Towards a Tribal Engagement Strategy?

This week, our group was supposed to talk about counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. Instead, we got carried away into an intense discussion about tribal engagement. Students were presented with Major Jim Gant’s One Tribe at a Time, a document as fascinating as it is controversial. Since it was published in 2009, the report has been widely circulated and discussed in the U.S. military. I myself had the opportunity to attend a workshop devoted to tribal engagement. Findings are all available online and definitely worth looking at for anyone interested in the Afghan conflict (Tribal Engagement Workshop 2010).

In One Tribe at a Time, Gant lays out a tribal engagement strategy, aimed at filling up the security vacuum the Taliban have been so eager to take advantage of. According to him:

We must work first and forever with the tribes for they are the most important military, political and cultural units in that country. The tribes are self-contained fighting units who will fight to the death for their tribal family’s honor and respect (Gant, 2009: 4).

As he acknowledges himself in the report, Gant’s entire premise is based on his own experience in Konar Province (Eastern Afghanistan) in 2003. Since then, tribal engagement has been successfully implemented in Iraq (although the ‘Sunni Awakening’ initiative has also been deeply criticized), which strongly influenced the debate on tribal engagement in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the Afghan context is very different from the Iraqi situation.

Tribal structures are not present everywhere in Afghanistan, and when they are, they do not work like the ones in Iraq. They are also different from one place to another. Kandahari tribes are for example very different from the one Gant embedded with in Konar. Hierarchical structures are dissimilar, and that alone, jeopardizes the implementation of a tribal engagement strategy. It is hard to determine whether hierarchical tribal structures would be strong enough to maintain discipline among newly armed fighters. Tribal institutions have suffered from thirty years of war, and in some places, even the existence of ‘legitimate’ tribal leaders is questionable. Truly local leaders are hard to identify. Assuming that it is possible, it would require a lot of human intelligence.

Legitimacy is another issue that the coalition must consider before engaging with tribes. How do we, as outsiders, define a ‘legitimate’ tribal leader? How do we choose? It goes without saying that meddling into Afghan local politics has proved lethal in the past. Empowering some local actors over others will necessarily create winners and sour losers. Skirmishes between Shinwari sub-tribes already led to bloody shootouts, and there is no reason to believe that these tensions will disappear. Both international observers and the Afghan government therefore fear that empowering non-state actors could backfire and lead to a re-balkanization of the country. Any sustainable solution would thus require the integration of the tribal security apparatus into the national one. It is, of course, easier said than done. The Afghan government is highly unpopular in most of these communities, and international funding is also in short supply – especially since many donors fear that tribal engagement would lead to a new era of looting and warlordism.

For all these reasons, and many more, the implementation of a tribal engagement strategy in Afghanistan has been really controversial.  Most of the participants to the previously-mentioned Tribal Engagement Workshop instead favored a more flexible ‘community engagement’ strategy, that could, on a case by case basis, be adapted to different social environments. In any case, empowering and arming non-state actors, be they tribal leaders or village elders, seems to be the way the United States is leaning towards. The discussion on militias is far from over!

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About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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24 Responses to Towards a Tribal Engagement Strategy?

  1. Valkyrie says:

    This is going to be very short (because I have weekend time off and plan on catching up on all of my reading and blogging before Saturday), so here are a few thoughts…

    First off, tribal units are more cohesive, because our ancestors evolved in smaller groups and are therefore, extremely well adapted to such units (I also believe there’s some research indicating an optimum size for military units, as well, but I cannot recall where, specifically, I recall reading that).

    Secondly, the idea of arming non-state actors sounds controversial. Imagine if some outside nation decided to help arm the Montana militias in the USA during some type of social chaos over here. How absurd would that seem? Oh, and let’s assume there’s already an issue of lack of absolute trust, but much ambivalence, instead, on top of it all.

    It just sounds iffy.

    They need to be connected to a legitimate central government, somehow, which seems to be just as big a problem (so much corruption in government; who’s “legitimate” in the central government to begin with, let alone figuring out a legit tribal leader?).

