Sunday, May 3, 2009

Engaging the Tribes of AF/'s not Cowboys and Indians

It is the presence and interdiction of ISAF formations in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Army in the FATA and borderlands region that is fueling a rise in what David Kilcullen [Petraeus's Counter-insurgency Advisor for Iraq] calls the 'Accidental Guerrilla'. The tribes in that region resent an intrusion by foreign and governmental forces in their socio-political stratum. They traditionally engage in a number of quasi-illegal activities for subsistence; this in turn drives more into the camp of the militant groups.

The tribes must be engaged on their terms, with an end state of persuading them to be at least neutral towards the idea of a central government in Kabul and adverse to assisting anti-ISAF militants. The 'inkspot' strategy is beginning to be implemented in some parts of the country. The inkspot is a counter-insurgency metaphor that describes clearing an given area of insurgents, securing it long term and bringing in government representatives, foreign aid workers, humanitarian and civil assistance.....and using the example of success of one area to spread to another, in the hopes of duplication. But each tribal area must be approached in a specific manner, and the inkspots cannot reach success in a heavily hostile area. Many commanders and planners seem hesitant to make this approach their main effort, because it is a population-centric rather than an enemy-centric approach. The ideology of not repetitively chasing after the bad guys can be an anathema to some in uniform, but every successful counter-insurgency has used a population-centric strategy.

Statecraft is not unknown in that region at all; but western concepts of statecraft are. The socio-political dynamics of the tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan rest on a triad of power and negotiation between the government representative, the local Imam and the tribal elder(s). When ISAF and inept, urban-ish Afghan bureaucrats enter a tribal area to conduct operations and/or dictate government decrees without going through the traditional steps of introduction, negotiation, cooperation and if necessary, reparation.......the tribe will be far more likely to aid Islamic militants over the coalition. Foreign intervention, open warfare, and repetitive raiding has only brought animosity and opposition from the people we're wishing to win over....while expending our blood and energy in a futile attempt to wage a weak counter-insurgency against much better insurgents.

Our Armed Forces have gained immeasurable experience in waging counter-insurgent warfare, but it has come at a terrible price for our gains, and amidst an institutional debate over the future configuration and funding of a COIN oriented military or a conventional oriented military. This has led to a half hearted and half funded effort in the COIN arena, though some shining stars have emerged [speaking only of Army here] in the persons of LTC Nagl, LTC Crider, LTC Gentile and LTC name a few. Each theater has a COIN Academy of varying efficacy, and the School of Advanced Military Studies and War Colleges are making strides in institutionalizing the lessons learned and COIN philosophies.

Finally.........don't overlook the fact that Pashtun people have an inherent warlike nature and a love of the fight - known as jang [battle]. What makes sense to the tribes in question usually won't make sense to us....and vice versa.

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