Afghanistan’s Strategic Dilemma

by Joshua Foust on 6/17/2011 · 24 comments

My friend Gilles Dorronsoro has written a scathing report based on his recent research trip to Afghanistan which was, it is important to note, not sponsored or funded by the military (which is why I think it is so pessimistic). “If anything,” he writes, “the current strategy is making a political solution less likely, notably because it is antagonizing Pakistan without containing the rise of the armed opposition.” What leapt out at me were two passages. The first, on pages 9-10, describes a familiar dynamic:

The coalition’s biggest mistake was to become involved in local power struggles. As it happens, many arrests are based on denunciations that are actually a settling of accounts by different communities. The Korengal Valley had been open to American troops until 2004, for example, when the United States made the mistake of getting involved in a local conflict. Korengal competed with the Pech Valley in logging (the wood often sent illegally to Pakistan). Notables of the Pech Valley, in an effort to discredit Haji Matin, a leader in Korengal, convinced U.S. forces that he was working for the Taliban. The consequences were disastrous: The United States bombed the house of Haji Matin, who turned to the Taliban.15 The Korengal Valley became the bloodiest area of the Afghan theater for U.S. forces, who finally had to evacuate their outpost in 2008. By the same token, the Shinwaris, at first favorable to the United States, went over to the opposition as a result of manipulation by another tribal group. The explanation that local populations are xenophobic is inadequate, as the American troops initially received a warm welcome and one would also have to explain the population’s acceptance of hundreds of foreign fighters in these areas.

I’d phrase this differently—the U.S. has played a positive role in local dispute resolution, but it’s been through bringing in Afghan mediators and government officials to settle things. But the process Gilles is describing, of Americans misunderstanding local conflicts, then intervening in them for some short term objective (the Jim Gant strategem, if you will) and creating far more problems than originally existed, is absolutely right. He is also right, and I think at his most penetrating, to note that many of the worst areas of Afghanistan were not at first antagonistic to an American presence—as I argued at length in my book, the problem in Afghanistan is not presence but policy. What we do matters, which is why I rail so much at ISAF’s unwillingness to critically examine its own actions.

But Gilles also brings up something else.

Nowadays the insurgency is dominated by the Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami, and, in Kunar and Nuristan, Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda. In Loya Paktia, the political map is simpler: Most of the groups refer to themselves as Taliban, within which one can distinguish the Haqqani and Mansur groups, while others are more directly linked to the Balochistan-based Quetta Shura.

I’ve never heard that the insurgency in Kunar and Nuristan is dominated by LeT. I’ve heard it’s a noticeable presence, and that it was expanding. But I’ve always heard that most of the insurgents in Nuristan in particular were HiG, not LeT. That’s not to say he’s wrong. It is to say, however, that if he’s right then it’s a really bad development for the war. If you guys have any more data on this I’d love to hear of it.

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– 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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WRONG INFORMATION June 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

The above info is completely incorrect. Haji Matin was working with the Taliban well prior to 2004 and US involvement. And the Korengal Valley was well saturated with Talib / Al Qaeda long before we went into the valley for the first time.

Issues arose because the Korengalis- more like Martians than Afghans- did want their own timber trade and saw no use for the Afghan government intrusion. They have lived in the 13th Century for generations and have grown accustomed to it. When the Afghan government wanted to start TAXING their timber trade, well, because this valley actually existed within the country of Afghanistan, these actions angered the Korengalis, which is where a lot of the trouble increased.

If there weren’t Al Qaeda hanging around and TRAINING third country nationals (non-AFGs and non-Paks) in counterinsurgency tactics in the Korengal Valley, exporting attacks just six miles away in the Pech, then the US PROBABLY would not have cared so much.

If you are going to report on things like this, get your facts straight, or your argument crumbles under the weight of the storytelling.

Joshua Foust June 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm

So you’re saying it’s wrong that the elders of the valley wanted to defame Haji Matin by accusing him of being Taliban? I don’t know enough to mediate this, though I do know Gilles is basing that on months of interviews in Kunar. Do you have competing information I could see?