    Finally, the next time the USA and allies decide to go to war with anyone, anywhere, even if due to an attack on US soil, there had better be a plan to stabilize the place in the aftermath (even if it’s just a rough plan). Because THAT is the colossal problem, here!

  2. This is not a comment on the current topic but since we are going to talk about Pakistan on Monday, here is something relevant and eye-opening about the political discourse in Pakistan. If anyone is interested in knowing what they are saying, I can attempt to translate (whatever can be heard above the din).
    http://cafepyala.blogspot.com/2010/11/level-of-political-discourse.html

  3. Kredox says:

    I am just a little skeptical about Tribal Engagement Strategy due to the history of long recent civil war in Afghanistan. Empowering tribal leaders and giving them weapons would only create more tension and fighting among tribes (because we might legitimate the leader who is not that powerful after-all) and between tribes. Why we assuming that because of the spread of Taliban tribes became more united and would agree to fight only Taliban and not each other. It seems that Taliban actually became popular and more powerful due to people’s need of legitimate power they did not have. I don’t think anything changed in legitimacy of tribal leaders except maybe it gone from weak to non-existent since our invasion.
    For example, let’s take Chicago, gang-violence is rising every year but we are not distributing weapons to villages and common people, contrary we have programs to take out weapons from the street because it will actually decrease violence. What we are doing instead is increasing police patrolling the streets and neighboring watching programs.
    Going back to Afghanistan, my opinion is firm, that we need more troops and more intelligence in Afghanistan. As well as interacting more with village people in order to identify and isolate the enemy. I know, that it is sounds idealistic due to our inability to increase the numbers of troops and keep them in Afghanistan until the government will take over the situation, but I think it is the only rational way out.

    • Valkyrie says:

      For example, let’s take Chicago, gang-violence is rising every year but we are not distributing weapons to villages and common people, contrary we have programs to take out weapons from the street because it will actually decrease violence.

      Guns, themselves, do not kill people; people with ill intentions, who use guns to carry out those intentions, are the ones who are deadly.

      I do not believe that taking out weapons will “actually decrease violence,” as you’d have to only remove them from the gang members, who make money off anything that’s considered illegal (or “black market”).

      They make money off drugs and weapons, because the good guys (read: the cops) are busy trying to get the drugs and weapons out of their scruffy little gang-banger paws. And I do mean cops who are not corrupt, by the way, when referring to them as the “good guys” (as we all know, it depends on the cop–some are corrupt, too!). In theory, the cops are the “good guys” (perhaps that’s the better way to phrase it).

      I’m not arguing that gang-members shouldn’t be disarmed (they should!), but just wanted to point out that it’s not the guns, alone, that are the problem; it’s the people who misuse and abuse guns that are the problem (as are those who don’t lock them up–to keep kids away from them).

      What we are doing instead is increasing police patrolling the streets and neighboring watching programs.

      I think there’s a program in the City of Chicago, within the Chicago PD, that figures out where MOST of the violence is concentrated, and then police are assigned heavier presence in those areas, specifically. Sounds like an intelligent way to police the worse neighborhoods, but only a small solution to the problem (economic issues, lack of jobs, and just plain bad parenting–or non-parenting, in the case of males who merely act as sperm donors–factor in, too).

      Going back to Afghanistan, my opinion is firm, that we need more troops and more intelligence in Afghanistan. As well as interacting more with village people in order to identify and isolate the enemy. I know, that it is sounds idealistic due to our inability to increase the numbers of troops and keep them in Afghanistan until the government will take over the situation, but I think it is the only rational way out.

      Agree with kredox, but that’s the main problem, that the government needs to take charge (and a legitimate and capable government, too!).

      It keeps going in dysfunctional circles (like Karmic Law, only really negative, instead of positive). The government lacks credibility as a force able to keep law and order, hence the security and power vacuum filled by anyone stronger, followed by international military intervention, followed by an insurgency, which creates more civil unrest, and so on and so on, ad infinitum.

      To fix the mess, everything that should work to improve the situation needs to be implemented, as a strategy, all at the same time, if the cycle of chaos is to be broken at some point. How do you get a legitimate and credible government presence going ASAP?

