in fact the whole Middle East), family and tribe function to a great extent by providing protection and security. This is codified into the religious framework of the region by Islam. The very notion of accepting security from women would be seen as scandalous, humiliating and repugnant to the head of a family or tribal elder. But in our so-called “security plan,” accepting security from women is precisely what we are offering (and in fact demanding) from men who cannot accept this offer.
We routinely offer up rhetorical flourish on winning hearts and minds, while Elizabeth is on patrol in Baghdad. And no one stops to ponder the question “just what are the consequences of these actions?”