I would dispute your characterization of the Korengal, though. In 2003-4, Americans could move in that valley with very little issue. It did not become violent until later—partly because of taxation, party because they didn’t like giving up political autonomy. I think we can discuss that without insulting the Korengalis about loving the 13th Century, since speaking with them you get the impression that they really don’t they just feel like they’re stuck between two equally unacceptable alternatives (GIRoA and the Taliban) and would prefer to be left alone if given the choice.

That’s a far cry from “they love the 13th century and the Taliban.”

And I have to say: the reason we cared about the Korengal was first about vague “connecting people to their government” ideas within COIN—something the people themselves did not want (which did not enter the minds of ops planners). After we sustained losses, it then became winning to make those losses worth it. Which only incurred more losses because the campaign itself was designed poorly.

But again, I would love to get competing data on this so I have a better picture. If you have any—stories, anecdotes, UNCLASS reports—I’d love to get a look at them so I can update my understanding.

SORRY COULD NOT LET THIS GO! June 17, 2011 at 5:10 pm

And US Forces did not HAVE TO go in 2008, nor in 2010, when they actually closed down the Korengal Outpost and satellite positions. Yes, I was there at the time, so I speak from experience, not storytelling.

At the time of the repositioning, the current battalion had in fact tamped down on a lot of the cross mountain movement by the enemy, and attacks were definitely down / manageable. There wasn’t an endgame for that specific location, though- the Korengalis would never be happy with the extremely limited contact that the the AFG Govt was capable of providing, so it made no sense to be there (other than serving as a blocking position / deterring position to protect the COPs located throughout the nearby Pech Valley).

In the same thought process, the forces in the Pech were also removed- although this vacuum has allowed for an increase in enemy freedom of movement.

Joshua Foust June 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I think you’re getting here at what I was explaining above, which is that the campaign itself was poorly designed and the USFOR was there because they were there. This is the first I’ve heard that 2010 saw a real reduction in violent SIGACTS in the Korengal, though. Do you have any news reports, ISAF pressers, or other data I could see about that?

Johnny Matrix June 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I was a PL in the Pech and Kunar and OPSEC aside…you can trust this man’s point that 2010 saw at most 1/8 the amount of kinetic sigact’s since the year previous…however the point can be argued that during a few months of 2010 the locals / insurgents were aware or the US pullout…trust me if you can.

Joshua Foust June 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm


I have zero issues with trust, I just also like data.


Johny Matrix June 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Gotchya…without linking to a wikileaks-esque site I’ll try and remember as much as possible. Whereas from late 2007-2009 the Korengal saw a sigact per day, pre-summer 2009 is when they started to drop off to relatively 1 per week so this was not just because of the seasons. I totally understand the point of view that states sigact’s / casualties do not directly correlate with security, but to put it into perspective each battalion deployed into N2KL lost 7-8 soldiers per year in the valley whereas the last unit lost 1.

In terms of development, nothing really changed at all. The Korengali’s consistently scoffed at any project ideas (rightfully so, sustainability is really out of the question with one road in / out of the valley). Of note was the Korengali reaction to the 2009 elections…while my particular attention was drawn to the Western Pech / Central Waigal during this time, I remember there being an offer on the table to have them come and vote in the Kandigal Bazaar which was pretty ridiculous IMO because that’s a good half-marathon distance from Ladilay. Their response was in the negative, but they did state they would think about voting if we flew in a ballot box to the KOP. This never came to fruition but just something that stuck in my mind.

I believe the concept of realignment was transparent throughout the Korengal just after February, so I guess if you really wanted to argue that the Korengal was tamed this could be your support but I was not convinced, regionally at least. Whereas the Korengal was dropping off in terms of insurgent activity, the Pech began to take the brunt of it in the Shuryak, Tanil, lower Waigal and Western Pech valleys.

Also another factor worth discussing was the absence of insurgents in the usually dangerous Watapur Valley (and besides the latest unfortunate forray by the 101st, this is still the case…really no evidence, just from what I hear from two different sources, one local and one coalition). Trying my best to be open to all strategies, I don’t have a problem maybe admitting that this could be due to the coalition withdrawal from the Pech…however you’d have to explain the approximate year of inactivity during USFOR occupation.

