Project Details


Military organizations train and prepare for the ultimate test of their fundamental purpose: waging war. However, the actual experience of warfare is often different from what armed forces had been training for, and military organizations are always forced to change their practices while in the field (Farrell 2010). The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, from 2001 to
2014, was the longest Western military intervention in recent history (Fairweather 2014). Such a long intervention dramatically influenced the development of Western armed forces, as they were forced to confront, and adapt to, situations they were not designed to tackle (Farrell, Osinga and Russell 2013). This project explores how military organizations learn from battlefield experience and focuses on the strategic knowledge (understood as the combination of assumptions and
practices) gathered from Afghanistan in three categories: military doctrine, cooperation with allies, and field cooperation with civilian organizations (Non-Governmental Organizations or
International Organizations). Not all countries confronted similar conditions: some faced difficult
adversaries and were willing to battle them, other constrained the degree of violence their armed forces were allowed to use (Auerswald and Saideman 2014); some had the responsibility of
securing entire regions of Afghanistan, others were “junior partners” providing small number of forces; some tried to integrate military and civilian means as much as possible, others kept them separate. Hence, the first question (Q1) to be investigated is “what are the factors influencing the military knowledge gathered from Afghanistan?”. The intervention has generated within each country’s armed forces a practical knowledge about strategy which can be formal (captured and
taken into account by official “lessons-learned” processes), but also tacit or informal. Military
organizations must then face a potential discrepancy between the formal and the tacit knowledge generated by the Afghanistan intervention. The second question (Q2) investigated is “What are the
official lessons learned and the informal military knowledge gathered from Afghanistan, and
how do they compare to each other?”. Finally, the third question (Q3) explored is “How is the
official or informal knowledge about Afghanistan transmitted in the armed forces?”. Using social network analysis, the project will map the key actors and patterns of knowledge diffusion within a military organization. The project will significantly improve our understanding of the ways
military organizations generate and diffuse professional
knowledge about the use of force, thus filling an important gap in the literature on military change. Moreover, the project has two important societal contributions: First, it will help military organizations be more reflexive about their “lessons learned” processes. Second, since the military knowledge gathered from the Afghanistan experience will inform future interventions that are likely to occur in similar conditions (i.e. including ground forces, multinational cooperation, blending of civilian and military activities) critically studying the experience gained is important for a democratic debate on the sound use of military power, especially in light of current debates in Western countries about potential and ongoing military interventions in the Middle East and North Africa.

Layman's description

Effective start/end date01/11/201701/11/2017