Anthropologists help U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq

By David Rohde | Published: October 4, 2007
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SHABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan: In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a demure civilian anthropologist named Tracy.

Colonel Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division unit working with anthropologists here, said the unit's combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the anthropologists arrived this spring. He said the focus had shifted from combat to improving security, health care and education for the population.

Yet criticism is emerging in academia. Citing the past misuse of social sciences in counterinsurgency campaigns, 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 U.S. military.