Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Moral Warfare in Southwest Asia Pt 2: 3 Crises

The First Crisis: Security
            Providing basic security is a fundamental function of government. Political philosophers going back at least as far as Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century have recognized that society is founded on a social contract whereby citizens exchange their natural rights to live in a state of nature for peace and security (Hobbes, 1904). Psychologist Abraham Maslow also recognized that security is a very basic human need, seconded only by the need to food, water and air (University of Honolulu , 2009). The findings of both political philosophers and psychologists help us recognize that security is the soft underbelly of a society, and anyone who wishes to delegitimize a society would do well to first undermine the security of its citizens whereas anyone who wishes to strengthen a society must first provide security.
             Exploiting the crisis of security in Afghanistan is one of the QST’s main tactics to weaken the legitimacy of the Afghan government and the coalition forces. The QST creates a state of menace both through spectacular attacks, such as suicide bombings or raids on public buildings and through subtle intimidation. Dr. Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official who coordinated Iraq and Afghan policy for the Bush Administration, reports that undermining security often involves a handful of letters left on the doors of prominent local elites in rural villages (Marine Corps University , 2009). These letters will warn locals not to cooperate with coalition forces and may be reinforced with the targeted assassination of a prominent local resident. It is in this way that the QST reinforces its narrative: The Americans cannot protect you. The government in Kabul cannot protect you. Only the QST can protect you.
            The QST have historically used the promise of greater security to get populations to acquiesce to their rule. In the mid 1990s when the QST first took over many Afghans looked forward to QST promises of a return to the peace and stability that existed prior to the Soviet invasion. And today the QST makes the same argument when they arrive in a village. Amin Tarzi, who was born in Afghanistan and now teaches classes on Middle Eastern and Central Asian cultures at the Marine Corps University, feels that it is critical for coalition forces to realize that, however strange the system of government practiced by the QST may seem to Westerners, the QST do offer a basic system of security and a recognizable form of justice through Sharia law, and in a society where there is no justice and little security the QST’s offer can seem very tempting to many people (Marine Corps University , 2009).
            So why do coalition forces have such a hard time maintaining security? Perhaps Bing West articulated the most basic reason when he pointed out that Afghanistan is nation of valleys and “…every valley has a mountain. And every mountain is controlled by the Taliban and the watchers are everywhere”(Marine Corps University , 2009).  This leads to a situation where no coalition convoy leaves its base without Greater Taliban watchers knowing that the coalition troops are on their way. The mountains also provide the insurgents with a great deal of tactical mobility. American troops travel heavy; body armor and heavy vehicles such as up-armored Humvees and MRAPS (mine resistant ambush protected vehicle) are standard equipment whereas the Greater Taliban travel on foot with light weapons and are able to hit American forces and either run away or simply toss their weapons and disappear into a crowd of civilians. In previous years Americans soldiers made up for their lack of speed by using airstrikes and artillery barrages, but General McChrystal has ordered his commanders to use less indirect fire – thus reducing civilian casualties – but also increasing the chances the Greater Taliban can hit an American convoy and suffer few consequences. As a result of the coalition’s immobility, the GT are in complete control of most engagements, they get to make contact at times and places of their choosing and they can break contact when the Americans get too close. While it’s an oft-repeated maxim that counter insurgency is 80% non-kinetic, Colonel David Furness points out that soldiers and marines are only able to provide security if they can destroy the enemy when needed, “No one gets a free shot,” was Furness’s standing order to his men in Iraq (Marine Corps University , 2009). In the current situation in Afghanistan the GT is getting free shots all the time, and that makes it very difficult for the U.S. to demonstrate to the Afghan people that the coalition can provide security.
            Another cause of the crisis of security is a lack of coalition presence in populated areas. When General Petraeus arrived in Iraq, one of his first standing orders was “Don’t commute to work,” (West, 2008), meaning that soldiers and marines needed to be constantly stationed near the areas they were assigned to patrol. In Iraq this was accomplished by establishing a network of small outposts in the heart of communities that were under constant attack from insurgents and the result was both a drop in insurgent attacks and an increase in cooperation and trust between the locals and American troops. In Afghanistan troops are still stationed in large forward operating bases far from the Afghan population centers. Troops often drive up to 90 minutes to ‘work’ and when they get there they spend an average of about 30 minutes a day on patrol (Marine Corps University , 2009). When this statistic is considered in light of Dr. Cohen’s story about letters pinned to doors in the night, it’s easy to understand why the Afghans feel the coalition cannot protect them. Protecting the population is a 24-hour a day job and the coalition has a presence among the population just 30 minutes a day.
