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About HTS

Developing, training and integrating social science based research and analysis.

The History of the Human Terrain System

The U.S. Army Human Terrain System (HTS) developed from the deteriorating situation in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2005-2006 as the improvised explosive device (IED) threat continued to cause significant damage and casualties to U.S. ground forces. Combat commanders did not have a good understanding of the cultural and social implications of military operations in urban environments. The result of conducting operations without local ssociocultural knowledge produced negative affects among the local populations. This occurred as early as 2005 by the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan and in 2006 with multiple Army and Marine units preparing for surge operations against terrorist and insurgent forces.

As a result of operational need for sociocultural information of the area of operations, in 2006 the U.S. Department of Defense validated the urgent need for sociocultural support (human terrain concept) to combat commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan and funding was provided through the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) as part of their organizational goals. JIEDDO research indicated that many of the IED attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces were a result of military actions that violated local and national sociocultural values, which resulted in violent retaliation. Sociocultural understanding and knowledge was believed to provide a unique method to help combat commanders consider the affects of military operations among local populations and engage local leadership to build trust, understanding, and cooperation to non-violently engage the enemy and reduce the number of violent attacks against U.S. and Coalition Forces.

In early 2006, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command G-2, supported by JIEDDO, responded to the operational need by developing a concept to provide social science support to military commanders in the form of Human Terrain Teams (HTTs). HTTs, composed of individuals with social science academic backgrounds would deploy with tactical units to assist in bringing about knowledge of the local population into a coherent framework. The HTTs would provide analytic reporting with advice and recommendations to commanders and staff. Two HTTs were assigned in Afghanistan (February 2007) and three HTTs to Iraq between 2007 and 2008, directly supported by a Reachback Research Center (RRC) and a subject matter expertise network (from the academic and military community) in the United States.

The urgent requests from combat commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan for sociocultural support, in military jargon, is called Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS), and each request from Iraq and Afghanistan were consolidated by the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) and signed by the Multi-National Corps – Iraq (MNC-I) and Combined Joint Task Force 82 for Afghanistan. This officially established the Human Terrain System as the proof of concept that took root and gained support from the Department of Defense.

The total number of teams deployed to Iraq by 2008 numbered 28. As U.S. and Coalition Forces in Iraq began to drawdown in 2010-2011, Human Terrain Teams began to reduce in number and by June 2011 all Human Terrain Teams had departed Iraq.

The Human Terrain System support to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. As of 30 August 2013, HTS has 14 teams in theater as part of the larger ISAF mission adjustment. The Human Terrain Teams continue to support vital sociocultural information and reporting to NATO, ISAF, and U.S. commanders and staffs in order to build understanding, peace and security.