Inside Afghanistan: Making Alliances and Gaining Trust to Fight the Taliban

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A new line of communication is being fostered in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan between tribal chiefs and members of the coalition military command in an attempt to bring peace to the war-torn nation.

A group of social scientists known as the "human terrain" team, made up of civilian volunteers who are experts in the fields of culture and negotiation, is trying to bridge the cultural gap between the military and local tribes by encouraging the two to sit down and talk.

VIDEO: "Human Terrain" teams foster communication between civilians and military.
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"Social science brings something to the table about how to understand local culture," Karl Slaikeu, a senior social scientist on the team, said.

ABC News was invited to observe one of these meetings between a tribal chief in Pasab in southern Afghanistan and members of the coalition military command.

The tribal chief presented the military with a written demand from the Taliban, written on Taliban stationary, threatening the lives of women and children unless a military checkpoint is removed.

While normally a request like this would end the conversation, instead the military and ABC News were invited to attend a dinner to celebrate the friendship.

Although the tribal chief is still skeptical, he says he likes the new spirit of cooperation.

"The people are really confident in the coalition and U.S. forces bringing security to Afghanistan," the tribal chief told ABC News.

The human terrain team also encourages impromptu discussions and meetings with the locals while the soldiers are out on routine patrols.

The morning after the dinner the soldiers handed out candy to the children, as they usually do. But then the human terrain members encouraged the soldiers to sit down with the chief to find out exactly what he thinks his community needs.

The chief told the soldiers he needs the town well repaired, help in fixing a destroyed school and a commitment to help fight the Taliban.

The Taliban have continued to reach out to an array of ethnic groups that make up Afghanistan in an attempt to win the will of the people. The Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, have long ties to the Taliban and prey on other groups using fear and populism.

The human terrain team hopes to combat the Taliban's outreach with their own, a strategy that professor Akbar Ahmed of American University says is necessary to win.

"If the Taliban are using a strategy which is talking of respect and dignity and fighting for ordinary people, American troops on the ground need to also use the same strategy which is to reach out to ordinary Afghan people," Ahmed said.

The real test of the human terrain's strategy is on the ground and Lt. Col. Reik Andersen, of the 112th Battalion, says it is working.

"If we can have the trust and confidence of the population and they know we're going to be there at night with them, they're going to come tell us where the bad people are," Andersen said.

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