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New tool eyed by U.S. for anti-drug war

Apr. 25, 2012 - 01:11PM   |  
By BEN IANNOTTA   |   Comments
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The U.S. Army could send a team of socio-cultural experts to Mexico to aid in counter-narcotics work, a U.S. Army official said.

The move would be in keeping with the broader role the U.S. Defense Department has assigned to the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System, the teams of civilian anthropologists and other social scientists hired by the Army to gather cultural information for commanders and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HTS members were sent to Northern Command’s headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., about two weeks ago to explore whether there are gaps in cultural knowledge that might warrant sending human terrain experts to Mexico, said Army Col. Sharon Hamilton, director of the Human Terrain System.

“They sit down with the staff and help identify gaps in their plans; their engagements, and their training. What don’t you know about the populations?”

If Northern Command gives the order, the experts could be sent to Mexico sometime after the September conclusion of a six-month pilot effort in Colorado Springs. Before sending experts to Mexico, “we will conduct thorough secondary research using all available sources to try to fill those gaps,” Hamilton added by email.

Hamilton spoke April 24 at an intelligence conference organized by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.

When the Army began setting up the Human Terrain System in 2006, the move sparked criticism from the American Anthropological Association, which says it is unethical for anthropologists to gather information for military commanders in war zones.

Hamilton has been working on a plan to expand HTS to other regions, such as Africa and Latin America. The teams would participate in “phase zero” operations, which refer to collaborating with local authorities to try to prevent wars or insurgencies.

“Mexico may be not phase zero,” Hamilton said. “A little dangerous down there.”

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