Flynn on Bergen: the Afghan army issue
Here is more from CNAS intern and former SF NCO Kyle Flynn on last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing: On a different note, Mr. Bergen also has some valid concerns on the effectiveness of the Afghan national army: “And my concern is that the Afghan army, in much of the country, is essentially a ...
Here is more from CNAS intern and former SF NCO Kyle Flynn on last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:
On a different note, Mr. Bergen also has some valid concerns on the effectiveness of the Afghan national army:
“And my concern is that the Afghan army, in much of the country, is essentially a foreign army. Doesn’t mean that it has the active opposition of much of even the Pashtun population, but it’s not a Pashtun army. And if they come in, I think most people will be content to do with them as they are essentially doing with American forces now, and that is to sit on the fence and wait and see who wins this thing. Unless we have their active cooperation, I just don’t think that we’re going to get any real traction in this campaign. And so the concern that I have is that we are placing much too much of the emphasis currently on the buildup of an Afghan army.”
My experience in Deh Rawod supports Mr. Bergen’s observations on many counts. Foremost, it is no secret that for security to exist in Afghanistan, a bottom-up approach which begins at the tribal and district level must be adopted throughout the country. Therefore, transplanting an Afghan army battalion comprised of Tajiks, Hazaras, or Turks to the Pashtun belt does not make sound policy, at least not to me. During my second deployment, I witnessed everything from good old-fashioned fisticuffs to full blown armed standoffs between the “foreign” army and our local Afghan security forces. Which begs me to ask why a Pashtun tribe would assist what they perceive as a foreign army more than a localized insurgency comprised of members of their own tribe and perhaps even family? The very idea of a developing a 200,000 strong Afghan army which can operate freely and effectively throughout the heart of the insurgency is a non-starter. While we should be focused on developing localized defense forces to combat and defeat an internal insurgency, we are instead creating an army better positioned to combat external threats. Again, we seem to have a knack for confusing the bottom-up and top-down approaches to strategic success in Afghanistan.
Some may argue however that a non-Pashtun army will be more willing to engage a Pashtun insurgency and more importantly not succumb so easily to Taliban infiltration. While I agree to some extent with both assumptions, I would also argue that only localized security forces have the ability to collect the intelligence necessary to defeat this type of insurgency. Thus, the risk of Taliban infiltration of localized security forces is unavoidable because without the collection of localized intelligence, the war is all but lost. So if the local population has no intention of assisting an Afghan army battalion comprised of different ethnicities, then in my opinion the battalion’s tactical value is close to zero. I also agree with Mr. Bergen regarding the use of warlords and other localized power structures which could help accomplish that which should be our primary goal: that is, to defeat both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1
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