Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Moral Warfare in Southwest Asia Pt1: Introduction

            Why has the United States been at war with a loose-knit collection of lightly armed guerillas in Afghanistan for the last 8 years? What are some of the factors that have made victory or at least security so difficult to achieve? In this paper I review the challenges posed by the insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan and make several policy recommendations that may allow the U.S. to ease the crises of security, legitimacy and trust that currently plague Southwest Asia.    
Why We Fight: A Brief History of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Jihad
            For the better part of the 20th Century Afghanistan existed as an undeveloped yet peaceful monarchy in Southwest Asia. At the time, Afghanistan sat at a crossroads between two radical ideologies, one on the upswing and the other in the final throes of a failed global revolution. On one hand Afghanistan is geographically, culturally, and theologically close to the Muslim world, sharing a Western border and language (Dari) with Shiite Iran and an Eastern border and tribal identity with Sunni Pakistan. So during the late 60’s and early 70’s many of Afghanistan’s college students were swept up in the wave of Islamic radicalism that was affecting much of the Middle East. At the same time, Afghanistan’s proximity to two communist nations, China and the Soviet Union, infected other Afghani college students with a belief in Maoism and especially Soviet style Marxist-Leninism (Coll, 2004).
            And so it was that in 1978 fighting over the line of secession for the Afghan king opened the door for a communist revolution. The Soviets, who had had designs on Afghanistan going back the time of the Czar, took a strong interest in supporting Kabul’s new Marxists rulers and in the fervor of 1979 – the year the Iranian Revolution set off Islamic radicals throughout the region – the Soviets invaded to support their Marxist comrades. The details of the Soviet Union’s defeat are beyond the scope of this paper, but what are important are the story two groups of Mujahedeen who fought the Soviets, and each other. The first group was made up of ethnic Tajiks, funded partially by the CIA and British Intelligence, and led by Shah Ahmad Massoud. The second group was made up of ethnic Pashtun’s, backed by the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an anti-American radical. Afghanistan became one of the largest covert operations in history and the CIA poured hundreds of millions into the coffers of Hekmatyar and his holy warriors each year, with the Saudis offering matching funds at a ratio of 1:1 (Crile, 2003).  The CIA also arranged for Hekmatyar’s men to be equipped with some of the most sophisticated weapons in America’s arsenal.
While both Massoud and Hekmatyar opposed the communists, there were key differences between their two insurgent groups. First, Massoud received at best token support from the CIA, including just 8 out of 2,000 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that had been supplied to the Mujahedeen, whereas Hekmatyar’s group received billions and the full support of Pakistan and CIA (Coll, 2004).  Also, Massoud’s group was made up mostly of pious Muslims but also deeply rooted in Afghan traditions of tribal government that predate Islam. Hekmatyar’s group was based on a new, radical and globalized vision of Islam and his fighters were not only Afghan but also Arab volunteers. Even before the war with the Soviets was finished, Massoud and Hekmatyar’s differing views on religion and the future of Afghanistan led to infighting between their respective insurgent groups and eventually some of Hekmatyar’s (and by extension Pakistan’s) men would form the basis of the Quetta Shura Taliban (Coll, 2004; Crile, 2003).
            The United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia all bear some responsibility for what followed in Afghanistan. Instead of joining together to try to help rebuild Afghanistan, the U.S. turned its attention elsewhere after the Russians left in 1989 but kept surreptitiously sending money and guns to the Mujahedeen until 1993. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan continued to offer finical and logistical support to Hekmatyar and the QST, even though Hekmatyar’s brand of radicalism considered both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to be apostate regimes.  Then in the mid 1990s, the Taliban, a group of Afghans and Arabs who subscribed to radical beliefs but were by then no longer aligned with Hekmatyar, invited a wealthy Saudi exile named Osama Bin Laden, who had played a minor role in the war against the Soviets, to take refuge in Afghanistan and build his own jihad organization, Al Qaeda. Together the Taliban and Bin Laden took over Kabul and created a narrative that they – not the CIA, not the Pakistani government – had defeated and caused the disillusion of the Soviet Union. And having defeated one super power they proclaimed they would soon defeat another as Bin Laden unleashed a serious of attacks across the late 1990s designed to weaken American resolve to remain allied with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel (Bin Laden, 2002). By 1999 one of Bin Laden’s top lieutenants, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, came to him with an audacious plan called simply “the planes operation”(The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks , 2004; Crile, 2003; Coll, 2004).
            Since 9/11 the U.S. has taken a very different approach towards both Afghanistan and non-state actors in general. That is why, after overthrowing the Taliban in a few weeks after 9/11, the U.S. has remained involved in a long-term mission to attempt to build a stable state in Afghanistan, which would no longer provide a safe haven to terrorism. Since 2005, the Taliban has been resurgent, and coalition causalities have been increasing. Today, the coalition faces three overall crises in Afghanistan: security, legitimacy and trust.           
U.S. KIAs in Afghanistan 2001-08

