Afghan Troops Learn About American Cultural Ignorance

Eleven years into the War in Afghanistan, and US soldiers are still unaware of local customs. Officials think these unintentionally insulting actions may have led to some of the recent insider attacks, and are taking action to try to prevent such acts of revenge.

In an unusual twist however, it's not American troops that are being educated - the US military has tried a variety of teaching techniques - it's the Afghan soldiers.

The Afghan Army is distributing a pamphlet that reveals some of the minor actions by NATO forces that can be deeply insulting to the Aghan soldiers.

  • “Please do not get offended if you see a NATO member blowing his/her nose in front of you.”
  • "When Coalition members get excited, they may show their excitement by patting one another on the back or the behind. They may even do this to you if they are proud of the job you’ve done. Once again, they don’t mean to offend you.”
  • “When someone feels comfortable in your presence, they may even put their feet on their own desk while speaking with you. They are by no means trying to offend you. They simply don’t know or have forgotten the Afghan custom.” Showing someone the soles of their shoes is considered a grievous insult.
  • Additional rules include NATO soldiers asking about female relatives, winking, or exposing their privates while showering.

There is hope that this new initiative will promote more understanding and better cooperation between NATO and Afghan forces, although some think that this attempt at understanding is coming too late.

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Leader Education

I had the opportunity to spend a year serving on a Counter-IED team in Kandahar. Prior to deployment, we went through the standard issue Afghani cultural training. I do not remember the total length of time, but I assume it was somewhere between 4-6 hours of training. Prior to deployment, I took time to learn some basic Pashto phrases from the free online Rosetta Stone course offered on AKO . My job, while deployed, required a lot of interaction with the local population. The “cultural training” provided some useful insight into the understanding of the Afghani people. However, the limited language skills that I learned from my time studying paid tenfold. I think that most people understand that there is going to be cultural difference between Eastern and Western cultures. I was respected much more for attempting to speak the language, than follow their customs. Though I butchered the Pashto dialect with my southern drawl, the attempt was all that mattered. What I find most disturbing about our “cultural training” is that lack of emphasis placed on language training. We have been in Afghanistan for over 10 years. You would think by now that we would have more Soldiers with the ability to speak either Pashto or Dari. My suggestion for anyone preparing to deploy to Afghanistan would be to take some time to learn a couple of key phrases. It will increase your stock value when dealing with the locals
MAJ Jackson Salter
CGSC ILE 12-003

Good advice, Sir

Are Pashto & Dari similar languages? That would make things easier because you never know which area you'd be assigned. In an ideal situation those who know Pashto for instance would be stationed where Pashto is spoken. Knowing the Army I'd say fat chance, lol. I know an Intel SGT that had to attend Language School to learn Spanish. She already spoke Dari (I think. If not then it's Pashto) but according to her the chances of her being sent to A'stan are slim to none. Her entry in Language School was over a year ago so there was no withdrawal in place yet.

Thanks for your participation on the site, MAJ Salter.