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Octubre 17 de 2007

Army Enlists Anthropology In War Zones

Published: October 5, 2007

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.

''We're looking at this from a human perspective, from a social

scientist's perspective,'' he said. ''We're not focused on the enemy.
We're focused on bringing governance down to the people.''

In September, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates authorized a $40

million expansion of the program, which will assign teams of
anthropologists and social scientists to each of the 26 American combat

brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since early September, five new
teams have been deployed in the Baghdad area, bringing the total to

Yet criticism is emerging in academia. Citing the past misuse of social

sciences in counterinsurgency campaigns, including in Vietnam and
Latin America, some denounce the program as ''mercenary
anthropology'' that exploits social science for political gain. Opponents
fear that, whatever their intention, the scholars who work with the
military could inadvertently cause all anthropologists to be viewed as
intelligence gatherers for the American military.

Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor at George Mason

University, and 10 other anthropologists are circulating an online
pledge calling for anthropologists to boycott the teams, particularly in

''While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more

secure world,'' the pledge says, ''at base, it contributes instead to a
brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties.''

In Afghanistan, the anthropologists arrived along with 6,000 troops,

which doubled the American military's strength in the area it patrols,
the country's east.

A smaller version of the Bush administration's troop increase in Iraq,

the buildup in Afghanistan has allowed American units to carry out the
counterinsurgency strategy here, where American forces generally face
less resistance and are better able to take risks.

A New Mantra

Since Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the overall American commander in

Iraq, oversaw the drafting of the Army's new counterinsurgency
manual last year, the strategy has become the new mantra of the

military. A recent American military operation here offered a window
into how efforts to apply the new approach are playing out on the
ground in counterintuitive ways.

In interviews, American officers lavishly praised the anthropology

program, saying that the scientists' advice has proved to be ''brilliant,''
helping them see the situation from an Afghan perspective and
allowing them to cut back on combat operations.

The aim, they say, is to improve the performance of local government

officials, persuade tribesmen to join the police, ease poverty and
protect villagers from the Taliban and criminals.

Afghans and Western civilian officials, too, praised the anthropologists

and the new American military approach but were cautious about
predicting long-term success. Many of the economic and political
problems fueling instability can be solved only by large numbers of
Afghan and American civilian experts.

''My feeling is that the military are going through an enormous change
right now where they recognize they won't succeed militarily,'' said
Tom Gregg, the chief United Nations official in southeastern
Afghanistan. ''But they don't yet have the skill sets to implement'' a
coherent nonmilitary strategy, he added.

Deploying small groups of soldiers into remote areas, Colonel

Schweitzer's paratroopers organized jirgas, or local councils, to resolve
tribal disputes that have simmered for decades. Officers shrugged off
questions about whether the military was comfortable with what David
Kilcullen, an Australian anthropologist and an architect of the new
strategy, calls ''armed social work.''

''Who else is going to do it?'' asked Lt. Col. David Woods, commander
of the Fourth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry. ''You have to evolve. Otherwise
you're useless.''

The anthropology team here also played a major role in what the
military called Operation Khyber. That was a 15-day drive late this
summer in which 500 Afghan and 500 American soldiers tried to clear
an estimated 200 to 250 Taliban insurgents out of much of Paktia
Province, secure southeastern Afghanistan's most important road and
halt a string of suicide attacks on American troops and local governors.

In one of the first districts the team entered, Tracy identified an

unusually high concentration of widows in one village, Colonel Woods
said. Their lack of income created financial pressure on their sons to
provide for their families, she determined, a burden that could drive
the young men to join well-paid insurgents. Citing Tracy's advice,
American officers developed a job training program for the widows.

In another district, the anthropologist interpreted the beheading of a

local tribal elder as more than a random act of intimidation: the
Taliban's goal, she said, was to divide and weaken the Zadran, one of
southeastern Afghanistan's most powerful tribes. If Afghan and
American officials could unite the Zadran, she said, the tribe could
block the Taliban from operating in the area.

