Reintegrating the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

From The New York Times:

MIAN POSHTEH, Afghanistan — The young Taliban prisoner was led blindfolded to a sweltering military tent, seated among 17 village elders and then, eyes uncovered, faced a chief accuser brandishing a document with the elders’ signatures or thumbprints.

Capt. Scott A. Cuomo, a United States Marine commander who was acting as the prosecutor, told the prisoner: “This letter right here is a sworn pledge from all of your elders that they’re vouching for you and that you will never support the Taliban or fight for the Taliban ever again.”

After a half-hour “trial,” the captain rendered the group’s judgment on the silent prisoner, Juma Khan, 23, whom the Marines had seized after finding a bomb trigger device, ammunition and opium buried in his yard. Mr. Khan’s father and grandfather, who was one of the elders, were among the group. “So on behalf of peace, your family, your grandfather,” Captain Cuomo solemnly said, “we’re going to let you go.”

Thus was justice dispensed on a recent Saturday evening, deep in the Taliban heartland of the Helmand River Valley, where the theory behind the American effort to “reintegrate” the enemy meets the ambiguous reality of a nearly decade-old war.

Captain Cuomo, a 32-year-old Annapolis graduate from Long Island who is not related to the New York political family, acknowledged the hazards of the trial and others like it unfolding in Afghanistan. “Do I know that Juma Khan is not going to turn back around and be the Taliban?” he said. “No.” Nonetheless the effort is proceeding.

Even as Washington and Kabul debate their plans to reconcile with senior members of the Taliban, military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan are reintegrating insurgent foot soldiers on their own. The reason is simple, Captain Cuomo said: While Marines are “trained to fight, and we don’t mind fighting, the problem with fighting is that it doesn’t bring stability to your home.”

Six days after Mr. Khan’s May 1 release, another Marine commander, Capt. Jason C. Brezler, got pledges from 25 former insurgents to sign up as police recruits in the northern Helmand village of Soorkano. A week later in Marja, where clashes between the Marines and the Taliban continue in the wake of an American offensive there in February, Lt. Col. Brian Christmas released two young men who admitted to fighting for the Taliban, after the pair and two elders signed pledges promising the men would not fight again.

Acting under military guidelines aimed at persuading low-level fighters to lay down their arms, commanders repeat the mantra that the United States will never kill its way to victory in Afghanistan. They say that in a counterinsurgency war intended to win over the population, reintegration is crucial because the Taliban are woven so deeply into the social fabric of the country.

Ridiculous mantra, this idea that we cannot kill our way to victory.  Now, it may be more complicated than that, where at least some cooperation from the population is necessary in order to identify the insurgents, but people cooperate for all sorts of reasons.  I reject the idea that poverty or disenfranchisement in and of itself creates insurgents.  There are countless poverty-stricken countries in the world where large scale insurgencies do not exist, Bangladesh being one of them.

Our experience in the Anbar Province demonstrates that the most effective order of things is for the insurgents themselves to decide to put down arms because it becomes too dangerous for them.  When it is certain death to continue the fight, the end is near.  In this case the end is nowhere to be found because the proper force projection has not been in effect.

If Juma Khan had decided on his own to reintegrate and had approached the U.S. Marines about doing so, then it would be more persuasive than this display, sincere though it is (on the part of the Marines).  Where has this ever happened?  It happened in the Anbar Province many times.  During Operation Alljah in Fallujah in 2007, the Marine brought such force to Fallujah that the foreign fighters died (or fled North to Mosul), while the indigenous insurgents gave up and returned home, many of them to al Qaim where local elders vouched for their future lawful conduct.

Both accounts involve local elders vouching and making promises, but it is only one instance of these two examples where the insurgents themselves approached the government or U.S. Marines.  We want to take the milestones in successful COIN and move them up in date to meet our own wishes without adequate commitment and forces.  It simply won’t work.

  • Warbucks

    You may be right that this tactic of “promise and release” fails. But my gut tells me that this trial effort is exactly the culturally meaningful test we can afford to explore and should explore.

    There are a lot of viewpoints that merge into peacemaking. Probably most of them will turn out to fail. It’s really important however to try everything we can think of that generates intuitive sense, is containable in a laboratory testing environment, and who’s risks and outcomes are being closely monitored.

    If the families, parents, and loved ones have no control and/or elect to break every promise, we will gain more in knowing the depth of deceit of the enemy and plan accordingly thereafter.


You are currently reading "Reintegrating the Taliban", entry #5034 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Force Projection,Marine Corps and was published May 24th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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