      I’m not answering that, because I’m asking. I don’t know! LOL

      Anyone know? We’ve not covered the topic “How to Kick a Bleep-ed Up and Dysfunctional Government in the (expletive deleted)” yet.

  4. Boyer says:

    Secondly, the idea of arming non-state actors sounds controversial. Imagine if some outside nation decided to help arm the Montana militias in the USA during some type of social chaos over here. How absurd would that seem? Oh, and let’s assume there’s already an issue of lack of absolute trust, but much ambivalence, instead, on top of it all.

    You’re right – arming militias in an advanced Western nation seems silly. In irregular warfare, though, it makes a lot of sense. Militias have several advantages to include bonafide street cred, knowledge of the local area of operations (i.e. intelligence), they’re cheaper to finance, and lastly, they’re not us. There is always a risk in arming a militia – you might be creating another problem. At the same time, militias have been successfully employed in several insurgencies, to include the Rhodesian Bush War and the Algerian Civil War. If these militias are properly mentored by US advisors, we can reduce some of the risk that they’ll misbehave. US advisors can provide incentives that the Taliban cannot (money, weapons, prestige through community works).

    Empowering tribal leaders and giving them weapons would only create more tension and fighting among tribes (because we might legitimate the leader who is not that powerful after-all) and between tribes. Why we assuming that because of the spread of Taliban tribes became more united and would agree to fight only Taliban and not each other.

    Very true. Our choice of who to empower rests on knowledge of the human terrain. It takes awhile, but our intelligence, special operations, and conventional units are typically able to figure out who we should empower. It doesn’t always work, and we don’t always get it right, but there’s enough of a benefit to this type of strategy that taking risk is acceptable. They might fight one another, but that’s a conflict that has to be resolved at a the local-political level. Again, this is a risk that advisors can help mitigate.

    Going back to Afghanistan, my opinion is firm, that we need more troops and more intelligence in Afghanistan. As well as interacting more with village people in order to identify and isolate the enemy. I know, that it is sounds idealistic due to our inability to increase the numbers of troops and keep them in Afghanistan until the government will take over the situation, but I think it is the only rational way out.

    Sounds perfectly rational, but it’s not going to happen.

    1) More troops in Afghanistan? Don’t count on it. Given the political and economic climate, the existing strain on the military, and the weak strategic position the U.S. would put itself in, this option is unlikely.

    2) More intelligence/Separating the “fish” from the sea: How does one do this? If you’re a foreigner who barely speaks the language, how do you know if there’s someone in the village who doesn’t belong there? How can the people trust you enough to give you intelligence unless you’re in their village 24/7? People will hedge their bets. They might not like the Taliban, but they won’t snitch on them if they fear retribution. If you say we should train more Dari/Pashtu speakers and train more HUMINT collectors, I’m all for it, but neither will happen fast enough to make an impact in this conflict.

    Valkyrie mentioned adding police. That’s a fine idea, but we know about the ANP’s track record and lack of prestige. Again, we are better off arming, training, and mentoring local forces. They have a stake in protecting their own communities, and they know the human terrain. When properly equipped and trained, they can secure their communities from Taliban interference, and create a secure environment where their neighbors feel safe about coming forward with intelligence.

    Think about it like this. You live in a neighborhood that has gang activity. The police roam through every now and then and talk to people. Whoever talks to the cops usually gets beaten or killed. But what happens when the police stay there? When they occupy your neighborhood, set up checkpoints, conduct continuous patrols, give you a rifle and train you how to use it? Would you feel more comfortable talking to the police? What if you and your neighbors decided you were fed up with the violence, and since all of you own personal weapons, you decide to set up a citizen’s defense group. Then, the police came in, gave you better weapons, and trained you. It’s all about building credibility and providing security.

    I caution you all to accept that there are no 100% solutions in counterinsurgency. It’s a messy, slow process that often includes making temporary alliances with former or future enemies. The Sunni Awakening is a recent example of this. Since we are fighting as a third party, our position is even more complicated.