Bringing this back to your initial point, one could say that the US never brought in local officials to mediate the blood fued…but again this place was / is different. I can remember flying into the KOP with the Manogai sub-DG, this was his first, only, and last trip during my 13 months there I can remember…and the same goes for Wahidi. I don’t want to speak on Wahidi’s half because my micro-view didn’t catch him much, but I can tell you that the Manogai-Pech DG was a f$%king scumbag who took about as much money as the US taxpayers could funnel into that system, but honsetly, when you have to pay that much to local commanders off so that you can have freedom of movement as a governor what else can you do? And we basically had to force him to go to the Korengal…literally the words came out of his mouth, “That valley is too dangerous to be called part of the Pech”, meaning I’ve got my hands full.

I’d like to say ‘Oh well’, but what worries me is that majority of officers there with me are now getting out (including myself) and it just begs the question if we’ve learned this lesson…Insh’Allah we won’t have to dig this up again in the future.

Johnny Matrix June 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Ameicans could not travel safely into the Korengal in 2003-2004…the only mission prior to the setup of the KOP (OP Mtn Lion I believe it was) did not go farther than Omar, which aligns itself as more of a Safi tribe than a capillary tribe like the Korengali’s. And 2004 saw the initial influx of Marines into Kunar…this was not such a peaceful era either.

Don’t argue this as your point to support the over-arching theme of your post, with which I agree. This tribal region is distinct from all others.

Dishonesty? June 19, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Probably 1st Raid into Korengal valley(summer 2004)

We arrived at 361’s location and began planning. There was another valley on the South side of the Peche River that was a terrorist sanctuary called the Korengal Valley. The Korengal valley had Arabs, foreign fighters and its own dialect. The guys that had ambushed 361 lived in this valley, and this is where the rocketeers that had been harassing 361’s base planned and operated out of. The bad news for us was that the Peche River had no vehicle bridge and the river itself was impassible to vehicles except to Jingle Trucks which are large Russian made two and a half ton trucks. There was no way to get our Gun Trucks across the river.
We finally decided to take Toyota Hi-Lux trucks across the river in the back of jingle trucks (Russian 2 ½ ton commercial cargo trucks). We crossed the river at an adjacent valley and then we crossed over into the Korengal Valley using an old logging trail. The Task Organization wound up about 80 guys in 11 Hi-Luxs. We crossed the river at night and drove all night long; we wound up in Korengal at sunrise. The people were sure surprised to see us. The first thing we did was seize a renegade Afghan Army Post, we took all of their weapons and locked them in their own jail.
After taking over the Army Post we began clearing the village, we cordoned and searched all of the houses that we had intelligence on or looked suspicious. This whole village was bad, every person was rich, there were house with three DVD players, satellite TV and all kinds of phones including satcom phones and cellular phones. We worked all day and at the end of the day we had about 24 detainees and a bunch of exploitable papers and phones. Plus we destroyed all kinds of IED material, however there were no males in the village and nobody fought. At 1500 local time the entire patrol linked-up at the Army Post, drank all of their cold Pepsis (they had a generator and a small refrigerator) and began the convoy back to the river crossing site. This time we would take the one and only road that led thru the Korengal valley. On the East side of the road was about a 200-foot drop of to the river at the valley floor and on the West side of the road was the side of a mountain. As we were convoying back the lead vehicle radioed the convoy and informed us that they had been ambushed in the spot they were approaching on a previous mission. Approximately 30 seconds after that radio transmission an ambush was initiated on the lead vehicle with machinegun fire. The lead vehicle was disabled and the road was blocked. We now knew where all of the males in the village were, 400M away from us on the other side of the valley engaging us with machineguns and RPGs. The lead vehicle was disabled and the trail vehicle was taking a heavy volume of fire. Everyone had dismounted and we were returning fire, the bad guys were in prepared positions and the heaviest guns that we had were M249s. My gun trucks were sitting in Nangalam collecting dust on the M2s while we were slugging it out with M4s. We requested CAS and got A-10s in about 10 minutes, they came in and dropped 500 lbs bombs and then started making gun runs. The enemy’s positions were so well prepared that they would stop firing when the A-10s were on there bombing runs and then resume firing after they pulled away. The lead vehicle was fixed and we began to move out of the Kill Zone. The trail vehicle was disabled so we quickly grabbed all of the sensitive items and blew the vehicle up. A vehicle near the rear of the convoy that contained some sensitive equipment was also disabled. The equipment was too heavy to move so we implemented the destruction plan for the equipment and then the vehicle. We then were able to move out of the killzone. The A-10’s stayed on station and made multiple passes with both bombs and guns. We moved out of the area about 4 KM to the North so we could consolidate and reorganize and get ready for the river crossing.
While updating our higher headquarters we were directed to obtain BDA of the sensitive equipment. The captain and I made a hasty plan, we had brought three ATVs on the patrol, we would ride the ATVs back to the kill zone and get the pictures of the destroyed equipment, and follow the ATVs with the Air force controller, the medic and the team sergeant (myself) in Toyota Hi-Lux. We cross-loaded our ammo, put oil on our weapons and headed back to the kill zone. We also got two Cobra Gunships to support our movement back to the kill zone. After we had gone about one KM one of the ATVs broke down, we pushed the ATV off of the road and put the ATV driver in the back of the Hi-Lux. 500 Meters later the commander’s ATV had broken down, we were now down to one ATV. The commander jumped on the back of the ATV that was still operational and they rode that ATV into the kill zone to get the BDA. Exactly at the moment that the ATV with two SF guys in full kit arrived at the objective the chain broke on the ATV and it would not go any further. The commander took pictures of the destroyed equipment and ran along with the ATV Operator to the Hi-Lux that was about 400M away. We then directed the Cobra to destroy the ATV and to re-engage the already destroyed vehicle. The two broken ATVs were not directly in the kill zone and we were able to get one started and tow the other one. The entire element EXFIL’ed without incident, one USMC Lance Corporal had a minor gunshot wound to the leg, and we had lost two pick-up trucks and an ATV. We later determined that we killed 13 bad guys.

