Waziristan (VI and last): Roe’s lessons

Waziristan (VI and last): Roe’s lessons

I am not advocating that we adopt an imperial stance, or even that everything the British did was right or even moral. But I do think we can learn from them, which is why I am dwelling this week on Roe’s fine book on the British experience in Waziristan.

For example, in 1947, the new Pakistani government invited the former British governor of the North-West Frontier, Sir George Cunningham, to come out of retirement and administer the province, because he was seen as an honest broker. That might be the end-game we should aim for in Iraq, where the American officials eventually subordinate themselves to the Baghdad government and even are seconded to work for it.

That’s my lesson, not Roe’s. Here are some of his. You’ll find more on almost every page:

  • Be prepared to conduct a “constant mapping of political, economic and social information to gain a temporal insight into the views, motivation, and differences among the tribes and subclans.”
  • Don’t underestimate your enemy. “To take on the tribesman and defeat him in his own hils is a game demanding a lifetime of specialized study.”
  • Tribesman will study your tactics and punish lapses or even simple repetitions. “This is one read on why an advance is seldom disputed with vigour, whereas the withdrawal is ferociously harrassed.”
  • Political officers must counter the tendency of military commanders to rely on their “instinct and their own values and standards, which often will be mistaken, unsuitable or inappropriate.” (Tom: I saw this tendency a lot in Iraq in 2003-06.)
  • “Tolerating ambiguities, shortfalls and inconsistencies must be central to any sustainable policy.” (Tom: Hmm, sounds like FM 3-24.)
  • Don’t fight the tribal structure. “Employing and, where necessary, reinforcing the existing tribal framework and structures offers the best opportunity for success.”
  • Be prepared to pay off the enemy.
  • Local forces should be the heart of your effort, not regular Army troops.