FM 3-24 and Religious Literacy in American Military Operations in the Middle East

  • Samantha Olson University of Victoria
Keywords: Religious literacy, American military operations, civilizational thinking, Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq


In August 2021, the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan shocked American citizens and foreign policy analysts. Many counterinsurgency experts sought to explain this phenomenon by focusing on tactical and strategic military failures; however, such explanations often neglected to investigate the religious literacy of American troops engaged in counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East. By considering the treatment of religious literacy in General David Petraeus’s landmark field manual, FM 3-24, a startling degree of religious illiteracy is revealed within counterinsurgency operational protocols. While a historically and culturally focused “civilizational approach” is often proposed by foreign policy analysts as a potential solution to the problem of religious illiteracy in counterinsurgency operations, this approach also falls short of addressing the complex realities that confront American “liberators,” whom locals often perceive to be foreign invaders. This article therefore addresses the disconnect between American military strategy, foreign policy, and the tactical realities encountered by military personnel stationed in the Middle East. Resultantly, this article argues that improved mandatory religious literacy training for American troops is critical not only for conducting successful operations in the Middle East but also for ending, rather than reinvigorating, conflicts abroad.


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Author Biography

Samantha Olson, University of Victoria

Fourth-year Bachelor’s student
Department of History
Areas of interest: military history; military extremism; paramilitary ideologies and violence; modern German history; modern U.S. history; modern European history


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