Human Terrain System is Dead, Long Live … What?

Building and Sustaining Military Cultural Competence in the Aftermath of the Human Terrain System

Maj. Ben Connable, PhD, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired

Download the PDF


In 2009, I published an article for Military Review recommending the end of the human terrain system (HTS). In “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System is Undermining Sustained Cultural Competence,” I argued that the deployment of nonorganic cultural teams to Afghanistan and Iraq was unnecessary and counterproductive. I wrote, “When do the quick-fix solutions give way to long-term, doctrinally sound programs? It is time for HTS to give way.”1

In my view, the logical alternative was to sharpen the skills of the soldiers and marines already tasked with advising the commander—foreign area, civil affairs, and intelligence experts—and put them in a position to help think through the maddening complexities of irregular war, meanwhile providing sufficient cultural training to deploying troops. Instead, HTS became the program of record for cultural capability. Five years and over $700 million later, HTS was effectively killed.2 Plans to embed permanently human terrain teams (HTTs) with every infantry brigade and regiment were shelved. Promises of an integrated joint cultural database faded. As the smoke clears, it is time to revisit fundamental problems and to take inventory of remaining culture programs. It is equally important to think about an HTS redux: If we do this again, why and how do we do it?

Forget the he-said, she-said swirl of accusations, counteraccusations, and recriminations that dragged the debate over HTS into the muck. A sober retrospective suggests that everyone involved, from Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro to the most fervent anti-HTS anthropologists, had good intentions.3 As Christopher Sims argues in his scholarly assessment of the program, there are bigger issues at stake than the individual failures and success stories that have co-opted our attention.4 The U.S. military needs to make some fundamental decisions about culture. If it fails to take action now, it will—as many experts have argued since at least 2003—see its capabilities fade as they did after the Vietnam War. I argue that despite some real progress, the fade is already well underway.

HTS and the Fundamental Split: Organic or External?

HTS came about primarily as a response to the improvised explosive device (IED) problem in Iraq. Tactical commanders were frustrated that they could not get into the heads of tribal leaders and insurgent foot soldiers to deter them from planting IEDs. At the same time, the Army, the Marine Corps, and the Department of Defense (DOD) were all struggling to find a way to insert cultural competence into training and education. The culture gap was yawning, and tactical failure stacked on failure as soldiers and marines struggled to figure out the fundamental nature of Iraq’s insurgency. Anthropologist Montgomery McFate, a strong proponent of military cultural competence, stepped into the mix after hearing the heartfelt laments of several combat commanders. She linked up with Hriar S. Cabayan at DOD, and a program was born.

Several culture experts and program managers were engaged from the outset. Despite the tensions that later emerged, as early as 2003, a close and mostly collegial group of culture proponents had built a struggling ad hoc collective to come to terms with military cultural competence. We knew and respected one another, attended conferences and workshops, enthusiastically invited each other to speak, and openly shared information. Many of us participated in the earliest conversations about HTS and watched the concept expand from a few small teams to a massive, $700 million system. We all believed that something had to be done to improve cultural training, education, and intelligence. However, our paths diverged as we ran headfirst into the fundamental and still unresolved military culture argument: Should the military integrate cultural competence organically, or do the complexities of culture demand teams of external experts?

Many of us reasoned that developing organic capability was the right approach. We made three arguments: (1) outsourcing cultural competence would ensure its inevitable disappearance and the equally inevitable path to grievous tactical errors in the next war, (2) training and educating everyone to a reasonable level was the only way to ensure the even and widespread cultural competence needed in a massive distributed counterinsurgency operation such as Iraq or Afghanistan, and (3) cultural information could be classified or unclassified, but it had to be integrated into a holistic intelligence understanding of the battlespace. As I describe below, we effectively lost the first argument, we made small gains with the second argument, and it appears that we made only temporary, uneven gains with the third argument. HTTs sortied into Iraq and Afghanistan to support brigade and regimental commanders. Meanwhile, the shadow effort to develop organic cultural capability chugged along, subsisting on the thin gruel of contingency and joint funds left over from HTS and some remnants squeezed from service budgets.


