Two years ago US troops began to withdraw from Afghanistan, on the orders of the US military Commander-in-Chief, aka the President. At this time, a major lack of available Dari and Pashto translation resources and translators was a substantial and detrimental obstacle to the effective communication between the troops and the Afghan people, as they both withdrew military operations, and strategically delivered the President’s message. The message from President Obama encouraged the Afghanis to take responsibility for their country, economy and their political system. Why this message was not translated prior to strategic countrywide delivery, and spelled out phonetically for military authorities and troops – I can’t begin to say.
Reliable, professional translation services and resources, as well as available translators and interpreters, continues to be a problem in the Middle East for US military units, intelligence operations and those in the field. A lack of professional Persian translation, Pashto translation, Dari translation, and other Middle Eastern languages is often problematic, especially when communication is key to a military strategy, such as the example above.
Not only that, but according to the current Undersecretary of Defense Intelligence, Michael G. Vickers, foreign language fluency or proficiency is a problem across the board for all military departments. There are simply not enough members of the US military who speak two or more languages on a proficient level – and, even more startling, not even enough military authorities and department heads who speak more than their native language on a fluent level.
Vickers went as far as to say that foreign language fluency is critical to our national security. Upon discussing the capture of Osama bin Laden, he noted that it was an operation of extreme patience that relied upon cooperation between intelligence outfits in human, geo-spatial and signals intelligence units. In regards to this operational approach, he commented further:
“I can’t go into more detail — but, in each of those disciplines, the ability to have officers or translators who were fluent or very professionally competent in a language made all the difference… [Foreign language knowledge] is critical to our national security.”
That’s quite a supportive vote for foreign language fluency.
Everytime I read about the shortage of Middle Eastern translation services, translators and interpreters, I can’t help but wonder who is doing the research. After all, Tomedes specializes in Middle Eastern langauge translation services. While I don’t necessarily expect that the US military should come knocking on our door, we cannot be the only professional translation service to specialize in these languages. Or maybe I’m just uninformed, and there really aren’t very many professional translation services or resources that offer enough Middle Eastern languages for translation and interpretation – to make it worthwhile for the military to utilize.
Whatever the case – it is not simply military intelligence and the CIA in need of Middle Eastern language translators. The FBI holds job fairs and posts help wanted ads frequently, with a specific eye out for candidates fluent in Arabic, Dari, Chinese, Mandarin, and plenty of others. Vickers is correct to encourage foreign language fluency, especially within military operations. There may quite possibly come a moment in time when an accurate Turkmen, Dari or Pashto translation is crucial to an intelligence strategy or strike, or when English to Persian translation could mean the difference between fire and cease fire, peace and war, or life and death.