Exploring Social Practices in War: The American and British Military Experiences in Afghanistan 2001-2009

Alastair Finlan

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


War is a social process conducted by people in groups with specific and often long-standing identities. The war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) has been characterized by the absence of a grand strategy and an excessive focus on operational strategy as well as firepower. Taken together, the likelihood of long-term failure for American and British armed forces in the counter-insurgency campaign is quite high. This paper argues that the inherent problems in the American and British military experience in Afghanistan can be largely attributed to social practices within their respective military institutions and commands. It explains the grand strategy vacuum as a side effect of US military culture (a negative by-product of military emulation) that is manifested in the American way of preparing for warfare. The paper explores the poor performance of initial operations in terms of tensions between military and civilian elites and interprets the emergence of the so-called Afghan model of warfare, not as a planned operational concept, but rather as a fortuitous deus ex machina. It also considers the problems that beset the British military experience from the perspective of disjointed civil-military relations and a failure to implement the original plan of action for Helmand Province.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventBritish International Studies Association (BISA) - Leicester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Duration: 14 Dec 2009 → …


ConferenceBritish International Studies Association (BISA)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Period14 Dec 2009 → …


  • Global War on Terror,
  • Afghanistan


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