Five parallel narratives, or dyads, emerged over the lifespan of HTS. Foremost was the organic versus external debate. Equally important but less publicized were the sometimes polarizing differences between the Army and the Marine Corps, between language and culture, between intelligence experts focused on threats and killing and those focused on cultural understanding, and between the relevance of culture in irregular and conventional warfare. Each of these is central to the HTS period and important to determining the future of military cultural competence.

First Dyad: Organic versus External

While HTS won the organic versus external debate in 2007, the victory was partial and temporary. Organic programs were deprived of the hundreds of millions of dollars invested into HTS, but a handful of experts and leaders applied force of will to ensure some capabilities emerged and survived. Army leaders created the Training and Doctrine Command Culture Center (TCC), which saw through the slow and often tense effort to integrate culture into some aspects of military training and education.5 The Marine Corps created the Center for Advanced Operational Cultural Learning (CAOCL), which kick-started a parallel training and education effort.6 Defense Language Institute (DLI) leaders oversaw an explosive growth in military linguist training.7 Joint programs became loosely associated through the Defense Language and National Security Education Office.8 Army civil affairs created the Civil Information Management database.9 When HTS was dismantled, the Army built the Global Cultural and Knowledge Network, designed to centralize service sociocultural knowledge.10 As of late 2017, all of these activities and several others have persisted beyond the demise of HTS.

One of our culture colleagues likes to say that we are stashing capabilities around the DOD so we do not lose everything when interest fades. This approach has prevented total loss. However, what remains is uneven, scattershot, mostly disconnected, and arguably inadequate to help build and sustain military cultural competence. For every minor success, there is a stagnating effort or an impending failure. My interviews with service culture experts suggest that cultural training and education are being slowly squeezed from curricula. Large-scale training exercises that once emphasized key leader engagements and cultural training are reallocating time to rebuild lost conventional warfare skills. These shifts were inevitable and predicted well in advance by almost everyone involved. The collective goal of our pre-HTS, ad hoc culture consortium was to normalize culture by focusing on basic, low-cost competence that would be relevant to any type of operation. As of late 2017, culture is still primarily a thing apart, an added burden for training and education, and therefore vulnerable to cuts.

Second Dyad: Army versus Marine Corps

Both the Air Force and the Navy have culture programs.11 I focus on the Army and the Marine Corps because they are most dependent on cultural competence for day-to-day operations, and because together, they exemplify an important part of the cultural competence debate. From 2003 through 2017, Army and Marine Corps leaders set up a limited but generally supportive link between the service culture training and education programs. However, the Army and the Marine Corps diverged over HTS. They did so for reasons that I believe justify a differentiated approach to service cultural competence but not to the point of eschewing joint leadership and some logical joint solutions.

HTS created distracting friction between the two services. Army leaders embraced HTS, arguing for its relevance and pushing DOD leaders to cement it as a program of record.12 Marine leaders were happy to take the effectively free teams provided by the program, but they never made a formal joint commitment.13 Instead, the Marine Corps put slightly more effort into building organic capability. It would be easy to chalk up this disagreement to petty service rivalry, but there are relevant services differences.

The sheer size of the Army and its emphasis on individual specialization make general cultural training and education difficult. Marines have (at the very least) a modest service tradition of cultural competence, while soldiers appear more likely to be skeptical of cultural training.14 The original HTS website quoted several soldiers who argued that they were incapable of thinking about culture.15 Army leaders were perhaps justifiably reluctant to enact a major, short-notice training and education shift across a skeptical force, and were therefore more willing than the Marine Corps to embrace an external solution like HTS. However, issues of scale and specialization should be less daunting to gradual, longer term, and more modest change.

