Tag Archives: Taliban

Picture of Afghanistan post-2014 not pretty

In August 2012, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the liberal Brookings Institution gave testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, documented in Afghan National Security Forces: Afghan Corruption and the Development of an Effective Fighting Force

Even though this may be the current regime’s think-tank, Felbab-Brown gives quite an indictment of the Obama policy and her expert opinion painted a bleak picture for the future.  Some excerpts follow:

Despite the substantial improvements of Afghan security forces, few Afghans believe that a better future is on the horizon after 2014.

[Afghans] are profoundly dissatisfied with Kabul’s inability and unwillingness to provide basic public services and with the widespread corruption of the power elites. Afghan citizens intensely resent the abuse of power, impunity, and lack of justice that have become entrenched over the past decade. During that period of the initial post-Taliban hope and promise, governance in Afghanistan became defined by weakly functioning state institutions unable and unwilling to uniformly enforce laws and policies. Official and unofficial powerbrokers have issued exceptions from law enforcement to their networks of clients, who have thus been able to reap high economic benefits, and can get away even with major crimes. Murder, extortion, and land theft have gone unpunished, often perpetrated by those in the government. At the same time, access to jobs, promotions, and economic rents has depended on being on good terms with the local strongman, instead of merit and hard work.

Yet as the decade comes to a close, the political patronage networks too have been shrinking and becoming more exclusionary. Local government officials have had only a limited capacity and motivation to redress the broader governance deficiencies. The level of inter-elite infighting, much of it along ethnic and regional lines, is at a peak. The result is pervasive hedging on the part of key powerbrokers, including their resurrection of semi-clandestine or officially-sanctioned militias. Hedging against a precariously uncertain future is equally pervasive on the part of ordinary Afghans. Especially in the Pashtun areas that constitute the Taliban heartland, they will often send one son to join the ANA, and another to join the Taliban, and possibly a third son to join the local strongman’s militia, to maximize the chances of being on the winning side, whoever will control the area where they live after 2014.

The ANA appears to be increasingly weakened by corruption. This development is not new, but it may be intensifying. In some of the best kandaks, excellent soldiers are not being promoted because they do not have influential friends. Conversely, many extra positions, at the level of colonel, for example, are being created so that commanders can give payoffs to their loyal supporters. Soldiers from marginalized groups, without powerful patrons, or simply those who cannot afford to pay a bribe, are being repeatedly posted to tough environments whereas their better-positioned compatriots get cushier postings. Clamping down on such corruption is as important as increasing the ANA numbers.

The ANP has of course been notorious both for such intense ethnic factionalization, as well as for corruption. It is important that the international community continue to demand credible progress against both vices and carefully assesses whether personnel shifts are indeed motivated by efforts to reduce corruption or mask further ethnic rifts and the firing of one’s ethnic rivals.

But the ANP critically continues to lack an anti-crime capacity, and the anti-crime training it receives is minimal. Instead, the ANP is being configured as a light counterinsurgency and SWAT-like counterterrorism force. Yet, crime — murders, robberies, and extortion — are the bane of many Afghans’ daily existence. The inability of the Afghan government to respond to such crimes allows the Taliban to impose its own brutal forms of order and justice and to develop a foothold in Afghan communities. Worse yet, the ANP remains notorious for being the perpetrator of many crimes. 

The political and governance system in Afghanistan is, in fact, so pervasively corrupt and so deeply and intricately linked to key structures of power and networks of influence, that some prioritization of anti-corruption focus is required.

This all appears to be very much in line with the military thinking and there are no real surprises.  That it is public

Corruption, corruption, corruption. . .  In 2014 after 6 years of President Obama fighting the “right war,” it will still be George W. Bush’s fault.

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Lactation and world peace linked?

This crazy headline from www.foreignpolicy.com caught my eye:  Clinton:  State drawing down in Afghanistan, building more lactation rooms in Washington.  The caption says it all regarding the State Department priorities. 

