Options for Decentralized Local Defence Forces in Iraq & Afghanistan

Patrick Blannin (@PatrickBlannin) is a PhD Candidate, teaching fellow and research assistant at Bond University, Queensland, Australia.  The authors doctoral research focuses on the role and scope of defence diplomacy in contemporary counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.  The author has published a research monograph titled Defence Diplomacy in the Long War (Brill) as well as peer-reviewed journal articles on topics related to transnational terrorism (organisations, funding sources and counter measures).  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  Can decentralized Local Defence Forces (LDF) reliably fill the security void in the Long War (Iraq and Afghanistan)?  Will LDFs such as the Tribal Mobilization Forces and the Afghan Local Police generate or maintain stability until the capability of state forces improves?  Or should such entities remain as a state sanctioned, locally drawn, semi-autonomous component of a formal security apparatus[1]?

Date Originally Written:  January 29, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  April 23, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  From an academic perspective, the author analyses national security issues, and the responses to them, through the lens of a whole-of-government approach.  This approach ensures all the U.S.’ tools of statecraft (DIMEFIL) are utilized pursuant of its national security strategic objectives[2].

Background:  In a perfect world, when the long-arm of the state is unable or unwilling to extend through the entirety of its sovereign territory, effectively filling the security vacuum by calling for a grass-roots approach to security and policing would represent a “compelling argument[2].”  However, the Long War theatres of Iraq and Afghanistan are far from perfect, and for over a decade numerous iterations of so-called Local Defence Forces (LDF, or Local Police Forces, Community Defence Units, Public Protection Force, etc.) have been stood up.  Results are mixed, with often short-term benefits yielding mid-term pain.  For example, the highly vaulted Sons of Iraq (’Sahawa al-Anbar’, the Sunni Awakening) constituted a number of strategically aligned LDFs which combined to facilitate the routing of Al Qa’ida from Western Iraq (primarily Anbar Province)[3].  At the time however, with stories of its recent successes reported around the world, some analysts were guarded in their praise, identifying the short-term security gains in at least some areas, while recognizing “[T]here is little guarantee that these gains will persist, and there is some chance that the strategy will backfire in the medium term[4].”  Similar conversations, and associated apprehension, regarding Afghanistan were occurring before, during and after the 2009 ‘Surge[5].’  The intoxicating aroma of tactical victory soon fades and is replaced by the lingering odour of arms races and power grabs between tribally aligned militias, and the often undermining influence and/or actions of the state.

Significance:  Over the past 16 years, the U.S. and its Coalition partners have encouraged the Iraq and Afghan governments, such as they were, to incorporate LDFs into their national security strategy.  LDFs are designed to contribute to clearing or holding missions as well as local law enforcement in broader stabilization efforts.  Although each theatre offers innumerable differences and associated challenges, one constant remains, that short-term tactical successes are followed by mid-term strategic losses.  A legacy of its Long War experience, U.S. and Coalition civilian and military decision-makers have a ‘better’ understanding of the social/cultural anthropology in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Although lessons have been learned and mistakes addressed, repeating the same flawed approach remains a primary strategic choice, and our expectations continually failed to be met[6].

Option #1:  Firstly, limit the size of LDFs.  Secondly, ensure U.S. and Coalition personnel play a role, clandestinely wherever possible, in the vetting and training process which would allow the U.S. and its partners to identify recruits and influence the operating culture of the LDF.  Additional constraints could include the amount, and type of weaponry supplied, limit or equalize the political influence/politicization of all LDF leadership as well as introducing an enforceable set of operating parameters[7].

Risk:  Attempts to constrain LDFs by limiting their size, political influence, or access to weapons risks undermining the capacity of the LDF to fulfill their objective.  Moreover, a constrained and disempowered force can leverage traditional community relations to operate a shadow or parallel security apparatus which effectively monopolizes the use of violence within their respective area of operations which would undermine broader stabilization efforts[8].

Gain:  Limiting the size and capability of the LDF makes it more able to be managed by the government.  Additionally, introducing a personnel cap in conjunction with more rigorous vetting would create a more effective and perhaps malleable security force.  Standing up an effective LDF may mitigate the role/presence/agenda of existing militias affording tribal leadership the ability to pursue legitimate, non-violent, political activities[9].

