Folks…! What’s going on…?
…he United States and NATO are swelling the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan this year to about 150,000 in a bid to turn the tide in an eight-year-long war.
The Taliban’s jurisdiction, however, is growing as their insurgency gains force and Afghans tire of President Hamid Karzai’s ineffective and corrupt government.
Karzai and his foreign backers are meeting in London on Thursday to hammer out possible peace plans and a timeline under which NATO troops can eventually hand control to locals.
But in most provinces, the Taliban have their own parallel network of power, with a governor, judges and heads of police intervening in everything from theft to neighbors’ disputes and badly arranged marriages.
"In 33 out of 34 provinces, the Taliban has a shadow government," said a senior official with NATO’s military intelligence in Kabul.
At a national level, their leader Mullah Omar has a government-in-waiting, ready for the day Karzai’s administration falls, the official said.
"We have governors, district heads, a military court for each province and a civil court for dealing with everyday problems," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Khalid Pashtun, a member of parliament for Kandahar province, a Taliban stronghold, conceded that people are now turning to the insurgents, whose hardline Islamist government was toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
"Their governors were part of the Taliban regime before it fell. … They are young, dynamic, determined and influential. And people go to them because their justice is quick and seen as more effective than normal justice," Pashtun, a Karzai supporter, told AFP.
"Our government is undermined by its corruption and doesn’t do the job, people are turning away from them and asking the Taliban to arbitrate."
That is extremely problematic, considering that one of the central topics that will be covered at the upcoming London Conference on Afghanistan is Reintegrating the Taliban…
The conference, the officials say, will have three aims:
The first is to lay out a security plan. This will set up a "reintegration fund" to entice Taliban fighters, mainly locals, away from war into peace.
The problem with this is that it has been talked about before. In December 2007, British officials briefed about it. Little happened… …Nobody thinks the Taliban leadership is ready to talk. Quite the reverse.
Also on the security front, the hope is that province by province, and starting as early as the end of this year in quieter regions, military leadership will be handed over from Nato to Afghan forces.
The second aim of the conference is to encourage better governance and more effective aid.
The third is to persuade Afghanistan’s neighbours to help more. Talks about that have already been going on in Istanbul.
Not. Gonna. Happen. Take this
Reintegration will be high on London agenda – but that might be hard for some to swallow, not least the US soldiers in field…
…As foreign ministers meet in London tomorrow, the effort to create a patch of government control nearly 2 miles wide and 4 miles long highlights the power of the counter-insurgency techniques the Americans have been vigorously implementing, but also the difficulties.
For one thing, a rapid "transition strategy" towards Afghan control seems out of the question in a valley where the support of the local population is still far from certain. The close working relationship the Americans have forged with the police and the army is exactly the sort of "embedded" training the US commander, Stanley McChrystal, has called for. But the local police chief is still crawling out from the shadow of the tribal mafia that did much to alienate the local people.
Last Sunday one of the 205 Afghan soldiers working in the area was taken away by helicopter (the roads in and out being under insurgent control). He had been arrested on suspicion of helping the Taliban fire mortars on to the main US base.
Speaking of that "embedded" training…
“Maj. Jim Gant’s paper is very impressive — so impressive, in fact, that I shared it widely,” Petraeus said, while McChrystal distributed it to all commanders in Afghanistan. One senior military official went so far as to call Gant “Lawrence of Afghanistan.”
*Sigh* I wish they’d have stuck with "Three Cups of Tea"…
Here’s an excellent critique on why not to adopt Gant’s Snake Oil, from SWJ…
…consider that Gant’s narrative begins with his apparently arbitrary and unilateral decision to take the side of one tribal chieftain over a rival group from within the same tribe, based solely on his gut feeling. Happily for Gant, it turned out that the subsequent alliance — which included him arming his "host tribe" — resulted in benefits for him and his squad. But how do you operationalize gut feeling?
Gant calls for small, autonomous units to essentially "go native" in order to win over allegiance at the tribal level. But how can the fragmented alliances that result be coordinated into a broader strategy? And what happens if one autonomous unit’s alliance conflicts with another’s? Or if it conflicts with the chain of command’s broader objectives? In other words, how do we establish unity of effort and command over such a network of alliances, when the Afghans themselves have not been able to?
As for Gant’s subsequent contention that his plan represents a "light footprint COIN" approach, he himself points out that he and his team were safer in the village than in their outpost, and that he was unable to prevent the attacks the village suffered as a result of its cooperation. In other words, there’s a real confusion about who was protecting whom.
Here’s another lengthy, but, excellent take down of Gant’s foolish notions…
Gant’s dream rolls on:
"When we gain the respect and trust of one tribe, in one area, there will be a domino effect will spread throughout the region and beyond. One tribe will eventually become 25 or even 50 tribes. This can only have a long-term positive effect on the current situation. It is, however, not without pitfalls and difficulty. But it can and must be done."
Pitfalls and difficulties? Gant gives as an example of his successful strategy an anecdote where he helps his favorite tribal personality wage war on his neighbors and accumulate more land at their expense. How the hell is his strategy going to work when in the Byzantine local political and social environment making a friend with one can often mean making enemies with their enemies? And by enforcing the power of one tribal notable does he not think there will be resentment by rivals with the same tribe or even family? And we’re supposed to expect that American soldiers can navigate all of this while embedding with a local tribal leader?
Now here’s some real answers to resolving some of the complexities…
Afghanistan has long experience of complex arrangements with local/traditional forms of governance. It is possible to see what factors work for peace-building and which do not
The three key areas of discussion in London will hardly address the realities on the ground in Afghanistan. Reintegration/reconciliation are important parts of a successful Afghanistan strategy. But letting Karzai take the lead seems like a recipe for corruption and mismanagement, and, I’m not sure the US/NATO has done nearly enough to change the Taliban’s strategic position.
Let’s hope it’s not all just blather and bluster that is produced in London…!