6 years ago
From the AP:
In the make-or-break struggle for Kandahar, birthplace of Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency, U.S. commanders will try to pull off the military equivalent of brain surgery: defeating the militants with minimal use of force.
The goal of U.S.-led NATO forces will be to avoid inspiring support for the Taliban even as the coalition tries to root them out when the Kandahar operation begins in earnest next month.
The ancient silk road city — a dust-covered, impoverished jumble of one- and two-story concrete and mud brick — may not look like much of a prize.
But Kandahar, with a population of more than a million, was once the Taliban’s informal capital and an al-Qaida stronghold. It has served for centuries as a smuggler’s crossroads and trading hub linking southern Afghanistan to the Indian subcontinent.
President Barack Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy focuses on protecting population centers such as Kandahar from Taliban predation, with the hope of building support for the center government in Kabul.
The Taliban are deeply embedded in the local population, raising the risk of civilian casualties in major clashes. Neither are the Taliban regarded as an alien force. For many in Kandahar, they are neighbors, friends and relatives.
Haji Raaz Mohammad, a 48-year-old farmer from Kandahar, said he has never understood why the U.S. is trying to drive out the militants.
“I don’t know why they are doing it,” he said. “The Taliban are not outsiders. They are our own people.”
Because the task in Kandahar is so delicate, U.S. commanders talk about squeezing rather than driving out the Taliban. The military has struggled to come up with a description of the upcoming fight, avoiding terms like campaign, operation and battle because” because those words and others have annoyed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
So the U.S. is calling it “Hamkari Baraye Kandahar,” which translates as “Cooperation for Kandahar.” Karzai simply calls it a “process.”
Whatever it’s called, U.S. military leaders say that unless it succeeds, the rest of the plan for pacifying Afghanistan is hollow.
[ … ]
Victory in Cooperation for Kandahar may be hard to define. Eventually, U.S. military officials say, Afghans there must be persuaded that they can trust the government not to fleece them and to keep the gangsters and warlords at bay.
First of all, this won’t work in six months, which is the stated milestone for at least signs of success in Kandahar. But we have covered this notion of public trust in thugs and criminals, and concluded that it’s not likely to happen. Joshua Foust wrote “ISAF faces a number of political challenges as well. A majority of Afghan watchers point to Ahmed Wali Karzai as one of the biggest barriers to smooth operations in the city—he demands a cut of most commerce that takes place in the area, and the DEA alleges he has ties to the illegal narcotics industry. However, because he is the President’s brother, there is no chance of removing him from power. Similarly, Kandahar is, in effect, run by a group of families organized into mafia-style crime rings. They skim profits off almost all reconstruction projects in the city, and have developed a lucrative trade ripping off ISAF initiatives. They sometimes violently clash with each other.”
Michael Hughes weighed in saying:
One senior NATO official had calculated that the “Karzai cartel” was making more than a billion dollars a year off the Afghanistan war via lucrative contracts and sub-contracting spin-offs in convoy protection, construction, fuel, food and security. And in the process they are alienating the very people they are supposed to protect who are so distraught with AWK’s corruption that a majority of Kandaharis are now supporting the insurgency.
Reiterating my own counsel for Kandahar:
In order to win Kandahar, we must not run from fights; we must destroy the drug rings (not the local farmers), and especially destroy the crime families, including killing the heads of the crime families; we must make it so uncomfortable for people to give them cuts of their money that they fear us more than they fear Karzai’s criminal brother; we must make it so dangerous to be associated with crime rings, criminal organizations, and insurgents that no one wants even to be remotely associated with them; and we must marginalize Karzai’s brother …
Anyone associated with drug rings, criminal activity or the insurgency must be a target, from the highest to the lowest levels of the organization, and this without mercy. Completely without mercy. There should be no knee-jerk reversion to prisons, because the corrupt judicial system in Afghanistan will only release the worst actors to perpetrate the worst on their opponents. This robust force projection must be conducted by not only the SOF, but so-called general purpose forces (GPF). The population needs to see the very same people conducting patrols and talking with locals that they see killing criminals and insurgents. This is imperative.
My own counsel and the picture painted by NATO leadership above couldn’t be more disparate. McChrystal is giving us six months to convince the indigenous population to turn on their own relatives and embrace criminals who steal from them. The strategy will fail.