Afghan Strategery

by Joshua Foust on 11/16/2008 · 1 comment

In an email interview, David Kilcullen thinks the current strategy in Afghanistan doesn’t focus enough on security or governance:

Well, we need to be more effective in what we are doing, but we also need to do some different things, as well, with the focus on security and governance. The classical counterinsurgency theorist Bernard Fall wrote, in 1965, that a government which is losing to an insurgency isn’t being out-fought, it’s being out-governed. In our case, we are being both out-fought and out-governed…

His reasons are fourfold: security (which he defines to include the nebulous concept of human security) has failed, Pakistan’s safe havens, Kabul’s failure to govern, and inattention caused by under-resourcing. Given his inclusion of human security—which includes, according to him, “economic and social wellbeing, law and order, trust in institutions and hope for the future”—this is another way of calling the war an astounding failure.

Of course, he also says that 80% of Afghanistan’s population lives in Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. Or 80% of the population in the south lives there. Or something. In other words, while Kilcullen is a brilliant and clever man, I’m still not sold that he “gets” what needs to be done, though his discussion is almost completely devoid of the shallow platitudes that consists of most writing about the war (and for this, we are truly thankful).

Here’s something to think about as we ponder his desire for a renewed focus on governance and “community engagement”—a) what about local governance has the local PRT and CA initiative not covered? b) is focusing on governance, at least as we conceive it and have codified it in the Constitution, even appropriate? and c) Is talk of security and governance missing the point entirely, considering the role of local fraternal grievances in Taliban recruitment?

These I cannot answer now—my information reach is too small to answer (I am not in discussion with any PRTs or CA commanders, nor do I know how governance initiatives at the local level have performed). But I am convinced point c) is the real crux of the matter, and it’s one even Kilcullen’s plan—which is well defined and scoped—doesn’t seem to account for. And don’t get me started on just magically wishing the Pakistani government to “govern” the FATA.

Strategy of a different sort can be found in this CFR report.

Framing these regional power struggles-and any new ground-up strategy-are a complex and baffling array of tribal actors. Pashtuns are represented by dozens of major tribal groups (though two “super tribes,” the Durrani and Ghilzai, have historically been among the most influential) with hundreds of subtribes. The most sought-after partnership discussed in any potential U.S.-NATO-Afghan tribal cooperation would involve the arbakai.

Oh God. Utilizing arbakai in anything other than small-scale community projects in any area other than the Loya Paktia area would be total disaster—and that’s according to the Tribal Liasion Office, whose sole purpose is to advocate precisely that.

The CFR report continues, relying on the unreliable NPS tribal maps, created by Tom Johnson’s shop—the same Tom Johnson who compared the Ghilzai to the Navajo and thought Gardez was a province—and shallow and ahistorical assumptions, like how the tribes have always resisted outsiders.

It’s not bad per se, but it really says nothing about an actual strategy. While Kilcullen produces something we can argue with and discuss, CFR just gives us… a muddled picture of a bunch of experts offering quips. Which isn’t necessarily incorrect—there is a range of expert opinion on Afghanistan, to be sure—but it also isn’t very strategic, and it definitely isn’t very insightful.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Zarathustra November 16, 2008 at 10:38 pm

From my spectacles, Kilcullen “doesn’t ‘get’ it” as you write, either. Can you direct me to some of your older posts that set out from your vantage points? Thanks

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