“Interested, but not involved”

Posted by Lex, on February 7, 2011


That’s the perspective of US special forces on the second order effects of a nascent move to arm certain Afghan rustics:

This U.S. experiment gives villagers AK-47s and a three-week training course and encourages them to protect their neighborhoods from the Taliban. The experiment, being replicated around the country, is the latest and most ambitious U.S. effort to build grass-roots opposition to the insurgency in rural areas where U.S. troops and Afghan security forces are spread thin…

To partner with the local police, a U.S. army battalion from the 1st Infantry Division is arriving in Afghanistan in an unusual arrangement in which conventional troops will work under the command of U.S. Special Forces, who have been in charge so far. The elite Special Forces have training to instruct indigenous troops, but the Army battalion’s greater numbers mean the program can spread to more areas.

In some parts of the country, particularly Uruzgan province, senior U.S. military officials said the village guards have performed well and repelled several Taliban attacks.

But some U.S. officials remain skeptical that the gunmen can be controlled or that they will be embraced by a wary Afghan government, which is nominally in charge of them. What is happening in Baghlan province points to some of the risks involved.

Noor ul Haq and his 70 fighters, from a force that is expected to ultimately triple in size, have been accused of robbing and beating villagers, breaking into homes at night and carrying out revenge arrests and even killings. While only recently approved to officially join the local police, they have worked with U.S. troops for months…

By empowering Haq and his allies, the U.S. Special Forces have essentially chosen sides in a complex web of long-standing feuds and rivalries. These Pashtuns have enemies in their villages and the government, particularly among other ethnic groups, and their growing power risks provoking as much hostility as it alleviates.

Pastoral Afghanistan is a Hobbesian experiment run wild; bellum omnium contra omnes. Of necessity, we choose to side with anyone who will side with us against the Taliban, but in doing so make enemies of other clans, tribe and ethnicities. The central government – not trusting these partisans – declines to pay them a salary now that they’ve been armed, thereby all but abetting banditry.

Noor ul Haq rejects the accusations of his enemies, and the US declines to arbitrate between them: “A spokesman for the Special Forces described the accusations against Haq as ‘interpersonal stuff’ between Afghans that the U.S. troops are ‘interested in but not involved in.’”

What a mess.


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