''Call it what you want, it works,'' said Colonel Woods, a native of

Denbo, Pa. ''It works in helping you define the problems, not just the

Embedding Scholars

The process that led to the creation of the teams began in late 2003,
when American officers in Iraq complained that they had little to no
information about the local population. Pentagon officials contacted
Montgomery McFate, a Yale-educated cultural anthropologist working
for the Navy who advocated using social science to improve military
operations and strategy.

Ms. McFate helped develop a database in 2005 that provided officers
with detailed information on the local population. The next year, Steve
Fondacaro, a retired Special Operations colonel, joined the program
and advocated embedding social scientists with American combat

Ms. McFate, the program's senior social science adviser and an author
of the new counterinsurgency manual, dismissed criticism of scholars
working with the military. ''I'm frequently accused of militarizing
anthropology,'' she said. ''But we're really anthropologizing the

Roberto J. González, an anthropology professor at San Jose State

University, called participants in the program naïve and unethical. He
said that the military and the Central Intelligence Agency had
consistently misused anthropology in counterinsurgency and
propaganda campaigns and that military contractors were now hiring
anthropologists for their local expertise as well.

''Those serving the short-term interests of military and intelligence

agencies and contractors,'' he wrote in the June issue of Anthropology
Today, an academic journal, ''will end up harming the entire discipline
in the long run.''

Arguing that her critics misunderstand the program and the military,
Ms. McFate said other anthropologists were joining the teams. She said
their goal was to help the military decrease conflict instead of
provoking it, and she vehemently denied that the anthropologists
collected intelligence for the military.

In eastern Afghanistan, Tracy said wanted to reduce the use of heavy-

handed military operations focused solely on killing insurgents, which
she said alienated the population and created more insurgents. ''I can
go back and enhance the military's understanding,'' she said, ''so that
we don't make the same mistakes we did in Iraq.''

Along with offering advice to commanders, she said, the five-member
team creates a database of local leaders and tribes, as well as social
problems, economic issues and political disputes.

Clinics and Mediation

During the recent operation, as soldiers watched for suicide bombers,

Tracy and Army medics held a free medical clinic. They said they hoped
that providing medical care would show villagers that the Afghan
government was improving their lives.

Civil affairs soldiers then tried to mediate between factions of the

Zadran tribe about where to build a school. The Americans said they
hoped that the school, which would serve children from both groups,
might end a 70-year dispute between the groups over control of a
mountain covered with lucrative timber.

Though they praised the new program, Afghan and Western officials
said it remained to be seen whether the weak Afghan government could
maintain the gains. ''That's going to be the challenge, to fill the
vacuum,'' said Mr. Gregg, the United Nations official. ''There's a
question mark over whether the government has the ability to take
advantage of the gains.''

Others also question whether the overstretched American military and

its NATO allies can keep up the pace of operations.

American officers expressed optimism. Many of those who had served

in both Afghanistan and Iraq said they had more hope for Afghanistan.
One officer said that the Iraqis had the tools to stabilize their country,
like a potentially strong economy, but that they lacked the will. He said
Afghans had the will, but lacked the tools.

After six years of American promises, Afghans, too, appear to be

waiting to see whether the Americans or the Taliban will win a

protracted test of wills here. They said this summer was just one
chapter in a potentially lengthy struggle.

At a ''super jirga'' set up by Afghan and American commanders here, a

member of the Afghan Parliament, Nader Khan Katawazai, laid out the
challenge ahead to dozens of tribal elders.

''Operation Khyber was just for a few days,'' he said. ''The Taliban will
emerge again.''

Marshall Sahlins on anthropologists in Iraq

(an open letter to the New York Times)

To the Editor:

The report (Oct.11) of the killing of two Iraqi women by hired guns of
the State Department whose mission was “to improve local government
and democratic institutions” bears an interesting relation to the story
of a few days earlier about the collaboration of anthropologists in just
such imperious interventions in other peoples’ existence in the interest
of extending American power around the world. It seems only pathetic
that some anthropologists would criticize their colleagues’ participation
in such adventures on grounds of their own disciplinary self-interest,
complaining that now they will not be able to do fieldwork because the
local people will suspect them of being spies. What about the victims of
these militarily-backed intrusions, designed to prescribe how others
should organize their lives at the constant risk of losing them? What is
as incredible as it is reprehensible is that anthropologists should be
engaged in such projects of cultural domination, that is, as willing
collaborators in the forceful imposition of American values and
governmental forms on people who have long known how to maintain
and cherish their own ways of life.