The headline wasn’t given a second thought at the time except to thing “more excess government spending.”   However, a very interesting thing caught my eye a couple of weeks later.  Perhaps these lactation rooms have some mystical power that we should have harnessed long ago–the Special Operators are apparently interested in them and planning for them at their facilities too:

Notice the label in the upper right of the site plan

Maybe the reason the Taliban is still mad at us is that we are only building for temporary lactation.  A little obtuse fun at the expense of our Afghan translators–the intended word is “location.”

But seriously–forget lasers, smart bombs, special tactics, and non-lethal weapons–maybe the Secretary of State is really on to something.  Lactation (and literacy centers) may bring the enemy to their knees.

Truth, lies and Afghanistan

Armed Forces Journal publishes another reality-check for the war (or whatever we are doing) in Afghanistan.  LTC Daniel L. Davis writes the latest feature, “Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down.”

There are plenty of good news stories in Afghanistan but even the PAO’s best efforts can’t keep up with the bad-news stories.  LTC Davis sobers up the most optimistic American by reviewing conditions on the ground 10 years after our war in Afghanistan started.  First hand accounts demonstrate that the Afghans are far from taking over security in any meaningful way but one wouldn’t know any better from the open-source reporting.

Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies is quoted by Davis with the following: 

Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively ‘spinning’ the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full-scale of the challenges ahead. They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to ‘spin’ the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control.

Politics theoretically stop at the water’s edge.  Clearly politics is driving how and why we continue in Afghanistan.  Certainly there are other factors at play such as our ability to keep Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan long after we “leave.”  But, as asked by Davis, at what price?  Is the full price even recognized?  Put yourself in the shoes of this officer’s shoes:  “How do I look [my soldier’s] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”

The Afghans recognize the price that will be paid and are taking action.  From one advisor, “Already all across this region [many elements of] the security forces have made deals with the Taliban.  [The ANSF] won’t shoot at the Taliban, and the Taliban won’t shoot them.”  For those that can’t flee the country, survival takes on many different forms.  Is anyone surprised by the self-preservation? 

Davis completes his essay with the following:

When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be.  U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose.  That is the very essence of civilian control of the military.  The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years.  Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

Generals will be quick to point out, “Hope is not a plan.”  If so, why is it the only logical thing that explains the current conditions?

All the world’s an asylum

The Associated Press exposes an interesting leading indicator in the report posted at FoxNews.com, Afghan asylum bids hit 10-year high.  “More Afghans fled the country and sought asylum abroad in 2011 than in any other year since the start of the decade-long war, suggesting that many are looking for their own exit strategy as international troops prepare to withdraw.”

The announced end date for our presence in Afghanistan is going to suck more than just troops out of the country; anyone with the means and sense to leave will probalby not delay much longer (i.e. the people needed here if this country is to have a chance).  The quotes from the ‘man-on-the-street’ in the AP report likely reflect the dominant perspective of the al-Gaeda (see Confessions of a Mullah Warrior, Masood Farivar, p. 290) but will certainly be discounted by Washington as anecdotal.

Regarding the “progress” the coalition is making:

“I don’t think anything will improve in three or five years, so it’s better to leave now,” said Ahmad, who expects to leave for Iran within a few weeks. He asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of being arrested.  “If foreign troops leave, the situation will only get worse, not better,” he said.

 Regarding the influence of the Taliban:

Some Afghans fear that once most foreign troops leave, the Taliban will take over more territory and civil war could erupt along ethnic lines, as it did in the 1990s.

[Esmat Adine] says he left his wife and infant son at home in Afghanistan and paid $5,000 to travel to Australia after the Taliban threatened to kill him for working with American aid workers.

Regarding the economy:

Others worry the Afghan economy will collapse if foreign aid dries up.

