The Anthropologists’ Afghanistan

ALEXANDER STAR

Ten years after the Taliban’s leaders fled their country in apparent defeat, the war in Afghanistan has become what one observer calls “a perpetually escalating stalemate.” As in Iraq, the United States military has responded to bad news with counterinsurgency: eliminate troublemakers in the dark of night, with the most lethal arts, and befriend tribal elders by day, with cultural sensitivity and expertise. The Army has gone so far as to embed credentialed social scientists with front-line troops in “Human Terrain Teams” that engage in “rapid ethnographic assessment” — conducting interviews and administering surveys, learning about land disputes, social networks and how to “operationalize” the Pashtun tribal code.

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