Archive for the 'Prisons in Counterinsurgency' Category

Secret Release Of Taliban Fighters

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 2 months ago

From Fox News:

The US has been secretly releasing captured Taliban fighters from a detention center in Afghanistan in a bid to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the insurgent group, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The “strategic release” program of high-level detainees is designed to give the US a bargaining chip in some areas of Afghanistan where international forces struggle to exercise control, the report said.

Under the risky program, the hardened fighters must promise to give up violence and are threatened with further punishment, but there is nothing to stop them resuming attacks against Afghan and American troops.

“Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” a US official told the Post.

There are two problems with this report.  The second problem is that Taliban fighters are being released.  We all knew that, and this continues a trend set in place months and even years ago.  At one point in time they could be held for 72 hours, and then that was changed to 96 hours, and within a few days many of the fighters captured by the Marines in the Helmand Province were back in the streets of their villages taunting the Marines.

Apparently the trend has been hastened, and that only points to desperation and the looming withdrawal date.  But the first problem is right there in the fourth paragraph of the report.  “Everyone agrees that they … should remain in detention.”  As we have discussed here before, prisons do not work in counterinsurgency.

There you have it.  That’s what we do when the campaign becomes hopeless.  We imprison fighters rather than kill them, and then we release them because we are losing the campaign and want to win good will with the enemy.  One sad part about all of this is that otherwise good men side with a losing strategy.  I just witnessed Major General Bob Scales advocate this strategy on Fox News.

Again.  How sad.  Bring the troops home now.  We have acquiesced to defeat, and it is immoral to keep them there any longer.

Concerning Those Burned Qu’rans At Bagram Air Base

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 4 months ago

It is easy to lose count of the number of administration officials who have issued groveling, pitiful “apologies” over the burned Qu’rans at Bagram Air Base.  But take note that our apologies aren’t sufficient.  The protests are still active, they are spreading to Pakistan, and Iran wants more – a lot more.  It’s ironic how we see things through Western, secular eyes concerning issues pertaining to religious pre-commitments.  Our apologies are so serious, so heartfelt, so sincere, so sober – and so completely irrelevant to the Muslim world.

Iran wants the officers who made this decision to pay a hefty price.

In a move likely to irk tension between Iran and United States, a top Iranian military commander said on Saturday that nothing short of burning the White House and hanging American military commanders can compensate for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan last week.

“The U.S. has committed such an ugly act and burnt Qurans because of the heavy slap it has been given by Islam,” commander of Iran’s Basij force, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi told the semi-official Fars news agency.

So we punish the officers who made this decision according to Sharia law, we torch the White House, and we completely withdraw from Afghanistan, and then perhaps the Iranian generals will be appeased.

But also take careful note why the copies of the Qu’ran were burned in the first place.

As riots over the accidental improper disposal of the Koran led to seven deaths by Wednesday, two senior NATO military officials stressed that it was because of clandestine communications written into the Korans in the first place that a decision was made to have them destroyed by U.S. troops.

Afghan detainees at Bagram Air Base wrote inside Korans as a method for passing messages to fellow detainees, defacing the holy books in a manner considered blasphemous within Islam, the officials said, speaking to Fox News exclusively.

[ … ]

A second official said that local religious leaders who came to look at the damaged material as part of an investigation into the incident were “shocked by what they saw.”

Pages of the Korans contained many handwritten messages and in some cases printed notes were found inside the books. This official described the messages as “extremist” in nature.

This entire incident has as its root cause the fact that rather than killing the insurgents on the field of battle, we imprisoned them in hopes of rehabilitating them and releasing them to return to productive lives in the service of greater Afghanistan.

Ah.  Those Western ideals at work again.  How sweet.  But in reality, prisons in counterinsurgency are opportunities for rest and relaxation, a chance to be fed and to receive good medical care, and a safe haven to recruit and radicalize other insurgents.

These copies of the Qu’ran should have been burned, but Afghans should never have been involved.  In fact, the prisons, which are currently full to overflowing with radicalized Islamists and criminals soon to be released when the U.S. exits Afghanistan (or sooner if the prisons are turned over to Afghan authorities), should completely go out of business.  We should have been killing these fighters rather than giving them the opportunity to concoct further plans for harm to U.S. troops.

All of this – and more – is why I have recommended that we withdraw from Afghanistan.  We simply don’t have a clue what it takes to win the campaign in this region of the world.  For future campaigns, we should take note yet again that prisons really, really don’t work in counterinsurgency.

As if all of this isn’t enough, we may yet sacrifice the careers of some of the officers in the service of Islam.

NATO officials promised to meet Afghan nation’s demand of bringing to justice, through an open trial, those responsible for the incident and it was agreed that the perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice as soon as possible.

Sad beyond belief.

UPDATE #1: Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for his attention to this.


Night Raids, Prisons, Politics and the Afghanistan Strategy

The Long Term Effects of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

The Great Escape – In Afghanistan!

