Afghan COIN

So it seems the US and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have agreed to import some of the tactics that reduced violence in Iraq.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban. But along with hope, the move is raising fears here that the new armed groups could push the country into a deeper bloodletting. …

… The formation of Afghan militias comes on the heels of a similar undertaking in Iraq, where 100,000 Sunni gunmen, many of them former insurgents, have been placed on the government payroll. The Awakening Councils, as they are known, are credited by American officials as one of the main catalysts behind the steep reduction in violence there.

All good, right?

But the plan is causing deep unease among many Afghans, who fear that Pashtun-dominated militias could get out of control, terrorize local populations and turn against the government. The Afghan government, aided by the Americans, has carried out several ambitious campaigns since 2001 to disarm militants and gather up their guns. A proposal to field local militias was defeated in the Afghan Senate in the fall.

I imagine there were similar concerns about paying former insurgents to provide security in Iraq, but the situation in Iraq was also quite a bit different. For one, the Awakening essentially put Sunni insurgents on the US payroll, basically paying them to stop fighting. In Afghanistan, the correlating group would be in fact members of the Taliban. Second, the uptick of violence in Iraq during 2006-2007 largely resulted from sectarian conflict, most of which took place in Baghdad. In Afghanistan, the problem is a bit different. The Talbian in Afghanistan is much more diffuse, and further complicating matters, is based in Pakistan.

In addition, the Taliban’s resurgence owes quite a bit to the corrupt the Karzai government. Where the Karzai government fails to provide order (incidentally, most everywhere), the Taliban occupies the de facto power vacuum. Arming tribesman will not ameliorate this situation, and neither will boosting US troop presence. Rather, the US needs to expand and foster the development of institutions of civil society.

Of course, this is much easier said than done, and all things considered, this seems to be a step in the right direction. We’ll see how it turns out.


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