Winning in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

Ralph Peters penned a piece entitle Pick Your Tribes with the New York Post.  But more on Ralph’s views in a minute.  In our walkabout today, let’s first visit Bruce Rolston.  Contrasts and compares, he does.

Two respected Afghan bloggers, talking past each other. MK at the Inkspots, arguing for focussing (sic) on improving local justice systems instead of services:

Despite knowing this, and nearly a decade into the effort, we still struggle to set up even the simplest credible dispute resolution mechanisms. I don’t mean an elaborate and fully developed national justice system: I mean local adjudicative bodies that have local legitimacy that need to be backed by our (or where, possible, GIRoA) firepower to enforce their decisions and protect them from being assassinated.

This isn’t to suggest that military control of territory and population, building effective local security forces, or tackling corruption aren’t just as important (or more, depending phase of operations in a given area). But it seems that as we’ve come to realize that development assistance is of limited utility in winning Afghans over to our side, we’re a bit stymied as to what ‘effective governance’ means in concrete terms. Seems like solving local land disputes would be an excellent place to start.

In the other corner, Tim Lynch on staying away from dispute resolution and focussing on services instead:

The local people have every right to upset about the performance of the government in Kabul. But they have no interest in seeing any kind of central government which is strong enough to meddle in their affairs. An example, Afghans will go to great lengths to avoid having their problems brought into the legal system. Regardless of the crime be it murder or little boys stealing apples from a neighbor the Afghans know how to handle it and feel personally disgraced when the authorities step in to apply the rule of law. Their family business them becomes public and their problems known to people outside their clan which brings disgrace upon the sons of the family. They are going to bitch about the central government no matter who is in charge and how effective it becomes. The best we can do is concentrate on making regional government functional at basic things like irrigation, sanitation, health care delivery and other municipal services.

I’ll side with Tim any day, and I don’t think it’s so much a matter of talking past each other as it is they simply have different views.  We don’t all have to agree all of the time.  We’ll come back to this in a moment in our walkabout.  Next, let’s visit Bruce’s discussion of Kandahar in its present state.

Carl Forsberg and the Kagans sort out the tangle of armed Afghans working in and around Kandahar, and how the Karzai clan continues to tighten their grip independent of official government forces in the area.

The formation of a powerful conglomerate of PSCs under the political control of local powerbrokers like Ahmed Wali Karzai would undermine the long-term stability of southern Afghanistan and the strength of Afghanistan’s legitimate security institutions. There is a very real risk that these institutions will be relied on by the Karzais and their allies as the guarantors of Kandahar’s security. If the Kandahar Security Company were in fact to grow to 2,500 armed men as Ruhullah suggests (and this is certainly feasible) it would be more than twice the current size of the Afghan Uniformed Police in Kandahar, and would exceed the size of the expanded police force that ISAF and the MOI are planning to add to the city.

Ah.  There we see the thug and criminal Ahmed Wali Karzai again.  Recall next in our walkabout that I have discussed this bastard before.

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.

Ah.  There is the issue of prisons, one that has proven problematic just as I said it would.  And Ahmed Karzai is someone to be marginalized, and whose fighters must be disarmed or killed.  Now for the home stretch in our walkabout.  Ralph Peters has some observations concerning picking tribes and exploiting the existing culture that may interest you.  But as I said above, I will side with Tim before anyone.  Ralph and I don’t always agree on everything, but I want to pick up on a few points he made.

Aid those already on your side, not your enemies: Our attempts to bribe our enemies with wells, make-work and welfare are doomed to failure. Reward your allies with aid projects; let the hostiles envy them — and figure it out on their own.

Unconditional aid to tribesmen who just want your butt gone won’t buy you lasting gratitude (that rarest human sentiment). Your generosity’s read as weakness, not goodness.

Which leads us to:

Your enemies must seek negotiations first: Olive branches are worthless against fanatics convinced they can win. If negotiations are to play a role, it can only be after you’ve pounded the insurgents so ferociously that they seek talks. If you move first, it’s read as desperation. Your enemies will act accordingly.

Finally, recall my warnings:

We can revert to the softer side of counterinsurgency if all of this seems too barbaric.  We can run from fights with the insurgents, we can continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into a failing and corrupt system, and we can continue to prop up a parasitic government.  But in the end, we must count the costs in lives, lost limbs, lost reputation, and national wealth.

Mark my words, do it clearly, and do it now.  We will go in and stay in as the strong horse, and we will force the conclusion that suits our interest, or we will lose the campaign.  If this is too brutal for some, then withdraw, but don’t send our warriors on a fool’s errand.  The leftist web sites will call me a war mongering, barbaric brute and sociopath who wants our Soldiers to violate the rules of war.  All manner of venom may come my way.  I don’t care.  I really don’t care.

Rarely are things so clear cut and measurable by metrics as this.  Again, count the costs.  Start now, and keep the data.  Count the men who die, the men who lose arms, legs, hearing and brain function due to IEDs, and take measure of the situation in Kandahar in the future (how “legitimate” is the government after our costly efforts in Kandahar?).  I will be proven right or wrong, but the best thing about putting prose down on paper is that it can be judged in the future.

Has Ralph been reading The Captain’s Journal?  Our current COIN strategy closely follows our international policy as of late.  Heap praise and largesse on your enemies, and pour derision and scorn on your “friends.”  This is exactly backwards.  Force projection requires that the hard aspects of COIN take place first, and the enemy will want to befriend you.  Don’t ever be first out of the gate to do this.  This is the way it works.  Any attempt to speed up or circumvent the process by making it seem more gentle and cultured than it really is will redound to defeat.  The tribes are a necessary but secondary aspect of the campaign.  Force projection comes first.




You are currently reading "Winning in Afghanistan", entry #5230 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Force Projection,Kandahar and was published July 16th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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