Tag Archives: Tribes

Coalition vs. Culture

As navy lore goes, submariners deploy as 110 men and return as 55 couples.  But hey, they’re not gay because they are deployed, right?

Holding hands, beard rubs, chai boys, dancing boys, and Bacha Bazi.  It’s ok because it’s Afghanistan, right?

A Human Terrain Team (HTT) attached to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Battalion in Helmand province documented even more hideous cultural norms among the friendly, peace-loving, muslims that make up much of the country in a report documenting the culturally accepted pedophilia embedded in the Pashtun culture of Afghanistan:  Pashtun Sexuality.  Attributing much of the behavior to misapplication of principles from the Koran, the breadth of deviance from western cultural norms speak to deeply-rooted beliefs that are nearly incompatible with a healthy society and are unlikely to be overcome with computers and literacy training:

[A U.S. Army medic] and her male colleagues were approached by a local gentleman seeking advice on how his wife could become pregnant.  When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked “How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean?  Surely this must be wrong.”

Fox News uncovered the HTT report in January 2010 and filed this report:  Afghan Men Struggle With Sexual Identity, Study Finds.  Save yourself the read–Afghans are not “struggling” with their sexual identity; they are completely comfortable with it.  PBS filed the documentary, The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, in April of 2010 which exposes the sex-trade in the country where families sell there sons to wealthy men for entertainment.  In Afghanistan, such Bacha Bazi are regarded as a status symbol.

Do U.S. senior leaders read these stories?  What do they think, “Let’s teach women to fly helicopters and then the men will desire them instead of boys?”  The culture has marginalized women so much than men prefer boys over women!  What are we thinking when we try to integrate women into the ANSF (at great expense no less)?  That somehow the men will respect them and finally find them “clean?”

The opening lines of Maura Reynolds’ Los Angeles Times report in April 2003 gives the following account:

In his 29 years, Mohammed Daud has seen the faces of perhaps 200 women. A few dozen were family members. The rest were glimpses stolen when he should not have been looking and the women were caught without their face-shrouding burkas. “How can you fall in love with a girl if you can’t see her face?” he asks. 

Daud is unmarried and has sex only with men and boys. But he does not consider himself homosexual, at least not in the Western sense. “I like boys, but I like girls better,” he says. “It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful.  But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is  beautiful.”

These stories reflect behavior embedded far more deeply than most westerners think.  It’s natural to think “They’re just like us” but spend a little time with them and you learn that they do think differently.  That said, attempts to westernize their military and modernize their country reflect just as greatly on the coalition as Afghan behavior does their culture.  The big question is not “can Afghanistan be a stable hedge against terrorism” but “can a culture so foreign to the west sustain a modern, pro-western government military?”  As an aside, is the behaviour environmentally or genetically driven?

At least in Iraq some of the men like women:  an Iraqi officer (with four wives) offered a concubine to a fellow officer in Iraq, “because it was unacceptable for a man to abstain from sex during long separations from wives” and “it was ok in Islam.” 

Where the hadiths speak of 72 virgins, the Pashtuns are not thinking of 72 women.  Blame it on their DNA.

Laying the Groundwork for Civil War

Dec. 5, 2011 Cover Page

Wow.  

Rarely am I so dumbfounded that I cannot conjure up some cynicism to summarize another’s viewpoint on Afghanistan.   

No amount of commentary could replace reading the entire article Laying the Groundwork for Civil War written by Christoph Reuter for Der Spiegel.

Being hardheaded, I will provide a glimpse with a few interesting quotes.  Make no mistake. . . these snippets  are no substitute for reading the entire article.

At the grand council, or loya jirga, held in mid-November, the delegates argued less passionately over a strategic agreement with the United States than over who was to be appointed to the 39th of 40 committees — until they decided to simply skip the number. “In Afghanistan, the number 39 has a very strange meaning which it is not fair for me to tell you,” said jirga spokeswoman Safia Sediqi.

The Afghan government troops do go into combat, but only when the soldiers haven’t just gone AWOL for weeks, or when their officers haven’t been selling gasoline on the black market. On several occasions, the Bundeswehr soldiers in Kunduz have used cameras and night-vision devices to observe their Afghan allies siphoning off gasoline from their own vehicles at night. General Fazil, who was the commander of an army unit in Kunduz until last year, was notorious for stealing and selling tens of thousands of liters of the army’s diesel fuel every month. His nickname among the Germans was “Diesel Fazil.” He had even got the gasoline-stealing expeditions organized for a period when he was attending training for senior staff in Germany.

“The [Americans] are all assholes. Assholes!” It isn’t that they are bad people, Nadir says, toning his rhetoric down a notch, but because they have spent billions to train an army of corrupt opportunists whose loyalty, if they have any at all, is reserved for their own ethnic group. “Without the Americans,” Nadir predicts, “our army will break up into Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara units.”

. . . the Taliban, who, according to NATO, must be defeated if stability is to be restored . . .

The Americans are not repeating the mistakes of the Russians, as they are often accused of doing, but are in fact making their own. Just as they armed warlords and war criminals in the 1980s to fight the Soviet occupation and again in 2002, merely because they were the enemies of their enemies, they are now turning gangsters into allies.

