Where Would We Be Without Red Teams?

by Joshua Foust on 9/26/2010 · 7 comments

My cerebellum just shorted out.

Some of the Red team’s ideas seem to be getting attention. Its report on how the Taliban seized power in the 1990s — by building a network of dependencies with public officials — is required reading for commanders who want to re-evaluate how U.S. troops are prosecuting the war, and how a Western strategy can be tailored to Afghan culture.

The team studied how the Taliban first organized, as a motley crew of locals and returned refugees who had studied at religious schools in Pakistan led by Mullah Omar, the future Taliban leader. Taliban members then worked their way into territory of the Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, by expanding their influence until they were strong enough to take and hold Kabul by force, in 1996.

The Taliban capitalized on local anger at the violent excesses of feudal warlords, offering similar, often superior government-like services, explained lead report author Capt. Jeffrey Marrs.

In case that sounds really familiar, that’s because it is basically a summarization of Ahmed Rashid’s book, written 10 years ago in the year of our Lord 2000, conveniently titled Taliban and for sale at Barnes & Noble and Amazon this whole time.

That’s not to say that this Red Team got anything outrageously wrong in their story of how the Taliban came to power (they might, but I don’t have their report to read). But why the hell does ISAF need a Red Team to tell them things that anyone paying attention already knew a decade ago? That speaks to a ridiculous laziness and willful ignorance (to revisit a theme) about Afghanistan that is at the heart of why things in that country go so badly: everyone is hellbent on reinventing the wheel. Which is not only wasteful of time, resources, and people, but also prevents us from ever making progress. There’s an even darker angle to this, though.

So the officers recommend U.S. commanders do the same — monitor the graft and warn the local Afghan officials when their greed is driving the populace to the Taliban.

The NATO equivalent of the bribe comes in the form of U.S. military and development aid.

The ultimate goal is to teach the Afghan leaders to co-opt the locals better than the Taliban can.

They have to “develop a method for co-opting … Afghan communities positively by opening opportunities for the communities to access wealth,” such as giving them access to electricity, new schools or clinics, explains Staff Sergeant Steven Dietz, Ph.D., an Army reservist and professor from Texas State University.

So the Red Team is back to the $10 Taliban, pretending people support the insurgency for money because they are, basically, mercenaries for sale the highest bidder. If only we had thought of flooding Taliban-friendly communities with money, the war could have been won. Et cetera.

Jesus. These people refuse to learn. In reality, this is little more than warmed over and rephrased common sense and conventional wisdom. Within the U.S. military, it seems, that counts for innovative, outside the box thinking. Yuck.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

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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{ 7 comments }

AJK September 26, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Wow, that was quite the quick, professional, evisceration there.

Umair September 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I had no idea about this at all, I am definitely going to give Ahmed Rashid’s book a look. This war is gonna go a very long time if they keep this attitude up…

Caleb Kavon September 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

After the ASG(ISI IS US) Report…..this was an unbelieveable setback for any belief I might of had that we had any hope of grasping the reality of this war…

My New Motto via Boris Sizemore: “They do not realize it, but the population wants us to simply improve security now, Drink Tea Later”

Steve Coll already told the story in Ghost Wars…..The Taliban was a Pakistani financed and advised force sent to conquer Afghanistan.

It still is.

But…now for the good part….

Now the Baby Tiger that the Pakistanis have fed and trained all these years, is turning on its master-Pakistan via self inflicted wound. It has become a very complicated and unpredictable ex Pet. Its appetite now includes BOTH Afghanistan AND Pakistan. As it grows, it wants to eat even more.

Our Best Pet Psychologists are having a total mental breakdown.

Wake up Red Team, you are wasting our time. If this is our best and brightest, God Help US….

I am so concerned about LTC Rodriguez and the Operational Mind Set that is going on there. So very concerned.

Thanks Joshua—–

The Populaton Simply Wants to Improve Security NOW…and Drink tea LATER.

Boris Sizemore September 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm

The Red Team…

The B Team-ASG(ISI)

The Red Team..

The B Team-ASG(ISI)

The Red Team..Multiple Choice question, Answer correctly win the prize, Answer incorrectly go home with nothing but regret and disapointment

: Pick one answer or a combination of answers, be prepared to discuss…

The Enemy is:

A. $10 a Day?

B. A Complicated, Unpredictable Organization with
wide goals and multiple equally complicated sources
of funding?

C. The Enemy is Us?

D. The Enemy is the very Government we have established
via the ISAF in Kabul?

The correct answer could be B-C or D-perhaps some formulaic combination of all three.

