Arm Afghan Tribes, Experts Say

Arm Afghan Tribes, Experts Say

A number of experts think the U.S. should abandon its “top down” strategy of building an Afghan national army and should switch to arming and paying local tribes to fight the Taliban.

Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, appearing Thursday at a Capitol Hill conference sponsored by RAND, said he closely examined former Soviet counterinsurgencies in Poland and the Ukraine. In both cases, the Soviets successfully levered small, locally recruited militia forces to successfully battle numerically superior anti-regime insurgents. He warned of the perils of trying to police xenophobic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Pahstuns with an Afghan national army. A better approach is to create and support local militia groups built from country’s various tribes.

RAND’s Arturo Munoz, a former CIA officer stationed in Afghanistan, also backed a “bottom up” counterinsurgency approach that pays and arms the tribes and enlists them to fight alongside U.S. and NATO troops. The Taliban shadow government at the village level is expanding, he warned, the tribes themselves are best suited to beat back that expansion, not foreign troops. The tribes must see tangible benefits, though, in other words, they want money. “If we can’t get the Afghan tribes to fight on our side we shouldn’t be there.”

Brian Jenkins, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, now a RAND analyst, is also a big fan of arming the tribes. Ultimately, a large deployment of foreign troops in Afghanistan will be counterproductive and is not sustainable; better to pay and build-up tribal irregular forces, he said. “We can learn from our experience in Vietnam where 2,000 Americans (Special Forces and CIA paramilitary) recruited and managed a force of 50,000 fighters, drawn mostly from the mountain tribes, many of whom were former Viet Cong guerrillas. They were very effective because they were fighting on their own turf.”

Of course no Washington conference on Afghanistan is complete without a debate on the competing merits of the counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism approach.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq and Bush administration point-man on various international crises, Zalmay Khalilzad, threw his weight behind Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy and for a much expanded U.S. troop presence there.

The U.S. must use its considerable political and financial muscle to leverage the government of Hamid Karzai, if, as expected, he wins the runoff election, to clean up its corrupt act and transform the state from a predatory body to one that actually addresses people’s needs. Any continuation of international aid and assistance must be tied to performance benchmarks from the Kabul government.

Khalilzad served in Afghanistan alongside former Gen. David Barno, and the team has ever since been held up as the model of civil-military “unity of effort.” He acknowledged that the Bush administration’s early policy of keeping the Afghan security forces small, no more than 50,000 troops, has hindered efforts there ever since. Originally dead set against the whole nation building idea, the former administration didn’t want to be saddled with the cost of maintaining a larger force.

Events in Iraq showed the importance of building up strong indigenous security forces and the same must be done in Afghanistan, he said. That will take time and money, a lot more money than is currently being spent. “As long as the Afghan state can’t pay their soldiers as much as the Taliban can pay its soldiers then they will not win.”

Until Afghan troops in sufficient numbers can be recruited and trained, U.S. and NATO forces must provide security to key population centers. Khalilzad suggested using the substantial “purchasing power” of the U.S. military to put more people to work and help build small businesses. Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan must also be eliminated, he said.

One of the more convincing arguments in favor of an escalation in Afghanistan came from Former Ambassador James Dobbins, who was present at the creation of the Afghan state in 2001. He warned that a reduction in U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan would not result in a victorious Taliban march into Kabul. Rather, the result would be an escalated civil war, akin to that fought in the post-Soviet period in the 1990s.

“We already know what that looks like,” Dobbins said. The largely Tajik Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks would rearm in the face of Pashtun strength and Kabul would again become a battlefield as competing factions, outfitted with arsenals of heavy weapons sat in storage around the country, battled for power.

An expanded civil war in Afghanistan would produce millions of refugees, widespread criminality and a lawless environment favorable to extremist groups. It wouldn’t matter whether the Taliban invited Al Qaeda back, he said, they wouldn’t have choice, in an Afghanistan tearing itself apart in civil war, Al Qaeda could go where they want.

AEI’s Fred Kagan played his well established role extolling the virtues of escalation and angrily denounced those who question McChrystal’s assessment and the additional troops he reportedly wants.

He apparently missed the irony when he said nobody in the Obama administration has the right to question McChrystal’s force level rational since he’s the commander on the ground, even as he recounted his own hand in producing plans in 2006 for an escalation in Iraq that eventually became the surge, a plan he deemed necessary because the commanders on the ground in Iraq at the time had it all wrong.

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They are already doing this…maybe not on a large scale, but it is already happening.

Isn’t this similar to us arming and paying the afgans when they were fighting Russia? look how that turned out

these people(arm the tribes) are nuts.… or are they, in their own minds, worms wiggling off a hook?

So we pay them to fight the Taliban — to what end? You arm each province to fight their own separate wars you’ll just end up with separate heavily armed provinces. What about the tribes that tell us to piss off rather than fight their own brothers? The one thing they are right about is if we decide to arm tribes to fight on our behalf we better have a good game plan for the endstate and know damn well what that is. The Anbar Awakening and Sons of Iraq worked because there was a functioning government for those groups to join when conditions were right for it. Right now in Afghanistan those two concepts (national gov’t and tribal gov’t) are in direct competition and if we don’t have a plan we’ll just be arming two sides of a civil war.

(continued from previous comment) I laughed when James Dobbins was quoted in the article as being present for the “creation of the Afghan state in 2001.” Afghanistan is not a state by any stretch of the imagination. It is a territory with a government (barely), and that government has almost no power. Is our goal a united national Afghanistan? Or is it a peaceful but tribally fractured territory? Or is our goal to fight a counterterrorism war against AQ? If it is, than none of this nation-building matters. You have to answer that question before you think about moving forward with any new strategy.

