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Oops, another COIN Fail in Afghanistan

Posted by on April 27th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Anand Gopal reports in his latest for McClatchy that the US deal to arm a tribal militia from the Shinwari tribe in Afghanistan is falling apart because the people the US did the deal with only spoke for one Shinwari clan.

Achin district, a home of the Shinwari tribe, is part of an ambitious countrywide U.S. push to fund tribal militias to stand against the Taliban and stabilize the violence-plagued region. A months-long feud between Shinwari clans has brought Achin to a standstill, however, threatening to undermine the effort and illustrating the difficulties in enlisting tribes to combat the insurgency.

U.S. military officials rewarded the tribe with $200,000 and promised more development funds to come.

With the funds and newfound prestige, however, came infighting. Like most other Afghan tribes, the Shinwari are subdivided into a tangle of clans and sub-clans, each with its own leaders. Only one of the clans, the Shobli, had made the pledge against the Taliban .

"We haven't participated in that decision," said Muhammad Nabi , an Achin resident and member of another Shinwari clan, the Ali Sher Khel. "Those tribal elders don't represent us, and they don't speak for all Shinwaris." A number of others who were interviewed agreed with this sentiment.

Shortly after the decision to expel the Taliban was announced, the Ali Sher Khel claimed that the Shobli had occupied part of their land on the outskirts of the Achin bazaar, and launched an attack. Thirteen people were killed and 35 injured, and most of the houses there were reduced to rubble.

Many Shobli fled, leaving behind smoldering ruins and heightened tensions. Locals said life still hadn't returned to normal. "Look around," Achin resident Abdul Habib said, pointing to a gaunt, nearly deserted central bazaar. "There is fear everywhere. The (clans) don't trust each other and they think fighting will start again at any minute."

The Shobli that remain in the area don't patrol or otherwise attempt to enforce the Taliban ban, for fear that it would further stoke tensions. Moreover, the police rarely venture far from the main bazaar into the patchwork of farms and orchards in the countryside or the nearby barren flatland, where many Ali Sher Khel live.

As a result, the Taliban still roam openly in parts of Achin, according to locals and government officials.

So the US military rushed to a deal without making sure all relevant angles had been covered and the Shobi thought US support meant they could strongarm their neighbours. That blew up in their faces and left the US holding an even smellier bag of shit. As Joshua Foust tweeted to me this afternoon, it's not as if this wasn't predicted by many independent observers. Meanwhile, the usual stenographers thought it was a good idea.

Joshua wrote, back in March when the internicine fighting between Shinwari clans began:

 The Shinwari are behaving exactly like the Shinwari normally behave. To see that we didn’t plan for it, even at all, demonstrates—again—a pretty shocking and depressing ignorance of how these communities operate. If we’re going to hire tribes because The McChrystal said we should, then at least the people doing it could put in a little, tiny bit of homework so they don’t get blindsided first, right? Sigh.

But there are all kinds of reasons why the powers-that-be don't care to do that kind of due dilligence, stuff having to do with keeping military budget dollars flowing, keeping military careers moving forward and playing games to do with domestic perception of the occupation for domestic political ends.

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  1. Craig says:

    Thanks for keeping us informed on what's really happening. The U.S. media has become worthless in this regard.

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