    We might be empowering people who will become warlords – indeed that has happened in the past. However, by empowering local militia, we stand a better chance at securing the Afghan countryside in the short term, and that will buy us enough time and maneuver space to marginalize the Taliban. Not to be cliche, but you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. No military solution is going to fix the entirety of Afghanistan. What the military can do, though, is work to marginalize the Taliban and create some “breathing room” for the Afghan government. Given the many layers of social cleavages in Afghanistan, this will be tricky.

    • Valkyrie says:

      Think about it like this. You live in a neighborhood that has gang activity. The police roam through every now and then and talk to people. Whoever talks to the cops usually gets beaten or killed. But what happens when the police stay there? When they occupy your neighborhood, set up checkpoints, conduct continuous patrols, give you a rifle and train you how to use it? Would you feel more comfortable talking to the police? What if you and your neighbors decided you were fed up with the violence, and since all of you own personal weapons, you decide to set up a citizen’s defense group. Then, the police came in, gave you better weapons, and trained you.

      That’s a very good point.

      Except in the City of Chicago, they want to disarm everyone, so NO ONE has a way to protect themselves and anything they may own.

      I hope they never use the Chicago model in Afghanistan!

      (if it’s not evidently obvious, I’m a suburbanite in a safe community where, due to the cops not being totally corrupt, like in some other areas of Illinois, people can actually walk their dogs after sundown without fear of getting in the middle of gang crossfire).

      But yes, those points make sense for Afghanistan, especially pointing out that the locals clearly have a “stake” in the system, in how their communities are affected (that term has been brought up in past poli-sci classes, that people do best where they have a “stake in the system,” so to speak).

      Thanks for those points.

  5. Whatever way that the US decides to go ahead with is of less importance, than whether the troops and the civilian liaisons are there for long enough to see things improve.

    It is really a question of waiting the Taliban out which may take many years, even decades. Even though the US does not want to be mired in a war for that long, only when the Afghans feel that their back is covered, they will be willing to take on the Taliban threat. The time to stay is determined by the Taliban, who for now are prepared to pitch in the battle lines for however long it takes.

    Therefore, a better way to compare between tribal empowerment and community engagement strategies is to see what what would allow the US to be there with the least amount of on the ground forces, rather than how quickly the US could get out of Afghanistan.

  6. I caution you all to accept that there are no 100% solutions in counterinsurgency. It’s a messy, slow process that often includes making temporary alliances with former or future enemies. The Sunni Awakening is a recent example of this. Since we are fighting as a third party, our position is even more complicated.

    It would be useful to discuss what constitutes and enemy to the US as well. There is a question of intent of course, but also clearly, of puissance. Rather than being mighty as an elephant, the threat is more akin to the sting of a bee. Sure they can sting, but do they really constitute a mortal threat to the United States

  7. Boyer says:

    It is really a question of waiting the Taliban out which may take many years, even decades. Even though the US does not want to be mired in a war for that long, only when the Afghans feel that their back is covered, they will be willing to take on the Taliban threat. The time to stay is determined by the Taliban, who for now are prepared to pitch in the battle lines for however long it takes.

    My favorite cliche about Afghanistan: we own the clocks, but the Afghans own the time. Very true. The Taliban adapted quite well to our short attention span after the initial invasion. In terms of “waiting the Taliban out,” I don’t know if we’re taking a passive stance and waiting for them to give up. Rather, my assumption is that our tactic of targeted killings does create a level of disorder and disorganization in the Taliban and Haqqani leadership. Granted, guerrilla organizations draw an asymmetric advantage from their cellular, semi-hierarchical structure, but at some point they’re going to lose a leader whom they cannot replace. A dual strategy of community engagement and creating disorder within the Taliban will make it harder for them to achieve unity of purpose and narrative. Still, the Taliban will persist. Does it matter? If you look at other insurgencies, some element of the original insurgency typically survives past the point of its political relevance. The aim of COIN is to marginalize the insurgency so that though it may still be dangerous, it’s not important enough to cause a self perpetuating cycle of disorder. David Kilcullen’s article on insurgency as a biological organism is where I’m drawing this idea of an insurgency as a biological system.

