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Bring Back the Bad Ol’ Days

Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 17th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting

“People loved [the Taliban]–a lot of people did, anyway, at least at first. you’d ask someone about the Talibs and the first thing they’d say is they tamed the warlords. You couldn’t drive across town, they’d say. The warlords would be fighting it out in the middle of the city, slugging it out for turf, like gangsters do, for the right to tax and steal.”

“Talking to Wali that day, and Mohammedi and other Talibs, it seemed obvious enough that what lay at the foundation of the Taliban’s rule was fear, but not fear of the Taliban themselves, at least not in the beginning. No: it was fear of the past. Fear that the past would return, that it would come back in all its disaggregated fury. That the past would become the future. The beards, the burqas, the whips, the stones; anything, anything you want. Anything but the past.”

–Dexter Filkins, The Forever War, p. 27, 33-34.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan seems hell-bent on recreating the conditions that led to the rise of the Taliban. Not only are we backing a government comprised of the same warlords and drug kingpins responsible for some of the worst depredations in the post-Soviet era, but we’ve taken to hiring and arming war criminals and their militias as security teams. (By the way: Can someone explain to me why we’re hiring guards for soldiers? Why are the soldiers not guarding the soldiers?)

The Guardian (UK):

Nato forces in Afghanistan are increasingly reliant on illegal militias, often run by warlords responsible for human rights abuses and drug trafficking, according to an independent report published tomorrow.

“Many of these private security providers serve as ready-made militias that compete with state authority and are frequently run by former military commanders responsible for human rights abuses or involved in the illegal narcotics and black market economies.”

“Financing armed, alternative power structures fulfils security needs in the short term at the cost of consolidating government authority in the long term,” the CIC report says. It gives examples of private paramilitary groups hired by US, Australian, Canadian and German forces, and refers to an incident in June in which 41 militia fighters hired by US special forces in Kandahar killed the provincial police chief and five other police officers in a gun battle to free a militia member who had been arrested earlier the same day.

Jake Sherman, one of the report’s authors…argued that once Nato leaves, the militias are likely to return to drug trafficking and other black market activities, better trained and better armed. “Once they are set up and armed, they are never disarmed,” Sherman said. “They become new threats to the state.”

As if to underscore that the point is not an academic one, the local Afghans hired as security contractors and the ANA started shooting at each other. BBC via

KANDAHAR — A clash has taken place between Afghan National Army [ANA] troops and Afghan guards of U.S. troops.

He said three soldiers of the ANA were killed, one injured and two of the U.S. troops’ special Afghan guards were killed and two others sustained injuries as a result.

Golab Shah said that the fighting took place between the ANA troops and the workers of LG company, which provides guards for the U.S. troops. He said he was unaware of the cause of the incident and that a team had been sent to the area to carry out an investigation.

So to sum up: concurrent with an increase in foreign forces, the coalition is backing a horror-movie-level corrupt government and rearming war criminals to provide security.

All this makes me wonder: are our policymakers even literate? Seriously, can they read? I only ask because they’ve had more than a month to read and digest the UK’s Department for International Development study of radicalization in Afghanistan:

Religious motivation is only one of several reason for joining or supporting the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami. A religious message does resonate with the majority but this is mainly because it is couched in terms of two keenly felt pragmatic grievances: the corruption of government and the presence of foreign forces.

It would be lovely if we could decide to make policy based on the U.S. capabilities and the Afghanistan that actually exist rather than the fantasies that pass for sober policy pronouncements.

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