Two Steps Back: Relearning the Humanitarian-Military Lessons Learned in Afghanistan and Iraq


James, Eric. 2003. “Two Steps Back: Relearning the Humanitarian-Military Lessons Learned in Afghanistan and Iraq.” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, online.

Author: Eric James


This paper sets out to address two questions: What are the previous broad lessons learned in the interactions between the military and humanitarian actors?  And, how were these lessons ‘relearned’ during the recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?  This paper does not contribute to theory nor delve deeply into the contentious debate over appropriateness of so-called humanitarian intervention or military humanitarianism.  Rather, this paper makes attempts to add to the discourse that has emerged between humanitarians, the military, and scholars.  The first part of this paper presents background of the recent military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Given the efforts made to improve civil-military relations during the past decade, the contention is made that this relationship has take ‘two steps back’ because of growing discord between the military and humanitarians, continuing lack of security, and frustration over the lack of progress in what are thought to be “lessons learned.”  Second, five lessons learned in the relationship between the military and humanitarians is presented with a discussion of how each has been were ignored or relearned in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Third, based on experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, at least two emergent issues or ‘lessons’ are discussed.   Finally, the conclusion suggests further steps in improving the way the military and humanitarians interact and presents several questions worth further inquiry.

Keywords: civil-military relations, humanitarian

Topics: Humanitarian Assistance, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Security Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Iraq

Year: 2003

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