In this paper I advance the proposition that Western policymakers’ perceptions and understandings of the conflict in Afghanistan are heavily influenced by certain political ideas emerging from seventeenth-century Enlightenment philosophy. This is particularly evident with counterinsurgency practitioners’ usage of social science disciplines to produce “objective” information about the local societies with which they are engaged. However, Enlightenment-inspired principles constrict practitioners’ perceptions of politics and political conflicts. These shortcomings are illustrated in both the form and content of policymakers’ efforts to gain “human intelligence” about Afghanistan’s social composition, and in the re-emergence of “human terrain” discourse. This blinkered viewpoint has left counterinsurgency practitioners unable to understand the United States’ own role in fueling Afghanistan’s conflictual dynamics.

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