Afghan Evacuees and Human Security at Task Force Liberty

Afghan Evacuee Inprocessing Task Force Liberty

Story by DVIDS.

At Task Force Liberty, staff are committed to providing safe, secure, dignified and equitable access to information, goods and services to the entire guest population as they await resettlement in the United States. To do this, leadership and staff at every level have taken a human-centered approach to the mission.

A team of human security advisors supports the commander and staff by helping focus attention on the everyday security needs of individuals within Liberty Village. Key personnel include the Cultural Advisor and Gender Advisor, who serve on the commander’s special staff, the Interagency Protection Cell, the Cultural Advisement and Assessment Team, the Female Engagement Team, and a range of linguists with deep cultural knowledge who support the mission at every level.

According to Cultural Advisor Brian Carney, “The single greatest strength at Task Force Liberty has been the emotional intelligence of our leadership, who from day one have been willing to identify what they don’t know about this population and consult with experts to provide a more global understanding of the situation.”

Carney also supports the Cultural Advisement and Assessment Team, or CAAT, initially comprised of members from the Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands program. This language-enabled and cross-culturally-competent team of airmen build relationships and trust with guests and are frequently dispatched to help de-escalate situations or tensions that often arise more out of cultural misunderstanding than anything else. The Task Force also utilizes linguists and interpreters, many of whom are originally from Afghanistan, to provide a nuanced understanding of cultural considerations.

“Our success here has been largely due to the cultural acuteness we’ve been able to develop and deploy at every level of Task Force governance,” said Carney. “The commander can’t be everywhere, so we’ve ensured we have people across all aspects of this mission that can help provide a 360-degree view of the issues in a way that is culturally informed.”

Another critical component of a human security approach is the Gender Advisor, a fairly new but rapidly growing capability within the Department of Defense. Monica Herrera, who comes from the Office of Women, Peace & Security at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, served as Task Force Liberty’s Gender Advisor from September to December 2021.

According to Herrera, “people often conflate gender considerations with women’s issues, but it’s so much more than that.”

She explains that gender includes the socially constructed roles, rights, responsibilities, norms, relationships and power dynamics associated with being a man, woman, boy, girl or gender minority in society.

“As the Gender Advisor,” she continued, “my role is to ensure gender considerations are integrated across the Task Force Liberty mission. This means understanding how gender dynamics affect the immediate needs and long-term interests of different segments of the guest population and then analyzing how we should account for this in our mission planning and execution.”

Herrera describes gender as a foundational, cross-cutting element of culture and emphasizes the need for a culturally-informed approach at Task Force Liberty.

“A cultural understanding of Afghan gender roles is necessary to avoid reinforcing harmful practices and to identify key risks and gaps during the planning process,” she said. “But Afghan culture is not ubiquitous.”

She therefore works hand-in-hand with the Cultural Advisor to ensure an approach that takes into account the nuances of culture within this population.

Carney highlights the unique situation at U.S. safe haven locations.

“Our guests come from all across Afghanistan,” he said. “Some are from urban areas, some from remote rural communities. Some have attained high levels of education and some have had no formal education at all. We have representation from a variety of tribes and ethnicities. Therefore, Task Force Liberty cannot, nor was it every intended to, exactly replicate Afghan culture. But it’s not intended to exactly replicate American culture either. Liberty Village serves as a bridge between where guests came from and where they are going.”

As Afghan guests learn more about cultural norms within the United States and interact more with American staff members, they begin the process of acclimation to U.S. culture. According to Herrera, this means the cultural environment here is always evolving and gender dynamics are also in flux.

This is one area where Gender Advisors can provide significant support, because they are trained to conduct gender analyses that take into account cultural changes within the human domain as a direct result of external intervention.

Gender Advisors also ensure adherence to the U.S. Women, Peace & Security Act of 2017, U.S. National Strategy on WPS, and U.S. agency WPS implementation plans. These U.S. efforts support a broader, international framework on WPS rooted in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and related resolutions, which seek to address women’s underrepresentation and underutilization in decision-making processes within peace and security sectors.

Task Force Liberty stood up a Female Engagement Team early on to support WPS implementation by actively promoting women’s participation, prioritizing the protection of women and girls, and ensuring their equitable access to relief and recovery resources. Similar to, and in close coordination with the CAAT and Protection Cell, this team regularly engages with the guest population but focuses specifically on women and girls, since cultural norms may result in reluctance by female guests to voice their needs to male staff.

Additionally, the FET leads women’s councils in each of the guest villages to ensure women have equitable access to information and the opportunity to voice their unique concerns, questions, and ideas.

Herrera emphasizes the importance of hearing directly from women and girls.

“What we’ve learned from the international Women, Peace & Security agenda is that we cannot assume we know what’s best for women and girls within a particular affected population,” she said. “We must meaningfully include them in decisions that affect their lives and allow them to define for themselves what safety and security means to them. Only by listening and engaging with them directly will we be able to develop holistic, inclusive security solutions.”

When asked why their two roles can’t be covered by a single person, Carney and Herrera emphasize the significance of having staff who view issues from different perspectives.

For Herrera, “this means when I’m attending planning meetings, my attention and my questions center around how a decision or roll-out of a program or service might affect a man, woman, boy, or girl differently in this population. My focus is the gender lens, knowing that Mr. Carney is taking into account other elements of culture, such as ethnicity, tribal affiliation, language differences, and religious considerations. We also know the Protection Advisor is focusing their attention and questions on protection issues, just as other members of the staff focus on their specific areas of responsibility.”

For Carney, this means “collectively, the different perspectives we bring to the table ensure no element of human security is overlooked.”

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Story courtesy of Operation Allies Welcome, Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, entitled “Human Security at Task Force Liberty”, January 21, 2022. DVIDS content is in the public domain.

Photo: An Afghan guest undergoes in-processing upon arrival at Liberty Village, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Dec. 5, 2021.  Photo U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mikaley Kline.