5 years, 5 months ago
There is a well-known saying in Afghanistan: “You can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.”
Some experts on the region believe a U.S. program to pay Taliban fighters to quit the organization is buying temporary loyalty.
President Obama on Wednesday signed a $680 billion defense appropriations bill, which will pay for military operations in the 2010 fiscal year. The bill includes a Taliban reintegration provision under the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which is now receiving $1.3 billion. CERP funding also is intended for humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects at commanders’ discretion.
The buyout idea, according to the Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to separate local Taliban from their leaders, replicating a program used to neutralize the insurgency against Americans in Iraq.
“Afghan leaders and our military say that local Taliban fighters are motivated largely by the need for a job or loyalty to the local leader who pays them and not by ideology or religious zeal,” Levin said in a Senate floor speech on September 11. “They believe an effort to attract these fighters to the government’s side could succeed, if they are offered security for themselves and their families, and if there is no penalty for previous activity against us.”
But Nicholas Schmidle, an expert on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region for the non-partisan New America Foundation, said that while the plan has a “reasonable chance for some success,” the old Afghan saying will eventually be borne out.
“So long as the Americans are keenly aware of this, you’re buying a very, very, very temporary allegiance,” he said. “If that’s the foundation for moving forward, it’s a shaky foundation.”
Nick is a smart analyst, and he is right concerning the temporary nature of services. But I don’t even think it will get that far. Let’s very briefly deal with Carl Levin’s assertion that this “replicates” the sons of Iraq program. No it does not. And again, NO IT DOES NOT. One more time. NO … IT … DOES … NOT.
The sons of Iraq program followed heavy kinetic operations to ensure that joining the insurgency was unappealing. It was implemented from a position of strength, not weakness. The troops were in place, we were committed to the campaign, and the U.S. Marines weren’t leaving the Anbar Province until they had achieved success. The U.S. Marines were the stronger tribe, and the indigenous insurgents knew it.
We are in a position of relative weakness in Afghanistan, more troops are needed, and the Taliban now control the countryside (while they have eyes for the larger cities such as Kandahar). A program like this will only work if the Afghans are convinced that we will be there for the long haul and help to protect them against retaliation and retribution from the Taliban. Some of the Afghans may team with us – but none will go it alone.
Michael Yon’s thoughts are salient.
We ask Afghans for help in defeating the enemies, yet the Afghans expect us to abandon them. Filkins pointed out that Afghans don’t like to see Americans living in tents. Tents are for nomads. It would be foolish for Afghans in “Talibanastan” to cooperate with nomadic Americans only to be eviscerated by the Taliban when the nomads pack up. (How many times did we see similar things happen in Iraq?) The Afghans want to see us living in real buildings as a sign of permanency. The British forces at Sangin and associated bases live in temporary structures, as do the Americans at many of their bases. Our signals are clear. “If you are coming to stay,” Afghans have told me in various ways, “build a real house. Build a real office. Don’t live in tents.”
A great many Iraqis wanted assurances that we would stay long enough to help their country survive but were not planning on making Iraq part of an American empire. It thus became important to convey signs of semi-permanence, signaling, “Yes, we will stay, and yes, we will leave.” Conversely, Afghans in places like Helmand tend to have fond memories of Americans who came in the middle of last century, and those Afghans seem apt to cooperate. That much is clear. But Afghans need to sense our long-term commitment. They need to see houses made of stone, not tents and “Hesco-habs.”
Throwing satchels of cash around and expecting the Afghans to do our heavy lifting for us isn’t a plan for success. It’s a sign of the ignorance of the people managing this effort. And it’s a sign of a national sickness – the idea that we can print and spend enough money to get us out of almost any problem. Finally, for an Afghanistan that has few resources, throwing money around only devalues the existing supply rather than creating new and real wealth. It’s just a bad idea all around, but especially so without the necessary force projection by U.S. troops.