Top US Commander in Afghanistan Rejects Cultural Sensitivity Handbook

Wednesday, 12 Dec 2012 05:40 PM

By Michael Mullins

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A cultural sensitivity manual aimed at reducing “insider attacks” against coalition forces in Afghanistan has been rejected by the top American commander there even before being published.

The proposed new handbook focused on better preparing coalition soldiers for encounters with Afghan military personnel is still being reviewed by the U.S. Army, but it has already been panned by Marine Gen. John Allen who is in charge of all forces in the country.

In preparing the book, Army officials had drafted a forward in Allen’s name, but in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the handbook Allen’s aides said, “Gen. Allen did not author, nor does he intend to provide a foreword . . . He does not approve of its contents.”

Through its apparent focus on cultural sensitivity, according to excerpts obtained and published by The Journal, the book appears to take the position that the killings of coalition forces by Afghan security personnel is caused at least in part by a cultural ignorance of some American and European troops in their dealing with Afghans.

In an excerpt released by The Journal, soldiers are instructed “not to discuss religion.”

In a section titled: “Etiquette Violations Best Avoided by [coalition forces],” soldiers are advised “to avoid highly charged and emotional issues” and not to discuss any “taboo conversation topics” that include:

“Anything related to Islam”
“Mention of any other religion and/or spirituality”
“Debating the war”
“Making derogatory comments about the Taliban”
“Advocating women's rights and equality”
“Directing any criticism towards Afghans”
“Mentioning homosexuality and homosexual conduct”

According to the handbook, “Bottom line: Troops may experience social-cultural shock and/or discomfort when interacting with (Afghan security forces) . . . Better situational awareness/understanding of Afghan culture will help better prepare [troops] to more effectively partner and to avoid cultural conflict that can lead toward green-on-blue violence."

The premise behind much of the suggestions put forth by the manual stems from a 2011 study conducted by Army Maj. Jeffrey Bordin, headquartered in Kabul.

The study, which was based on interviews with 600 members of the Afghan security forces and 200 American soldiers, revealed a discernible disdain for each other.

Between 2011 and 2012 alone, approximately 16 percent of coalition casualties were a result of insider attacks also known as “green-on-blue” attacks.

According to Afghan leaders, most insider attacks are carried out by Taliban infiltrators, rather than caused by so-called cultural insensitivity.

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