FORT DRUM, N.Y. — As the 10th Mountain Division prepared to go to Afghanistan this month, its Third Brigade ordered boxes of the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid's seminal book "Taliban" to be issued to officers along with body armor, high-tech seven-layer cold weather uniforms and ballistic-grade Oakley Blade wraparound sunglasses. When the 10th Mountain went to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, their task was purely military: to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. That mission remains, but now the goal is as much a political one: to bolster the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai. The 10th Mountain, one of the Army's best units, is developing a military ethos that goes beyond the tactics of past conventional warfare to a new age of ideological war.
In a series of interviews as the soldiers — about half of them combat veterans — prepared for their deployment this month, the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, and other officers spoke of the heightened language and cultural training they had instituted to meet the new challenges in a conflict against militant Islam that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently referred to as "the long war." (...)
Officers in many Marine and Army units have instituted study programs in basic Islam and local mores for the duty of nation-building. But division commanders like General Freakley have wide latitude, and the program here is particularly sweeping. Lt. Col. David W. Morrison, the division intelligence officer, for example, has detailed 10 soldiers to an intensive course in Pashto, the major language in Afghanistan, as their sole duty for 47 weeks. Counterinsurgency warfare, the 10th Mountain soldiers now believe, is as much a political problem as a military one; as much knowing how to win over the population as shooting bad guys.
"This is a very complex environment," said Col. John W. Nicholson, the lean commander of the Third Brigade, the main fighting force being deployed, whose office in the Pentagon was incinerated on 9/11. "It necessitates a very holistic approach." "Part 2 is governance," Colonel Nicholson said, "extending the reach of the government. We could be fighting al Qaeda one day and meeting with a local mayor the next." Capt. Rocky Haley, the officer in charge of much of the Third Brigade's program, said he had been deployed twice to Kosovo and once to Bosnia without any cultural awareness training. "It's only in the last three to five years the Army is really realizing the importance of cultural awareness," he said. "The Army is getting better. They realize it's a key piece — you have to understand the culture." (...)
General Freakley and his headquarters are being sent to Bagram Air Base to take command of NATO forces there. Helicopters and additional troops are also being deployed, for a total of 7,100 troops. They are expected to be fully deployed in March. The plan, once they get there, entails building up the Afghan national police and army to provide basic security and a sense of national identity. Provincial reconstruction teams are to rebuild — or in some cases just build — roads, bridges, schools and clinics. "Civil Affairs plays such a large part in this," said Maj. Stewart Moon, the brigade Civil Affairs officer. "We have to build their infrastructure to their ability, to get them a foothold on this big mountain."
The centerpiece of the Army's strategy is the cultural awareness program, which includes lectures by outside experts, language lessons and recommended readings. In Iraq, many officers now believe, insensitivity to local customs in house searches, for example, created resentment that helped foster the insurgency. (...)
Stabilization and Reconstruction (S&R) operations have become critical to the success of 'regular' military operations as they are the link that ties Pentagon with State, security with development. The Reconstruction-part has until recently been the stepchild of Stabilization because of the instinctive military recoiling from political jobs. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams fielded in Afghanistan are one example of the upgrading of Reconstruction -- general cultural and linguistic capacities will be another. That said, these initiatives will be necessary but not sufficient steps if the collective military and civilian efforts are not coordinated at the macro level.