British Hated Because of Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has made it clear before concerning the British that our gripe is not with the enlisted man who has been heroic and hard fighting, but with the officers and strategy-makers of the British Army who have let their experiences in Northern Ireland cloud their judgment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have also covered the deal the British struck with one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a so-called mid-level Taliban commander who allegedly sided with the British, with the British thinking that Salaam would field fighters when the British and U.S. attacked Musa Qala to retake it from hard core Taliban fighters.  As it turns out, Salaam was pretty much just a despicable and cowardly weasel.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.

“He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

So instead of fighting the Taliban, he and his men stayed home and screamed like school girls.  Some deal the British made – a pig in a poke.  But yet, he was the “only game in town” and spoke “bloody well,” so he was rewarded with governorship of Musa Qala by the British.

The British have since accused him of corruption, while Salaam has leveled counter-accusations of the British undermining his authority in testimony to how bad the relations have become.  Security is still problematic in Musa Qala, and Dexter Filkins at the New York Times gives us a little glimpse into the current state of affairs of Musa Qala.  Many themes here at The Captain’s Journal appear in the Filkins article, including the notion that the countryside is being turned over to the Taliban because there aren’t enough troops to protect the population.  But one exchange occurs regarding Musa Qala that is instructive for all such future tactics employed by either the British or U.S.

Mr. Hediat said he had no great gripes with the British soldiers who were occupying the town — for one thing, he said, they do not raid houses and peer at the women. But the biggest complaint, he said, was the Afghan the British installed as the district governor, Mullah Salam. The governor is unpopular and corrupt, demanding bribes and tributes from anyone who needs something.

“This is why people hate the British, because they put Mullah Salam in power, and they keep him there,” he said.

The CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, July 2008, has an important article by David C. Isby entitled “The High Stakes Battle for the Future of Musa Qala.”  Isby made several key conclusions.

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan. British differences with the government in Kabul have increased, and Britain has become the focus of much of the frustration with coalition efforts [page 12].

For the United Kingdom, it is a chance to show that the second largest coalition member in terms of troops in Afghanistan can demonstrate results on the ground commensurate with their status in bilateral and multilateral security relationships. As British policy is to channel aid through Kabul where feasible, this provides an opportunity for aid to be directed in Musa Qala in order to show a long-term commitment at preventing the Taliban from returning to burn schools and kill Afghans. If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

The Musa Qala tactic stands out as one that should never be repeated.  It should also be noted that the Afghan population has very little confidence in tribal militias versus the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (i.e., in spite of the corruption in the police and ineptitude in the Army, they are seen as better than the alternatives).  In the mean time, the British must find a way to dismember Salaam’s network of corruption in Musa Qala in order to restore confidence in their counterinsurgency capabilities.  Thus far they have failed – miserably.

Prior:

The Example of Musa Qala

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

The Failure of Talking with the Taliban



  • Bob Sykes

    While I do not doubt the professionalism, courage and capabilities of British troops at the squad level, one does not have to go very far up the chain of command to find utterly feckless commanders. At the highest levels, in both the Army and Navy, the leadership is patently incompetent. The Muslim world is not the only audience watching British failures; the Argentines are, too. British military capabilities have eroded so severely that is is almost certain that an Argentine invasion of the Falklands and perhaps even S. Georgia and S. Sandwich Is. would succeed.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » True Confessions of British Counterinsurgency


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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,British Army,Musa Qala and was published January 23rd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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