            Long commutes also leave coalition forces exposed to roadside bombs. Just as in Iraq, the insurgents have learned that it is often more cost effective to plant an improvised explosive device on a roadway frequented by coalition troops than to actually meet and engage in combat with them. The chart below shows the increase in the use if IEDs in Afghanistan since 2001:

Figure 3[1]
            Another aspect of the crisis of security is the lack of local security forces. On paper, Afghanistan has a national army, the ANA and a national police force, the ANP. In practice, lack of training, lack of discipline, and lack leadership make the Afghan security forces far less effective than they need to be. One serious problem is that the Afghan Army is being built in America’s image, meaning they are being trained in attrition and maneuver warfare (Marine Corps University , 2009) and outfitted with armor and heavy equipment as opposed to being equipped lightly to move as quickly as the Taliban and trained for more relevant population security missions. 
            There is also a serious lack of leadership in the Afghan military. Historian Mark Moyar interviewed 250 American troops who had served as advisors to the Afghan military and discovered the American advisors rated over 65% of Afghan battalions as having ineffective leaders (Marine Corps University , 2009). Efforts to partner American forces with their Afghan counterparts have met with decidedly mixed results. One major problem is that U.S. commanders are afraid of embedding American commanders with Afghan forces – a time tested means of training foreign forces – because American commanders fear that will put American officers in danger. This risk aversion is taken to its logical conclusion when American forces are pulled out of an area where they operate jointly with Afghan forces if that area is deemed ‘too dangerous’ (Marine Corps University , 2009).
            Another problem with building local security forces is the poor overall quality of recruits. After 7 years of intensive effort, the Afghan Army’s true strength is still only about 50,000 men (Johnson & Mason, 2009) and high desertion and injury rates make it unlikely Afghanistan’s army will ever grow to more than 100,000 men. While poor leadership and high attrition rates combine to make the Afghan army less than effective in many areas, it’s important to note that Colonel Jeff Hayes, who commanded a battalion of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2008, felt that the Afghan army was still more popular with the population than the Afghan police (Marine Corps University , 2009), and that observation begins to shed some light on the second major crisis in Afghanistan: the crisis of legitimacy.

The Second Crisis: Legitimacy
            Writing in the fall 2009 edition of Military Review, Thomas Johnson and M. Chris Mason estimate that the Karzai administration is accepted as legitimate by as little as 30% of the Afghan population (Johnson & Mason, 2009). This number does not reflect a popularity rating; it reflects the number of Afghans who believe that the Karzai administration represents a legitimate governing body. This would be the equivalent of 70% of American declaring, not that they disagreed with president Obama, not that they wanted to vote for another candidate in 2012, but that they did not believe he was the legitimate head of the U.S. government. These numbers were from a survey taken prior to the ill-fated elections in August (Johnson & Mason, 2009).
            It’s easy to say that corruption and mismanagement are behind this lack of legitimacy, and there is certainly a good deal of corruption in Afghanistan. Colonel Hayes mentioned that national police in his sector were removed for theft (Marine Corps University , 2009), Bing West reports that local police often purposely ignore insurgent activity (West, 2009), high ranking members of the Afghan government have been accused of being involved in drug trafficking (Filikin, Mazzetti, & Risen, 2009) and government jobs and promotions – including those in the military – are often based on ethnic loyalty and personal contacts rather than professional expertise (Moyar, 2009). And all of this corruption led Transparency International to rank Afghanistan as the second most corrupt country in the world in 2009 (Transparency International , 2009).