Of course, these collaborating anthropologists have the sense that they

are doing good and being good. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw years
ago, I think it was in the Saturday Review of Literature, which shows
two hooded executioners leaning on their long-handled axes, and one
says to the other: “The way I see it, if I didn’t do this, some sonovabitch
would get the job.”

Marshall Sahlins

Anthropologists in War Zones: Questions of
The New York Times, Published: October 10, 2007

To the Editor:

Re ''Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones'' (front page, Oct. 5):

The question of whether and how anthropologists should engage in

military and intelligence work is currently being addressed by a
commission of the American Anthropological Association. In its
forthcoming report, to be discussed at the A.A.A. meeting in
Washington in November, several questions are discussed that are
germane to debates about the ethics of such efforts as the Human
Terrain System.

The A.A.A. Code of Ethics prescribes that anthropologists do no harm

to the sites or peoples they study; emphasizes transparency in research
and intent; insists on voluntary informed consent of all research
participants; and commits scholars to honest representation of their
work. All research must meet these ethical requirements.

Alan H. Goodman
James L. Peacock
Amherst, Mass., Oct. 6, 2007

The writers are, respectively, president of the American

Anthropological Association; and commission chairman and former
president of the association.

To the Editor:

Your article mentions me as one of 11 anthropologists who are

circulating a pledge for anthropologists opposed to undertaking
counterinsurgency work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article gives the
impression that the pledge was devised primarily as a means for

anthropologists to oppose these wars. While the authors of the pledge
are certainly opposed to these wars, our main concern is with the
integrity of anthropology.

When some anthropologists work for the United States military in this
way, all anthropologists everywhere come under suspicion. Thus the
actions of a few endanger the research, even the safety, of their
professional colleagues.

Also, anthropologists are required by our professional ethics code to

secure free and informed consent from those we study, to share our
findings with those we study, and to do no harm to those we study.
While the ethical issues here are surely complex, we do not believe the
work of the militarized anthropologists described in your article
satisfies these requirements.

For these reasons, even anthropologists who support the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan should be concerned about the anthropological work
described in your article.

Hugh Gusterson
Fairfax, Va., Oct. 6, 2007

The writer is a professor of anthropology and sociology at George

Mason University.

Estados Unidos: ¿Antropólogos o espias? Afganistán e Iraq abren de nuevo la batalla

Sergio D. López

El pasado día 5 de octubre, el New York Times publicó un artículo referente al caso de un "arma"
fundamental al servicio del ejército norteamericano: Tracy. Se trata de una antropóloga, miembro
del equipo de científicos sociales reclutados por el Pentágono y que se ha ganado el respeto de los
oficiales de la armada. Tracy (un pseudónimo, por supuesto) ha logrado informar nítidamente sobre
el tejido tribal y social de la población local en el terreno bélico. En palabras de uno de los
coroneles del ejército, desde su entrada en el campo, las actividades bélicas de las tropas se han
podido reducir hasta un 60%, transfiriendo el uso de estos recursos para mejorar los sistemas de
seguridad, salud y educación.

Durante el mes de septiembre, el secretario de defensa autorizó el incremento presupuestario en

40 millones de dólares para reclutar equipos de antropólogos y otros científicos sociales que serían
asignados a cada una de las 26 brigadas de combate desplegadas en Afganistán e Iraq. Ya han
sido creados cinco nuevos equipos que están operando en Bagdad.

A raíz de ello, la crítica ha estallado en la academia, a través de un debate en el que ha tomado

parte, entre otros Marshall Sahlins. Basado en sucesos históricos del pasado, algunos académicos
han venido a denominarlo como "antropología mercenaria", denunciando su uso como una práctica
al servicio del beneficio político.

El antropólogo Hugh Gusterson, profesor de la George Mason University, así como otros 10
antropólogos, se han apresurado a difundir un manifiesto de denuncia pidiendo el boicott a dichos
equipos de antropólogos, especialmente a los que están actuando en Iraq.