TB June 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

This in summer ’04? Holy s–-t…

Tintin June 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Besides ODAs 361 and 364, which operated in the Korengal on and off in the summer of 2004, 3/6 Marines also launched a pair of weeklong raids into the place that did not result in much. They were in the fall of 2004, Operations Korengal and Korengal II. The various battalions of the 3rd Marines also went in on occasion in 2005. To say that U.S. incursions into the Korengal started with Mountain Lion in 2006 is incorrect.

Johny Matrix June 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I was mistaken…I believe the op as named Mountain Resolve

Anonymous June 20, 2011 at 6:33 pm

No, you got it right, Johnny Matrix: the operation that established the KOP was Operation Mountain Lion, April 06. 3/71 Cavalry and 1-32 Infantry established blocking positions on the mountains above the Chowkay and Recha Lam Valleys and on Abbas Ghar/Sawtalo Sar; 1/3 Marines went into the valley and cleared down to Qalaygal and Yaka China. The Marines set up their headquarters in the old lumberyard six kilometers south of the valley’s mouth; later, 1-32 Infantry then took over from them and set up a joint ANA/US base. The base opening ceremony was on 6 May and was presided over by the Monogai district subgovernor (Mohammed Rehman Danish) and the ANA Chief of the General Staff, Gen Bismullah Khan. It’s interesting that all this happened just a couple of years ago but the details and impacts of the operation (and even the name!) are not on the tips of our tongues; perhaps it is true that we have fought ten one-year wars.

As Tintin pointed out, it would be wrong to assert that Operation Mountain Lion was the first time anybody went into the Korengal in force; it was merely the first time the unit remained. 1/3 Marines, 2/3 Marines, 3/3 Marines and 3/6 Marines all did significant operations in the Korengal, as did several ODAs as mentioned above.

Josh, you don’t really understand who went into the Korengal, and when, and why, and with what techniques, and with what intentions, and what they found. Sorry, you do a lot of really good work, but in this area (and in one or two others) you have created a near-fictional situation, imputed inaccurate (and dumb) theories and motives to the US protagonists, and then relentlessly torn into that strawman. Wish you’d get things a bit more straight because these areas could use your otherwise excellent analytical skills and commentary.