“What we are now seeing,” explains Ruttig, “is an uncontrolled proliferation of competing militias, as well as oversized armed forces whose loyalties tend to lie with their former commanders rather than the Kabul government — and with nothing that could hold them together, especially not after a withdrawal of the Western troops. This is a recipe for civil war.”

So much for the guarded optimism:  Laying the Groundwork for Civil War.

The Nazis per se were not our enemy

If you thought President George Bush was an idiot, what would you call Vice President Joe Biden?  From The Daily Beast:

Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:

One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.

Isn’t the enemy of our friend our enemy too?  Perhaps the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan really isn’t a friend. . .

Then there are the defenders:  Why Biden Isn’t Necessarily Wrong About the Taliban.  The writer of this OpEd, Mr. Kerry Patton, states that a lazy American culture has rushed to label everyone and in so doing has wrongfully labelled everyone (isn’t ‘lazy American’ a label?).  The grave injustice?  The word “taliban” simply comes from the Arabic word Talib meaning “student” so to call anything “Taliban” is indifinitive, spurious, and reckless.

Mr. Patton then admits what everyone else knows, that there is indeed a real Taliban militant group (maybe that is the one the lazy Americans are referring to).   No one in the Coalition countries–except for Vice President Biden–is thinking of the little girls at  Bibi Mahru High School in Wazir Akbar Khan when they speak of the Taliban.

Anyone paying attention knows that every warlord in Afghanistan is not a friend of the Taliban.  But this Presidency is so much smarter than us doofuses that put them in office.  Just make sure to get them on the same teleprompter:

“Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I have argued for years that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq. – I will make the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be.

– President Obama, July 15, 2008

“The fight” to which the President refers must be synonymous to the fighting between two brothers arguing over their Tonka trucks while throwing sand on each other during the family vacation to the beach–except for the water.

With all the clarity of a person not limited by logic, gravity, or planetary motion, Mr. Patton begins wrapping up his drivel with this gem:  “In Afghanistan, our enemy may or may not be the Taliban.”  Time to update the map of COIN Dynamics.

Then again, we botched the whole World War II thing; Nazis may or may not have been bad guys.

Continue reading

Land Rush in Afghanistan

One of the difficult things about construction for the ANA is finding suitable land.  Much of the land has disputed ownership because, over the last 40 years, land has been given away by warlords, Russians, Afghans, and now much of it is squatted on my Americans or NATO forces.  This Christian Science Monitor article captures the problem:

What may be a bigger threat to Afghanistan than insurgency? Land disputes.

Even corrupt ANA leaders, when they aren’t shaking down construction contractors, are selling portions of their garrisons, land that isn’t their’s, to make some money on the side.  Often when we start construction, we’ll run into squatters living on the sites claiming ownership. 

While we may have the “rights” to construct and kick the squatters off the site, it is complicated.  In our counter-insurgency operation (COIN), our goal is to gain the trust of the citizenry.  Offending the locals by simply moving in with brute force will not only give the construction contractor trouble later on but also be counter-productive to engendering confidence the U.S. and the Afghan government.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

Ecclesiastes 1:9, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Nothing should be a surprise by now.  The Afghan National Police (ANP) (the other half of the Afghan National Security Forces) has appointed the warlord Mattiullah Khan as the Provincial Chief of Police for Uruzgan Province, just North of Kandahar, in the central part of the country. 

On my “Support your local warlord” post, I discussed Khan’s influence throughout the North Kandahar and Uruzgan Provinces.  As the articles above address, there is some fear of reigniting rivalries and targeting neutral tribes which could create security issues as the U.S. (and NATO) begin to draw down.

Most of our problems in Afghanistan stem from a lack of decentralized authority.  Quite literally, if a one-star general in Herat wants to replace a door-knob, he has to get about 13 signatures and approval from the Minister of Defense.  Larger purchases require President of Afghanistan approval. 

This may sound crazy but this reflects the tribal culture of Afghanistan–the Tribal Elder(s) make all the decisions.  This is how Afghanistan has operated for thousands of years and continues to operate despite our best efforts to westernize it. 

Proverbs 29:1, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”

If we really want to succeed, our best route is to embrace the tribal culture.  Creating a unipolar government will make that government either powerless (due to tribal tendancies) or a constant target for overthrow.  There is disagreement by the experts whether a multipolar society can be stable.  But we aren’t willing to spend the time (generations) and money (trillions) to convert the prevalent attitudes. 

By embracing the natural multipolar culture, we don’t look like occupiers, establish truly recognized leadership throughout the country, develop relationships with more than one organization and thereby reduce the risk associated with our alignment with the often questioned validity of any one organization.

An excellent read is “One Tribe at a Time” by MAJ Jim Gant.  This is the view from a guy on the ground, working with tribal leaders who understands the personal and embedded motivations of the Afghans (as opposed to a chump that sits in air conditioned office spending billions of taxpayer dollars pontificating on the trade-offs of various forms of nation-state governance).

Proverbs 6:23, “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:”