Los oficiales estadounidenses entrevistados han manifestado que el consejo de los antropólogos
ha resultado ser "brillante" y que les ha ayudado a "ver la situación desde la perspectiva afgana y
permitirles reducir las operaciones de combate." Su único objetivo, han indicado, es mejorar la
eficiencia del nuevo gobierno, convencer a los pueblos tribales a colaborar con la policía, reducir la
pobreza y proteger a los habitantes rurales de los talibanes y los criminales. Tanto los afganos
como los oficiales occidentales elogian la labor de los antropólogos, así como la nueva estrategia
del ejército, si bien son prudentes a la hora de predecir resultados a largo plazo.

Por ejemplo, el equipo de antropólogos desplegados en Afganistán jugó un papel fundamental en

la llamada "Operación Khyber". Se trató de una exploración de 15 días en el pasado verano en el
que 500 afganos y 500 soldados norteamericanos trataron de neutralizar a aproximadamente 200
insurgentes talibanes que asaltaban las carreteras a veces a través de ataques suicidas contra las
tropas norteamericanas y los políticos locales.

Otro caso: en uno de los distritos donde estuvo, Tracy identificó un serio nivel de mujeres viudas,
dentro de una de las aldeas. Su bajo nivel de renta creaba una alta presión sobre sus hijos para
proveer a sus familias de recursos, un factor que impulsaba a los jóvenes a formar parte de grupos
insurgentes a cambio de dinero. Siguiendo el consejo de Tracy, los oficiales norteamericanos
pusieron en marcha un programa inmediato de trabajo y formación para las viudas.

En otro distrito, los antropólogos interpretaron la decapitación de uno de los ancianos tribales como
un rarísimo suceso tras el cual estaban los talibanes. Su objetivo con esa decapitación, dijeron, era
dividir y así debilitar a los zadran, una de las más poderosas tribus del sudeste de Afganistán. Si
los Afganos y los oficiales norteamericanos eran capaces de unir a los zadram, los talibanes
estarían completamente bloqueados para influir en ese área.

Uno de los coroneles decía claramente "llamadlo como queráis, pero esto funciona. Ayuda a definir
los problemas, y no sólo los síntomas"

El proceso de creación de estos equipos se atribuye a una propuesta de la antropóloga M. McFate,

formada en la Universidad de Yale y que trabajó para la marina norteamericana mejorando la
estrategia militar a través de la aplicación de la ciencia social y la creación de bases de datos de
población local. McFate ha despreciado las críticas recibidas por la academia bajo la afirmación de
que "lo que se hace no es militarizar la antropología, sino antropologizar al ejército".

Roberto J. González, profesor de antropología de la universidad estatal de San José, ha acusado a

los componentes de estos programas como ingenuos y anti-éticos. Dijo que tanto el ejército como
la CIA han usado continuamente la antropología para campañas de propaganda y
contrainsurgencia, y que a largo plazo -manifestó en el periódico mensual Anthropology Today
harán muchísimo daño a la disciplina.

Pero según Tracy, el objetivo principal es reducir el uso de operaciones de armamento orientadas
únicamente a matar a los insurgentes, algo que sólo logra aglutinar a la población para crear más
insurgencia. "Se trata de no comenter los mismos errores que cometimos en Iraq", indica.

Y volvamos al debate académico ¿qué dijo Marshall Sahlins? El autor de Stone Age Economics
escribió una carta abierta al New York Times arrementiendo de forma doble. Por un lado contra
aquellos antropólogos cuya única preocupación se ha centrado en saber lo que la gente pensará
de ellos cuando vayan a hacer trabajo de campo si se les etiqueta de espías. Por otro, contra
aquellos antropólogos que colaboran en conseguir que los sistemas de vida occidentales se
impongan sobre los locales. El debate en la red está servido, y para el que quiera seguirlo puede

Afortunadamente, tras ver todo lo que se está montando en Afganistán e Iraq, todavía hay
ingenuos que creen que los antropólogos no valen para nada.

Nota tomada de Antropólogos Iberoamericanos en Red

¿Qué sabemos de los antropólogos en la(s) actuale(s) guerra(s) en

Opine en el foro de COLANTROPOS