Anonymous June 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I just read the Korengal passage of Mr. Dorronsoro’s report. Its historiography of the area is flawed. Worst, it resurrects the hoary tale that Haji Matin was a good guy whom the US misunderstood. The comment above by “Wrong Information” is exactly correct: Haji Matin was involved with the Taliban (and other) groups long before US forces ever went after him. Just ask fellows like Bismullah Khan, who had previously fought with Haji Matin, or ask Mohammed Zmarai, who had been a friend of Haji Matin’s before he “went astray”; Zmarai believes Matin fell under the sway of salafists during the ‘jihad years’ and that his eventual enmity toward the government can be traced to that.

I’ve always been curious where the story that Haji Matin was just a timber baron whom the US got duped into trying to kill came from. If you follow Mr. Dorronsoro’s footnote for this story you will discover that he cites a Vanity Fair article by Sebastian Junger. And if you follow back from there, I think you can find that Elizabeth Rubin wrote this in a NY Times Magazine article that clearly influenced Junger’s book in many ways (they were embedded at nearly the same time), this perhaps one. Ms. Rubin never reveals where she got the information. And that’s where the trail goes cold. Fascinating: journalists who helicopter in for brief stays (yes, a multi-week embed is a brief stay) put something in a story that then gets cited by another story, which then gets cited by a think tank — and, now legitimized by the academic veneer of the think tank, the non-fact enters our collective consciousness as Truth, and even becomes a key part of policy discussions about the area.

It would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high.

DD June 23, 2011 at 2:27 am

That Haji Matin was a “good guy,” is largely a myth. What isn’t a myth, is that he wasn’t really anti US until legislation on timber production in Afghanistan went into place, making him an outlaw. This might seem like a stretch, but timber and gems to this region were at the time more profitable than opium. To say that Haji Matin was Taliban is a mistake, he did business with them, increasingly so after the timber trade was outlawed by the Afghan government. After all, with little in the way of finishing/manufacturing capabilities for raw timber in Afghanistan, the major outlet for timber was through Pakistan, and often onto Dubai. Doesn’t take long staring at a map to realize that Matin would have to rely on insurgent elements in the frontier provinces to do business.

So, after the timber trade becomes illicit, Matin becomes an instant outlaw and Taliban collaborator, and to make matters worse, we chased him out of his own lumber mill and built the Asadabad PRT right smack on top of it. To say that we peed in this guy’s cheerios is a bit of an understatement. Our ham-fisted pressure on the then-fledgling and slightly less corrupt Afghan government to enact deforestation policies resulted in turning a dodgy-but-isolated businessman into a full blown insurgent. How many in his shoes would do different?

Johny Matrix June 23, 2011 at 2:57 am

Haji Arif from Gazibullah who owned the land Camp Blessing was built on did different…Haji Nowrose who owned the land surrounding the Kandigal bazaar on which COP Michigan did different. Now no, we didn’t drop a bomb on their house and kill their family members…but those are just two examples I know of that the US claimed imminent domain upon in turn for security and both of them played ball. You could also argue we didn’t keep up our part of the deal (but then I would argue we really did until 2009).

Concerning the movement of illegal timber and gems, the safest / most efficient way is through the government oddly enough. You must be in cahoots with both the District Police Chief and Governor so that they can take their cut while allowing your wood to move freely (no pun intended). Haji Matin just made a bad business decision.

And just for fact-checking’s sake, I’m pretty sure Haji Matin’s lumber shop was where the KOP was built? Anyways, with my personality yeah I would definitely declare some holy jihad on the infidels for screwing up my business so I can empathize with that BUT you have to assume some risk in doing so…and you can’t be surprised when that risk involves your family getting hurt.

Anonymous June 23, 2011 at 11:18 am

The Asadabad PRT is not on the Korengal lumber mill – it is several hours away by foot. The PRT is located just south of Asadabad on a site that has had a military cantonment of one sort or another for many years. (In fact, it’s been a base for so long that the locals call it “toopchi” — “cannon.”)