Because Prisons Work So Well In Counterinsurgency

Afghan Prison An Insurgent Breeding Ground

Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Night Raids, Prisons, Politics and the Afghanistan Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 10 months ago

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Over the past year, US and NATO forces say they have made considerable progress against the Afghan insurgency through the use of night raids. But a new study suggests that the long-controversial nighttime operations are doing more harm than good.

Despite a sharp rise in the number of night raids, there have been no benefits in the form of decreased insurgent attacks, and anger over the operations has continued to mount among Afghan civilians, found the report by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office, a research and analysis group in Kabul.

“The dramatic increase in the number of night raids, and evidence that night raids or other operations may be more broadly targeting civilians to gather information and intelligence, appear to have overwhelmed Afghan tolerance of the practice,” wrote the authors of the report. “Afghan attitudes toward night raids are as hostile as ever, if not more so.”

International forces rely heavily on night raids to capture or kill high-level insurgents. Night raids are a critical component of NATO’s strategy here, but a growing number of Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, have condemned the raids as disrespectful to Afghan culture, and say they undermine the authority of the government and security forces …

Even in the face of heated political debate about the night raids, there was fivefold increase between February 2009 and December 2010. Though newer statistics are unavailable, military officials indicated to Open Society Foundations that international forces still conduct a large number of night raids, possibly at higher rates than those previously documented. By one estimate, up to 40 night raids occur daily throughout Afghanistan.

“The night raids are perceived by the people, by the government, by Afghans as an insult. It’s a very big insult because they are insulting our privacy … so people hate them from the depths of their hearts,” says Rahim Khurram, deputy director of The Liaison Office …

The US and international forces have made a number of changes to their night-raid policy that have, by many measures, improved their accuracy and addressed Afghan concerns. Among other changes, Afghan officials are now incorporated in the planning process, and 25 percent of night operations are led by Afghan forces.

Presently, International Security Assistance Force officials say that they get their target 80 percent of the time during night raids. The report does not state what portion of the remaining 20 percent escaped or if they mistakenly arrested the wrong person. ISAF officials also point out that the night raids account for less than 1 percent of civilian casualties and that 85 percent are conducted without any shots fired.

“Night operations are an effective method of maintaining the pressure on the enemy while minimizing risk to innocent civilians,” says US Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, an ISAF spokesman.

Many of the improvements have been overlooked or gone unnoticed by Afghans, however, due to the sheer quantity.

Despite pervasive disapproval of night raids among many Afghans, if conducted properly, they are a valuable tool against the insurgency, says Mirwais Yasini, a member of parliament from Nangarhar Province, where night raids have been a serious point of contention.

“We cannot do without them, because if we do away with the night raids it means we are cutting [ISAF’s] operational capacity to the day, and if we do that it means we’re cutting their operational capacity to less than 50 percent,” says Mr. Yasini.

He suggests that instead of raiding houses during the night, international forces should try surrounding a village at night and make arrests during the day time.

Analysis & Commentary

Of course many of the Afghan people don’t like it.  But the edifice upon which this whole objection is built is population-centric counterinsurgency, with its adage that “if you kill one insurgent you create ten more.”  There isn’t a single shred of evidence that killing an insurgent creates ten more – that’s just a doctrinal mantra, and if repeated enough times it begins to be taken as science.  However, while the objection lodged by the Afghans to high value target raids may not be salient, there is a much more important reason that these raids are not as successful as they are purported to be.  Prisons.  Many or most of the HVTs are not killed, but captured and sent to prisons.  These prisons have become not only a laughingstock of the Afghan culture, they have become dangerous.

Cell Block 3 was in flames as prison riots continued in the next block over. The Taliban had grown too powerful, and the confinements of Afghanistan’s Pol-e-charki prison became little more than protective walls rendering them untouchable from the war raging outside.

The December 2008 riots at Pol-e-charki prison on the outskirts of Kabul served as a wake-up call to the severity of the corruption that had crept in through padded pockets and turning blind eyes. Captured Taliban commanders and radicalized prisoners had formed an operating center within Cell Block 3—armed with weapons, and with their own Shura Council to hold trials, vote, and eliminate those who refused to cooperate.

“The guards were not even allowed to go down into the cell block because they would be killed or kidnapped—I mean, its the Wild West out there,” said Drew Berquist, a former U.S. intelligence agent and author of “The Maverick Experiment,” in a phone interview.

Attention fell on the prison after the riots, and rebuilding efforts became focused on increasing security. This included eliminating cells for large groups, and replacing them with cells for smaller groups of between two and eight.

“You had a prison that was run by the Afghan government, but really, entire facilities within that prison were being used as training and education grounds for insurgent elements,” said Drew Quinn, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs director at the U.S. Embassy Kabul, on the NATO Channel in Nov. 2009.

