6 years ago
Counterinsurgency luminary David Kilcullen was interviewed by Reuters, and made an interesting forecast regarding settling with the Taliban.
Q – Should U.S.-led forces negotiate with the Taliban?
A – The answer to that question depends on who you think the Taliban are. I’ve had tribal leaders and Afghan government officials at the province and district level tell me that 90 percent of the people we call Taliban are actually tribal fighters or Pashtun nationalists or people pursuing their own agendas. Less than 10 percent are ideologically aligned with the Quetta shura (a Taliban leadership council) or al Qaeda.
I would divide the enemy in Afghanistan into two very broad categories, people who are directly aligned with the Quetta shura or al Qaeda. Those people are probably beyond negotiating and I don’t think we’d gain anything significant from trying to negotiate with them.”
The others are almost certainly reconcilable under some circumstances. What I’d say with regard to that would be that its very important to negotiate from a position of strength, not a position of weakness. We want to make the population feel safe. We want to secure the environment and then negotiate to bring the people in. That’s very much what we did in Iraq. We negotiated with 90 percent of the people we were fighting and and then brought them into the inclusive security structure.
Kilcullen is of course correct about the need to be in a position of strength as well as the strategy of settling with Sunni insurgents in Anbar. Referral to our category Concerned Citizens (the original name for the Sons of Iraq) shows that we strongly supported this strategy. However, the difference is that while al Qaeda and al Qaeda-aligned fighters fought mainly for religion reasons, the indigenous Sunni insurgency had no religious motivation whatsoever.
Beyond the need to project force, comparisons of the Anbar campaign with Afghanistan might be an overreach. The Haqqani network of Taliban, previously based in Pakistan, has moved into Kandahar in strength, as well as Khost. Said one person of the network of fighters, “I thought it was the insurgents who are meant to go around hiding, but it’s not the Taliban who are hiding, it’s the government’s people. They can’t go out of the district offices alone.”
But according to one Taliban leader in Kandahar, they don’t report to the Haqqani fighters. “We are all fighting for Islam,” said the leader. This religious motivation – even if perfunctory – is dissimilar to the indigenous Sunni fighters in Anbar.
Also, it is difficult to see how, of the estimated 20,000 Taliban fighters in the Helmand Province alone, 90% of them will support the government to the point that globalists (al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban) will not be allowed in Afghanistan. Besides, the numbers of fighters aligning with the government is small and dropping, even when promised a home. “In the last three months of 2008, the number Taliban who decided to take up [the] offers of written amnesty [in Kandahar] slowed to a trickle. Only 11 militants have decided to lay down their arms, compared with 28 during the same period last year.”
The sense of things now is that Iraq and Afghanistan are too different to apply this one lesson from Iraq. Kilcullen cites “tribal leaders” for his statistic (he might simply be citing rather than endorsing the statistic), but of course people can say anything for just about any reason. For that matter, so could the Taliban leader in Kandahar who said they all fight for Islam. That’s the point. This campaign is probably not far enough along to know if 90% of the Taliban will side with a government which sides with the U.S.