Tag Archives: Warlords

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.

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).

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:”