May 1, 2010

Mobilizing women in multicultural warfare

Colonel Tom Kolditz, the Professor and Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point, stated in an interview that “the future of warfare is in a multicultural dimension”.

West Point is offering more multicultural training, realizing that traditional tactics don’t always work in the kinds of wars we are fighting now. If a recent The New York Times article is anything to go by, he knows what he’s talking about.

In “Letting Women Reach Women in Afghan War”, Elisabeth Bumiller reports on a novel initiative the United States Marine Corps is launching in order to reach the female population in Afghanistan.

They are receiving cultural awareness training in order to make contact with the women in Afghanistan who are otherwise off-limits to American male soldiers. It is the Afghan women who often have a lot of influence within a family and know and share important information among each other. Gaining access to that information can be crucial not only in terms of gathering intelligence, but in order to gain goodwill. After all, “you cannot gain the trust of the Afghan population if you only talk to half of it”.

An excerpt: “40 young women are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in one of the more forward-leaning experiments of the American military… Rural Afghan women, who meet at wells and pass news about the village, are often repositories of information about a district’s social fabric, power brokers and militants, all crucial data for American forces. On some occasions, Captain Pottinger said in an e-mail message, women have provided information about specific insurgents and the makers of bombs.”

This is a brilliant move in the right direction. Women in the USMC will finally be directly engaged in the efforts in Afghanistan. It may not work, but it’s well worth a try. If the US is to remain in Afghanistan, let’s not leave out a valuable resource – women – from the equation. And it’s about time that the civilians were approached with respect and as humans, providing valuable information, rather than as enemies. I applaud the USMC for an important experiment, and for preparing for it with a focus on cultural awareness.