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The Unknown Enemy

Counterinsurgency and the Illusion of Control

Christian Tripodi (King's College London)

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Cambridge University Press
12 November 2020
Western counterinsurgency doctrine proposes that cultural intelligence is an important requirement for those forces operating amidst the unfamiliar socio-political structures often found in distant conflict zones. Yet while the determination to understand the intricate nature of alien societies may appear a rational undertaking in such circumstances, Christian Tripodi argues that these endeavours rarely help deliver success. The frictions of war and the complex human, cultural and political 'terrain' of the operating environment render such efforts highly problematic. In their attempts to generate and instrumentalize local knowledge for the purpose of exerting influence and control, western military actors are drawn into the unwelcome realm of counterinsurgency as a form of political warfare. Their operating environment now becomes a space charged with phenomena that they rarely comprehend, rarely even see and which they struggle to exert any meaningful control over. All in pursuit of a victory that might literally mean nothing.
By:   Christian Tripodi (King's College London)
Imprint:   Cambridge University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
ISBN:   9781108440714
ISBN 10:   1108440711
Pages:   300
Publication Date:   12 November 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
1. Culture warriors; 2. Themes and issues; 3. Knowledge, influence and control from the Imperial era to the modern day; 4. 'Peaceful penetration' on the north west frontier 1919-1939; 5. 'Hearts and minds' vs French revolutionary war: Algeria 1954-1962; 6. Pacification in Vietnam 1964-1972; 7. Political warfare in Iraq: Al Anbar and Basra 2006-2009; 8. Political warfare in Afghanistan: Helmand province 2006-2012; Conclusion.

Christian Tripodi is a Senior Lecturer at the Defence Studies Department, King's College London. He is the author of Edge of Empire: The British Political Officer and Tribal Administration on the North-West Frontier 1877-1947 (2011).

Reviews for The Unknown Enemy: Counterinsurgency and the Illusion of Control

'Christian Tripodi's highly original intervention into the debates about western counter-insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan represents a major contribution. Dr Tripodi perceptively demonstrates that, paradoxically, the quest for anthropological 'understanding' often compounded the predicament in which western counter-insurgents found themselves, rather than alleviating it. It will be required reading for scholars and practitioners alike.' Anthony King, author of Command: The Twenty-First-Century General 'Christian Tripodi underlines the limited degree of control and even influence that intervening great powers can exert over the politics of others and demonstrates with a fine selection of rich case studies just how much fog, friction, and chaos intrude upon the best-laid plans. This book should be read by scholars and practitioners interested in counterinsurgency, state-building, military intervention, peacekeeping, and related areas of endeavour.' Jacqueline H. Hazelton, author of Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare 'An important and perceptive post-mortem which links the latest generation of COIN theory and practice firmly in the tradition of Western Imperial hubris, while demonstrating why success in 'political warfare' has proven both so elusive and fragile.' Douglas Porch, author of Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War


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