New US Military strategy in Afghanistan
Full-Metal Research: Lieutenant Jeremy Jones, a member of the human terrain team, gets some rare time with the locals during a public ceremony.
Credit: Photograph by Jason Florio
Jones is eager to find some human terrain to map, so he's psyched to learn that there is a mission forming out of Morales-Frazier. But first he has to check in with the provincial reconstruction team commander. The PRT commander is an air force lieutenant colonel who wears a tan T-shirt with "FUBAR" (as in "fucked up beyond all recognition") printed in large black capital letters across the front. FUBAR is playing cards with his team in what looks like a boys club, complete with a crude plywood door that carries a sign: knock before entering.

Without looking up he says to Jones in his nasal midwestern twang, "We've had some pushback on the human terrain teams from the Afghan nationals. I gotta respect that. So the PRT cannot be associated with the human terrain teams."

Jones asks FUBAR if he knows what HTT is. "Yes, I do," the commander says brusquely as he slaps down his hand of cards, still without looking up.

I excuse myself and walk outside. Near the porch of my hut I see Jones talking to a team of three burly, geared-up men. They introduce themselves as Peter; an Afghan-American translator, Joseph; and Peter's partner, who introduces himself as "Paris." "Paris Hilton," to be exact. The trio are heading out on a midnight mission, and we chat with them as they snap on and check their night-vision goggles, extra magazines, pistols, and other tools.

I ask Paris what they do. "We are the HTT," he says.

Confused, I ask him if his HTT is related to Jones and his HTT. "No, no, we are HUMINT tactical collection teams." HUMINT is mil-speak for "human intelligence." So what's the distinction?

Peter purses his helmeted brow. "I s'pose we are the shooty-shooty guys rather than the talky-talky guys," he says.

He explains that their job is essentially to sneak around at night and yank Afghans out of their bed and interrogate them or even bring them back to Bagram. And if these Afghans make the mistake of fighting back...well, then there isn't much to talk about. It has been a good month for Peter and Paris. They and their cohorts have managed to wipe out half a dozen high-level Taliban.

Jones is impressed with the arsenal of man-gear Paris and Peter carry, but soon relays to them the problem he just had with FUBAR. He suggests that Peter and Paris call themselves THTs, or tactical human terrain teams, to avoid confusion. Paris insists that Jones should call his group CTTs, or cultural terrain teams. After a while they give up concocting acronyms and go back to admiring and adjusting their gear.

Their backup team is ready, and Paris and Peter excuse themselves, then their convoy disappears into the night.

Jones, his interpreter Gulam, and I climb up the Hescos – the wire-mesh dirt baskets used as blast barriers – to enjoy a smuggled nightcap under the canopy of stars. Off to the north we watch silent bright white flashes outline the jagged mountains.

"Imagine if dudes with guns like that come into your house at 2 a.m.," Jones says. He has stumbled across the dirty secret of "human terrain" mapping. In order to snip the connective tissue between the network of evildoers, someone has to figure out who they are. Whether you snip the web by being nice or nasty is irrelevant. The information Jones and his team collect with good intentions is all part of a massive database that may eventually lead to Paris Hilton knocking on someone's door.