Cheap Imitations of the Anbar Awakening in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Apparently the U.S. – and by this we mean officers who weren’t part of the campaign for Anbar – is trying to imitate the Anbar awakening in Afghanistan.

The US yesterday outlined a controversial plan to organise local militias in Afghanistan to contain the growing strength of the Taliban, echoing tactics used by American commanders in Iraq.

The programme is formally an Afghan government project with UN and US backing, but much of the impetus is believed to have come from US military commanders hoping to replicate the Sons of Iraq militias – American-backed Sunni groups which have helped combat al-Qaida and Iraqi insurgents. The architect of that initiative, General David Petraeus, is now head of Central Command, and running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Community Guard programme will be launched as a pilot project in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The US envoy, William Wood, said the programme was intended “to strengthen local communities and local tribes in their ability to protect what they consider to be their traditional homes”.

Gordon Brown proposed a similar scheme a year ago, based on a traditional form of tribal militias, or arbakai, but it was criticised at the time by an American commander in Afghanistan as detracting from the work of the national police force.

However, American objections have since been dropped as it has become clear that the combined strength of the Afghan army and the Nato force may not enough to defeat a resurgent Taliban, even with 30,000 US reinforcements expected next year after Barack Obama takes office.

Wood noted that Taliban roadside bombs doubled this year to 2,000, as did kidnappings, from 150 to 300. British officials said yesterday they had not been given details of the scheme, but supported it in principle.

“We encourage and support more Afghan ownership, particularly on security,” a Foreign Office official said.

Cheap imitation, we say.  Let’s rehearse one facet of the awakening in Anbar, that involving Abu Ahmed.

The 40-year-old is a hero to the 50,000 residents of Al-Qaim for having chased Al-Qaeda from the agricultural centre where houses line the green and blue waters of the Euphrates.

In the main street, with its fruit and vegetable stalls, its workshops and restaurants, men with pistols in their belts approach Abu Ahmed to kiss his cheek and right shoulder in a mark of respect.

It was not always this way.

He tells how one evening in May 2005 he decided that the disciples of Osama bin Laden went too far — they killed his cousin Jamaa Mahal.

“I started shooting in the air and throughout the town bursts of gunfire echoed across the sky. My family understood that the time had come. And we started the war against Al-Qaeda.”

It took three battles in the streets of Al-Qaim — in June, in July and then in November 2005 — to finish off the extremists who had come from Arab countries to fight the Americans.

Abu Ahmed, initially defeated by better equipped forces, had to flee to the desert region of Akashat, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Al-Qaim. There he sought help from the US Marines.

“With their help we were able to liberate Al-Qaim,” he said, sitting in his house with its maroon tiled facade.

This alliance between a Sunni tribe and American troops was to be the first, and it give birth to a strategy of other US-paid Sunni fighters ready to mobilise against Al-Qaeda.

It resulted in the Sunni province of Al-Anbar being pacified in two years.

It wasn’t fabricated, it wasn’t drummed up, and it wasn’t the brainchild of some smarter-than-thou counterinsurgency specialist applying heretofore unheard-of tactics.  It was the families tiring of the brutality and fighting back, losing, and then turning to the U.S. Marines who had the force projection to turn al Qaeda back with the assistance of intelligence from the families.  Without force projection and troop presence, both on the part of the families and the sustaining force of the professional warriors, it wouldn’t have happened.

Again we say, cheap imitation.  Without troop presence it won’t happen in Afghanistan and further time will be wasted pining away after an Afghan awakening that never had a chance.




You are currently reading "Cheap Imitations of the Anbar Awakening in Afghanistan", entry #1780 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,The Anbar Narrative and was published December 30th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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