GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

2.6 Cultural Geography in Intelligence Analysis: Successes and Failures


Most of the time, when we hear about the use of human and cultural geography in intelligence analysis and military operations, it is because it wasn’t factored in and led to an intelligence or military failure. That said, there are times when human and cultural geographic analyses and information have been used to the success of missions and analyses. One such example comes from American and British success in Nawa, Afghanistan.

A Success Story

Understanding human and cultural geography, as well as anthropological understanding, are often imperative to success when interacting and interfacing with other cultures and geographic regions. One major success story of intertwining sociocultural understanding with military operations was the stabilizing operational success of the Marines in Nawa, Afghanistan in 20019 (Medina, 2016; Meyerle et al., 2012). After defeating the Taliban, who controlled the area and forced the community to close their schools and businesses, the Marines who were stationed in Nawa worked to rebuild the infrastructure and build trust with the locals. Their sociocultural understanding and continued efforts to build that understanding is what helped those operations become successful. By not dropping bombs and protecting the civilians and communicating with those living in Nawa and with their leadership, the Marines were able to build trust. Patrols included frequent meetings with locals and leaders, leading to discussions of the concerns of the district. In many ways, the Marines deployed to Nawa used their sociocultural understanding and continued to build on that understanding in order to help this district stabilize and transition power peacefully to the local government. The military used what they understood about culture, space, and place to be successful and stabilize this region.


Before completing the Lesson 2 Discussion assignment, read the vignette about the Marines’ time in Nawa from On the Ground in Afghanistan: Counterinsurgency in Practice (Meyerle et al., 2012).


More often than not, it is the failures that are publicized over the successes. As such, there are many examples of failures to use human and cultural geographic understanding causing failures in military and intelligence operations. One such example was presented earlier discussing failures in Vietnam. More recent examples can be brought forward from the many commission reports that have been published. One such example is The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (2005) report, where the recognition that geographical context is important to understanding intelligence challenges is highlighted. The importance of understanding the world, its cultures, economies, people, and how they interact was a key takeaway from this report. While the words “human geography” or “cultural geography” were not used, it is indeed clear that the discipline that can help shed the most light in these areas.


Medina, R. M. (2016). From anthropology to human geography: Human terrain and the evolution of operational sociocultural understanding. Intelligence and National Security31(2), 137-153.

Meyerle J., Katt, M., and Gavrilis, J. (2012). On the ground in Afghanistan: Counterinsurgency in practice. Marine Corps University Press.