6 years ago
From The Washington Post:
For six years, the Afghan government has held Abdul Jabar behind bars, separated from his father, a former Taliban judge, and his seven brothers, all Taliban fighters.
Being locked up for kidnapping, however, has not dulled Jabar’s love for the insurgents or hatred of the Afghan government. With so many Taliban supporters in Afghanistan’s largest prison, Jabar feels right at home.
“All of the prisoners support the Taliban. I also support the Taliban,” the 28-year-old said in a jailhouse interview inside Pol-e-Charki prison, on the outskirts of Kabul. “They will win the war in Afghanistan.”
The problems at Pol-e-Charki, with its 5,000 prisoners, point to a weakness in the American approach to detention in Afghanistan. Among those housed in Pol-e-Charki are hundreds of suspected insurgents captured by the United States and transferred to Afghan authority because an American-run prison, with a capacity of 1,350, has long been filled to capacity.
Support for the Taliban is almost universal in Pol-e-Charki prison, the largest in Afghanistan, inmates said in interviews. Inmates and Afghan officials describe the prison as a breeding ground for the insurgency, with prisoners maintaining close and regular contact with comrades outside. Last week, Afghan intelligence officials said that a 45-year-old prisoner, Talib Jan, had orchestrated the deadly bombing of a Kabul grocery store from his prison cell.
American military officials say they want to keep in custody the inmates deemed most dangerous and those who are thought to possess valuable intelligence. To address the problem, the United States is nearing completion of a project that will double to about 2,600 the number of beds at the American-run Parwan Detention Center, formerly known as Bagram prison.
But with U.S. Special Operations Forces capturing scores of prisoners each week in aggressive nighttime raids, the United States for now must choose between releasing many prisoners after a few hours and handing over others to Afghan authorities, despite what current and former Afghan officials say are real reasons for concern about the security and effectiveness of Pol-e-Charki.
Of the 3,000 people detained by the coalition between August and January, 32 percent were transferred to Afghan authorities for detention in facilities including Pol-e-Charki, and 4 percent went to the U.S.-run prison. More than half were released in the initial screening period.
“We are not de-Talibanizing them,” Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, said in a recent interview about Pol-e-Charki. “We are further radicalizing them. We are giving them control of the prison.”
U.S. officials acknowledged the problems at Pol-e-Charki but said the facility used to be worse. Earlier in the war, the prison had a wing “completely controlled” by the Taliban, where guards could not enter and left food at the door, said a U.S. official in Kabul who works on prison issues. Inside, the Taliban trained and ran a madrassa.
As we have discussed before, to believe that imprisonment is assisting in the fight against the insurgency one must believe that prisons perform a rehabilitative role, and not only is there really no prima facie reason to propose such an idea, I see no evidence of it in the history of insurgencies and counterinsurgency operations.
For my doubters. Name me one insurgency which was defeated or even weakened by imprisonment (and no, don’t include the only example that comes to mind for you, Iraq, until you study previous posts on this issue). In your mind, travel the world from Malaya to Algeria. Why did this RAND study not include the word “prison” even once in 311 pages? Same for most other studies on the Algerian insurgency.
Not only are prisons not performing a rehabilitative role in Afghanistan, they are making the problem worse. I had previously observed that the 96-hour-catch-and-release program means that insurgents get back home before the week is out, making “detainment” irrelevant except to piss off the persons who have been detained.
Kill them or let them go (and preferably, kill them), but sending them to a catch-and-release program, or to be further radicalized, is counterproductive and wasteful of military resources. And it keeps special operations forces troopers busy rounding up folks to be radicalized and released. It doesn’t work to cut the head off of the insurgency. Followers will always find leaders if they want to be led. It must be marginalized from the bottom up by military operations. It must be costly enough that the no one wants to follow the Taliban leaders anymore. When leaders don’t have followers, the insurgency is over.
I have said it before, and will say it again. Prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency. In my daily digest of information, when I see entries like “Six Taliban fighters killed in Sangin,” or “Four Taliban killed in Pech Valley,” that’s meaningful. When I see entries that contain the words “Taliban fighters detained …,” I summarily ignore them. Not only does it not add anything to the campaign, it detracts from it and obfuscates what’s really important. This simple rule helps me to avoid reading most of the ISAF entries on military operations in Afghanistan.