Option #2:  Firstly, acknowledge, accept and plan for the inherent challenges and limitations of LDFs[10].  Secondly, increase the tempo of the current, centrally controlled train, advise, assist, accompany, and enable and police force capacity building programs, leveraging the arrival of the nascent U.S. Army Security Force Assistance Brigades and private sector trainers/advisors.  Centrally controlled, locally drawn LDFs can be generated through the existing security, stabilization and capacity building framework[11].

Risk:  Convincing/guaranteeing local militia and populations that their acquiescence to a degree of central government control and/or oversight will not prove detrimental to their local security objectives will be a challenge.  Lack of progress in establishing security creates a security vacuum which nefarious actors will exploit rendering the situation worse than prior to implementing this option.

Gain:  Using the existing capacity building framework expedites implementation of this option.  Moreover, generating requisite personnel should not represent a barrier, with existing militiae and a willing local population providing significant pool to draw from.

Other Comments:  For many, a situation in which locals (including LDFs) governed locals would significantly reduce tensions.  However, this local-for-local governance does not equate with the preferred central government model.  Both options are based on realities on the ground rather than a theoretical construct, thus LDFs such as the Tribal Mobilization Forces and the Afghan Local Police represent a rare triptych.  This triptych is an opportunity to empower in situ populations, reduce the anxiety of the central government, and achieve the stabilization objectives of the U.S./Coalition Long War strategy.  The objectives and concerns of all stakeholders are legitimate, yet they are diverse and need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner.  LDFs do deliver short-term tactical benefits and can positively contribute to the strategic objective of sustainable stabilization in Iraq and Afghanistan[12].

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes: 

[1] Clark, K. (2017). ‘Update on Afghan Local Police: Making Sure they are armed, trained, paid and exist’, Afghan Analysts Network at https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/update-on-the-afghan-local-police-making-sure-they-are-armed-trained-paid-and-exist/; Gaston, E. (2017). ‘Sunni Tribal Forces’, Global Public Policy Institute Report at http://www.gppi.net/publications/sunni-tribal-forces/ ; For a comprehensive list of Article about the Afghan Local Police from Afghan War News see: http://www.afghanwarnews.info/police/ALPnews.htm

[2] Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, defines the “instruments of national power” as Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic, normally referred to as the DIME.  The DIMEFIL acronym encapsulates: Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence & Law Enforcement. DIMEFIL is an extension of the DIME construct that can be found in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (NSCT-2003) and the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMSP-WOT). The NMSP-WOT defines DIMEFIL as the means, or the resources, used for the War on Terrorism (2006: 5) at http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/2006-01-25-Strategic-Plan.pdf; For a brief overview of DIMEFIL see: Smith, A.K. (2007), Turning on a DIME: Diplomacy’s Role in National Security, Carlisle, VA: Strategic Studies Institute, pp. 1-17 at https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/PUB801.pdf

[3] Arraf, J. (2014). ‘A New Anbar Awakening’, Foreign Policy at http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/08/a-new-anbar-awakening/; Jones, S. G. (2011). ‘Security from the Bottom Up’, Time at ; Theros, M & Kaldor, (2007) M. ‘Building Afghan Peace from the Ground Up’, A Century Foundation Report, New York: The Century Foundation, pp. 1-60 at http://www.operationspaix.net/DATA/DOCUMENT/4311~v~Building_Afghan_Peace_from_the_Ground_Up.pdf

[4] Hamilton, B. (2017). ‘Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State’, US Army; Kagan, E, (2007). ‘The Anbar Awakening: Displacing al Qaeda from its Stronghold in Western Iraq’, Iraq Report, The Institute for the Study of War & the Weekly Standard, pp. 1-18 at http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/reports/IraqReport03.pdf

[5] Long, A. 2008). ‘The Anbar Awakening’, Survival’, Vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 67-94 at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00396330802034283?needAccess=true

[6] Human Rights Watch. (2012). Impunity, Militias, and the “Afghan Local Police”, pp.  1-100 at https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/09/12/just-dont-call-it-militia/impunity-militias-and-afghan-local-police ; Long, A., Pezard, S., Loidolt, B & Helmus, T. C. (2012). Locals Rule: Historic Lessons for Creating Local Defence Forces for Afghanistan and Beyond, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, pp. 1-232 at https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/09/12/just-dont-call-it-militia/impunity-militias-and-afghan-local-police

[7] Dearing, M. P. (2011). ‘Formalizing the Informal: Historical Lessons on Local Defense in Counterinsurgency’, Small Wars Journal at http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/formalizing-the-informal-historical-lessons-on-local-defense-in-counterinsurgency .

