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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The afterlives of counterinsurgency : postcolonialism, military social science, and Afghanistan 2006-2012 Belcher, Oliver Christian


This dissertation examines the United States military’s counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan from 2006-2012. In recent years, the U.S. military has relied upon the methods and research of social scientists to model the Taliban-led insurgency in southern Afghanistan in hopes of predicting and mitigating the movement of the insurgency. The U.S. military has also used social scientists to gather “cultural intelligence” for surveying and interpreting the general population in Afghanistan in order to develop methods for “winning the hearts and minds” of civilians. This dissertation makes three central arguments. First, contrary to the “winning hearts and minds” narrative, counterinsurgency in practice has consistently produced two outcomes: the arming local defense forces, and massive population displacement. Second, “cultural intelligence” has been utilized to produce a narrative that Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan are “naturally” inclined towards local tribal structures as the desired mode of political order and legitimacy. Whether or not this is true, the U.S. military has used this Orientalist “local” narrative to set up place-bound tribal strongmen and warlords to counter what is perceived as a transnational, networked, and therefore locally “inauthentic” insurgency. The dissertation identifies this move by the U.S. military as the “weaponization of scale” at both a global and local level. Third, the dissertation examines the worldview that governs the U.S military’s approach to Afghanistan, and argues that it is one where populations are “de-coded” as “networks.” To see like the twenty-first century U.S. military is to see a world of networks. This world of networks is a secular cosmological vision derivative from the human-machine assemblages where U.S. military personnel and institutions are imbricated. These human-machine assemblages have been violently extended within the general Afghan population through new technologies like iris-scan biometrics devices and data-base management. The dissertation draws the important point that many new twenty-first century technologies, like “big data” mining and computational social network analysis, are rooted in colonial practices.

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