Women in Counterinsurgency: Female Exploitation Teams

Recently defense writer Tom Ricks (formerly of Washington Post fame) posted “Women in COIN II,” which has been picked up as news by DoD’s Early Bird and grabbed onto by counterinsurgency wonks. A couple of readers sent it our way, one maintaining that Ricks makes the case for women in counterinsurgency. We’re not so sure about that. Ricks outlines “findings” already known by many in and around COIN. He talks about the value of “Female Engagement Teams,” the name the Marine Corps has given to the gender-specific squads sent into areas to work with Muslim women. We’ll briefly restate a few of his clearly presented facts.

  • Teams done correctly are successful.
[Inside the HQ: Success means access to Afghan women at a minimum and a wider swath of population if possible.] [Inside the HQ: U.S. women (not just female Marines) have achieved this success. This crucial connection was made back in the early days of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan–just ask any provincial reconstruction team commander.]
  • Afghan males seem good with the U.S. female teams.
[Inside the HQ: We’d have to ask an Afghan, but one would think culturally U.S. female involvement may be seen as a sign of respect by the Afghans. If no one is kicking in their door, they are probably thrilled.] [Inside the HQ: We maintain the female effect is quite similar in Muslim homes here in the U.S. Even when conducting business, the many Muslim males we’ve met treat U.S. women with great respect, and they meet almost like two tribal leaders in their homes. Muslim women in the more conservative homes, will shyly make their way out to greet their female guest. We are unsure of U.S. male experiences.]
  • The report (about which Ricks is writing) recommends the teams be full-time entities vice the ad hoc groups thrown together as has been the practice [when the boys need day laborers. Did we say that?]

This last bullet should prove popular fodder around the water buffalo. Full-time teams? On the job full- time? We’d bet money the boys will not allow this to happen. There may be a legitimate need, but the Afghan conflict is secondary to the turf war in which these boys are engaged. The full-time team idea helps make the case against antiquated single-gender units as well as current policies barring women from ground combat units below the brigade level.. What should be a military tactics issue became a social issue the day the first team was formed.

If women are participating in counterinsurgency operations below the brigade level (as they are now) has not the combat exclusion provision in Title 10 (Sec. 541) (and the corresponding orders of each service) reached functional obsolescence?

Ironically, at the same time, the female teams prop up a gasping policy. The women perform as their male counterparts—sometimes more effectively—enabling the service policies to stand. What a deal.

According to one source, lawmakers want to leave this matter in the hands of the foxes (services) and the executive branch. Thus, if the Title 10 provision went away, the service policies would remain, excluding women from combat units below the brigade level. It probably would require an act of Congress or executive order to force their repeal. And the chances of that are …?

As of this writing there is a House bill (HR 2647, section on military personnel policy) promoting the recognition of these women and better documentation of their activities. This seems to suggest that it takes an act of Congress to get commanders to do their jobs.

Women will continue to volunteer to perform ground combat functions below the brigade level, but they won’t even be allowed to gain a combat MOS (even secondary MOS) if they desire because they are prohibited by law/policy from doing so (based solely on their gender). C’mon.

Will this conflict be for women in ground combat what World War II was for desegregation?

Magic Eight Ball has left the compound.

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