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Eikenberry Stalls Money For Militias On Afghan Official Fears
Posted by Steve Hynd on January 21st, 2010

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The US’ Ambassador to Kabul, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, is witholding funding for the US military’s program to create “Awakening” style militias in Afghanistan, according to the WaPo today, because he shares Afghan official fears that the program will just create new warlords or brigand groups outside government control.

Eikenberry’s unease about the program as it was structured by the military also reflects a broader difference of opinion at the highest levels of the U.S. military and diplomatic headquarters in Kabul about new approaches to combating the Taliban insurgency. While military commanders are eager to experiment quickly with decentralized grass-roots initiatives that work around the ponderous Afghan bureaucracy in Kabul, civilian officials think it is more important to wait until they have the support of the central government, something they regard as essential to sustaining the programs.

U.S. Embassy and Afghan officials are working to modify the program, called Local Defense Initiatives, to ensure that the Afghan government plays a more central role in how it is run. “We are committed to doing this right, and that means taking the time for the Afghan government and people to decide on whether and how to move ahead,” said Philip Kosnett, the U.S. Embassy’s political-military counselor in Kabul.

Afghan officials and Eikenberry have also expressed concern that unless there is a detailed plan to connect these village security forces to Ministry of Interior oversight, they could fuel the rise of warlords and undermine the already fragile government in Kabul. Another worry is that the local tribal leaders could manipulate U.S. officers who do not understand politics and tribal grievances in a particular area, said U.S. officials.

“Our level of intelligence is so lacking,” said an adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. “We could be supporting people whose interests are not what we think they are.” Eikenberry has argued that without Afghan government support, the program could be quickly disbanded if one of the village security forces is turned by the Taliban or gets into a dispute with government security forces.

Eikenberry’s concerns seem well placed to me – and even if he didn’t share them, the fact that the Afghan government urges caution instead of plunging ahead should be the final argument in favor of that caution. After all, it’s meant to be a sovereign nation that the U.S. is there to aid, and the central government should have a monopoly on force, or at least be able to exert command and control.

McChrystal’s command obviously feels differently.

The military is moving forward with the initiative on a smaller scale, using money that the embassy does not currently control.

That obviously speaks volumes about the relationship between Eikenberry’s people and U.S. military command. But on this one the military are plain wrong, even by their own lights. They’re so gung-ho to plant the COIN trees they can’t see the forest. It’s like the folk with stars on their shoulders think counter-insurgency doctrine shouldn’t apply to them, just the grunts at the front.

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