4 years, 12 months ago
My son was involved in robust kinetic operations in Fallujah in 2007, but that isn’t the sum total of counterinsurgency. He was also involved in heavy contact with the population, including aggressive policing. Policing involves language, and while the Marine Corps included fundamental (phonetics based) language training over the course of the pre-deployment workup, I always lamented the fact that it wasn’t enough. He had to learn Arabic by immersion.
The entire 101st Airborne Division is soon to deploy to Afghanistan, marking the first time an entire Army division has deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom within one year. Also interestingly, language training is part of the workup.
He that converses not, knows nothing. The soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), understand that well as they plan to converse time and again with the Afghan people as they continue to ready themselves for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The Strike Brigade currently has 300 of its soldiers involved in language training courses teaching the basics in Afghanistan’s two national languages, Dari and Pashto. With the goal of breaking the communication barriers when deployed, the 2nd BCT realizes the importance of interaction among soldier and local nationals.
“The Strike Brigade has initiated a language training program based on General [Stanley] McChrystal’s Counter Insurgency Training Guidance,” said Maj. Basel Mixon, the brigade’s intelligence officer. “We provide actual and relevant information to soldiers so they can have a better understanding on the battlefield and are better able to interact with the people in Afghanistan on more pro-active terms.”
McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, directed there to be at least one soldier in each platoon deployed to Afghanistan with the capabilities of speaking the basics of Dari, which in turn means units will be able to articulate and understand conversations involving initial contact discussions, introductions and greetings, questions and answers to go along with other forms of simple dialogue.
These perishable skills have more than just a purpose of interacting with the local Afghan people, but the Afghan military as well.
“Dari is also the professional language of Afghanistan and the soldiers in the Afghan military all speak Dari,” said Mixon. “So for the soldiers partnering with Afghan soldiers, Dari would be the language predominately used. For soldiers who go to the tea shop or into the bazaar, they’ll hear Pashto, but most Afghans understand Dari.”
But one problem is that the language training that the 2nd BCT is going through last two weeks. Much more is needed. I am a proponent of conventional training, i.e., combined arms, company level maneuver warfare, squad rushes, room clearing, fast roping and rapid insertion (yes, including for GPF, not just for SOF), heavy emphasis on the range and weapons technology, and so forth. Such an approach makes us better in both conventional and irregular warfare.
But where we have badly fallen behind is language training. We (the counterinsurgency community) argue incessantly about what training differences should obtain for the operations in which we are currently engaged, but arguing aside, there is one simple truth. If you speak their language, you can communicate with them. Nothing can increase the effectiveness of the campaign better than being able to communicate. The sad fact of the training for the 2nd BCT is that the training only last two weeks. This simply isn’t enough.