Resolving such issues is no simple matter, and the battle behind prison walls continues to this day.

A rare news conference in Kabul, held by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security intelligence service in February, highlighted the breadth of the problem—noting that despite efforts to root out operations at Pul-e-Charkhi, it is still going strong.

Taliban commander Talib Jan, a prisoner at Pul-e-Charkhi, is one of the more extreme cases. He organizes suicide bombings across Kabul from within his cell—including the Jan. 28 suicide bombing of a supermarket that killed 14 people.

“Most of the terrorist and suicide attacks in Kabul were planned from inside this prison by this man,” said National Directorate of Security spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, at the conference, New York Times reported.

The problem, according to Berquist, runs deep.

“The prison systems are corrupt,” Berquist said. “The safest place for the Taliban is the prisons because they can’t get caught again.”

But if killing an insurgent doesn’t in fact create ten more, imprisonment of one may in fact do just that.  To coin a phrase, “imprisonment one insurgent creates ten more.”  Remember that phrase.  Since HVT raids focus so much on imprisonment of insurgents, they are counterproductive.  Killing the enemy isn’t counterproductive, but because we place so much value in not doing that in the campaign, it has affected the entirety of the effort.

And this clouds the whole strategy.  Thus, Presidential candidate Rick Perry is not clear yet in his proposed strategy for Afghansitan.

Rick Perry is still laboring to articulate a clear position on Afghanistan. At Monday night’s Republican debate, Perry–who has no real foreign policy experience beyond flying Air Force cargo planes abroad–seemed to endorse Jon Huntsman’s call for a major drawdown from Afghanistan. Yesterday, an unnamed Perry adviser revised and extended the gentleman’s remarks for Foreign Policy:

“If increasingly the Afghans can do this kind of work, then of course we want to bring our people home. It’s good for us, it’s good for them. But Gov. Perry is not confident in the Obama policy, which seems to be driven largely by politics, and he’s not confident in the 100,000 troops number. He’d like to know if it’s possible at 40,000,” the advisor said, explaining that the rationale for the specific number of U.S. troops on the ground has never been clearly explained by the administration.”He would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending.”

This position is incredibly tortured. A presence of 100,000 troops seems too high to Perry, but he opposes Obama’s plan for a modest withdrawal of about 30,000 troops because it’s apparently driven by “politics.” He’s against a precipitous withdrawal, yet he’s interested in a 60 percent reduction in forces–to a level that would make David Petraeus bang his forehead on his desk.

Perry isn’t the only Republican to send mixed signals on Afghanistan. That’s because the GOP candidates are torn between two powerful forces. One is the general public’s loss of patience with the Afghanistan war. Especially now that Osama bin Laden is shark food, a clear majority of Americans want us out–regardless of whether Afghan troops can execute jumping jacks. But Republican voters are still on board: As of June, 53% of them still favored fighting on until Afghanistan has been stabilized (whatever that means).

Even Andrew McCarthy, writing for NRO, observes that Perry’s answer was muddled (although McCarthy parrots the usual stuff about killing and capturing a lot of people which makes his case rather odd).  Since we have tried population-centric counterinsurgency and nation-building in the most backwards place on earth, the last ten years has seen a groundhog day rinse and repeat of the same thing, over and over again.  Of course our strategy is confused.  The people who implemented it were confused.

Mr. Obama has been content to go along with a confused strategy and cut his losses as soon as possible.  In challenging him, the GOP needs to see their way clear to a revised strategy and a justification for said approach.  This needs to fit within the framework of the larger war against the transnational insurgency, in which AQ, the Taliban, the TTP, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., are just manifestations of the militant side of Islamism, with the Muslim Brotherhood being the manifestation of the more political side of (what will ultimately become the forcible implementation of) sharia law.

Whatever is decided, let’s be clear.  A small footprint, HVT raid-based approach by 10,000 – 15,000 troopers, mostly SOF, won’t work.  When there are no troops to provide security for the people who supply intelligence for the raids, the raids will dry up.  When logistics cannot get supplies to the troopers, it will take SOF missions to rescue the SOF troopers remaining in Afghanistan.  A small footprint is a silly, juvenile cop out, and a poor excuse for actually thinking through the difficult issues of the war.

The troops exist for the proper execution of the campaign.  The CJCS could tell the Commandant of the Marines to stop playing Iwo Jima, give up the ridiculous EFV, settle for a mission that includes air-based forcible entry capabilities, and send Marines all over the world in distributed operations (similar to SOF).  There are missions for the Marines to do, surely.

And as for what to do with the insurgents, they must be killed or released.  Prisons are not only not helpful in counterinsurgency, they are counterproductive.  As I have said before, prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency.

UPDATE: From The Washington Post:

Even as U.S.-led forces draw down in Afghanistan, U.S. officials expect the number of detainees at their main prison to increase — and by a significant margin.