You are correct: Haji Matin was not Taliban. However, this does not mean his only dealings with the Taliban were to secure transit for lumber. Rather, he fought for them. Specifically, he was a consort and sometimes ally of Ahmad Shah, a local fighter who was appointed by the Peshawar shura Taliban to be their shadow governor in Kunar. Much more ominously, Haji Matin had extensive dealings with Abu Ikhlas al-Masri, an Al Q’Aeda operative in Kunar who paid Haji Matin to fight. This is not secret info — just about anybody who lives west of Asadabad would tell you these things.

The lumber trade in this region is indeed lucrative and therefore a source of conflict. And of course the Afghan government’s occasional interest in the trade usually just makes things worse. However, it is not accurate to say that the government pushed Haji Matin and the others into the underworld by banning their trade in the early 2000s. In fact, the lumber trade has been banned and “un-banned” repeatedly over the years. Consequently, the timber cutters of the Korengal went in and out of illegal status. However, they never stopped cutting the wood. This meant the “industry” was active, but beyond regulation and taxation. This meant there were significant real costs and opportunity costs stemming from an activity that was on-going anyway. Therefore the goal of the American government in the mid-2000s was not to use “ham-fisted pressure” to get the Afghans to ban the trade but rather to get the Afghans to move from strict prohibition to regulated exploitation of some sort. Unfortunately, in the all-or-nothing political climate of that region the in-fighting over how the regulation would work (read: who would benefit financially) prevented a solution, and for long periods the timber would lie still on the ground. A sort of futures market would spring up around the lumber and people would buy and sell logs many times over without them every leaving the big stacks along the sides of the roads. When prices climbed high enough, political pressure to sell would build — and then suddenly the ban would be lifted for a bit and enormous loads of lumber would be moved legally over the roads, albeit with a crumb-trail of graft and bribes that could be followed like road signs. So there were plenty of ways for the Korengalis (and others) to continue making money on the lumber during decades of on-again-off-again trade.

All of these things are common knowledge in central Kunar, and make it hard to accept the neat argument that US actions pushed Haji Matin into armed opposition.

KOP Konstructor September 19, 2011 at 11:39 am

If I’m not mistaken. Haji Matin was also related to Abu Iklas through marriage. AI married HM’s daughter, IIRC. Abu Iklas is an Arab that moved into Kunar during the Soviet-Afghan war and took up shop. He also created the most effective IED program in Afghanistan until Haqqani got on their feet around 2006. Through 2005, the Pech River Road had the highest rate of IEDs in the country. Abu Iklas was notorious for leaving little notes attached to the IEDs, letting the EOD and Engineer units know that even though he didn’t kill them this time, he would eventually get them. What an endearing fellow.

Steve C June 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm

“….Fascinating: journalists who helicopter in for brief stays (yes, a multi-week embed is a brief stay) put something in a story that then gets cited by another story, which then gets cited by a think tank — and, now legitimized by the academic veneer of the think tank, the non-fact enters our collective consciousness as Truth, and even becomes a key part of policy discussions about the area.”

Given that yourself and others with time on the ground cannot agree on “the facts” of this story it would appear that no matter how long Ms Rubin spent on her embed she still would not have been able to report a reality.

What this discussion clearly shows is that all foreign parties are attempting to function in Afghanistan based on – at best – inadequate intelligence. That you feel able to write with such certainty about matters that are so opaque may well be a part of the problem.

anan June 24, 2011 at 1:17 pm

“That you feel able to write with such certainty about matters that are so opaque may well be a part of the problem.” This applies to some, but not sure this applies to Anonymous. He is sharing his own perspectives as well as channeling the views of many Afghans who have spoken to him. He isn’t saying that his view is complete or that he has all the answers.

“Given that yourself and others with time on the ground cannot agree on “the facts” of this story ” . . . Steve we have all been around long enough to to know that the mountain has many sides and aspects . . . that many seamingly contradictory accounts can all be true. It is in absorbing many truths that understanding begins.

Be very interested to hear your perspectives on Haji Matin and Korengal lumber [or the perspectives of your Afghan friends.]

