NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: When anthropologist becomes counter-insurgency technician

Army enlists anthropology in war zones

In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.

Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her team’s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations — in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe — has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.

Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division unit working with the anthropologists here, said that the unit’s combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the scientists arrived in February, and that the soldiers were now able to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Anthropologists can now save lives and help win the war on terrorism. “We’re not focused on the enemy. We’re focused on bringing governance down to the people,” says Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. The Pentagon has turned into the Peace Corps! Right.

Not surprisingly, when it’s for internal consumption the story becomes a little different. In a presentation at the Pentagon earlier this year, an official reported that mapping the human terrain “enables the entire Kill Chain for the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism].” And as it applies to the US air force, here’s how the “kill chain” is described:

Because enemies have learned to limit the amount of time they and their weapons are in sight and thus vulnerable, these mobile targets require a different approach. The Air Force must compress its six-stage target cycle of Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, and Assess, also known as F2T2EA, or, more simply, the “kill chain.”

Concerned anthropologists such a Roberto Gonzalez are asking, “Where is the line that separates the professional anthropologist from the counter-insurgency technician?” By the Pentagon’s own admission there appears to be none. Instead of being deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, perhaps anthropologists could do more useful work inside the Pentagon itself.

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