The big wigs in DC do not understand anything. What we need to do is let the bad guys know that we can provide them right now with their 70 virgins, plus money and a trip to Disney World, give them a X-Box some pizza and we have won their souls, their minds and it would be a lot cheaper then we the way DC is doing it now.

God Bless Our Troops

Good Evening Folks,

Short memory I see is contagious. If I recall didn’t we do this in Iraq during our first pass in Fallugah? Was in not Marine General Mattis who recalled all the former Saddam era police and their commander, armed them and gave the town back to them only to find that they were in fact turning Fallugah back over to al Qaeda and had to go back in and clean the place out for a second time.

One would think that this would be fresh on the militaries mind but it looks like even yesterday is to long ago.

BYron Skinner

I remember something like this from years ago and it did not turn out too well if I am correct. We are fighting the ones we armed so sounds like we are doomed to repeat ourselves.

when it comes to those tribes they wish only to protect their communities from whoever.they indeed need the resources on a small scale to do that.

Arm the tribes? Enlist them to fight alongside us? The Afghan tribes have proven to us, the very nation that helped free them from the Soviet occupation, that they have all the fidelity of a whore on a battleship. There is a reason we’re hearing this “strategy”.

“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.“
–George Santayana


Daniel Russ

If the American Rulers were really serious about trying to fight the Taliban and the Al Quida they would be buttering themselves up to the Iranians rather than trying to make mortal enemies of them.
I do not like Khameni. He is a backward ruler.….….compared to the ruling government of Finland or the Netherlands. But any American who thinks that the Iranian leadership is as backwards as the Taliban has no sight. In fact the Iranian leadership is much less backward than many US allies in the Gulf region. If you do not understand that you should start chewing on your grenade pins.
The fact that our rulers do not make amends with the Iranians should be a clue to anyone who is not brain dead that our rulers really are up to something different than they claim to be up to.

Byron, it did work during our third pass through Fallujah. In 2006, the Sunnis realized the Shiites were taking over Iraq and decided we were the lesser of two evils between us and Al Qaeda. The tribal leaders told us who to hire as police and the rest worked out pretty well.

Nuke Em All. Problem solved bring our boys home!

Do we we know the definition of Taliban? Do we know the Taliban in Afghanistan? Do we know where they are? Why are they always with mask?

My prayers for our US troops and their victory.

I agree that local tribes should be armed since terrain,customs,elements vary from areas to areas.Support,exchange of information of all paramilitary forces are important to success of US Forces and Allies.

You know the saying..“money talks and b.s. walks”..yup, money would work, BUT will they turn on us? will there be US “advisors” embedded with them? And if it were you, would it scare you to know the inmates run the asylum, and have all kinds of weaponry? This may be the move, but better think really hard first. The ANA is YEARS away..

“The U.S. must use its considerable political and financial muscle to leverage the government of Hamid Karzai, if, as expected, he wins the runoff election, to clean up its corrupt act and transform the state from a predatory body to one that actually addresses people’s needs. Any continuation of international aid and assistance must be tied to performance benchmarks from the Kabul government.“
We can’t do this in our own gov’t and we expect to do it somewhere else!

Create a strong central government .Monitor the human rights of the Afgan people and GET THE HELL OUT!!

This war is becoming an unending war. Its the 9th year and people back home still dont have jobs. Why not create a good and effective strategy on the war on terrorist, set a timetable and bring the troops afterwards.

Good Evening TMB,

The third time is the charm I guess TBM. I’m just wondering how to get that message through to the dead Marines from the first two failed attempts to take Fallugah?

Byron Skinner

there may never be a strong central gov..the place don’t work that way. this may be as good as its gonna get, so yes, give it some thought. KARZAI is a thief, liar, traffiker, and WE insure his life. I would feed him 2 the dogs..

Uhhh…isn’t this how Bin laden got his start when we armed him to fight the Russians?
These plans never really seem to end up too well. Simple goals. Very complex realities. Nightmare results.

Take your time Barack. Let’s figure out first why we want to be there. And who are we really figting for? And for what purpose?

Failed attempts? Those “prior assaults” were called off in an early stage due to political correctness tap-dancing.


Yup; many true and well founded comments. Some pretty wierd ones like let’s nuke-em or get out now. Any strategy is based on a great number of possibilities and numerous outcomes, thus a gamble. We fight terrorism and terrorists in this campaign with former CIA intel of suspicous quality and origin. Our military has more accurate intel based on after action debriefing and direct contact with locals. McChrystal is the man listen to him he will adapt as required if we follow his phase I plan. Anything else is FUBAR at this time!!!

Brez hasn’t been right once since he served Pres. Carter in the 70’s. He’s not worth listening to. Brian Jenkins is pretty good on unconventional warfare and is worth listening to.

The tribes of Afghanistan are different from the Meos/Rhade/Montgnards of So. Vietnam and Laos (Been there). If you can provide them with a sound economic structure (to replace poppies and marijuana), plus provide some public health, well-drilling, etc., then you have a good chance of working out a deal with them, esp. the Northern Alliance.

Otherwise, just keep killing the Taliban until something else works. When in doubt, use napalm.

Dear All,
The US and Britain should take over the very profitable Heroin trade in Afghanistan from the tribal leaders and give the proceeds to the people of the country.


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