Officials had already announced that they would retain control of the Parwan Detention Center north of Kabul well beyond the planned 2012 transfer date because of concerns that the Afghan legal system is still too weak. But U.S. officials recently said they intend to solicit contractors to help expand the facility’s capacity from about 3,500 beds to 5,500 beds.

Parwan, which has been expanded previously, holds about 2,500 detainees. Those detainees include high-profile insurgents as well as Afghans who are suspected of playing more of a peripheral role in the conflict.

The construction project “is part of our established and ongoing transition efforts” with the Afghan government, Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for the U.S. task force that oversees detention operations in Afghanistan, said in an e-mail. Aandahl said the expansion was necessary to “accommodate an increase in the number of suspected insurgents being detained as a result of intelligence-based counter- terrorism operations, which we conduct with our Afghan partners.

There is a massive amount of hope in this plan.  It is being planned in order to “accommodate an increase in the number of suspected insurgents being detained as a result of intelligence-based counter- terrorism operations …”  All of which means that the U.S. wants to turn this even more into a SOF High Value Target campaign.  In other words, take that which hasn’t succeeded thus far, and intensify it without the troopers on the ground to supply logistics and security for those who supply intelligence.  This exemplifies the bankruptcy of our military thinking on Afghanistan.


The Long Term Effects of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

The Great Escape – in Afghanistan!

Because Prisons Work So Well In Counterinsurgency

Afghan Prison An Insurgent Breeding Ground

Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

Hamid Karzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

The Long Term Effects Of Prisons In Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 1 month ago

From Al Arabiya:

Corrupt administrators, bribery and political connections are all reasons for the continuous series of prison breakouts, many involving Al Qaeda members who later joined militias.

Around 4,000 militants and terrorists have escaped detention with inside help since 2006, the UAE-based newspaper, The National, reported figures compiled by Iraqi Reconciliation Society (IRS), an independent organization the monitors the country’ jails.

Most of the escapes occurred in Baghdad, the capital that is considered to be the instable and unsecure part in the country, IRS records show.

On May 20, five members from the Mahdi Army broke out of the Taji prison west of Baghdad as they were being transferred to a detention centre in the capital.

In Basra, the extreme south of the country, a parliamentary committee was set up to examine the escape of 12 Al Qaeda figures, some facing death sentences, from an interrogation center in the southern province on January 12.

Suzan Al Saad, a committee member, said the probe had “led directly to senior officials in the prime minister’s office who planned the escape” from Basra.

Information leaked to the media about the committee’s findings said Abdul Karim Abdul Fadel, security adviser to the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, allegedly helped Al Qaeda members escape.

Also named was Brigadier Ali Fadel Omran, a Baghdad military commander, in connection with the escape. He fled the country just as the parliamentary report was being completed.

“There were high-level security officers connected directly to the prime minister’s office who were coming and going from the prison compound and who had no reason to be there because they had no formal involvement in dealing with those prisoners,” Ms. Saad said in an interview.

Haider Al Saadi, a justice ministry spokesman, said in statement after the Taji escape that “weak and corrupted” administrators had let “a large number” of detainees break out.

The ministry’s spokesman also spoke of the ministry’s “serious concerns” over sectarianism among prison officials and said staff was susceptible to “political pressure.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another justice ministry official said there were prisoners with political connections who were “untouchable” while in custody and who eventually were set free because of those connections.

“Some of these prisoners are militants, including Al Qaeda, who enjoy support from political parties,” the official said. He insisted the justice ministry was working to tackle the corruption, which he said had been allowed to flourish for years under previous governments.

Iraq took control of jails previously run by the US military. The last prison under US control, Camp Cropper in Baghdad, was transferred to the Iraqi authorities in July 2010, although some detainees remain in American custody.

The prison breakout series have intensified with the US forces pulling out at the end of the year.

Stop and let that information wash over you again.  Approximately 4000 insurgents have escaped from Iraqi prisons since 2006.  The equivalent of four Battalions.  In addition to not taking the Iranian influence in the region seriously by engaging Iran in the covert war it was waging against both Iraq and the U.S., we (and Iraq) have left Iraq vulnerable to four Battalions of insurgents because of our adolescent belief in the rehabilitative powers of incarceration.

It isn’t surprising, this notion that prisons can effect proper counterinsurgency, given that most of the hard core advocates of population-centric, nation-building COIN are stronger believers in psychology and sociology than in theology.  But in the end, evil is a moral problem, not an epistemological one, and you cannot educate or rehabilitate evil out of mankind.

So the reader knows what I advocate.  Kill or release, but capture is counterproductive.  That offends the sensibilities of many, and so we play this silly game of incarceration – until, that is, the insurgents get released.  And then it’s no longer silly, because by releasing them we continue to allow evil people to perpetrate evil acts.  But by the time this evil would affect our sensibilities, we are long gone and don’t have to watch.  We trade off one thing for another, but the Iraqis are no better for our trade-off.  And the job is not done.

