Pete Turner, an army counterintelligence agent, recently spoke with LaGrange College students at Corn Auditorium. After 1,000 combat patrols centered on listening to locals rather than intense fighting, he was polled with plenty of student-engaged questions and had loads of insight to share: What would be your solution moving forward in the fight against ISIS?
It’s five different elements as I see it… You always have to have the ability to impose your will militarily, but once that stops that doesn’t leave a victory. That’s only one element. You have to win socially, culturally, by with and through religion and politically.
How do you think we can win socially?
Well, if you can’t create social movement, ISIS creates social movement. They can recruit people through intimidation or through intimidation – we suck at that. Our ability to lever social media is usually focused on organizational benefit, not a social benefit.
What about politically?
Politically, you have to be able to create a strong government. The state has to survive. What we focus on is creating capacity through the state players. If you can’t move the people, then you don’t have a political system that benefits the population.
Do you think they [ISIS] is that hard to find?
We think in terms of traditional state-on-state fighting a line of order, modern combat doesn’t work that way…we’re sowing the same seed over and over again.
What is your opinion around the politics and rules of engagement?
I always side with the field operator because they’re the ones whose life is in the balance.
What’s your take on Sharia Law?
That’s a big element… so here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter what I think of Sharia Law; I have to comprehend it and understand it culturally. If I don’t understand the cultural aspects of it and how it impacts my local [area]…it doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with their views. What matters is how I work within their system. They have an infrastructure of the mind that is vital. When you look at something like Sharia Law, [and] that is their law. The government of Afghanistan is called the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, if we ignore that part you disregard the very essence of who the people are…so you have to work within that system. You use the very essence of Sharia Law [for your advantage].
Can you go back through the day in the life of your [career field in Afghanistan, Syria etc.]?
I’m trying to experience what they’re experience. I’m trying to create a lens for what their life looks like so I can then translate that for my client, for the UN, my commander or whoever. I’ve got to learn how to speak on both sides of the equation… so day-to-day, it wouldn’t look like I was working at all because I’m making friends and I’m seeking to understand either side, how they communicate and what their world looks like so I can translate that.
In 2011, we had our last withdrawal of troops from Iraq. There’s a lot of controversy that Obama pulled them too soon. Did you agree with that move? Or did you disagree?
Yeah, we left too soon… I’m going around these towns talking to people, and they’re saying that the second you leave there is going to be conflict…we absolutely left too early. It takes decades to do this stuff.
So, did you get shot at?
Oh, man I’ve been hit at by tanks… I have had bullets whiz inches right from my face. Sometimes by design and sometimes because I was “theAmerican”…All of those things [from American Sniper] have happened to me. But I have not physically had a bullet hit me.
Why is it so important for us to focus on international issues when we have so many pressing domestic concerns?
That’s a great question. We can’t be isolationists and we can’t be intervention-alists. There’s a balance in there, and it’s very tough to understand. I don’t know. That’s a question for the ages.
Political Science Professor Dr. John Tures said that Corn Auditorium hasn’t been so packed since Senator Johnny Isakson hosted a Town Hall there.
He and the LaGrange College staff and students were proud and excited for their special Q/A session with Pete Turner.
Peyton Hanners Staff Writer