    It would be useful to discuss what constitutes and enemy to the US as well. There is a question of intent of course, but also clearly, of puissance. Rather than being mighty as an elephant, the threat is more akin to the sting of a bee. Sure they can sting, but do they really constitute a mortal threat to the United States

    I won’t disagree with you too much. Before engaging in counterinsurgency, policymakers need to take a hard look as to whether COIN is a strategic imperative or mission creep. You’re right in saying that the Taliban are not an existential threat to the United States. At the same time, you’re trying to put a non-state militant group within the context of the previous generation of warfare. The Taliban pose a lesser existential threat than, let’s say, Russia in head-to-head conventional conflict. If you think about the Taliban in the lens of 4th Generation Warfare, it makes more sense as to how they can threaten us. I’m not arguing that we have a strategic imperative to defeat them – I just want to provide some context. The Taliban are able to use their asymmetric advantages to convince our policymakers that the United States’ goals in Afghanistan aren’t worth pursuing. In addition, the steady toll of casualties inflicted by a quantitatively and qualitatively inferior force defies “battlefield math” (9 highly trained infantrymen beat 3 locals with Kalashnikovs). The Taliban and the myriad insurgent groups in Iraq have changed the way that Americans view foreign intervention. Not bad for a few non-state actors, right?

    The challenges to the United States and to the military are threefold. First, the military cannot take the last ten years and say “never again.” We have fought more irregular wars than conventional wars, and we need to absorb those lessons. Second, we have to recognize that American primacy will be threatened by non-state actors as well as states. Maybe even a combination of the two. Lastly, we have to figure out our strategic priorities within the paradigm of 4th generation warfare, and also within that paradigm, execute a plan of action that ensures our interests are protected.

    Therefore, a better way to compare between tribal empowerment and community engagement strategies is to see what what would allow the US to be there with the least amount of on the ground forces, rather than how quickly the US could get out of Afghanistan.

    The anti-population-centric-COIN argument. Gian Gentile’s latest article on Tom Ricks’ blog might be good starting point if you haven’t read it yet. Also check out Foreign Interdiction (FID), and the not-very-well labelled “counter-terrorism” category.

    • If you look at other insurgencies, some element of the original insurgency typically survives past the point of its political relevance. The aim of COIN is to marginalize the insurgency so that though it may still be dangerous, it’s not important enough to cause a self perpetuating cycle of disorder.

      That is a good point. I agree with it. At that point, though they may continue to be enemies, they cease to be a threat.

      The challenges to the United States and to the military are threefold. First, the military cannot take the last ten years and say “never again.” We have fought more irregular wars than conventional wars, and we need to absorb those lessons. Second, we have to recognize that American primacy will be threatened by non-state actors as well as states. Maybe even a combination of the two. Lastly, we have to figure out our strategic priorities within the paradigm of 4th generation warfare, and also within that paradigm, execute a plan of action that ensures our interests are protected

      Those are good points to learn for America, and for conventional armies of most big nation-states in the world.

      Also were you talking about this article? If so, t looks like a very interesting blog. Thanks for the pointer.

      • Boyer says:

        Yes, that’s the exact article. I don’t entirely agree with COL Gentile, but he makes some convincing arguments in his articles. He’s had several pieces posted on Small Wars Journal, as well.

  8. A M Hayat says:

    I am very supportive about Tribal Engagement Strategy,
    Its also true that the history of long recent civil war in Afghanistan. Empowering tribal leaders and giving them weapons would only create more tension and fighting among tribes.when we have big threat within AFG, we are united against common enemies, its part of our old culture.
    How to to find the best solotion for TES ?
    I would say as i have mentioned in the past, AF government authorities are not legitimate Government , from karzai to local sub governors.The are not good parteners for any right notions,
    I am sure if we have hundreds of concepts and work shops,it would be useless.
    we are witnesses of karzai,s recent problems with US and NATO strategy in AFG.
    If US and NATO support post karzai government with real representatives of all communities.its the time to start up TES.such program within Afghanistan ,it would bring positive changes.
    trebles engagement strategy would be implimentable very positively ,without any future concern and sponsering chaos or local warlords.as we have good experments from the past wars.
    organizing villagers from tribes communities to join security forces against taliban to defend and protect with strong intel operations by MOI controling procesures.
    well train and control beside intel operations,its the only way to stop insurgency and bring law and order and livelihood at the remote villages in Afghanistan.
    hope that the formal start up of the transition process will allow NATO to reduce foreign military footprint in remote areas .