Prior: Prisons in Counterinsurgency Category

The Great Escape – in Afghanistan!

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

Approximately three years ago the Taliban broke more than 1000 prisoners out of a prison near Kandahar, including some 400 Taliban fighters.  It’s happened again with more than 450 insurgents, but this time as a function of an innovative plan from both the inside and outside.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville said prisoners did not break out but in fact people outside broke into the jail.

More than 470 inmates at a prison in southern Afghanistan have escaped through a tunnel hundreds of metres long and dug from outside the jail.

Officials in the city of Kandahar said many of those who escaped from Sarposa jail were Taliban insurgents.

The Kandahar provincial governor’s office said at least 12 had since been recaptured but gave no further details.

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the escape was a “disaster” which should never have happened.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said it had taken five months to build the 360m (1,180ft) tunnel to a cell within the political wing.

He said it was dug from a house north-east of the prison that was rented by “friends” of the Taliban, and had to bypass security checkpoints and the main Kandahar-Kabul road.

About 100 of those who escaped were Taliban commanders, he added. Most of the others are thought to have been insurgents. The prison holds about 1,200 inmates.

“A tunnel hundreds of metres long was dug from the south of the prison into the prison and 476 political prisoners escaped last night,” said prison director General Ghulam Dastageer Mayar.

One escapee told the BBC it had taken him about 30 minutes to walk the length of the tunnel. The escape took most of the night and vehicles were waiting at the exit point to take prisoners away.

Kandahar’s provincial authorities said a search operation was under way.

So far, only about a dozen of the prisoners have been recaptured. Police said they were looking for men without shoes – many escaped barefoot.

The jailbreak is the second major escape from the prison in three years.

In June 2008 a suicide bomber blew open the Kandahar prison gates and destroyed a nearby checkpoint, freeing about 900 prisoners, many of them suspected insurgents.

After that, millions of pounds were spent upgrading the prison. The 2008 breakout was followed by a major upsurge in violence.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says the escape is a further setback for security in the area, and for the fight against the insurgency.

“This is a blow,” Afghan presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said. “A prison break of this magnitude, of course, points to a vulnerability.”

The Afghan politician and former MP, Daoud Sultanzai, told the BBC that the escape exposed “the porousness of our security apparatus”.

In the end it matters little from the vantage point of Taliban fighters in the countryside.  As I have observed before, given the catch-and-release program, the radicalization of half-way insurgents in these prisons, and the reflexive reversion to capture rather than kill, ISAF operations that capture insurgents are becoming a literal joke among the Taliban (see prior articles).  I pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to ISAF press releases that begin with “Taliban fighters detained …”

If this is offensive to sensibilities, if this causes an outcry over advocacy of harsh rules of engagement, if this causes moral preening over the rules of war, then so be it.  Withdraw from Afghanistan and end the campaign now.  In either case, prisons do not work in counterinsurgency.  Kill them or let them go, but putting them into a fake justice system is a worthless enterprise.

On another level, this is bad for the campaign in that it causes continued inability to trust anything associated with the Karzai regime, whether from ineptitude or malfeasance.


Because Prisons Work So Well In Counterinsurgency

Afghan Prison an Insurgent Breeding Ground

Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

Hamid Karzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and the Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Hundreds of Taliban Loose After Prison Break

Because Prisons Work So Well In Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 3 months ago

We’ve discussed the use of prisons in counterinsurgency before, but new reports are interesting, and maybe will even change our minds on the issue.

The Government of Afghanistan decides to set free the jailed Taliban fighters from Afghan jails as part of the Afghan peace process aiming to reintegrate the Taliban rebels with the Afghan government, officials said in Kabul.

The decision takes at the time that the transition of security responsibilities from the international forces to Afghan security forces will start at the mid of July 2011 which is enabling the international forces to pull out troops from Afghanistan.

Officials said that the Afghan government and the reconciliation commission have freed more than 5,000 Taliban rebels from Afghan jails including the Bagram prison running by the United States forces.

According to officials, they aim to encourage the Taliban fighters to give up violence and joint the Government of Afghanistan in an attempt to end up a decade of war in the country.

Recently the Afghan security forces released more than 100 Taliban detainee from prison in Ghazni province in southern Afghanistan where is known as the Taliban stronghold.

Officials in this province said they continue releasing jailed Taliban from government prisons based on the order of the Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Members of the Afghan Peace Council said they took this decision as an “encouragement “for Taliban rebels to lay down arms and join the Afghan government.

However, there are concerns that the newly released Taliban fighters will rejoin the Taliban and will take part in war against the international forces and the Afghan government.

Responding to the concerns that majority of the newly released Taliban go back to Taliban and take part in war against the Afghan government and the international forces, the Afghan peace council said the newly released Taliban members give them “guarantee” that they will never go back to Taliban and stay with their families in Afghanistan.