Both the Army and Marine Corps continue to press for organic, service-wide cultural competence. Army culture experts have adapted to the challenge of scale by taking a consumer-driven approach to support rather than pursuing a top-down, force-fed, one-size-fits-all cultural program.16 Staff at the TCC helps individual units and organizations tailor cultural competence training and education on a case-by-case basis, sending out mobile training teams as needed.17 Taking advantage of the Marine Corps’ smaller, more manageable size, the Marine Corps Combat Development Command created the Regional, Culture, and Language Familiarization program.18 Under this program, new sergeants and officers are assigned a career-long learning program focused on regional expertise. TCC and CAOCL form a point of cross-service convergence; both provide tailored service expertise. Differentiated service programming is a natural, effective—but incomplete and tenuous—evolutionary response to the culture gap. This parallel development should inform the way the DOD and Joint Staff think about cultural competence.

Third Dyad: Language versus Culture

Should the services and the joint force take a “Big L, Little C” (big language, little culture) or a “Big C, Little L” (big culture, little language) approach to cultural competence?19 In cultural competence parlance, Big L, Little C is language in the lead. This has been the go-to approach to addressing cultural competence since the publication of the 2005 Defense Language Transformation Roadmap.20 When the culture crisis arose in the early 2000s, language programs were already in place and ready to ramp up to meet new demand. The DLI rightfully thrived in response to the quantifiable need for trained linguists. However, some leaders took the Big L, Little C approach a step further. They believed that creating linguists would go a long way toward meeting the broader and more complex demands for culture competence and cultural information.21 Investments in language training would pay off twice and avoid the messy complexity and added burdens of cultural training and education.

This is a debatable assumption. While language is an important part of improving cultural understanding, it is quite possible to read, listen to, and speak a foreign language while knowing almost nothing about the associated culture. The DLI saw this problem and increased the cultural component of its curriculum. But, language necessarily dominates in programs funded to generate linguists. Significant parts of language programs’ cultural training events are conducted online rather than in the classroom or field environments. Most defense language programs are cemented as programs of record; they are large and well-funded, and they naturally dominate the comparatively puny service culture centers. The Defense Language and National Security Education Office is a clear exemplification of the Big L, Little C dynamic. It is effectively the one remaining DOD-wide cultural competence organization, but its title emphasizes language and does not mention culture.22

While the Army is the service proponent and manager for language programs, it describes its cultural competence program as CREL, for culture, regional expertise, and language.23 In the provocative world of cultural competence lingo, where the words “human terrain” can set off an intense argument, these choices matter.24 Despite some reluctance to embrace organic cultural solutions, the Army diverted from the more commonly used LREC (language, regional expertise, and culture) acronym and took a firm Big C, Little L stance. This is a practical approach. Soldiers can benefit tremendously from language training, but it is costly and time consuming. Language training will always be necessary for specialized tasks like intelligence collection and special operations, but it is less important to the larger force than basic cultural competence. Understanding why culture matters, how it matters, and having basic knowledge of the vagaries of human interaction are critical capabilities. Language is a lesser-included requirement for most soldiers and marines.

Fourth Dyad: Meat Eaters versus Leaf Eaters

Military intelligence staffs are supposed to build and maintain cultural competence, amass and analyze cultural information, and advise the commander on cultural issues.25 As I argued in my 2009 article, the military intelligence community had effectively no capability to meet any of these requirements the earliest days of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Intelligence was tailored to warn of impending attacks and find enemy military formations. Over the next decade, irregular warfare requirements led to the development of high-value targeting capabilities. Intelligence was at the heart of the intensive, ongoing effort to find, fix, and finish insurgent and terrorist leaders, bomb makers, financiers, and even foot soldiers. At the surface level, the U.S. military eschewed body counts, the Vietnam experience could not be ignored. But, in practice, killing became an end unto itself.26 High value kills could be quantified and tabulated to give at least the appearance of progress. Culture, on the other hand, was a squishy thing that generated no meaningful data. It never stood a chance in the battle for intelligence focus and funding.

