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Speaking of the Weekly Standard , I should point as well to the fine bit of reporting done by my friend Claudia Anderson , who went out to visit the Center for Afghanistan Studies at—of all places—the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Sitting in on classes and interviewing teachers and students—all while contemplating the serious problems of American presence in the strange Afghan territory, she asks the obvious question about the center’s program: “How can you manufacture regional experts in six months?”

And she answers:

The answer was, You can’t—and the program doesn’t pretend to. Instead, it aims to recruit smart, creative, cool-headed, highly adaptable, mature self-starters who already have significant relevant experience, and then further equip them to operate as bridges between the U.S. military and Afghan people. You can’t teach team members enough Dari or Pashto to make them fluent, for instance, but you can teach them enough to build on, and enough to improve their effectiveness at working through interpreters. You can’t give them deep knowledge of the places where they’ll serve, but you can expose them to a great deal of pertinent information and then teach them how to ask questions—not “What do you think of the provincial government?” but “What was your last contact with the provincial government? Who exactly did you go to? What was the outcome? What about the time before that?”

The report concludes:

The Human Terrain Teams and other innovations by which the U.S. armed forces are lessening their ignorance of the Afghan people are no doubt imperfect, even crude, instruments for meeting the challenges of a war where the enemy is at home and we come from far away, geographically and culturally. Regardless of the magnitude of the challenge, the HTTs and the rest will be judged by their success on the ground. Still, it is not too soon to recognize the energy and imagination with which the armed forces are working to apply their lessons learned.

The devices by which reform and adaptation take place are always fascinating to watch—though the remaining question, of course, is whether they’ll be allowed enough time to develop.

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