Jim Gourley, wanna know why we lost in Afghanistan?: Failure on human terrain
By Capt. Drew Shepler, U.S. Army Best Defense responder to Gourley challenge For the Gourley challenge: We failed to deny the enemy the most important factor in any insurgency: human terrain. This was due to a combination of failing to minimize the risks of supporting Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and also failing ...
By Capt. Drew Shepler, U.S. Army
By Capt. Drew Shepler, U.S. Army
Best Defense responder to Gourley challenge
We failed to deny the enemy the most important factor in any insurgency: human terrain. This was due to a combination of failing to minimize the risks of supporting Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and also failing to offer a viable alternative to shadow governance by the Taliban, local warlords, and competing tribal leaders.
Serving as a platoon leader in Afghanistan in 2010, I often encountered situations where the Taliban and other insurgent groups could come and go as they please, where we were unable to respond to every security threat. On one instance, I remember talking with local village elders after a series of Taliban night letters had been going around. The village elders spoke with me about how armed insurgents would come into the village at night and threaten the lives of the inhabitants. Our only solution we could offer the village leaders was that we would increase our night patrols and that they could call the local Afghan National Army company commander when they needed assistance.
Incidents like this appeared to be common across the valley where we lived, and I have no doubt that they are common across the country. No matter how many patrols we did, the elders and I both knew that we could not be everywhere at once. Despite the presence of Combat Outposts across the country and local security forces manning checkpoints at arms-length intervals, the Taliban are still able to effectively and regularly threaten the lives of people in most parts of the country.
When the risk of Taliban or insurgent sponsored violence is balanced with the inability of the local government to offer an acceptable alternative to the status quo, it is simply not in the people’s best interest to take responsibility for their own security.
As the reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction continue to show, local and national security forces were rife with instances of fraud, waste, and abuse. Security forces are frequently accused of corruption, bribery, and are often just as harsh on the population as insurgent leaders.
Additionally, when compared to tribal and even Taliban judicial systems, the GIRoA system is painfully inefficient. Especially in places like Kandahar, Taliban justice is quick, inexpensive, and most importantly, it makes sense to the average Afghan. Based in Shariah, decisions are easily justified and rationalized to a population whose education is based on Quranic principles.
The Taliban also has the advantage of tribal affiliation with a large population of Afghans. As the Afghan government has been heavily influenced by minority groups in Afghanistan, the message of the Taliban representing Pashtuns has not been lost on large portions of the population.
The Taliban have been able to wield both the carrot and the stick in the minds of many Afghans. While life under Taliban control is certainly not an attractive proposition, neither is life under a system that many just cannot understand. The Taliban have not won over the population but they also have not lost it; and when you are in it for the long haul, a stalemate is as good as a win.
CPT Drew Shepler is an active duty U.S. Army Psychological Operations Officer. He deployed twice to Afghanistan. The statements reflected in this article are completely his own and do not reflect those of his unit, the Army, or the United States Department of Defense.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
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