There is little doubt that the coalition demand for goods and services has inflated prices in Afghanistan.  Many planners assume a decrease in such costs when the ‘big money’ leaves which will stretch the foreign aid dollars provided.  I’m not an economist but this may not happen as hoped; rapid deflation will result in a decrease in purchasing power leaving merchants unable to sell their products, unable to buy new product, unable to pay their employees.  The result is a downward spiraling economy (F.A. Hayek is rolling over in his grave after that analysis).

Another common perception is that the Afghans that assisted the U.S. and Coalition in any way will be the first targets when security decreases and the Taliban or Haqqani Network moves to restore their prominence in the country.  The one silver lining of announcing a withdrawal date is that those friendly (or at least neutral) to the U.S. have a chance of survival by preparing now. 

In any case, while the numbers in Afghanistan of those that like us will decrease significantly after we leave, the number of people that don’t like us will probably remain unchanged.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

–Shakespeare, As You Like It

One man’s warlord is another man’s police chief

A little good news is always worth passing on.

This blogger has grown to support the idea of putting the warlords friendly (or at least not opposed to) to the U.S. in positions of official power and responsibility.  An example of this is the appointment of Mattiulah Khan as the Provincial Chief of Police (PCOP) in Uruzgan. 

Since Khan’s taking office, he has been targeted by the Taliban but has survived and the locals are taking note of the security improvements in his province.  The Victoria Times Colonist of Canada filed this report essentially endorsing the appointment of the warlord as the PCOP:  Column: A rare sign of hope in Afghanistan.

Pockets of sanity in Afghanistan will prevail long after the U.S. departs but are unlikely to be in a western image.  The secure areas will largely homogenous groups united around their culture (Bamiyan) and/or leaders (such as Mattiulah Khan).  Few believe a central government in Kabul has any chance of lasting power without western intervention and money; federalism may be the only solution to retaining some image of a unified Afghanistan.

Lessons Ignored, Part II: Who needs doctrine?

Maybe I’ve overreached concerning the importance of doctrine.  Apparently the success of the United States’ military is not because of a well understood core of doctrine but because of our disregard for it:

One of the serious problems in planning the fight against American doctrine, is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine.

–From a Soviet Junior Officer’s Notebook

NTM-A is following this doctrinal anarchy to the letter.  Some years ago, doctrine was written for the ANSF.  Since that time, hoards of Americans, Europeans, and other supporters have flooded the country (6-12 months at a time) and not only disregarded that doctrine but layered their own view of how an Army (or Police) ought to run.  Given the disdain the average soldier has for doctrine, their view of how things run is unlikely to be anything similar to anyone else, even if from the same background!

So instead of following any doctrine (good, bad, or indifferent), we train them from the beginning to disregard it and “fight on the fly.”  This probably works satisfactorily for the Taliban, Mujahideen, Hakkani Network, and warlords. 

Given the precedent  for new militaries, the entire U.S. effort will collapse under its own weight without a well established and understood doctrine forming the principles and common language from which all forces can operate (see FM 3.0, Appendix D).

Waging peace

As leaked by the White House, Congress, and/or the National Intelligence Council, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has uncovered a gem:  The Taliban (not to be confused with the girls at Kabul’s Raba-e-Balkhi High School) want to create their own utopia in Afghanistan.

McClatchy’s Washington Bureau released this information earlier this month in the report, “Intelligence report:  Taliban still hope to rule Afghanistan.” 

Given that the smartest President in the history of the United States can only assemble a National Intelligence Council capable of producing the obvious, it is fitting that he would think it’s possible to negotiate peace with the Taliban:

Obama has said repeatedly that the longest war in U.S. history can be settled only through negotiations between the Afghan government and the insurgents — not by force.

The report also states that the CENTCOM and ISAF Commanders and the U.S. Ambassador believe that the NIE is overly pessimistic.  But with car bombs still exploding during the “off-season” and Commanding Generals’ poor track-record in assessing conditions in Afghanistan, it’s hard to object to the leaked reports. 

Perhaps U.S. policy should adjust to the intel report accordingly.  But in an election year, that wouldn’t appease the political base.