Creation of the stability operations information centers (SOICs) in Afghanistan epitomized the problems with integrating culture into fused intelligence analysis. In 2010, then Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn directed the creation of the SOICs in response to the gaps he and his coauthors identified in "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan."27 The general idea was to build a cultural information clearinghouse to meet the pressing needs of commanders trying to understand Afghan culture, development programs, tribes, and other complex issues. In practice, the SOICs became a place to dump culture, segregating it from the intelligence fusion process.

Just as cultural engagement and assessment became something the HTTs did, in parts of Afghanistan cultural intelligence became something the SOICs did. Manned partly with Afghan nationals who had no security clearances, the SOICs were not even physically collocated with the intelligence staffs. The separation of culture from intelligence and the devaluation of cultural information were on literal, physical display. One SOIC leader called this a separation of the “fully vested meat eaters” from the “soft-power leaf eaters.”28 Even as some intelligence experts managed to work culture into their products, this greater-lesser dynamic replicated itself in other ad hoc cultural intelligence efforts across Afghanistan and in Iraq.


Widespread belief that cultural intelligence was a squishy, leaf-eating activity repeated in the intelligence community. In a mostly earnest and sometimes aggressive effort to improve cultural intelligence capabilities, some intelligence staffs worked to enhance cultural intelligence collection and analysis, to integrate culture into analytic products, and to build cultural databases. For at least the first decade after the invasion of Iraq, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence did its best to coordinate defense intelligence cultural activities, but full integration of cultural information into the all-source analysis process—in which all types and sources of information are supposed to be fused to generate holistic understanding—never really took hold. Instead of integration, cultural intelligence cells sprung up around the community. Some of these, like the Human Terrain Analysis Branch at U.S. Central Command, were highly successful, but their tenure was often short and their contributions to holistic understanding of the environment were unclear.

As of late 2017, the defense intelligence enterprise’s cultural capabilities are as scattered, dissociated, and tenuous as the cultural competence programs in the services.29 Cultural intelligence is mostly a thing practiced in isolation. Cultural information collection, storage, and dissemination are still very much works in progress. More importantly, the revival of interest in conventional war in Europe and on the Korean Peninsula has reinforced specious yet longstanding counterarguments to culture proponents: culture is an irregular warfare thing; we do not do irregular warfare anymore; and this is a temporary distraction that will eventually go away.

Fifth Dyad: Irregular War versus Conventional War

Well before HTS was a rough napkin sketch, the ad hoc culture community reached two points of consensus. First, we had to be careful not to oversell culture. Our enthusiasm could easily be misread as a drive to make culture the dominant consideration in warfare. Some of us conflated culture with geographic terrain in order to communicate its relative importance to soldiers and marines. This analogy earned us groans from academia, but our point was that culture mattered as much and not more than anything else. Second, we had to emphasize that culture mattered across the entire spectrum of operations, from humanitarian assistance missions to counterinsurgency to conventional warfare. We found some traction with the first argument but never found a convincing voice on the second. This was a significant failure: culture was inaccurately and perhaps indelibly branded as an irregular warfare thing.

It is unsurprising that military leaders would perceive culture this way. Culture rarely appears in the literature or doctrine on conventional warfare, and it is most acutely excluded from tactical and operational narratives. Proponency only emerges when culture becomes a problem, and this usually occurs in irregular conflicts such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Cultural competence training and cultural intelligence do not appear to offer any assistance in direct tactical combat, which happens to be the primary conventional war purpose of the military’s combat arms. Following this line of thinking, if culture does not matter in conventional war then it can and should be shelved so the military can dedicate more time to combined arms training.