“We assure the newly freed Taliban members to protect them from night raids and detention by US forces and to find them jobs.” A member of the Afghan Peace Council said.

Meanwhile, Afghan political experts said the reintegrated Taliban members somehow keep their ties with the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan and they are behind terroristic acts in the country.

They said several jailed-free Taliban members were behind the killing of UN staff in Mazar-I-Sharif and during the protest against the burning of Quran by a Florida based priest.

“Those Taliban members provoked the people to kill the UN staff and burn down their office in Balkh province.” Samad Ebrihiami an Afghan journalist and political expert told La

“The jailed-free Taliban members were among the protestors and they were carrying small-arms with themselves.” adds Ebrihiami.

He said this is big concern for the people in Afghanistan because the jailed-free Taliban members are living in nice houses and hotels in Kabul and other province and the Afghan government allows them to carry weapons for their security, and as he said, no one knows what these jailed-free Taliban are doing.

By the way, the Afghan political analysts said freeing of Taliban members from Afghan jails will strengthen the Taliban and will increase the Afghan security crisis.

But surely the Afghan political analysts are wrong about this, because, you know, prisons work so well in counterinsurgency.  Right?  Isn’t that why we’re spending all of this time and manpower and money imprisoning people?  Because it adds to the effectiveness of the campaign?  It adds so much, in fact, that it’s more important to guard prisoners than it is to go on patrol, find and kill insurgents.  Right?

Afghan Prison An Insurgent Breeding Ground

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 4 months 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.


Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

Hamid Kzrzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and the Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

Continuing reports on the use of prisons in counterinsurgency.

A few months after insurgents launched a rocket attack on Kandahar’s air base, US soldiers kicked down Khan Mohammed’s door and whisked the stout, ruddy-faced 27-year-old — blindfolded and handcuffed — to an American prison near Kabul.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, US forces have detained thousands of suspected enemy combatants without trial in facilities such as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and Bagram in Afghanistan. US officials say the detentions prevent attacks, but critics charge that innocent people have been unfairly held for years.

Mohammed’s story illustrates what US officials say is a dramatic shift in policy aimed at treating suspected enemies better, and releasing them sooner.

“We changed everything,’’ said Vice Admiral Robert Harward, head of US detention operations in Afghanistan, who oversees a new, modern prison outside the boundaries of the Bagram Air Base, near Kabul, which officials say emphasizes rehabilitation and release.

Mohammed was taken to the new prison and was brought be fore a military judicial panel within weeks. But his case also reveals how, despite these improvements, the military’s opaque judicial process often seems arbitrary to the local populace and continues to leave some Afghans unappeased.

Sensitive evidence against Mohammed was never shared with him, nor explained to the public. Four months after he was seized, American soldiers issued him a gray coat, a white prayer cap, and a black bag containing a toothbrush, then set him free with little explanation.

His quick release bolstered the belief among some Afghans that he should never have been arrested. Some also say an evolving system of judicial trials for detainees is unfair.

“The perception is still that it is like a black hole,’’ said Hekmat Karzai, a cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, an independent, nongovernmental organization in Kabul that offers legal defense to detainees.

Numbers released by American authorities tell a tale of speedier justice, however. In 2010, as US troops pushed deep into hostile territory, the US-led coalition arrested 6,223 Afghans, the largest number on record, Harward said. But about 5,000 were let go within days, often after tribal elders vowed to keep them out of trouble.

About 1,200 — who had the most damning evidence against them — were sent to the new $60 million US prison facility outside Bagram Air Base. A quarter of them were released within months without a trial.

“There are people who think this is all rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But you have got to hope they succeed,’’ said Eugene Fidell, a professor at Yale Law School and a specialist in the subject of military justice.

Rehabilitation and release.  The report goes on to say that this kinder, gentler, state-of-the-art facility was the brainchild of General McChrystal.  That sounds about right.  We can’t rehabilitate most of the criminals in our own U.S. prisons where we know the culture, know the language, know the people, and own the system.  We can’t manage to effect this rehabilitation because criminality is a moral problem, a problem of evil.  Prisons don’t change a man’s heart.  Much less, then, will we be able to use prisons in Afghanistan to effect rehabilitation.

When the U.S. is seen as short-timers in the campaign and when release is usually just days or weeks away, there is no reason to befriend U.S. troops.  There is no replacement for killing the enemy on the field of battle.  If the naysayer responds that “This violates the Geneva Conventions,” or “That violates our own rules of engagement,” very well.  There are other solutions.  Simply put, kill when we can, but refuse to take prisoners.  It simply does no good.  Or, we can redeploy home and end the campaign.  Either way, pretending that prisons work in counterinsurgency is foolish, and runs counter to the evidence from both Iraq and Afghanistan.  As I have said before, “simply put, prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency.”