  9. The Jackal says:

    Tribal engagement sounds like good but I think it is better in theory than application. To have a legitimate government would be a good first step but I can see a federal system possibly working here. The so called warlords and those that have influence on the local population need to be utilized and brought into a structured government entity. Working with warlords, northern alliance members, militias and others to keep Al-Qaeda and the Taliban out is imperative. Along with this, drug fields need to be replaced with agricultural crops, mining business need to develop into legitimate trade businesses and road construction to connect villages can help NATO forces move about and the citizens could be joined rather than separated for a feeling of fellowship. This maybe the only way to stabilize Afghanistan but America and other nations need to have the fortitude to hang in there and do what is necessary, which will lead to more bloodshed and lives lost.

  10. The Jackal says:

    Sorry first line should be “sounds like a good plan”

  11. A.M Hayat says:

    Jackal.
    As an Afghanistani citizen am fully agree with you.
    Former Mujahidden must be utilized and brought in to the structure of government.
    To stop Taliban and AQ. from all dimention.start agricultural crops, mining business And creat jobs, legitimate trade businesses and construction to help poor villagers can help NATO . the citizens could be joined security forces . This is the way to stabilize Afghanistan but America and other nations need to have the fortitude to hang in there and do what is necessary, which will lead to less bloodshed and less lives lost.
    It clear that Afghanistan will need U.S. help against the insurgency for many years.

  12. Durkheim says:

    “Truly local leaders are hard to identify. Assuming that it is possible, it would require a lot of human intelligence.”
    Here in lies the problem: Human Intelligence (rather lack there of). The American military is too scientific and reasonable to stabilize a country like Afghanistan because it relies on conventional military intelligence based on verifiable sources. Technologically advanced equipment allows for extensive data collection but is insufficient without interpersonal contact with the people. Thus, I must agree with Kredox when stating:
    “that we need more troops and more intelligence in Afghanistan. As well as interacting more with village people in order to identify and isolate the enemy. I know, that it is sounds idealistic due to our inability to increase the numbers of troops and keep them in Afghanistan until the government will take over the situation, but I think it is the only rational way out.”
    Interpersonal contact with local actors is necessary in order to screen for valid and meaningful information. For example, if a local civilian collaborates with incumbent troops and reveals that a man in the neighboring village is a Taliban commander, this information could very well be erroneous because the informant may be motivated to settle his own personal disputes through indirect violence. Therefore, human intelligence is crucial because if the U.S. decides to act on certain information that winds up being false, innocent civilians get killed which reflects very poorly on the occupier, further driving away local support. In order to verify data, troops need to interact with the population and elicit information from them, such as the nature of the ongoing local rivalries. Doing so will also assist in identifying legitimate leaders from the civilian perspective. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. COIN attempts to do this, but with minimal success. Like Kredox said, this solution is likely more idealistic than possible. Force protection measures understandably restrict troops from leaving base given the danger of traveling outside safety zones. However, putting troops at risk is necessary in order to find legitimate leaders and in isolating the enemy hidden among civilians. So, I guess my question is, are we willing to put the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk for the sake of stabilizing Afghanistan?

  13. Durkheim says:

    I am also a bit weary about arming tribal leaders as well. As we know, the Demobilization, Disbandment and Reintegration (DDR) program did not fare well in rural regions since too few international forces and competent indigenous forces were stationed in these areas. Although DDR dismantled Fahim’s institutional seizure and removed his accomplices from office, similar effects were absent in rural areas which left a void that needed to be filled. As a result, a surge of political violence broke out among competing factions in an attempt to preserve their power base and fill the void created by the U.S.
    These warlords now enjoy a monopoly in the security sector which is a major obstacle for NATO in securing and stabilizing Afghanistan. For example, a 2010 report released by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs asserted that a large portion of protection payment to local warlords for convoy security end up going to the Taliban and other anti-government groups who control important roads used for transporting U.S. supplies. These protection payments help fuel the insurgency.
    I am unsure about the role warlords play in the future of Afghanistan. Will their rising power lead to a repeat of the mid-1990s or can they potentially help stabilize Afghanistan? I think it can go either way depending on how we approach it.

