Counterinsurgency strategies employed by the US military in Afghanistan have led to the US military embarking on civil governance reform. This has created new forms of civil–military relations with Afghan and international counterparts. These relations appear less dramatic than ‘conventional’ civil–military relations, in that they do not create the same visible alignment on the ground between military and non-military identities. In addition, the increased merging of civil and military work areas creates a new complexity that stems from semantic confusion. This complexity is mostly about norms and principles, in that the core puzzle is the more general question of what kinds of tasks the military should and should not do, rather than about violent consequences to civilians and questions of neutrality. This article proposes the term ‘third-generation civil–military relations’ to capture and examine the conceptual challenges that stem from the merging of military and civil work areas in Afghanistan’s reconstruction.