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  1. The Human Terrain System ( HTS) was a United States Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) support program employing personnel from the social science disciplines – such as anthropology, sociology, political science, regional studies, and linguistics – to provide military commanders and staff with an understanding of the local population (i.e. the "human terrain") in the regions in which they are deployed.

    • Background
    • History and Recent Developments
    • Design and Organizational Structure
    • Public Debate: Praise, Criticism and Controversy
    • See Also
    • Further Reading

    In the most immediate sense, HTS was developed as a response to concerns about mismanagement of US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, in particular, to the negative effects of recognized "deficiencies" in US military "cultural understanding" of these countries.However, military analysts and academics have also suggested earlier historical contexts for the program's development.

    Chronological history of developments in HTS

    The beginnings of HTS can be traced to a Montgomery McFate and Andrea Jackson's pilot proposal for a "Pentagon Office of Operational Cultural Knowledge", which was published in 2005. Shortly afterwards, in July 2005, the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) initiated an HTS pilot project (named Cultural Operations Research – Human Terrain System, or COR-HTS), which was headed up by Captain Don Smith, and housed at the Training and Doctrine Command in Fort Leavenworth. The pilot lasted until...


    Michael V. Bhatia, a member of HTT AF1, was killed along with two other soldiers by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) while riding in a Humvee in Khost, Afghanistan in May 2008.:17 Nicole Suveges, a member of HTT IZ3, was killed on 24 June 2008, along with 11 other soldiers, Iraqi government officials and United States Embassy personnel when a bomb exploded at the District Council building in Sadr City.:9 On 4 November 2008, HTS member Paula Loyd was fatally injured whilst surveying the vi...

    Role of HTS in the US Army

    HTS is defined as an "intelligence enabling capability",:1 and is categorized as "Intelligence support activity". According to the HTS website, the aim of the program is to "provide sociocultural teams to commanders and staff" in the US Army in order to "improve the understanding of the local population", and to "apply this understanding to the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP)".The website also argues that the program was designed to address an identified "operational need" in the US a...

    HTS components

    HTS has two main components: an institutional component referred to as the "Army Enduring Base", and an operational component referred to as "Deployed Teams".Both components include numerous sub-divisions.


    The HTS program focuses on mapping the "human terrain" (i.e. the local population in an area in which military are deployed). In order to do this, HTTs create databases of information about local leaders, tribes or social groups, political disputes, economic issues and social problems. This information is then analysed by HTATs and used to advise military staff and commanders, and to inform the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). Collected data is compiled and stored in a larger archive,...

    Cultural references

    In 2010, James Der Derian, David Udris and Michael Udris released a documentary film about HTS entitled Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic. The film has been described as having two main narrative components: the first is an inquiry into the HTS program and its history; the second is a narrative of the "tragic" story of Michael Bhatia's involvement in HTS.The film features interviews with numerous individuals who have played an important role in the history of HTS and the public debate surro...

    Stanton, John (2013). US Army's Human Terrain System 2008–2013: The Program from Hell. pp. 207. ISBN 978-1491063927.

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  3. Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) are five- to nine-person teams deployed by the Human Terrain System (HTS) to support field commanders by filling their cultural knowledge gap in the current operating environment and providing cultural interpretations of events occurring within their area of operations. The team is

  4. Jun 29, 2015 · The Rise and Fall of the Human Terrain System. by Roberto J. González. The most expensive social science program in history–the US Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS)–has quietly come to an ...

    • History
    • Implications
    • Notes

    Inception to Government Transition.HTS was developed as a response to concerns about mismanagement of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular the lack of cultural understanding of these countries demonstrated by the U.S. military. Soldiers, commanded by leaders with limited cross-cultural experience, were being asked to navigate a complex foreign environment with little or no training, and they were failing. Prior to U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, cultural research and analysis had only a small place in the Army thought process. HTS changed that. Designed to provide a better understanding of indigenous populations in these countries, it was hoped that HTS would help U.S. and allied forces reduce violent misunderstandings and dampen the insurgencies. In 2006, the Army, facing progressively worsening situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, needed new ideas and thus backed a $20 million, five-team HTS proof of concept. Even before all five teams had been...

    Centralizing Support for Deployed Civilians. While poor management limited HTS during its early years, the program was also hindered by DOD’s ineffective civilian deployment system. The U.S. military is capable when deploying uniformed Servicemembers, but its civilian deployment process is minimal and poorly integrated. For small organizations, or units with only a few civilians, this is a nuisance to be endured. For HTS, which deployed civilians at a larger scale, the system’s weaknesses created massive challenges to mission accomplishment. The effects were significant. The U.S. Government spent almost $800 million on HTS from its inception through the 2014 Afghanistan drawdown, a period of over 7 years. During much of that time, mismanagement, excess attrition, inflated salaries, and poor support practices wasted hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, assuming HTS provided value to battlefield commanders, the years it took to fix these issues and field more effective teams...

    For a detailed account of Human Terrain System (HTS) history, see Christopher J. Lamb et al., Human Terrain Teams: An Organizational Innovation for Sociocultural Knowledge in Irregular Warfare(Wash...
    Ibid., 147. Lamb et al. reference three types of Human Terrain Team (HTT) members: “ne’er-do-wells,” “fantasists,” and “workers.” While these categories are crude, they are also quite accurate. Wit...
    It is important to note that timecard exploitation was routine for civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. To HTS’s credit, team members never approached the excesses of deployed Department of Justice e...
    Lamb et al., 73–74.
  5. 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.

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