Emma Sky: Advisor and Confidant to Military Leaders

Despite her anti-war stance, her journey takes her to the frontlines in the shifting sands of the Middle East.

It was a “Time of Monsters” in the Middle East, when Emma Sky navigated through the region’s conflicts and complexities during the Arab Spring. She bore witness to how and why dreams of new orders based on rights and justice were shattered in wars and weak states – and demons unleashed upon the world.

Now a professor at Yale, she is heralded as a regional expert, helping to bridge gaps between Arab and Western worlds while elevating humanity in the region.

Sky chose to live in a world unlike any other. In the swirling of desert sands, she found the land to be magical, ever-changing yet always a tinderbox for war. She tread softly alongside top military leaders and traversed the desert terrain finding it riddled with politics and diplomatic figures of great power and influence. Her journey has intrigue, politics, and edge-of-your seat harrowing tales. Not one to let her morals and ideals take a back seat, her opposition to war in these ancient lands never went by in silence.

Sky shares her perspective on the tumultuous region with Frontline Club and you can watch her interview here …

Advisor in the Sand

She’s British and a civilian and her story is stranger than fiction. In addition to having an anti-war background and international development education, she also served as an advisor (and sometimes close friend) to some of the most highly regarded military leaders in the U.S. and NATO.

“Amidst the horror of war, I had experienced more love and camaraderie than I had ever known,” she writes in her first book The Unraveling. “I had become part of their band of brothers.”

U.S. Department of Defense, via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Before then, while an undergraduate, she was very much influenced by the Intifada and the Gulf War. Those two global quagmires made her work hard to discover how to contribute to upholding the peace of Israelis and Palestinians. She actively protested against the 1991 Gulf War until graduation. Then, she traveled and found herself alone in Africa and the Middle East. She focused on refugee issues and completed her post-graduate studies.

She moved to Jerusalem in the 1990s after the signing of the Oslo Accords. She found work with the British Council helping to build up the institutions of the Palestinian authority and to develop relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Anan.jalal, via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sky was present at the peaceful rally where Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995. Leaving Jerusalem at the start of the second Intifada, she went back to the United Kingdom and worked on international governance, justice and as security advisor for the British Council. In her new role, she consulted for them in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Brazil, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, as well as the United Arab Emirates.

The Sand Wars

Later, in 2003, the US and UK embarked on Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sky responded to the request of the British government for volunteers to administer the country. Only a week passed during her tenure as the Governorate Coordinator, the senior civilian in Kirkuk, when her home was bombed by insurgents. This prompted her move to the army base, which cemented her relationship with the U.S. commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. This experience would ignite a new era in her career and life.

Sky also served as Political Advisor to General Ward, the U.S. Security Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. She went on to be the Advisor to the Italian and British Commanding Generals of the NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2006.

From 2007-2010, Sky served as the Political Advisor to General Odierno and General Petraeus.

Sky was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire and in 2008, became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her service in Iraq.

Sky made herself useful in every possible way.  Her expertise was very rare in the American military, particularly her knowledge of the region, her empathy for the people, and her ability to speak local languages.

The Written Work

Her adventures are worthy of retelling; Thankfully, she is the author of the very highly regarded The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq (2015) and In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt (2019).

Additionally, her work can be found in publications and online sources such as The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Politico, The Atlantic, Slate, Survival, U.S. Institute of Peace, the Guardian, Center for a New American Security, and the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.

She has worked hard to bring about peace, rebuilding nations, and improved relations during her long and distinguished career. Emma Sky is a force of nature, and we are lucky to be a part of her generation.