Hamid Kzrzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and the Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Hamid Karzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 7 months ago

Regular readers know that I am no proponent of the high value target program.  The middle of the night raids by SOF operators, the temporary stays in prison, the quick release, the lack of embedded of SOF with infantry and thus the lack of participation in the holistic counterinsurgency effort, etc.

While I am not opposed to making life hard for insurgents, I believe that the program is just generally ineffective.  Now comes Hamid Karzai to ensure its complete failure (edited for brevity).

Afghan security forces are freeing captured senior Taliban for payment or political motives, with President Hamid Karzai and his powerful brother among those authorizing and requesting releases.

The practice is so systemic that the Taliban have a committee focused on getting their fighters out of jail. It undermines the deterrent effect of arrest and the potential of the prisoner population as a card to play in peace talks, analysts say.

The releases, which were confirmed to Reuters by several sources familiar with a range of cases, also raise questions about the capacity and political will of Afghan security forces meant to be taking over from foreign troops starting next year.

But cases uncovered by Reuters including that of Ghulam Haidar, a top insurgent in the southern Taliban heartland of Kandahar, suggest that a web of complex loyalties and widespread corruption are undermining the fight against the insurgency.

Ghulam Haidar, meaning “servant of God”, is a common name in Afghanistan so when Canadian forces turned one of the most dangerous men in Kandahar city over to their Afghan counterparts in March, they may not have realized who he was.

Days later he was walking free again, according to three sources who have investigated prisoner releases or have seen documents about Haidar’s capture. They asked not to be named because they are not authorized to release information.

“They took this guy into custody in mid-March, but he was out again in a few days. This is a classic example of what has been happening,” one former Western official told Reuters.

A Kabul-based source with links to Western intelligence services confirmed Haidar was a Taliban leader known to have a major role in the insurgency around the city.

Yet his freedom was requested by Karzai’s younger brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council.

Dubbed “AWK” by Westerners working in Kandahar, he has an iron grip on the city but his loyalties are considered less solid. A U.S. government cable dated 2009, released by WikiLeaks, described him as a corrupt drug trafficker.

“When Ghulam Haidar was in (Afghan) custody AWK asked for his release,” said a second source, who rejected the idea that Haidar could have been set free because he was a double agent.

“If the Afghan government had good agents within the Taliban things should have gotten better — but that is obviously not the case,” the source added.

Ahmad Wali Karzai said he had never asked for the release of a Taliban prisoner and had not heard of Ghulam Haidar.

“I am the person most wanted by the Taliban, with nine suicide attacks against me,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“I would be the last person to release the Taliban — my position is for more tough measures against them.”

The Defence Ministry and National Directorate of Security, President Karzai’s office and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force all declined to respond to questions on Ghulam Haidar’s case or the wider issue of Taliban releases.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which controls the police, said it had not been involved in release of any Taliban.

“We have no evidence and no examples that detained Taliban were released by government officials,” Zemarai Bashary said.

Haidar was one of the most high-profile insurgents in recent years to slip through prisoner release mechanisms that are designed to prevent innocent men from languishing in prison but are regularly exploited by the Taliban to free key commanders.

“The Taliban operate a commission for prisoners affairs and effecting releases is among its responsibilities,” said Michael Semple, a Harvard University fellow with over 20 years experience in Afghanistan and extensive contacts with the Taliban.

“It’s systemic. It is well beyond the level of having the occasional success,” he added.

Another source also confirmed the committee’s existence, although in practical terms most release operations were conceived and directed at the local level.

In cases like Ghulam Haidar, political connections are key.

One of the most high-profile examples in recent years was the 2007 release of Dastagir, a Taliban leader from northwestern Badghis province. President Karzai himself ordered the commander freed after village elders promised he would renounce violence.

His return to battle united feuding Taliban factions and he was personally responsible for the deaths of at least 32 Afghan policemen in attacks he organized before he was killed in 2009, said a government source from western Afghanistan.

Sometimes cash is more effective.

One source told Reuters Ahmad Wali Karzai had paid tens of thousands of dollars to secure the release of another Taliban commander, Anwar Shah Agha, who operates in the area to the west of Kandahar city and was captured in May 2009.

He was released by Afghan security forces in Kabul in March 2010, and has since returned to the battlefield.

Some Taliban are freed legally but with a worrying lack of transparency, said Kate Clark, senior analyst at Afghanistan Analysts Network who has studied Taliban releases. She cited the case of Akbar Agha freed late last year by Karzai.

“He was pardoned secretly and is now living under semi-house arrest. He was quite senior, and put away for kidnapping UN staff including a British woman,” Clark said.

“Pardoning criminals is a constitutional right of the president’s, but the lack of transparency, the fact that he does not necessarily announce the pardons, is concerning for anyone looking at it from a rule-of-law perspective.”

“What are we really fighting for? We risk our lives to catch them and bring them in and then they just release them,” said a Kabul-based source who followed the Ghulam Haidar case.