The Red Team as Mr Foust has pointed out via process of elimination (ie. if you cannot figure out the answer, pick the one that seems to be right at the time) picked A.

They get a very low score on our Afghanistan SAT Test.

Thus we are flunking our final exams after 30 years of involvement in this long term crisis.

Bring in the C Team off the bench. The B Team flunked out also.

Grant September 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Don’t underestimate the power of money. If you don’t like it defined as that then think of it in terms of services such as roads, electricity or medical care. Indeed such contesting of authority via service and aid isn’t exactly rare throughout the world. Much of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity comes from the services they provide to the populace while many alliances to vital states are determined by which power can provide the best deal.

Grant September 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I don’t like to double post without good reason but a more careful reading of the New York Times article brings two more thoughts to mind.
The first is that the article manages to make it sound as though Red Teams are a revolutionary part of strategic thinking that just came about. It might be simply a case of bad wording but this quote makes it hard to defend the writer

“The Red Team itself is a concept that was developed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was used effectively in Iraq.”

In fact Red Teams (though not always called that) are actually fairly common and part of their tasks (usually) is to provide advice and to consider options that are currently unthinkable such as whether the U.S should speak with Hamas. Bottom line is that the writer made a mistake that could have been fixed by Google in less than a minute.

The second is the ending quote on comparative politics.

“As for long term changes, the Red Team recommends patience. Dietz compares the current Afghan system to the evolving political system of the U.S. in the early 1900s.

“We’ve talked about can you go from a feudal-like system … to a participatory democracy, without all of the intervening steps — monarchy, industrialization,” says Dietz. “You can’t do that overnight. We can’t make it happen just because we want it to happen.””

I suspect that Dietz knows better (at least I hope he does) because I consider anyone who wants to compare one current social/political system to one from a hundred years ago to be suspect. It makes about as much sense as comparing Afghan society to medieval Europe on the basis of how women are treated. An intelligent person should never use that kind of thinking unless they’re deliberately leading on a naive reporter.

Caleb Kavon September 27, 2010 at 12:13 am

Grant, Great Post…Thank You…You are totally right about the Islamic Brotherhood Community support, and we have seen the social services in action in the Pakistani Earthquake and now in the floods. It is a very very effective mechanism, and acts to reinforce messages that inculcate support as well as a feeling of solidarity among Musllim Communities.

It is a great challenge when countering jihadis on how to address this very essentially positive facet of the Jihad Program. How can a Government decry these socially uplifting activities which form part of what is a special and rewarding part of Islam?

Yet, when combined with an active recruitment program and what we are seeing in the recruitment and (I would say, at least) cruel use of many teenagers(not exclusively) in the Suicide Commands, many of these social programs present a potentially frightening visage as they active promote Martyr operations as a tool of modern insurgency.

What are Governments to do with this?

Very Good Comment and a lot to think about….Thank You.

About the feudal transition of the Red Team, this is a commen comment and is totally inaccurate. Afghan culture has been buffeted by the entire range of political ideals and propaganda…

From 1970 to 1990 they were exposed in full to the attempted transition from a developing Royalist Parliamentary system to the very quick imposition of Soviet Socialist ideology and a full range of modern ideas that this represents.

During this time many Afghans knowing the options choose to join what was a rededication to Islamic ideals rejecting Socialist ideology and Western materialism in favor of the resurgent ideals exposed by writers such as Qutb.

We are seeing now the same thing, as via force or intimidation or by willing participation, the same pro Islamic forces are resisting our concepts of Democracy, Religious diversity and the Market.

They are not feudal, they have chosen to prefer their own cultural roots and mores. It has been a willful rejection which naturally while conflicting with our values, has resonance with many Afghans.

In these culture clashes, Afghans have been made aware of the potential choices that the modernity and values brought by Soviet Socialism(in its worst form) and our Western Democratic values have presented. They are aware of the options and vote through their actions to maintain what they consider valuable element of what is their “modern” culture. There is nothing feudal about this, this is a conscious modern choice on their part. They know what the options are and prefer their own culture.

This 15th Century talk is Hubris. They are very intelligent and know what the options are. They choose Afghan solutions to Afghan problems.

We may not like it, and our benevolence in monetary terms may skew things toward a corrupt state, but they are clear in what cultural values they choose to support.

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