            It’s easy to blame corruption for Afghanistan’s legitimacy problem, but it may be inaccurate. It is entirely possible that the Afghan government dose not have a legitimacy problem because they are corrupt, but instead they have a corruption problem because they are illegitimate. Consider that there are three types of legitimate authority in a society: legal, traditional and charismatic, which includes religious (Weber & Wittich, 1978). In Afghanistan, authority has typically been traditional, specifically tribal (Johnson & Mason, 2009), and every attempt to replace tribal authority with a more modern type has failed. Three times in the last 30 years outside powers have attempted to supplant traditional authority with few positive results.  Two outside powers tried religious authority, for example, and both times they failed miserably. In 1979 the Soviets attempted to graft a secular religion, Marxist-Leninism, onto Afghan society and were rewarded with thousands of KIAs and an ignoble defeat. And then in the 1990s the QST attempted to supplant tribal authority with their takfiri ideology and they were rewarded with an armed resistance known as the Northern Alliance that controlled almost a third of the country for most of the QST’s reign in Kabul. Finally, in 2002 the U.S. and our NATO allies decided that Afghans were ready to recognize legal authority, specifically a democracy with a parliamentary system.
             It’s ironic that the U.S. and QST may represent, to the average Afghan, two sides of the same coin. On one hand, the QST wants to replace the Afghan’s primary loyalty to their tribes with a loyalty to the Caliphate. On the other hand, the U.S. wants to replace the Afghan’s tribal loyalty with allegiance to Westphalian style nation-state. And while only 30% of Afghan’s recognize our favored system as legitimate, only 15% would prefer the Taliban (Johnson & Mason, 2009), so its clear that neither the coalition nor the QST have yet made the Afghan people an appealing offer.
The Third Crisis: Trust
            Underlying all problems the U.S. has in Afghanistan is the issue of trust. Lt. General David Barno, who commanded troops in Afghanistan and has recently been working as an advisor to both the Pakistani and Afghan militaries, reports that the most common question he is asked by his foreign counterparts is “Are you going to abandon us again?” (Marine Corps University , 2009). Both countries remember that the U.S. beat a path for the door in the early 1990s after the Soviet defeat and elites in both societies have serious doubts that the U.S. has the wherewithal to remain engaged in Afghanistan much longer. And when is comes to the Afghan people, Colonel Dale Alford said, “They’ve learned to survive 30 years of war by hedging their bets” (Marine Corps University , 2009). And right now the Afghan people are hedging their bets with us. The QST will reinforce this narrative; they will tell the people that the Americans will soon leave and then they will do anything they can to reinforce to pound that point home. And every time an Afghan considers whether or not to provide support to the coalition they think about that letter on a door in the night or a person who had their throat slit for collaborating and that Afghan is going to hedge their bets between the U.S. and QST. This ambivalence could be seen in a recent Frontline documentary entitled Obama’s War (2009), which documented a group of young marines trying to get Afghan village elders to help them locate the local QST cell. The elders were very polite with the marines, invited them to tribal meeting and had a nice discussion, but at the end of the day were reticent to make commitments “What can we do?” they asked, inferring that it was the marine’s job to fight the militants, and the civilians would watch and wait to see how the situation turned out. Yet with a 15% approval rate (Johnson & Mason, 2009), the civilian reluctance is unlikely to be a sign support for the QST objectives and is more likely a reflection of the civilian’s desire to not be branded as collaborators when the Americans go home. Overcoming this crisis of trust depends on the ability of the U.S. to change the narrative from “Don’t worry, we’re leaving,” to “Don’t worry, we’re staying”(Marine Corps University , 2009).
            When it comes to Pakistan the crisis of trust becomes even more acute and goes in both directions because both the U.S. and Pakistan have reasons to distrust one another. America is right to be somewhat suspicious of Pakistan because the ISI supported the takfiri in the 1980s because they were fellow Sunni Muslims, and because the Pakistani military and intelligence services thought Islamic militants would be highly unlikely to side with the Soviets in a hypothetical war between the Soviet Union and Pakistan, something that could be said about neither Pakistan’s traditional enemy India nor its occasional ally China. Pakistan’s then leader, Zia-ul-Huq, also used the takfiri to help him ride a wave a populist religious fervor that swept many Muslim countries in the Mid East and South Asia in the wake of the 1973 Israeli/Egyptian war and Iranian revolution (Coll, 2004).