The releases attracted the notice, and anger, of Karzai’s Western backers, according to a cable released by WikiLeaks.

“Both (Karzai and the attorney general) authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court,” the August 2009 cable from the embassy in Kabul said.

It goes on to list 150 pre-trial releases from one Afghan detention facility since 2007, including 27 prisoners who had been held at Guantanamo Bay by the United States.

The complex lines of the Afghan conflict also mean today’s enemy can be tomorrow’s friend. Ghulam Haidar, for example, is from the Popalzai tribe like the Karzais. Tribal loyalties run deep in Afghanistan.

I predicted that prisons would be problematic in Afghanistan, and they are.  As for the bastard Wali Karzai, it’s no surprise that his name comes up.  We have discussed this man before.

It isn’t just that the high value target campaign is generally ineffective and a misuse of highly skilled SOF troopers, and it is both.  No, it’s more than that.  The Afghanis are conspiring to ensure that what little to moderate effectiveness it could have has been neutered.

Prisons are generally problematic for counterinsurgency.  As I have argued before, there is no replacement for killing the enemy on the field of battle.

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

Regular readers may recall that I vigorously advocated the separation of religious radicals from non-religiously motivated indigenous insurgents in U.S. prisons in Iraq.  It wasn’t nearly enough, and I may have been engaging in a bit of “whistling past the grave yard.”  The true nature of temporary custody in counterinsurgency (COIN) is now being experienced in Iraq.

Al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch has evolved into a homegrown, more lethal and bolder insurgency comprised of Iraqi fighters hardened in U.S. prisons and posing a challenge to Iraqi forces, military officials say.

The insurgency has been strategically weakened by the deaths of leaders, and both its numbers and the territory in which it can maneuver have shrunk since 2006-07, when Sunni tribal chiefs turned on it and joined forces with the U.S. military.

But what Iraqi officials call the “third generation” of al Qaeda in Iraq may be more difficult to fight than before because its fighters can blend in, know the weaknesses of Iraqi society, and are more interested in making a spectacular splash with their attacks than in battlefield victories.

Their assaults are aimed at grabbing attention and rattling the population at a time when sectarian tensions are fraught because of the failure of politicians to agree on a new Iraqi government seven months after an inconclusive election.

“We face the third generation of al-Qaeda now, a generation that mostly graduated from (U.S. detention camps) Bucca, Cropper and other such places,” said Major General Hassan al-Baidhani, chief of staff for the Baghdad operations command.

Al Qaeda has shown “a new type of boldness,” attacking heavily protected targets and security forces head on, Baidhani told Reuters. “This strategy depends basically on shock. They are not looking for success as much as looking for attention.”

[ … ]

In the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the Bush administration accused Saddam Hussein’s regime of having links to al Qaeda as part of its campaign to bolster support for war.

No ties were ever proven but al Qaeda was quick to take advantage of the post-invasion chaos to establish a presence in Iraq.

The first generation of al Qaeda on Iraq’s battlefields were primarily Arabs from abroad. The second was a mix of foreign and Iraqi Sunnis angered by the invasion and the rise to power of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority after the fall of Saddam, Sunni.

Now as Iraqi security forces take center stage after U.S. troops halted combat operations in August prior to a full withdrawal in 2011, they face a homegrown threat composed of young radicals who fervently believe in jihad, or holy war.

We have attempted to pacify the population by temporarily holding violent jihadists, only to see them released by fiat from Hamid Karzai.  So it’s happening even earlier in Afghanistan than it did in the campaign for Iraq.

It isn’t working in Afghanistan.  It didn’t work in Iraq.  We can preen over our strict adherence to the laws of armed conflict, and we can take comfort in our loyalty to the rules of engagement.  But the bottom line is that while we sit comfortable and proud in our moral uprightness, Iraq is now dealing with radicalized jihadists who are also now hardened criminals set free to perpetrate their violence on the population.  We harm others by our stubborn morality (but it makes us feel good because we ignore that part of it).

Biblical justice was retributive, with violent actions dealt with by execution.  Nonviolence crimes were dealt with by working the offense off rather than something so harsh as incarceration, and prisons were not even conceived until the notion of the rehabilitative powers of incarceration were conceived.

We aren’t dealing with the violent offenders harshly enough, but the flip side of the coin is that reflexive incarceration should be avoided because it makes the situation worse.  There is no rehabilitative power in prisons per se, and even if our refined, Western sensibilities don’t want to deal harshly enough with violent offenders, it pays to understand that prisons are no solution to the problem.  If you don’t believe in the Biblical system of retribution and restoration, then so be it, but one needs to recognize the fact that the problem doesn’t go away with prisons.  It is only delayed and exacerbated.  So a different solution is necessary.  One solution is not to engage in counterinsurgency operations.

Simply put, prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency.  Pretending that they do is self deception.


Jirgas and Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prions in Counterinsurgency

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