“What this discussion clearly shows is that all foreign parties are attempting to function in Afghanistan based on – at best – inadequate intelligence.” Let me suggest a permutation. Have been thinking for years about how to phrase this. Many Afghans who think they know a valley in Kunar don’t. And many Afghans who don’t think they know a valley in Kunar actually do know. It goes without saying that often an Afghan from Helmand, Kabul, Herat or Mazar may know less about Kunar than an expat or ISAF servicemember [depending on the Afghan.] But often even a villager in Kunar sees Kunar through his own ethnocentric lense. Which means he might hold significant misleading stereotypes about other Kunar villages or other parts of Kunar province. This means it remains potentially very valuable to learn from him, but his information must be understood in context.

From your past comments, am pretty sure you know all of this and have internalized all of this. 🙂

The reason I think this is so important is because the ANSF haven’t institutionalized the importance of social mapping and social networking in their area of operations as well as they should. This includes 2-201 ANA in Kunar. As a friend puts this the ANA are natural at it, like a hand in a glove. The senior/mid grade officer corps just needs to establish a framework that encourages this, that encourages initiative and “do first, ask for forgiveness later.”

The ANSF should be providing situational and local awareness to ISAF and clearly specifying what enablers they need with what priority and timing.

Johnny Matrix June 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm

No no it’s mostly me that has mistakenly remembered my facts but the overall point is supported by the on the ground truth…I would have an extremely hard time believing that Haji Matin / Dowron (yes there are other similar individuals) would be pro-GIROA even if we did not meddle in their business.

With that said your point is still valid that continuity of cultural intelligence @ the local level is extremely filtered and almost always forgotten once a new “battlespace owner” takes over.

Steve C June 24, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Anan and JM, I agree with all you say and, as Anonymous pointed out, this could be very funny (in a Pytho-esque sort of way) were it not so serious.

But it is serious. That hundreds or perhaps thousands of (relatively or totally) innocent Afghans have been killed because very often there is a need to believe such intelligence blows a very large hole in an operational doctrine that supposedly has legitimacy as its cornerstone.

Steve C June 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Btw, Anan; I know next to nothing about Haji Matin or the lumber trade in Kunar but it strikes me that this conversation could just as easily be about Iraq, Yemen, Somalia or Libya as about Afghanistan.

Further, I think you prescription of ANSF injecting any kind of situational awareness is probably wishful thinking for a couple of reasons.

The first is that the individuals who form ANSF are just as likely to be carrying their own baggage of bias and prejudice. The second, that they’re unlikely to be trusted, respected or listened to by any but a few members of ISAF.

anan June 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm

“they’re unlikely to be trusted, respected or listened to by any but a few members of ISAF.”

One mistake I often make is talking in terms of generalities. To say such and such about the “ANSF” is generally misleading. There are large variations between different ANSF components. There are some ANSF components that clearly are respected by their ISAF colleagues and other ANSF that are not respected for cause.


The NDS has realms of files on all sorts of people and regions, and some of is more useful than ISAF intelligence.

There are more than a few ISAF in Khost who respect their 1-203 ANA colleagues. [Khost AUP less so.] Interestingly some Rakkasans have said good things about Paktika AUP, better things than they have said about 2-203 ANA.

There is a lot good to be said about ANASF and ANA Commandos.

Believe it or not, have gotten into more than a few arguement with people who thought that I was too negative on a specific ANSF unit they worked with. And I am pretty positive 🙂

This said, there are a lot of ISAF people who don’t understand their ANSF allies, and are “&^*^*&”. Am continually surprised by some of the “multiple tour” incurious ISAF guys you come across. Its like they weren’t in Afghanistan, which is mostly true if they lived in FOB world.

“The first is that the individuals who form ANSF are just as likely to be carrying their own baggage of bias and prejudice. ” Don’t we all know it. Which is why we need diverse educated nationally recruited ANSF versus fight mostly through the tribes and informal networks as some suggest.

This is the real reason I favor a ramped up ANPTC and ANATC. To break down these baggages of bias and prejudice, establish diverse teams, and have them work through situational awareness together.

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