Conference presentation

Interpreting for the military in Afghanistan

Publication date2019

In this new century, Western counterinsurgency doctrines in asymmetric wars have moved away from traditional doctrines, focussing now on consolidating the legitimacy of local governments and the pursuit of peace and security. The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) was created as a counterinsurgency mission to restore the Afghan government's legitimacy, empower the Afghan security forces and gain the support of the local populations. The ASPFOR (Afghanistan Spanish Force) was deployed with the objective of advising the Afghan National Army (ANA). For these mentoring missions, the Spanish army recruited interpreters, both local and national, to communicate with the local armed forces. The present communication will examine the role of interpreters in these missions, constituting a specific context in which the interpreter works between two armed forces coming from very different ideologies, cultures and with very different languages. I will present the results of a study carried out with Spanish military personnel and national and local interpreters who worked for the ASPFOR. By means of a qualitative design, data were collected from the participants through unstructured interviews. Seventeen participants were interviewed, of which six were high-ranking officers and eleven were interpreters. Each narrative was analysed in order to identify statements which told the story of each participant's experience. Formulated meanings were then created and arranged into theme clusters, then collapsed into emergent themes. The findings show that there are significant differences between local and national interpreters in terms of their positionality and that this had an impact on the tasks assigned to each category, the risks they were exposed to, the training needs and the trust put in them by the military personnel. Trust in the interpreter emerges as the priority for the troops, above linguistic skills and specific training. One commonality amongst both categories of interpreter is the lack of interpreting and military training; this, along with lack of ethical guidance, has an impact on the decisions they take. In this discussion of the different positionalities of the interpreter in armed conflicts, I hope to be contributing to three on-going debates: the research will offer an empirically grounded account of the role of military personnel as embedded actors in the conflict having to adapt to different coexisting cultures: their own culture, the culture of the interlocutors and that of the military. Secondly, it aims at providing additional understanding of the factors that shape the interpreter's positionality. Finally, it will contribute to current debates about ethics in certain contexts.

  • Interpreting
  • Military
  • Counterinsurgency operations
  • Afghanistan
  • ISAF
Citation (ISO format)
RUIZ ROSENDO, Lucia. Interpreting for the military in Afghanistan. In: InDialog3. Interpreter Practice, Research and Training: the Impact of Context. Antwerp (Belgium). 2019.
Main files (1)
  • PID : unige:129080

Technical informations

Creation01/20/2020 9:11:00 AM
First validation01/20/2020 9:11:00 AM
Update time03/15/2023 6:47:45 PM
Status update03/15/2023 6:47:44 PM
Last indexation08/30/2023 10:06:38 PM
All rights reserved by Archive ouverte UNIGE and the University of GenevaunigeBlack