This thinking is shortsighted and anathema to the joint force understanding of warfare. It is shortsighted because it is impossible to generate rapidly real, service-wide cultural competence. Abandoning culture because it is perceived to be an irregular war consideration makes another deadly culture crisis inevitable. We would repeat the Vietnam War cycle: enter an irregular war; make terrible cultural errors; scramble to create cultural training, education, and intelligence; and then dump everything as we pivot back to the Russians. Parallels between the late-1970s and today are remarkable.

Separating culture from conventional war is unwise because the U.S. military views warfare as a fundamentally human endeavor. Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, the capstone doctrine for the U.S. Armed Forces, describes war as a complex human undertaking and a Clausewitzean contest of opposing, independent wills.30 Both Army and Marine Corps doctrinal publications agree.31 If this is true, then even tactical and operational combat require understanding human behavior, and human behavior is rooted in culture. How can the military identify and break the enemy’s will to fight if it does not understand the things that motivate or weaken him? How can the military count on allies when it does not understand the factors that will keep them in the fight or send them running for home? Culture lies at the heart of conventional warfare.

Nevertheless, in practice, American military theory and doctrine have centered on the concrete and quantifiable factors of war at the expense of the human component. In 2016, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in the Joint Concept for Human Aspects of Military Operations (JC-HAMO) that the U.S. military does not understand ally and adversary will to fight.32 Anthropomorphic thinking reached its zenith with the “revolution in military affairs,” which sought to reduce the human element to a point of irrelevance.33 Broad reluctance to embrace culture as a pervasive and inevitable part of all military operations is consistent with American reluctance to accept the uncertain and all too human nature of warfare.

Bracketing culture in a narrow, irregular warfare category imposes two additional restrictions. It all but prohibits the logical next step in cultural competence: improved self-understanding of U.S. military culture. If the military can improve the tools, knowledge, and competence to understand adversaries, noncombatants, and allies, it can find a way to apply this cultural competence internally to help bolster resilience, improve leadership, and help prevent significant DOD-wide problems such as sexual harassment and assault. Limiting the scope of culture also reduces its value to understanding the so-called gray zone, or measures short of war conflicts such as the Russian intervention in Crimea. Accepting the broader value of culture can generate tangible and practical improvements across a wide array of policies.

Looking Forward: Human Terrain System, Cultural Competence, and Preventable Pain

As of late 2017 HTS is effectively dead; cultural competence and intelligence programs are limited, uneven, and under threat; and the strongest institutional proponents of cultural capability are edging toward retirement. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis was one of the earliest advocates for cultural training. Mattis oversaw the creation of CAOCL and the integration of cultural training and education into standing curricula, but he is certainly in his last Defense Department position. Colonels and sergeants major who once led companies in places such as Baghdad, Ramadi, Garmser, and Kandahar are at the top of the narrow promotion pyramid. Force of will generated by intense frustration drove many of these leaders to help institute cultural programs, including HTS, through the late 2000s. Once that experience is gone, with the military focused on conventional threats, what comes next for culture?


Thinking About a Resurrected Human Terrain System

HTS is effectively dead, but it may or may not live on as a ghosted program of record. Either way, it does not exist in practice. There is periodic talk of bringing it back to life in order to meet demands in the ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Putting aside all of the aforementioned conceptual problems with outsourcing culture, it would certainly be possible to dust off the old training manuals, hire new team members, and have a viable nonorganic program up and running in fairly short order. It might take only half a year to have the first teams in the field. But, despite the best efforts of program managers, these teams would go through inevitable and painful learning periods. Civilian social scientists would have to acclimatize to the military culture, and some would inevitably fall short. If the DOD or a service sees the need for an HTS-like capability, the better alternative would be to create an organic HTS.

HTS had two primary components: the teams and the reach-back knowledge center. Teams could be easily generated from the foreign area officer, civil affairs, human intelligence, and special operations communities in the military. It is true that even foreign area officers with master’s degrees often lack social science field skills. However, these could be taught by the many civilian social scientists now embedded throughout the military. This would be an ideal application of civilian social science capability. Since teams have no requirement to conduct complex general scientific research, training on tasks such as polling and interviewing could be executed quickly. Better yet, teams could be assembled and periodically exercised as part of routine training. Reservists with additional civilian specialties would be uniquely positioned to support an organic HTS.

