- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A friend of mine on his 6th combat tour in recent years writes:
It is violent. More violence than I have seen — even beyond the 2006-2007 violence in Iraq. It is huge IEDs, serious, complex attacks with weapon systems, etc. We have one INF CO with 10 KIAs and we are into this tour just 3 weeks.
I read and see news about reconciliation, etc but at the tactical level that is not the case. There is no question that the TB has embedded itself in the countryside and shadow governance is at its best.
My take on this is that the TB see their position as one of strength and are reinforcing that strength in certain areas. Why? In my opinion, it is a race for strength to come to the negotiations table. It is Negotiations 101 in college.
We must get away from the verbiage of central governance and openly accept that Afghanistan is quintessentially a decentralized society that is further fractured by decades of conflict, complex tribal relationships and geographic terrain that prevents strong central governance — particularly when there was never strong central governance in the past. Under the TB, past dynasties, and the Russians, there was never strong governance. Tribal justice reigned and the people were content.
However, we need to openly communicate to ‘our world’ that we must fight and gain control of the key roads to Kabul in order to open commerce and transportation and in parallel build the capacity and capability of the ANSF to secure and control those key arteries — and let the rest of the country lie in rest. To uproot traditionalist and isolationist communities and extend governance outwards to harsh terrain can only shift focus away from what we can control — the roads to Kabul.
A really big problem is the Pashtu belt which lies astride the PAK-AFG border. If we can get to the negotiations table in a position of strength with acceptable political parties (to include some or a lot of TB), we might then find ourselves in a stronger position with AFG and PAK to target extremists/AQ in the Fatah, etc and destroy them — we would be the stronger coalition. Remember that the Pashtuns make up 50 percent of Afghanistan and 100 percent of the insurgency — and the Taliban. That should help put it in perspective. The Pashtu is not really the enemy. They do not want foreigners and extremists among their tribes — nor do they want us here.
It is the extremist that wants to destroy the Pakistan current state as well as U.S. and other western interests outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This terrain provides the safe haven and opportunity for foreign fighters outside of the Pashtu and Afghanistan and Pakistan to target the U.S. as well as Pakistan, which extremists consider a U.S. ally, or puppet. Reaching an acceptable solution among the TB and Pashtu will allow us and Pakistan to target and rid the Pashtu belt of AQ and other extremists — our Commander-in-Chief’s main objective.
Again, it is violent and I strongly believe we are in a phase that requires bargaining from a position of strength — and that strength lies in those key lines of commerce or roads, not in the countryside. In the end, the lessons must be drawn from the 11 Soviet-U.S. Geneva negotiations in the Sov-AFG war that only ended in failure for the Soviets. Soon, we must gain the position of strength and initiate a compromise and enforcement negotiations approach. And we cannot gain a position of strength under a planned timeline. Ask the former President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and when he said, "we are out in 9 months and we will not be linked to the stability of Kabul." That did not work out. Look where we are now.
The boys and girls here in uniform continue to amaze me. The hardest part seems to be for leaders to demonstrate faith in our mission; yet we try — the recent hubris over senior military leaders under our civilian authority just made it all the harder. Americans need to believe that the threat to the U.S. and western world is real and we must stay the course focused on the above. It brings an acceptable balance, I believe."