Tag: southern afghanistan

It’s Time for the Coalition to Step Aside

Today’s Washington Post reports that residents of Gizab, a village in southern Afghanistan, reclaimed their territory from the Taliban. One U.S. commander called it “perhaps the most important thing that has happened in southern Afghanistan this year.”

Gizab may eventually turn back to Taliban control, but at least for now, we can try and postulate as to why local residents successfully defended their territory, achieving what the coalition has been trying to do for years throughout the country but to no avail. Here’s a thought: allow Afghans to fight the Taliban themselves and slowly back away. Unfortunately, this story may reinforce the atrocious ”One Tribe at a Time” formulation, a strategy that entails coalition troops “going native” and unilaterally choosing tribes to side with against the Taliban–of course, without any proper understanding of tribal or community dynamics beforehand.

As I wrote several weeks ago, “merely increasing our knowledge of Afghanistan’s local politics will not guarantee success; presuming we can simply learn what ethnicities and communities can be ‘peeled off’ from militants does not necessarily mean we will reach the ends we seek or yield the outcomes we want.”

Many moons ago, Christian Bleuer over at The Ghosts of Alexander wrote about the follies of following the ”One Tribe at a Time” formula. “Seriously, go out and try to find the ‘tribal leadership.’ You will find that there is no clear, stable leadership. Things are in flux, and always have been. Especially since 1979. You will end up with a bunch of squabbling locals trying to call in air strikes on their rivals…. Please don’t let this anecdote draw away attention from how bad Gant’s paper is when considered in its entirety. The blind embedded, hyper-localized ‘adopted son’ mentality he shows should be a warning to all. Anthropologists do their best to not ‘join the tribe.’ So should soldiers.”

Indeed, Judah Grunstein wrote a while back in Small Wars Journal about this very same issue. “What’s also overlooked – by Gant [author of “One Tribe at a Time”], but also by more conventional COIN theory – is the fact that intervening in a social system creates both winners and losers. COIN bases its methodology in large part on the assumption that losers will shift loyalties in order to compete for the benefits on offer. Again, the lessons from the helping professions show that this is far from a foregone conclusion. The resulting power imbalances within the indigenous structure can instead lead to increased – and rigidified – resentment and hostility toward the helping professional.”

Most analysts in D.C. are waiting for that silver bullet, that one strategy that will help America “win.” But Afghans can “win” without our help, as villagers in Gizab have shown. It may not be easy, and Afghans will surely encounter setbacks, but coalition forces cannot continually recalibrate policy to accurately predict which areas of Afghanistan will prefer the corrupt centralized government we back and which ones will not. It’s time we get out of the way and let Afghans decide their future, Taliban or no Taliban.

Knocked Out, but Not Knocked Down: Spinning the Taliban Defeat in Marjah

Remember Marjah? The Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan captured several weeks ago by U.S. and Afghan forces? I remember the offensive being hailed as a big deal. Well, what happened?

Although they have been pushed out of power in Marjah, Taliban insurgents have slowly been trying to reassert some measure of control.

Marjah residents have told U.S. Marines that Taliban insurgents are coming around at night to threaten and beat Afghans who cooperate with the Americans.

In at least one confirmed case, said U.S. military officials, the Taliban beheaded a local resident suspected of working with U.S. forces. The U.S. Marines are checking out at reports of at least two other beheadings in Marjah.

If that weren’t enough, the newly appointed Afghan official for Marjah, described as “the Afghan face of the American-led military offensive,” is Haji Zahir, who served four years in a German prison for attempted murder after stabbing his stepson.

Maybe this question will come across as obvious, but what discernible interest does America have in clearing regions we can’t hold, and backing ex-cons to disperse hundreds of thousands of U.S. tax payer dollars “to repair schools, clean canals, and compensate Afghan families who lost relatives” to people who will likely turn back to the Taliban anyway?

While residents of Marjah have little affection for the Taliban, they say they nevertheless prefer them over the non-Islamic Americans and the corrupt Kabul government.

This piece in Foreign Policy, “Down the AfPak Rabbit Hole,” confirms my suspicions that the offensive in Marjah was in part a PR stunt intended to galvanize public support for the war back at home (HT: Justin Logan).

The “Rabbit Hole“ ‘s authors, Thomas H. Johnson, a research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, and M. Chris Mason, a retired Foreign Service officer who served as a political officer in Paktika province, write “this battle—the largest in Afghanistan since 2001—is essentially a giant public affairs exercise, designed to shore up dwindling domestic support for the war by creating an illusion of progress.”

That sentiment was echoed several weeks ago by Greg Jaffe and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post. They write, “The campaign’s goals are to convince Americans that a new era has arrived in the eight-year-long war and to show Afghans that U.S. forces and the Afghan government can protect them from the Taliban.”

For some sanity on this situation, and how much we have lost our way, listen to “Afghanistan and Conservatives” featuring Joe Scarborough.”