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How a book made US army drink tea

Spend some time with US army officers, and this much is clear: They are obsessed with drinking tea.

world Updated: May 29, 2011 12:57 IST

Spend some time with US army officers, and this much is clear: They are obsessed with drinking tea.

At times, tea can seem a bit like the military’s secret weapon. A young US officer bonds with an Afghan elder over cups of the brew, and soon they are working side by side to win the locals’ trust and drive out insurgents.

Much of the military’s belief in tea culture can be traced back to Greg Mortenson and his memoir, Three Cups of Tea, a book touted by top commanders and devoured by younger officers.

The scandal surrounding the book main impact could be on the US military, which was quick to embrace Mortenson’s message.

“The US military was just dying for his story to be true,” said Celeste Ward Gventer, a civilian adviser to the US military.

“They were dying to believe that this one guy learned the culture, earned the Afghans’ respect and helped them build a better society.”

Officers heading to Afghanistan went searching for someone who could explain a deeply alien culture to them. Three Cups of Tea and the follow-up Stones Into Schools were much more fun to read than the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine.

By mid-2009, Mortenson was lecturing at two dozen military bases across the country and meeting the likes of Admiral Mike Mullen and General David H Petraeus.

“I’d say the biggest value of Mortenson’s work was in creating the ‘don’t be a jerk’ school of counterinsurgency,” said Joshua Foust, an Afghanistan analyst for the army. “I think it would be a shame to abandon the idea just because one of the people promoting the concept is shown to be a fraud.”

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