Vae Victis: Afganland IV

In a recent e-mail exchange with Kenny, I asked him a few questions about this great lecture given by David Kilkullen. What really grabbed my attention in the hour long talk was his saying that 85-90% (that number seems astronomically high to me) of the insurgency in Iraq are not committed to the Taliban’s ideas and are fighting for very different reasons.

It was this fact that allowed them to be co-oped by U.S. interests. I knew about the efforts to co-opt with the payoffs the US made to locals in the past but wanted to know about how it is in Afghanistan, in 2010.

So I asked Kenny: Are pay-offs still going on where you are? What’s the picture of the place you’re in? Would you agree that 90% of the insurgents are non-committed?

This was his answer:

In Afghanistan, and especially in Pashtunistan, the Pashtun tribal belt that encompasses this area and across the border into Pakistan, family is the most important tie, next being tribe or sub-tribe. Outside of those immediate ties there is not much allegiance to ideology of any kind, including nationalism. Hence the problem of trying to create legitimacy of the Afghan government in the eyes of the provincials. So yes, people and clans can be co-opted or persuaded to change sides very easily. The problem becomes how to keep them on one side once the U.S. and NATO leave. So pay-offs are still used but not as much as they once were. Now we are trying to create a sense of legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Which is difficult but not impossible. The hard part will be to see if the Afghan government outlasts a U.S. presence. I am not sure that it will.

So to answer your question, no, I do not think that a majority of “Taliban” are motivated by ideology. In Afghanistan we call them enemy forces, or anti-Afghan forces. Because there is some awareness that these fighters are not necessarily Taliban. Many of them are criminals, ex-warlords, or drug smugglers. They used to all get wrapped up into the term Taliban, and still do I imagine, but like I said there is recognition now that many of the groups causing violence are not ideologically motivated but motivated by personal gain. So it is important to recognize who they are, as we should have been doing from the beginning of this mess. Fighting an insurgency is coincidentally very similar to fighting high rates of crime. You have to target them and respond to them in the same way.

Anyway, Kilcullen I imagine was talking mostly about Iraq where there was also a counterinsurgency. I’ll try to keep this brief as I see I went on and on already. In Iraq you had people motivated by pride and honor more so than ideology. So that when the U.S. killed an Iraqi, a family member was honor-bound to try and counteract that somehow or take revenge. Even if that didn’t mean killing a U.S. citizen or serviceman, what it meant was that the family member had to try, or make an appearance of trying to kill an American.

So here is an example:
U.S. gunfire or bombs dropped in Baghdad accidentally kill a civilian boy. That boy’s father or brother is now bound to attempt to exact some revenge. So a U.S. convoy drives by his house one day, he sees the opportunity and fires at the convoy. Maybe just firing on full automatic in the general direction of the convoy, maybe not even trying to intentionally kill a soldier or Marine. Just enough that he can be satisfied that he did something to avenge his dead brother/son. The Americans now mark that house as hostile to the U.S. and go back later and arrest everyone at that house and their neighbors. Thus an insurgency is born. This is what used to happen frequently in Iraq, however tactics have since changed due to the acknowledgment of such tactics ineffectiveness.

I couldn’t tell you if that is the case or not here in my particular area since there is little to no violence from any group, criminal or Taliban. At least not that we have seen. But like I said at the beginning I would guesstimate that Kilcullen is close. Most of these people just want to live quiet provincial lives and grow their crops. If one of their family members is killed it is very easy for the Taliban to co-opt them into doing something for them, whether it be reporting on U.S. presence or movement, or being a suicide bomber. Which is much easier to get them to do once an Afghan’s family member has accidentally been killed by U.S. forces, it hardly even qualifies at that point as being co-opted. That does not make them hard line Taliban or ideologically motivated. It makes them an upset father or brother whose family member was killed.


6 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Kenneth,

    Woe to the Vanquished? I find it very interesting that you titled this Vae Victis. A few weeks ago I scribbled that same phrase on the wall of my tiny room. Why did you choose it?

  2. Kenneth,

    This article from an Afghan news source backs up my argument.

  3. Crazy. But I see in all the insanity, Mr. Show brings a little humor.

  4. Nice to get an update from someone who’s there. Thanks for posting this Kevin!

  5. Sara,

    Next time you talk to Kenny, ask him what percentage of American’s there (like Ken) have that sort of insight into the situation?