Formula for Success in Afghanistan

by Christian Bleuer on 6/21/2010 · 12 comments

The Washington Post is reporting that the US military and the State Department are all aflutter after the locals in Gizab – no, not that Gizab, the other one – thrashed the Taliban with just a tad of help from the good guys. Actually, I can’t call “us” that because the locals that whacked the Taliban have been dubbed the “Gizab Good Guys.” The G3 leader Lalay said “We had enough of their oppression. So we decided to fight back.”

Some military person, who I’m sure would never exaggerate, called the event “perhaps the most important thing that has happened in southern Afghanistan this year.” And an unnamed State official said “We’re looking for the patterns. If we can find it, we’ll be on the verge of a breakthrough.” So… details?

The Taliban apparently first moved here in 2007, and at the time the young guys were somewhat enthusiastic, as young men tend to be about various dangerous things. But then…”They used to be nice to people, but then they changed.” Apparently the Taliban “fighters commandeered the health clinic, destroyed the school and started seizing trucks along the road, often to steal cargo or levy taxes.” So, they’re like the Afghan government, but with school burning?

OK, here are the main details:

The spark for the rebellion was ignited in mid-April, after Lalay received $24,000 in compensation payments from the Afghan government to distribute to the relatives of a dozen villagers — six of whom were members of his extended family — killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb. A Taliban commander told him to hand over the money, saying it was against Islam to accept funds from the government. “If it is haram” — forbidden — “for me, then it is haram for you,” Lalay recalled replying.

The insurgents did not relent. They detained his brother and then his father, a tribal leader in the village. It was then that Lalay decided to plot the revolt.

A few weeks earlier, Lalay and a few other men from Gizab had met with members of a Special Forces detachment that has organized young men into armed local defense groups in two towns to the north. In both places, the detachment is funding development projects that have provided much-needed employment.

“We made it clear we would offer them the same things,” said the detachment leader, who cannot be named under U.S. military ground rules.

The kidnapping of Lalay’s relatives prompted the villagers to act without waiting for the Americans.

But as soon as the villagers set up the first roadblock and captured the first two insurgents, they sent a messenger to the detachment asking for help. A flooded river prevented the American troops from coming that day, so a team of Australian special forces soldiers was sent in by helicopter. When the soldiers landed in Gizab, they found Lalay and his men in a full-on firefight with Taliban fighters.

The Australians were soon joined by a different U.S. Special Forces detachment. To tell friend from foe in the firefight, they gave the Gizab Good Guys pieces of reflective orange fabric to tie around the muzzles of their rifles.

The fighting subsided by the following day, in large part because a few hundred villagers decided to stand against the insurgents. Lalay’s credibility had been enhanced in the eyes of his fellow residents — many of whom were initially skeptical that they could be successful — because of the way he treated the first three Taliban prisoners.

All three were executed before the Australians arrived.

Right. WaPo followed up by noting that “Lalay’s force has now grown to 300 men. They conduct foot patrols and operate checkpoints in and around Gizab. The revolt also has spread to 14 neighboring villages, each of which has a 10-man defense squad.”

WaPo also writes that:

The insurrection did not draw immediate attention in Kabul or Washington because Gizab is in a remote part of the country that has largely been ignored by the Afghan government and international military forces. But as word of what occurred here has trickled out, U.S. and Afghan officials have scrambled to understand how it started and how it can be replicated.

How can it be replicated? It’s quite obvious. Here’s your formula, in 10 easy steps:

1. Get Taliban to be jerks to locals.
2. Get Taliban to kill some locals.
3. Get Taliban to try to extort $24K from locals.
4. Get Taliban to kidnap some angry dude’s family.
5. Special Forces with ZZ Top beards.
6. Get locals to go crazy on Taliban.
8. Australians.
9. ?????
10. Profit.

Oh sure, this can easily be replicated elsewhere in Afghanistan, no problem. But personally, I think they missed a step between #6 and #7, which would be to fly over the area in an old Huey with speakers pumping out Slayer’s Angel Death. Anyways, the silver bullet has been found just in time. Yup… between this and the $12 trillion in lithium, neodymium and dysprosium that was just discovered by the New York Times we should be able win this war just in time for the next presidential election.

Also, I’m wearing pajamas.

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Ian June 21, 2010 at 10:58 am

The reason this has people salivating is because resembles the Anbar pattern.

Praying for our enemies to make stupid mistakes is our Afghanistan strategy.

Christian Bleuer June 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm

And there have been many little mini-Anbar events that haven’t caught on beyond the one-sided story-tellers. But yeah, that will not stop some from salivating…

steve June 21, 2010 at 11:33 am

good post.

Matthew Doye June 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm

The important point to note is that this is a local solution and, whereas it may not be transferable directly to other locations, the principal of local organising being a force for change holds true the world over.

Also, I’m Spartacus wearing pyjamas.

Ian June 22, 2010 at 8:00 am

Actually, with the exception of a few (Somalia, Afghanistan, other states in civil war) the principle of nation-states having a monopoly on military power is the force that holds true the world over.

Grant June 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm

That’s not exactly the case. Although most states have the final dominance in power, I think it’s safe to say that at least several dozen throughout Asia and Africa have effectively* devolved a certain amount of violence to subgroups within the state. Of course we should note that most of those states still try to keep a dominance on power even if they don’t have it, so it’s not as though the state model is discredited.

*Albeit not often legally

Ian June 23, 2010 at 7:31 am

But I take it that you find that a good model, the whole violent subgroups model?

Toaf June 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Slayer is a nice touch.

BruceR June 21, 2010 at 7:32 pm

How is this in “the south”, again? It’s a Pashtun enclave in an overwhelmingly Hazara province that thinks it’s better off with the dominant side in their area.

Logic dictates here is a natural limit of growth to the Taliban’s reach, somewhere close to the edge of the Hazara-/Uzbek-/Tajik-dominated areas, were they ever to be left on their own. Gizab is certainly so close to that line as to be practically on it. If the country falls into a civil war again, it’ll be on the front line, so I’d think there’d be an obvious interest in keeping things peaceful. The other way to say it would be if you can’t keep the Pashtuns onside who are economically and socially closely tied with their previous mortal Shia enemies, who could you keep onside?

When people say that ISAF should be using fewer resources in “the south” and more in “the north,” I would have thought Gizab is the kind of place they’d be thinking about. So I guess it seems largely underwhelming news to me that they’re still pro-government.

Here’s another thought: maybe the lack of any international or Afghan troops means it’s not a particularly valuable place for the Taliban to hang out, either? No reason for IEDs when there’s no targets to blow up. Just saying.

anan June 21, 2010 at 8:26 pm

What Bruce said.

GoI, ANSF and ISAF are relatively popular in Uruzgan. After all they had a Shura where they publicly requested the Dutch to stay [I mean the many top elders publicly signed off on the petition which took ISAF by surprise.]. Reconstruction has improved the situation in Uruzgan although it remains far poorer than Nangarhar or Herat. It has decent ANP and one entire ANA brigade [although it seems like 1 of its 4 combat battalion is perpetually committed to Helmand and Kandahar.] The Dutch and Aussies and French have done okay. [French mentor ANA “41st Battalion” in the province.]One positive affect of the Helmand and Kandahar operations is to thin Taliban ranks in Uruzgan.

The QST seems to have decided to mostly yield Uruzgan for now. Gilles Dorronsoro conceded as much, which is saying something.

Rajiv should know better than this. Surprised by how he wrote the story.

mark June 22, 2010 at 4:15 am

so much for good news

Nat June 25, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Is this the same uprising, with the storyline fleshed out a bit more, that was reported in The Australian in April?

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