The purpose of this forum and its supporting Explanation Paper is to serve Coalition Forces within the AFG AO with the most relevant, accurate, insightful and useful information possible on key aspects of Afghan behavior which are mission-relevant.
A Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL)-based model of information sharing,
focusing specifically on Afghan behaviors (i.e. the human terrain), based on
mission relevance, and driven by the needs of soldier...s and decision-makers.
Based in some part on the most common questions and information gaps, as well as ongoing
Continuously updated and built on via the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) model, or Boyd’s Loop, of continuous feedback from the behavioral and sociocultural ‘big picture’ as well as ongoing
information from the ground.
Links to related studies and research on behaviors, for corroboration and further study by interested persons (especially key decision makers and ground / staff officers)
Sample Opening Chapter from my paper for the troops, "Afghan Behaviors Explained"
-----------------------------( SAMPLE; paper will be available for viewing soon)-----------------------------
This work will hopefully help soldiers – and those who view Afghanistan from any lens, from the Combat Outpost to the TV screen – to not only better understand Afghans but to better humanize them, to make their often complex, confusing and seemingly bizarre, ‘backward’behavior more discernable, and more relatable– from a human
perspective we can all share from different cultural and geographical vantage
points. While the unwritten but widely stated and tacitly enforced ‘rules’of
political correctness and multicultural diversity often demand that we avoid
generalities and metaphors in describing something as complex and as human as
the ‘behavior’ of one culture or another, this is sometimes the best and only
way to do it. In the case of Brigade Combat Teams, Agribusiness Developemtn
Teams, Civil-Military Operations cells, UN reprasentatives, Peace and
Reintegration Council reps, USAID and PRT, and others, this is more needed than ever.
This paper is based on a grim reality that soldiers and other Coalition Forces, NGOs
and Government entities typically have a limited window of time and energy to devote to really
understanding their fellow Afghans, yet must attempt to do so to the best extent
possible. This daunting task is problematic on several fronts. Firstly, it adds
yet another task to the already strained and often stressed members of the OEF
Theater, who must survive, fight, shoot, and communicate while balancing
personal, spiritual and family demands. Many of these people would love to
devote more time and effort to grasping the wonderfully hospitable, historically
rich and culturally intriguing human landscape of what is modern Afghanistan,
but cannot afford this luxury in what is often a less than permissive
environment. This is because they must hold personal and team survival, unit
mission accomplishment, and life back home as understandably higher priorities,
making this otherwise enjoyable task more of a burden than a positive endeavor
or personal adventure.
Add on the fact that many oversees are physically, emotionally, and psychologically over-extended, and you begin to understand why a rigid academic, ‘exhaustive’ approach to explaining Afghan behaviors in such a short and generalized way is not only useful but morally and operationally
necessary. I have personally – and very regretfully - postponed the completion and publishing of this
paper for fear of compromising aspects of my professional and academic
credibility due to the near-impossible nature of this task, at least by the
standards of the academia and social science world. Any attempt to encapsulate a
robust, workable, discernable and widely readable explanation of the behaviors
of any one nationality or population will bring an unavoidable onslaught of
microscope-level critique and objections from the intellectual and especially
social scientific community.
However, the truth is that this is not written for them; it is written for the soldiers and civilians serving abroad in what is perhaps the most confusing, complex, rugged society on earth. If there are
points of technical flaw, shortcoming, or problematic wording or explanation in
this paper, I will take the hit on it. This needs to get to the soldiers and key
decision-makers downrange, and this is the purpose of this paper.
A Note to the Reader:
No one national population is homogenous in its ethnicity, behavioral profile, history,
demographics, or racial composition. This does not literally assume Afghans in
general to think and behave alike, and is admittedly more based on the Pashtun
areas of the country in which myself and many others operate.
There is a sizable array of differences alongside the human and behavioral landscape, as
anyone in the social sciences will eagerly testify to.This paper is meant to be an explanatory narrative for a large and diverse audience – those working in Afghanistan, especially
soldiers – to understand an entire population in the most direct, straight-forward way possible.
Though it delves into behavior science and cites its sources, it is
primarily for the layman, not the academic. It is not meant to be an exhaustive
or highly specialized ethnography on the vast array of differences mentioned
above, and any criticism should at least bear this in mind.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive or rigid academic work on the admittedly subject of
Afghan behaviors, as much as I would like to finish such a work down the road.
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (Frued..). Not every ‘tell’ or behavioral indicator
is what it appears, and different motives underlie different behaviors.
Sometimes a lie will be the truth, or a complex answer will be wrong and a
simple, obvious one right. There is no substitute for human intuition, reserved
judgment, humility, and common sense in discerning the hidden (or obvious) layer
It is necessary (though perhaps should not be) to state the obvious fact that is not intended to
literally depict how ‘all Afghans’ behave, think and act, but to give the best
summary possible for such a complete spectrum of human behaviors in
predominately Pashtun regions of our Theater of War, in the mist expedient,
useful manner possible to aid and assist in closing the ‘understanding
Purpose and Objective
There is a serious understanding gap in Afghanistan between Coalition
Forces and Afghan (especially Pashtun) culture, as well as behavioral norms and
informal ‘rulesets’. This has consequences and impacts –sometimes serious – on
people (both CF and local) and on missions. This paper
seeks to help close this information gap as much as possible.
The specific behaviors listed in this paper are derived from what I’ve found during my time
on the ground and with staff to be most operationally relevant, and therefore
most useful to soldiers and civilians. Please think of this as a ‘rule of thumb’ guidebook and a critical thinking aid. It is a tool in the toolkit and not a complete or perfect set of answers, nor
are the explanations offered here going to always be the right answers in a
given situation. It is aimed to help guide and assist people to think and
critically process the environment and behaviors around them just as much as it
is to explain things.
This work is specifically for the soldiers and civilians serving in Afghanistan, to equip
them with a toolkit as best I can, in the most expedient, useful and relevant
manner possible. This is meant to be practical and helpful more than
academically rigid. It uses behavioral science, analogies and explanatory
metaphors, to help soldiers and other CF members better avoid harm, reduce
uncertainty and risk, and accomplish their mission.
Bottom line: If better local interaction with the population, or decisions made -
as a direct or indirect result of Coalition Forces reading this paper - leads to
even one person coming home alive or unharmed, it will be worth the effort, and
the follow-on criticism by academics that may well ensue.