Provinces like Khost need more than just troops

by Joshua Foust on 3/23/2009 · 5 comments

Recall if you will around this time last year, when I was somewhat ruthlessly mocking Ann Marlowe for going to Khost and seeing success. She tried to play like the U.S. Army unit there knew everything it needed to, and was doing everything it needed to, to best secure some kind of peace in the area (and this was after she had expended many column inches claiming they didn’t need any help from cultural experts to do it). Having seen a tiny slice of Khost for myself, the folly of what she and other parachute columnists do and say about Afghanistan seems more obvious than ever. World Politics Review was kind enough to let me write a little bit about this:

The restrictions on movement in Khost Province make it difficult to grasp what is happening in the area. Khost Province is one of the only places in Afghanistan where there are strong enough tribal identities for a recently announced security solution — tribal militias called Arbakai — to actually work. The one limitation to Arbakai, however, is that their use must be accompanied by a full understanding of local politics. Arbakai are really only responsive to their own communities, and if there is a conflict with another tribe, they can create a dangerous situation.

Yet despite the presence of strong communities and tribes, knowledge of Khost Province’s tribal politics doesn’t tell the whole story. Disputes here tend to be about economics: land disputes between neighbors; competition for representation in the government; disagreements over water usage. Tribal identity is merely the way sides are chosen — the point of cleavage, not the cleavage itself.

Anyway, I would appreciate any comments or thoughts you might have.

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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 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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Chris Mewett March 24, 2009 at 12:55 am

I think this is good stuff, particularly the line you’ve cited in re tribes as the “point of cleavage, not the cleavage itself.” This is particularly effective way, I think, of helping people to understand that there’s nothing quite so simple as “pro-Taliban tribes” versus “pro-government tribes,” or anything of the sort.

On the bright side, this means that should you find a way to engage the center of gravity, so to speak, then things can cleave in your favor.

David M March 24, 2009 at 9:30 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/24/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Big Dave March 25, 2009 at 6:26 am

“the constant stream of rockets and roadside bombs slowly choking off the local economy.”

This certainly was not the case in 2007 and early 2008 when 82nd had the helm.

Why did it change? That is the question you need to answer.

Joshua Foust March 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I have my suspicions. For hopefully understandable political reasons, I really can’t say what they are at the moment. But I’m working on it.

T March 26, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Is that Big Dave from PFC?

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