Human Terrain: TRIBES

March 26, 2013  
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by Breach-Bang-Clear Contributor at Large and Valued Minion Peter Nealan, author of Task Force Desperate. This one talks about human terrain and negotiating it for tactical and strategic advantage, if not operational survival outside the wire.

Tribes

While it may seem, on the surface, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Wars?  Try battles in the same war) are winding down, anyone who has been paying attention knows that the GWOT is just moving to a new phase.  It didn’t start on 9/11, and it’s not ending in 2014.

That means we’re going to still be fighting Salafist and Shia jihadists for a very long time.  The following falls under the heading of “Know Thine Enemy.”

Most parts of the world where Islam holds sway is very tribal.  These tribes often go back thousands of years; part of our fumble in dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan over the last ten years was not understanding at best, or flat-out ignoring at worst, the nature and power of these tribes.  Steven Pressfield

published a series of videos a number of years ago, entitled “It’s the Tribes, Stupid.”  Unfortunately, not many people appeared to have listened.

In a tribal society, loyalty is determined by blood relations.  While the tribe might acknowledge an outside authority, such as a nation-state, or friends outside the tribe, as soon as that authority or friend threatens the interests of the tribe, that authority is shunned, and the friend becomes an enemy.  The tribe is the most important part of anyone’s life.  It can be compared, in some ways, with the mafia.  The ancient rules and traditions of the tribe outrank any outside laws.  A classic example of this is in southern Afghanistan, where Pashtunwali has been known to trump even the laws of Islam.

A great deal has been made out of honor in tribal societies.  It has to be understood that “honor” to a member of a tribe in the Middle East or Central Asia has a somewhat different meaning than it has come to hold in the West.  Here, an honorable man is one who keeps his word, who can be trusted to do the right thing, no matter the cost to himself.  It has become an interior matter in the West, largely reflecting the individualism of the Western ethos.  A man’s honor is intact as long as he does the right thing.

In Eastern tribal societies, honor is linked to reputation and outward perception.  It revolves around how strong the man is seen to be, and is also linked to the tribe, rather than any individual man.  If you insult a man who is from a tribal society, and he does not respond, this makes him appear weak.  The stronger the response, the stronger the man.  The insult, and the response or lack thereof, can also reflect on his tribe.  This is why you sometimes have Afghans killing Americans they’ve never seen before, simply because another American pissed them off.  If you can’t kill the guy who insulted you, then someone else from his tribe is fair game.

So how does all this affect operations?  You have to understand the terrain you’re working on, and that counts with human terrain just as much as physical terrain.  Here are some points to take away:

Understand that any loyalty you engender from allies in a tribal society is going to be transitory.  You can only trust them insofar as your goals and the tribe’s goals intertwine.

Once you arrive in an AO, and start to feel out who might be friendly, for whatever reason, immediately begin to learn as much as you can about the tribal dynamics and history in the region.  Learn what tribe lives where, who is rich, who is poor, who wields more influence, and perhaps most importantly, where the vendettas are.  These people have very long memories, especially when it comes to being wronged.  Too often downrange, we moved around pretty well oblivious to who the people we interacted with daily really were, and I daresay that got used against us a lot.

Take care not to insult the locals.  That being said, do not be weak.  Let me say it again: Do. Not. Be. Weak.  Understand what is and isn’t an insult in that culture, and don’t take insults lying down.  I’m not saying go to their lengths; don’t go shooting people for showing you the soles of their feet.  Duh.  But do take it up with the elders.  Don’t be hesitant responding to attacks.  Let them see that you are strong, as they understand strong.   These people just about invented the notion of “Go with the strong horse.”  As Bing West summed it up in his book The Strongest Tribe, we won Al Anbar (temporarily) because the locals came to see us as the strongest tribe in the area.  Remember what I said about the interests of the tribe being foremost.  If you are the biggest, meanest guy on the block, then the tribes will tend to gravitate to you for protection, and to get a piece of the power that being the biggest, meanest guy on the block tends to accrue.

Now, some of this is going to be difficult if you are still bound by the Operational ADD that I referred to in my previous post.  Building relationships in a tribal society takes time, especially the farther from the cities you get, and the less of a sense of time they have.  If you are taking pressure from your higher, try to inform them of what you are doing and the importance of doing it.  They won’t always listen, but then the responsibility is on them, not you.

Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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AAuthor Peter Nealenbout the Author: Pete Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine, a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of several books. A contributor here at Breach-Bang-Clear for many years now, Pete is a bad ass writer who continues to make the Duo’s efforts look pale and feeble (if less gritty and jaw-clenching-y) by comparison. You can follow Nealan on his own blog, American Praetorians. We encourage you to do so here. His author page on Facebook is at https://www.facebook.com/PeteNealenAuthor. If you’d like to read some of his books, you can start the American Praetorians series (about a PMC in a post Greater Depression dystopia now 4 books long) with Task Force Desperate. He has a standalone action novel called Kill Yuan, which you can find here. You could also do worse than to start reading the Jed Horn series (a supernatural shoot ’em up series now on its 3rd volume) with Nightmares, then proceed with Silver Cross and a Winchester and Walker on the Hills and . His fiction is widely claimed for the realism of its combat scenes — this is no doubt because he hangs around with us. It could also have something to do with his skill as a writer and his background (multiple deployments, qualifications as a Combatant Diver, Navy/Marine Corps Parachutist, Marine Scout/Sniper and S/S team leader, Combat Tracker, et al). Continue below to see the only picture of Nealen smiling

Ever.

Fortis cadere, cedere non potest.

 

Pete-Nealen

Pete Nealen

Pete Nealen

About the Author

Pete Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine, a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of several books. A contributor here at Breach-Bang-Clear for many years now, Pete is a bad ass writer who continues to make the Duo's efforts look pale and feeble (if less gritty and jaw-clenching-y) by comparison. You can follow Nealan on his own blog, American Praetorians. We encourage you to do so here. His author page on Facebook is at PeteNealenAuthor. If you'd like to read some of his books, you can start the American Praetorians series (about a PMC in a post Greater Depression dystopia now 4 books long) with Task Force Desperate. He has a standalone action novel called Kill Yuan, which you can find here. You could also do worse than to start reading the Jed Horn series (a supernatural shoot 'em up series now on its 3rd volume) with Nightmares, then proceed with Silver Cross and a Winchester and Walker on the Hills and . His fiction is widely claimed for the realism of its combat scenes -- this is no doubt because he hangs around with us. It could also have something to do with his skill as a writer and his background (multiple deployments, qualifications as a Combatant Diver, Navy/Marine Corps Parachutist, Marine Scout/Sniper and S/S team leader, Combat Tracker, et al).

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