Figure 2[1]
Southwest Asia Today: Moral Warfare
            In 2009 the United States finds itself part of an international coalition, which includes 41 nations including American, French, Australian, Canadian and British troops operating under the aegis of the International Security Assistance Force in cooperation with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in a battle with the Quetta Shura Taliban for the primary loyalty of the Afghan people. This type of war was described by the late John Boyd as moral warfare, and is distinguished from more traditional attrition (think WWI) and maneuver (think Blitzkrieg) warfare by its heavy emphasis on intra-societal relations between individuals and groups and low emphasis on seizing and ground and moving troops. In this form of warfare the metrics used for measuring societal welfare – collectively known as ideology (Bobbitt, 2002) – become a weapon. A fighter in a moral war fights using a vanguard of enlightened warriors to exploit some sort of intra-societal crisis (Boyd, 2007). The crisis is typically some sort of crisis of governance; i.e., in some way the government is unable to provide one or more basic public goods, such as security. The vanguard is then quick to point out the government’s failings and offer an alternative. The vanguard might also use both violent and non-violent disruptive techniques to exasperate the crisis. Moral warfare is generally used by the weaker of two opponents in a fight and generally is used in fights within, rather than between, societies. 
            Today moral warfare has become very popular among those who study warfare and national security. Thomas Hammes, in his book The Sling and the Stone (2006) theorizes that his version of moral warfare, known as 4GW, is set to become the dominant form of warfare in the 21st century. Retired Colonel John Nagal has also explored modern moral warfare, and, in his book Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife (2002) suggests that the U.S. Army and Marines – having mastered attrition and maneuver warfare – must get better at counter insurgency, which is also a form of moral warfare. Perhaps no researchers is quit as ambitious as Thomas Barnett, who suggest in his book The Pentagon’s New Map (2004) that the U.S. should build a cabinet level agency known as the Systems Administration force, which would focus on fixing that crises that fuel moral warriors. While each of these men has a slightly different definition of what Boyd called moral warfare, all of these men are concerned with two broad, interconnected problems; first, there is a war going on within traditional societies between those who support and those who oppose modernity and the U.S. will be a target in this moral war; two, that the U.S. has a poor track record when it comes to defeating guerillas, terrorists and other opponents who use moral warfare. Ultimately, this dissonance between threats and capability creates a space within which groups such as Al Qaeda are able to operate.
The Vanguard: The Greater Taliban
            The term most often used to refer to the insurgents in Afghanistan is the Taliban but I think it is important to take a moment to understand that the Afghan insurgents are drawn from a complex web of sources and are motivated by a combination of factors including religious, economic and cultural motivations. Because of this mix of motivations and beliefs, the term that best fits all Afghan insurgents is the Greater Taliban, which acknowledges the role played by a core group of true believers known as the Quetta Shura Taliban but also captures the more disparate individuals and groups who may act in opposition to coalition forces but not share the true Taliban ideology. It is important to understand that while the QST form the true vanguard of the overall insurgency, all of the fighters who make up the Greater Taliban make the coalition’s job significantly more difficult.
            The Quetta Shura Taliban is a group of militant, Sunni, Islamic fundamentalists who are primarily ethnic Pashtuns and based in both Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Northwest Pakistan. The QST are takfiri, meaning they believe it is their duty to wage war against anyone who dose not subscribes to their strict interpretation of Islam. It is important to note that takfiri is an Arabic word that best translates into English as “heretic” (Kilcullen, 2009). The QST’s belief in holy war against non-believers is heretical in the eyes of most scholars of the Koran and is not shared by the overwhelming majority of the world’s 1 billion Muslims. The QST’s most immediate goal is to reestablish a Caliphate-state in Afghanistan where the entire population would be ruled according to strict adherence to religious law.
            The QST’s fellows travelers in Afghanistan is Al Qaeda – literally ‘the base’- a group primarily composed of Sunni Arabs who also subscribe to a takfiri ideology but whose goals are global. Al Qaeda leaders consider themselves the al talia al ummah or “the vanguard of the ummah” (Kilcullen, 2009) which means they seek to inspire active resistance against Western governments, globalization and apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Al Qaeda’s base of operations in Afghanistan was the reason the U.S. invaded in 2001, and although they have been weakened by 8 years of intense pressure AQ remains a serious threat capable of attacks both inside and outside of Afghanistan.
            AQ and QST form a vanguard of hardcore true believers but the Greater Taliban is made up both of takfiri and of what David Kilcullen calls “Accidental Guerrillas” (2009), a mix of mercenaries, drug dealers and adventure seekers who may work with the Taliban for just one battle but who have little sympathy for QST or AQ’s ideology. QST are able to pay mercenaries more than twice the salary of a police officer or soldiers in Afghanistan (Moyar, 2009), so QST do not have a shortage of hired gunman. Even without money, if QST can position itself near the right village at the right time of day they can recruit local boys who will shoot at coalition forces for sport, even if those boys nominally like American troops and support the goals of the coalition (Kilcullen, 2009).
            From an operational standpoint, the Greater Taliban is loose collection of light infantry troops armed with an assortment of small arms, improvised explosive devices, RPGs and small mortars. They travel mainly on foot or in light vehicles such as pickup trucks and wear no uniforms, which allows them to easily hide among civilian populations. Because of their ability to pickup accidental guerillas, QST can move in very small groups and add manpower on an as needed basis. QST is also a mobile state apparatus, traveling with their own justice system (sharia law) religious police to enforce their rule-sets and courts to settle disputes. The QST also have intelligence operatives known as “dickers” who may slip into a village before the larger group arrives or remain in a village after the larger group leaves to survey the area, asses threats, and inform on anyone who may be cooperating with the coalition (West, 2009).

Next Section: 3 Crises 


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