Last week our group spent some time discussing the international community’s last footprint in Afghanistan, which, according to Seth Jones, is an indirect cause of the growing insurgency. Yesterday, we went one step further and explored the power vacuum that, since 2005/2006, permits the resurgence of the Taliban. Very much like in the early 1990s, the Taliban manage to take advantage of the lack of local governance and justice to rise again, using a mix of propaganda, coercion and intimidation to gain some popular support in rural areas. Confronted to violence and insecurity, it seems that people tend to side with whoever is more likely to bring them some sort of stability and justice. It is a trade-off between freedom and security. In practical terms, it means that Taliban supporters and sympathizers do not necessarily share their ideology.
However, they often share the Taliban hatred towards the Afghan government and/or coalition forces. Aerial bombings play an important role in the growing insurgency. Civilian casualties fuel people’s anger and shape their perceptions of the international community. It creates new insurgents every day. Indiscriminate violence turns out to be counterproductive and coalition forces have difficulties winning Afghan hearts and minds. Both make extensive use of propaganda tools. The Taliban use Islam to undermine their enemy and legitimize their own cause, while ISAF undertakes psychological operations (PSYOPs) to influence people’s emotions, motives and perceptions. In this context, it is often very difficult to know the truth.
Insecurity is a vicious circle. It keeps the Afghan government and the international community away from unsafe areas, whose population progressively side with insurgents against a government which is incapable of delivering. The security situation in these areas deteriorates to such extent that coalition forces are reluctant to send their nationals on the ground. (This in turn creates tensions among coalition partners). They thus rely on aerial bombings, which, as previously mentioned, create more anger and fuel the insurgency.
In such a complex environment, what options do the Afghan government and the international community have to fill the security vacuum? Different solutions have already been explored. We mentioned in class the failure of the auxiliary police experiment, due to a lack of legitimacy at the local level. We also briefly discussed the idea of forming village and tribal militias modeled on the Sons of Iraq. One might argue that at least they would have some legitimacy in the eyes of the local population. But even that is a subject for debate. For example, how do we define legitimacy? Other possible options include relying on regional strongmen such as governor Atta (Balkh) or governor Sherzai (Nangarhar), or sending more foreign troops to conduct a surge of operations, like in Iraq. All these different scenarios involve necessary trade-offs and need to be discussed in further details. We will in the following weeks, as we start looking at the current counterinsurgency strategy (COIN).