These teams could be supported by holistic, culture-inclusive military intelligence analysis. Rather than create separate culture databases and analytic teams, intelligence leaders need to find a way to integrate routinely cultural information and considerations into the collection and all-source fusion processes. This has been done at the tactical level, and success can be replicated up. Integration will add minimal additional cost to the defense budget; defense intelligence already manages billions of dollars in data collection, storage, analysis, and dissemination assets, all of which are fully capable of handling and integrating cultural information.

I argue that broader cultural competence is preferable to the team of specialists approach, but if the DOD or the services decide that a team-based cultural system is necessary then it can and should be built from the inside. Organic capability will reduce costs, facilitate integration with operational units, and help ensure the longevity of the program.

Saving Culture

Even if HTS is revived, it will not solve the military’s culture problem. In fact, it might be as distracting as it was in its first iteration. Cultural programs are fading now. The real solution to the culture gap is comprehensive, long-term, low-level, low-cost integration of cultural training, education, and intelligence across the DOD and the services. A thoughtful and sustainable program is within reach, but it needs a strong proponent.

It is time for the DOD to assign a powerful, central proponent for culture at the highest levels of the department. Specialist language programs are necessary and inherently sustainable. Culture programs have not yet proven their relevance and they are inherently vulnerable. The DOD needs to replace Big L, Little C with a culture-focused policy. Culture leaders should have directive and budgetary authority to drive home a comprehensive, long-term program. Each service should replicate this culture position to ensure thoughtful and differentiated service implementation. Absent full empowerment, we can expect cultural competence to go the way of HTS. The consequences are as easy to forecast as they should have been in 1975, and as they were to a handful of us in 2003.