  14. Valkyrie says:

    Durkheim wrote:

    Interpersonal contact with local actors is necessary in order to screen for valid and meaningful information. For example, if a local civilian collaborates with incumbent troops and reveals that a man in the neighboring village is a Taliban commander, this information could very well be erroneous because the informant may be motivated to settle his own personal disputes through indirect violence. Therefore, human intelligence is crucial because if the U.S. decides to act on certain information that winds up being false, innocent civilians get killed which reflects very poorly on the occupier, further driving away local support. In order to verify data, troops need to interact with the population and elicit information from them, such as the nature of the ongoing local rivalries.

    Excellent points.

    And yes, that sounds very tough, trying to get credible information out of various people. Just watch the politics in a typical work unit, and it is not difficult to understand why, oftentimes, information is just not credible. In a high stakes competition for survival, people can just get absolutely diabolical. How, then, does one go about sifting through all the disinformation rapidly? That takes up valuable time and human resources in terms of trying to determine what is/isn’t good intel (and with human social systems, there will just ALWAYS be error in the mix, no matter how well-trained your analysts are).

    That said, I guess it does sound like the best people for the job are the locals, although they clearly need assistance with training them on the best techniques for handling their own security.

    So, I guess my question is, are we willing to put the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk for the sake of stabilizing Afghanistan?

    It was argued in class that by taking the fight to the enemy, it keeps them busy over there (rather than over here in the USA).

    Also, if Afghanistan is not stabilized, it becomes a safe haven (a swamp, if you will) for would-be terrorists to train.

    Best scenario seems to be to train the Afghans well in handling their own security, which will obviously take some time, which is why I’m wondering why this is now the strategy 9 full years later (which is why I took this class, btw, to better understand how the mess might go about getting fixed–well, and to figure out if the war would end sooner, rather than later, because some of us are graduating and are really tired of the war sucking the US economy dry in the midst of the financial meltdown).

    Get it stabilized and then get us out.

    • Valkyrie says:

      Just to clarify, by mentioning that some of us are graduating, the point was that Americans would really like to do something economically viable with their degrees, but due to the financial meltdown and the economic cost of the war, there’s not a lot of growth in which to do much, outside of the recession-proof fields, of course.

      It’s not just Afghans who need better jobs. It’s everyone. It’s a global problem at this point. Otherwise, the world will end up with more recruits for these global criminal gangs, because that’s the only way they can make any money (not a great scenario at all).

  15. Valkyrie says:

    Since I missed class (and, from what I heard, so did about half the class, due to whatever bug has been going around, lately, with the weather changes), I felt the need to add some extra participation here, on the blog.

    What does everyone think of this recent revelation of a fake Taliban showing up for these so-called talks?

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704369304575631994136148852.html

    How’s that intel working out, there, when dealing with these people? Working out well, is it? Good grief.

  16. Kredox says:

    I actually read the article that Valkyrie mentioned and I couldn’t believe it. How can that actually be that NATO and American intelligence can’t even distinguish between the top commanders! What kind of intelligence is that?
    Going back to Tribal Engagement strategy, how can we distinguish between tribal leaders and who to empower if we can’t even know who the top leaders of Taliban are?
    I think we need to identify and know our enemies faces before we try to do anything else, especially peace talks.

  17. Valkyrie says:

    But wait, there’s more!

    This issue is just so ridiculous that you can’t help following it (sort of like how no one can miss glancing at a train wreck).

    According to a Sun-Times piece, General David Petraeus is claiming that there was skepticism about the Taliban impostor all along.

    http://www.suntimes.com/news/world/2919884,CST-NWS-afghan24.article

    In other reports, everyone’s finger-pointing, including blaming Britain for not engaging in proper due diligence.

    Suffice it to say that no one will ever know where the error lies, but everyone should be concerned about their tax dollars going towards this never-ending Boondogle of a state-building project.

    This is embarrassing!

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