Saturday, March 03, 2007

The US military is having trouble recruiting local Arabs to help with training by manning 'Iraqi villages.'

Christian Science Monitor has an insightful article on the difficulty in finding civilian role players for US mission preparation exercises for Iraq, being staged at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Bavaria.

'The Army has built a dozen mock villages complete with shops, gas stations, mosques, and prisons at the installation. The US army says making simulations more realistic saves both American and Iraqi lives.'

This sort of elaborate exercise is not new, and in general, must be applauded. Such 'live' exercises put equal emphasis on the cultural environment in which armed forces will be deployed, and attempt to break the mold of military exercises which focussed on war-fighting. It is refreshing to see such multi-dimensional simulations and, equally, exercises where the simulation reacts to the behavior of participants- 'At Fort Irwin, each villager belongs to a clan that stretches across village boundaries, so if a soldier roughs up a civilian, GIs in a neighboring town find friendly villagers quickly turning surly.'

One criticism that can be leveled at armed forces running such high-end exercises, is the quality of the role players selected- the white cell actors which include civilians, religious and political leaders, human rights and humanitarian workers. Some colleagues have described such exercises as relying almost exclusively on private security contractors, with there being a certain irony to having former soldiers taking on roles in which they have no expertise. Can a former platoon commander credibly play the role of journalist or aid worker?

In the example of the JMRC, efforts are clearly being made to recruit Iraqis and arabs as role players in the exercise. The challenge is apparently to find willing participants: 'Unlike in the US, where hundreds of Iraqi Americans have eagerly taken part in life-like training exercises, many Arabs here are so angry at the US that the contractor charged with recruiting role players has been struggling to fill its quota... "As soon as they hear it involves working with the US military, many people want nothing to do with it," says one recruiter, who asked that his name be withheld.'

It would appear that the challenge of perception is only compounded by what seem to be relatively poor renumeration- role players are offered only 130 USD a day...

The Guardian ran an article entitled, 'It's only a wargame! Arabs reject US army bit-part', which described the same issue from a different perspective. Apparently, a Berlin-based casting agency was hired to recruit the civilian role-players for a US exercise. They posted a cryptic ad in a Berlin tabloid looking for walk-on extras.

When informed of the true nature of the recruitment, only 4 arabs out of dozens agreed to participate.