  1. Ben Connable, “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System is Undermining Sustained Cultural Competence,” Military Review 89, no. 2 (March-April 2009): 64.
  2. It reportedly remains a program under U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2, and it is associated with the Global Cultural Knowledge Consortium. I did not receive a response to a request for a program update.
  3. Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro, “Reflections on the Human Terrain System during the First 4 Years,” Prism 2, no. 4 (September 2011): 63–81; Maximilian Forte, “The End of Debates About the Human Terrain System?,” Zero Anthropology (website), 17 February 2013, accessed 13 November 2017,; Roberto J. González, “Human Terrain: Past, Present, and Future Applications,” Anthropology Today 24, no. 1 (February 2008): 21–26; Hugh Gusterson, “Do Professional Ethics Matter in War?,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (website), 4 March 2010, accessed 13 November 2017,
  4. Christopher Sims, The Human Terrain System: Operationally Relevant Social Science Research in Iraq and Afghanistan (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, December 2015); James Dao, “To Reach Out, Befriend and Kill When Necessary: An Even Trickier Terrain,” review of The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice, by Vanessa M. Gezari, New York Times (website), 27 August 2013, Book of the Times, accessed 14 December 2017,; Christopher J. Lamb, James Douglas Orton, Michael C. Davies, and Theodore T. Pikulsky, “The Way Ahead for Human Terrain Teams,” Joint Force Quarterly 70 (3rd Quarter 2013): 21–29.
  5. “TRADOC Culture Center (TCC),” U.S. Army Combined Arms Center (website), last reviewed 10 November 2016, accessed 13 November 2017,
  6. “Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL),” Marine Corps University (website), accessed 13 November 2017,
  7. Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (website home page), accessed 13 November 2017,
  8. Defense Language and National Security Education Office (website home page), accessed 13 November 2017,
  9. Stephen Goto, “Civil Information: CA is Missing the Moment,” Small Wars Journal (website), 22 September 2016, accessed 13 November 2017,
  10. “Global Cultural and Knowledge Network,” All Partners Access Network (website), accessed 13 November 2017,
  11. “AFCLC [Air Force Culture and Language Center] at Air University,” U.S. Air Force (website), last updated 26 October 2017, accessed 13 November 2017,; “Center for Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (CLREC),” U.S. Navy (website), accessed 13 November 2017,
  12. Role of the Social and Behavioral Sciences in National Security before House Armed Services Committee Terrorism and Unconventional Threats Subcommittee and the Research and Education Subcommittee of the Science and Technology Committee, 110th Cong. (24 April 2008) (statement of Col. Martin P. Schweitzer, U.S. Army Commander, 4/82 Airborne Brigade Combat Team), accessed 14 December 2017,
  13. I was the Marine Corps representative to the Department of Defense (DOD) board determining the joint nature of the program, and tracked Marine Corps involvement after departing that post.
  14. I draw this conclusion about Army skepticism from the responses I received to my original article, to conversations with Army leaders in the ensuing nine years, and interviews with Army culture experts in 2017. For more on Marine Corps culture, see Ben Connable, “Culture Warriors: Marine Corps Organizational Culture and Adaptation to Cultural Terrain,” Small Wars Journal (website), 7 February 2008, accessed 13 November 2017,
  15. Connable, “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket,” 62.
  16. U.S. Army cultural training leaders (anonymous), two telephone interviews with author, November 2017.
  17. “Information Papers: Cultural and Foreign Language Capabilities,” U.S. Army (website), accessed 14 November 2017,
  18. “Regional, Culture, and Language Familiarization,” CAOCL (Marine Corps University website), accessed 14 November 2017,
  19. Amy Alrich, Framing the Cultural Training Landscape: Phase I Findings (Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analyses, December 2008), 2, accessed 17 November 2017,
  20. Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Defense Language Transformation Roadmap (Washington, DC: DOD, January 2005), accessed 14 November 2017,
  21. Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Building Language Skills and Cultural Competencies in the Military: DOD’s Challenge in Today’s Educational Environment (Washington, DC: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services, November 2008), accessed 14 November 2017,
  22. This is a matter of emphasis only. The Defense Language and National Security Education Office is a proponent of cultural competence training and it has a subordinate cultural component.
  23. “Culture, Regional Expertise and Language Management Office (CRELMO),” U.S. Army Combined Arms Center (website), last reviewed 27 March 2017, accessed 14 November 2017,
  24. In the early 2010s, a major culture conference had to be called to a temporary halt after two senior leaders began yelling at each other over culture terminology. I was present for this event.
  25. These requirements are replete throughout service and joint doctrine, and they have only grown denser since the publication of my original article in 2009.
  26. Ben Connable, Embracing the Fog of War: Assessment and Metrics in Counterinsurgency (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2012).
  27. Michael T. Flynn, Matt Pottinger, and Paul D. Batchelor, Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan, Center for a New American Security (website), January 2010, 19–20, accessed 14 November 2017,
  28. Ben Connable, Military Intelligence Fusion for Complex Operations: A New Paradigm (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2012), 15.
  29. U.S. military cultural intelligence official (anonymous), telephone interview with author, November 2017.
  30. Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office [GPO], 20 March 2009), I-1.
  31. U.S. Army Doctrine Publication 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, November 2016); U.S. Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1, Warfighting (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1997).
  32. U.S. Joint Staff, Joint Concept for Human Aspects of Military Operations (JC-HAMO) (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 19 October 2016), foreword.
  33. H. R. McMaster, Defense Transformation and the Underlying Assumption of Dominant Knowledge in Future War (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College, November 2003), accessed 14 November 2017,


Maj. Ben Connable, U.S. Marine Corps, retired, is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California. He received his PhD in war studies from King’s College London, United Kingdom. He served in the Marine Corps as an intelligence officer and foreign area officer.

January-February 2018