When President Obama announced his plan for Afghanistan at the beginning of December 2009, he outlined "the three key core elements of our strategy": namely, to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge and positive action; and partnership with Pakistan.
Easier said than done. The conditions are so dire that transition will never be straightforward, Pakistan is in a continual state of upheaval, and while billions of dollars have already been spent on assistance in Afghanistan, it remains difficult for the US military to earn the Afghan trust necessary to get the best results from 'positive action'.
This last point is quite understandable, given 10 years of US military occupation, preceded by national turmoil, preceded by a Russian invasion, and of course a history of foreign interventions over the entire course of history at this geographical nexus. In short, mistrust of foreigners is in the Afghan blood.
So, in order to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, it is necessary to go to greater lengths than ever before. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on this. They are about to launch what they call the Strategic Social Interaction Modules (SSIM) program, which is designed to "provide warfighters with the basic human dynamics skills they need to enter into any social encounter regardless of the culture, group, or situation." This will enable military personnel to "approach and engage strangers in unfamiliar social environments, orient to unfamiliar patterns of behavior, recover from social mistakes, deescalate conflict, rigorously practice transition in and out of force situations, and engage in the process of discovering and adapting to previously unknown "rules of the game" encountered in social engagements."
In other words, the US military is about to be trained to make friends, not enemies. And that's a great idea on so many levels: it should help reduce casualties, improve US foreign relations, and hopefully provide an important step towards getting this country out of a war that is costing us over $100 million per day.
Just in case you had forgotten about the 90,000 troops we have over there at the moment, and what they're attempting to do, here is a four-minute summary of what Obama told them, and the nation, at West Point 15 months ago: