The Taliban Time Warp

by Joshua Foust on 10/28/2011 · 13 comments

February 3, 2008:

A secret British plan to build military training camps for former Taliban fighters in Helmand has sent Afghan-UK relations to an all-time low, say officials.

Kabul had no knowledge of attempts to persuade fighters to switch sides and train to fight in local militias until the plan was exposed last December, they said.

Mervyn Patterson, a United Nations political officer, and Michael Semple, deputy head of the European Union mission in Afghanistan, who were in the team, were ordered to leave the country on December 25 for “threatening national security”.

February 17, 2011:

A US-funded militia in the Afghan province of Helmand is to be expanded, provincial governor Golab Mangal says.

Mr Mangal told BBC Pashto that local armed groups of civilians were an important weapon in the struggle against the Taliban.

About 800 armed men are now being directly funded by the US in Helmand province, which makes them a larger force than the official police.

February 4, 2008:

Afghanistan’s government bristled Monday over allegedly secret British plans to set up camps to train anti-Taliban militias.

Officials in Kabul had no official comment, but they told The Financial Times they had no prior knowledge of the reported plan to set up camps in the Helmand province of Afghanistan to provide both military and vocational training for as many as 2,000 former Taliban fighters.

October 27, 2011:

Down a back road, past old, still-active minefields and blown-out Soviet tanks, US military officials are trying to bring former insurgents back into the fold of the Afghan government.

The US official who runs the program calls it “tactical detoxifying” – offering captured former foot soldiers a skill that could help them make a legal living once they are released. Since March, the Parwan Detention Center at Bagram Air Base near Kabul has offered beekeeping workshops, language labs, and tailoring classes.

Anyway, this is why reading news out of Afghanistan these days feels like traveling through a time warp. All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

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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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anan October 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm

It is different this time in Helmand. Things rarely repeat in the same way.

Helmand is less violent and the process is Governor Mangal, Provincial AUP, 215th ANA Corps and NDS led. President Karzai is considering transferring much of Helmand in ANSF lead in months.

In September, 2011, enemy initiated attacks in Helmand were down by half from September, 2010.

But the largest difference is in the composition of the ANA nationwide. 10.9% of all soldiers who joined the ANA nationwide in September, 2011, were “Southern Pashtuns.” I haven’t seen evidence of large numbers of Kandahari Pashtuns, Uruzgan Pashtuns, or Zabul Pashtuns joining the ANA. By inference, the vast majority of this 10.9% were Helmand Pashtuns. By contrast only 4% [if that] of all Afghans are from Helmand.

The fact that young Helmand males are now increasingly over represented in the ANA nationwide doesn’t change things?

Dan November 1, 2011 at 3:28 am

Um, that 10.9% was due to NTM-A recalculating “southern Pashtuns.” From the recent 1230 report:

Improving the ethnic and tribal balance in the ANA, and specifically increasing recruitment of southern Pashtuns, has been a continuing focus of the ANA’s force generation and recruiting efforts. In September 2011, the ANA exceeded its goal for southern Pashtun recruiting; southern Pashtuns made up 10.9 percent of the recruiting cohort, above the stated goal of four percent and the largest monthly percentage to date. This increase can be attributed to adjustments in recruitment accounting methods as well as increased recruiting efforts in southern and southwestern Afghanistan as these areas have begun to stabilize. The implementation of ANAREC’s new method of accounting for southern Pashtuns by tribal affiliation vice recruiting location, and the subsequent increase in the southern Pashtun recruiting rate, implies that the actual number of southern Pashtuns already in the ANA may be higher than previously estimated.

Here’s where that gets a little dicey when you read this from the NY Times’ At War blog:

But a closer look at the tribes shows that nearly 70 percent of the recruits classified as southern Pashtuns actually came from the northeastern province of Nangarhar, mostly from a tribe, the Khogyani, which tribal analysts say migrated from the south decades ago. The jump should be no surprise: Nangarhar was already the country’s largest producer of recruits.

So the increase isn’t really from the south at all, but due to a demographic reclassification.

anan November 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm

There have been a lot of anecdotal reports from Helmand about Helmand locals joining the ANA. This has also been mentioned in ISAF briefings from Helmand. It is the real deal. [Have seen no evidence of Pashtuns joining from other parts of the South. Nimruz recruits to the ANSF are often Baloch.]

It is true that there are many Khogyani in the ANA. Many Kundux Pashtuns too. Helmand might be joining them as a major source for Pashtun recruits. But hard numbers are hard to find. Would like to know what percentage of the 10.9% of “southern Pashtuns” were really from Helmand.

When you talk to folks in the South, they anecdotally mention a fair number of southern Pashtuns in the ANA. [The large majority of ANA are not Southerners, but Southerners are more than the smattering mentioned in “official” reports.] It is possible that the Afghan MoD was underestimating the number of Southern Pashtuns in the past.

One problem with the ANA is that they turn away a lot of Hazara and Tajik recruits to maintain “ethnic balance.”

Don Bacon November 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Another problem is that the ANA isn’t worth diddly-squat, no matter who’s in it.
Reuters, today:
Amlaqullah Patyani, a tall moustachioed general in charge of all Afghan army training, fears a bumpy road ahead even for his most courageous recruits. “We have no clue how to operate the weapons that NATO gives us. And even if we did, will the weapons keep coming after 2014?”

anan November 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm


It was UN, ISAF, NATO, US policy until November, 2009, to keep the ANSF weak, which appeased Pakistani Army sensitivities.

Now again, principles in the Obama Administration is trying to gut the training and operations budget of the ANSF.

Amlaqullah Patyani is right that ISAF isn’t committing resources to ANSF Training Commands, or long term funding to operate the ANSF. The ANSF and GIRoA feel betrayed by and angry about this.

But why do you repeat ISI PR talking points “that the ANA isn’t worth diddly-squat”? Of course ISI PR will say that. The ANA and Pakistani Army viscerally hate each other. Much more so than Pakistanis and Indians dislike each other, and more so than Hamas’ militias and the IDF dislike each other. On national TV, the Chief of the ANA joint Staff Karimi made incendiary anti Pakistani remarks. And the Pakistani Army makes similar statements about the ANA. This is the largest reason the Pakistani Army provides combat enablers, trainers, embedded advisors, logistics and equipment to Taliban militias.

Has the Mullah Omar centric portions of the QST managed to win a single platoon sized engagement with the ANA in any province in Afghanistan that isn’t in the East in 2011? The QST’s performance against 215th ANA Corps this year has been embarrassing. As has their performance against 207th ANA Corps, 209th ANA Corps and 111th ANA Division. Why are you so negative about the ANA?

M Shannon October 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Anan. Change things? Even if you’re right not a bit.

The US is leaving, NATO is retrenching, the Afghan government is corrupt, the economy is terrible and the insurgents can hide out in Pakistan.

Ebbs and flows in the number of incidents reported by NATO are interesting (and subject to manipulation) but pale in significance to the failure to deal with the major strategic issues.

Strategy always trumps tactics.

anan October 30, 2011 at 2:13 pm

“Afghan government is corrupt” The Pakistani Army is corrupt. It still works. Bangladesh is corrupt. It works pretty well. Educating large number of Afghans and GIRoA employees makes corruption more difficult to hide. [Too bad the international community is considering gutting the department of education.]

“the economy is terrible” Huh? The Afghan economy is terrible? Please clarify? Do you mean Afghan GDP is above potential GDP because of a large unsustainable economic bubble? If so, you have a point. 😉

Global GDP growth in 2010 was one of the fastest ever recorded. 2012 might see the fastest global GDP growth ever recorded.

In the US, nominal GDP growth is pretty fast. Unfortunately it is translating into rising inflation because of supply constraints. Consumer price inflation and wage inflation are both accelerating.

Northern Europe is also growing reasonably rapidly. [With the exceptions of some NATO countries such as Estonia which are growth 6.5% in real terms.]

Australia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Russia are booming. Canada and New Zealand are performing decently. Japan is doing well by Japanese standards.

Macro data on enemy initiated attacks from ISAF matches multiple reports from the field. What you can say is that the ANSF are lauching for more offensive ops, causing the percentage of violent incidents that are Taliban initiated to drop.

None the less, do you disagree that security in Helmand is better than it has been anytime since 2007? My potential worry about Helmand is that Karzai will redeploy 215th ANA Corps elsewhere in Afghanistan, causing security in Helmand to deteriorate.

Don Bacon October 29, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Beekeepers and tailors. Sure.
This from the CSM is rich: “The Parwan program itself is a point of some distrust between the US and Afghanistan. Members of the Afghan central government and the country’s High Peace Council often warn that reaching out to fighters is angering insurgent leaders and undercutting chances of national reconciliation.”

Not angering insurgent leaders is Afghan national policy, apparently.

Perhaps these ex-fighters are being picked up by local militias? The Pentagon’s recent “progress” report:
“. .the proliferation of independent, non-sanctioned militias outside the VSO [Village Stability Operations] framework threatens to undermine the legitimacy and progress of the ALP [Afghan Local Police] program.” — p. 69

anan October 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm

The NDS and 303rd ANP Corps are pulling together all sorts of militias in the North. Some of these Arbakai have shades of the Northern Alliance.

While enemy initiated attacks in the North have fallen 31% from a year earlier, there are also less salutary effects.

This said, letting neo Northern alliance Arbakai suppress the Taliban in Parwan and the North is better than letting the Taliban into the North. Currently the northern 9 provinces account for 3% of all enemy initiated attacks in Afghanistan.

Don Bacon October 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Well maybe it’s better and maybe it’s worse, but DOD seems to think that it threatens to undermine the legitimacy and progress of the ALP (above cite).

It seems to me to be yet another case of expediency trumping COIN doctrine. That is, immediate security needs take precedence over strengthening the host government, and even weaken it.

Don Bacon October 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I forgot to say: And the PRT’s are helping to form the militias! It’s crazy.

Don Bacon November 1, 2011 at 10:49 am

And under the radar, with zero publicity, there will be a “conference” in Istanbul tomorrow including many nations not to seek peace but to rubber-stamp continuation of a war that the people don’t want, a war that shows no hope of success, a war that is desatbilizing the whole region and causing tremendous casualties.

What led up to this war ratification? State:
“. . .the first kind of significant multilateral event that helped lead into this was the event on New Silk Road, the particular economic issue, which was co-chaired by the foreign ministers of Germany, Afghanistan, and then by Secretary Clinton. . .”

All for money. War is a racket.

M Shannon November 4, 2011 at 9:59 am

The 4th Anglo-Afghan War is winding down. Leaks pointing to an accelerated withdrawal of US combat troops came out yesterday as well as a pending decline in US development aid.

Our European allies economies are on the brink and they need to reduce spending fast. The traditional places to start are defence and foreign aid.

“Our” Afghans are about to be cut adrift and we should see the exodus of wealthy and educated Afghans gain momentum as the jobs and businesses that support the allied effort close up shop.

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