            Pakistan’s dealings with Islamic militants have not been without blowback; in recent years the QST has trained its fire on the Pakistani government (Wilkinson, 2009) with nearly as much ferocity as it attacks American and Afghan troops in Afghanistan. And in November of 2008 the world got a glimpse of a worse case scenario involving Pakistan and its relationship with Islamic militants when gunmen attacked several hotels in Mumbai, India, killing 195 people. The gunmen were members of a group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba – the Army of Pure – and planned their attack from bases in Pakistan (Hasan, 2008).  While no links have yet been discovered between the QST and LET, an October 2009 QST attack by gunmen in Kabul showed a strong resemblance to the Mumbai attacks (Constable, 2009) and a true nightmare scenario in South Asia could begin if the LET, QST or other non-state actors was able to cause enough chaos in India to force India and Pakistan into a war.
            Pakistan’s occasionally accommodating relationship with takfiri is one of two reasons the U.S. is reluctant to trust Pakistan. The second is perhaps more serious, because a Pakistani nuclear scientist named A.Q. Khan bears a great deal of the responsibility for countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya getting access to nuclear material between the 1980s and 2003 (Bobbitt, 2008). While the Pakistani government placed Khan under house arrest in 2003, many in Pakistan still regard him as a national hero for helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons and there remain a number of unanswered questions about exactly how much the Pakistani’s knew about Khan’s activities.
            Pakistan’s nuclear program also led to a situation that left Pakistan untrusting of the United States. Pakistan had been developing a nuclear weapon since the mid 1970s and U.S. intelligence agencies were aware that they had acquired enough uranium to make a bomb in 1982 (Smith & Warrick, 2009). But in 1982 the U.S. needed Pakistan as a staging area for the CIA to support the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, so the U.S. quietly ignored Pakistan’s quest for the bomb and kept urging Zia’s government to give more support to the any Afghan (or Arab) willing to fight the Soviets. It was not until 1993, after the Soviet Union collapsed and the U.S. no longer needed Pakistan as a staging area, that the Clinton administration ‘discovered’ that the Pakistanis were building a nuclear weapon and slapped them with economic sanctions (Crile, 2003).
Crisis on the Home front: Moral Warfare in New England
            There is also a crisis in the U.S. that could potentially hamper America’s efforts in Southwest Asia. Moral war fighters do not have to commit acts of violence; indeed moral warriors such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi disciplined their troops specifically to be non-violent and these men often exploited crises caused by state authorities responding to peaceful protests with violence. So non-violence can be a weapon in moral warfare and it can be used as weapon both by advocates of passive resistance, such as MLK, and by otherwise violent groups such as the Viet Cong or PLO. During Vietnam this concept was taken to its logical conclusion when the North Vietnamese tailored their public pronouncements to match the rhetoric of American anti-war protestors (Hammes, 2006) even going so far as to meet with radical anti-war activists such as Jane Fonda.
            So far in the war in Southwest Asia, the U.S. has avoided moral warfare on the home front as happened in the 1960s and 70s but there are long held beliefs and cultural habits that must be minded. Historian Michael Lind wrote a short history of American anti-war movements in his book about Vietnam, entitled Vietnam: A Necessary War (1999), and he documented that there is a culture in America, which Lind calls ‘greater New England’ but that geographically exists from the Northeast through the upper Midwest and West Coast, which has historically been opposed to American interventions overseas, including WWI, the war with Spain and even WWII – before Pearl Harbor – but after Germany has seized most of Europe and Japan had annexed large swaths of China. This cultural opposition to war is well-documented using records of congressional votes and debates and seems to exist at various times among both Republicans and Democrats and self described liberals and conservatives (Lind, 1999).
            Today this culture can be seen on op-ed pages of major newspapers. In recent weeks there has been a bipartisan consensus among moderates, liberals and conservatives on the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post that it is, in the words of Eugene Robinson “Time to head home”, (Robinson, 2009). Robinson is a liberal, but his beliefs are shared by conservative George Will (Will, 2009) and moderate – and Iraq War supporter – Thomas Friedman (Friedman, 2009). What this rebellion of the elites indicates about the future of wider public support is uncertain, but President Obama should be mindful of the existence of a vocal, nonpartisan, anti-war minority among the American political and cultural elites in New York and D.C.
Next Section: Obama's War 

[1] Numbers from

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