[8] Mansour, R & Jabar, F. A. (2017). ‘The Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraq’s Future’, Carnegie Middle East Center at http://carnegie-mec.org/2017/04/28/popular-mobilization-forces-and-iraq-s-future-pub-68810 ;  Gharizi, O & Al-Ibrahimi, H. (2018). ‘Baghdad Must Seize the Chance to Work with Iraq’s Tribes’, War on the Rocks at https://warontherocks.com/2018/01/baghdad-must-seize-chance-work-iraqs-tribes/

[9] Gibbs, D. 1986). ‘The Peasant as Counter Revolutionary: The Rural Origins of the Afghan’, International Development, Vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 37–45 at http://dgibbs.faculty.arizona.edu/sites/dgibbs.faculty.arizona.edu/files/peasant.pdf

[10] El-Hameed, R. (2017). ‘The Challenges of Mobilizing Sunni Tribes in Iraq’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/59401; n/a. (2016). Militias in Iraq: The hidden face of terrorism, Geneva International Center for Justice at http://www.gicj.org/GICJ_REPORTS/GICJ_report_on_militias_September_2016.pdf

[11] Cox, M. (2017). ‘Army Stands Up 6 Brigades to Advise Foreign Militaries’, Military.com; Cooper, N. B. (2017). ‘Will the Army’s New Advisory Brigades get Manning and Intel Right?’, War on the Rocks at https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/will-the-armys-new-advisory-brigades-get-manning-and-intel-right/ ; Gutowski, A. (2017). ‘Newly created ‘teaching’ brigade prepares to deploy to Afghanistan, FDD Long War Journal at https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/01/sfab.php ; Keller, J. (2018). ‘The 1st SFAB’s Afghan Deployment Is A Moment Of Truth For The Global War On Terror’, Task & Purpose at  https://taskandpurpose.com/sfab-train-advise-assist-afghanistan/  Strandquist, J. (2015). ‘Local defence forces and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: learning from the CIA’s Village Defense Program in South Vietnam’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 90–113 at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09592318.2014.959772?needAccess=true ; Green, D. (2017). In the Warlord’s Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and their Fight Against the Taliban, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017, pp. 1-256.

[12] Al-Waeli, M. (2017). ‘Rationalizing the Debate Over the PMF’s Future: An Organizational Perspective’, 1001 Iraqi Thoughts at http://1001iraqithoughts.com/2017/12/14/rationalizing-the-debate-over-the-pmfs-future-an-organizational-perspective/

[13] Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations. (2017). Operation Inherent Resolve, Report to the U.S. Congress-July 2017-September 2017, pp. 1-126; U.S. Department of Defence. (2016). Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, Report to Congress, pp. 1-106 at https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/Afghanistan-1225-Report-December-2016.pdf ; Hammes, T. X. (2015). ‘Raising and Mentoring Security Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq’, in Hooker Jr, R. D., & Joseph J. Collins. J. J. (eds.), Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War, Fort MacNair: National Defence University, pp. 277-344 at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0030438715000691

Afghanistan Allies & Partners Insurgency & Counteinsurgency Iraq Irregular Forces Option Papers Patrick Blannin United States

Assessment on the Revised Use of Afghan Militias

Suzanne Schroeder is an independent analyst.  She can be found on Twitter @SuzanneSueS57, and on Tumblr.  She is currently working on a long-term project on school poisonings in Afghanistan and has previously written for War on the Rocks.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Date Originally Written:  November 27, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  December 25, 2017.

Summary:  A new plan is under consideration by the Afghan Government to transform the Afghan Local Police into an Afghan Territorial Army.  While this transformation contributes to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, without proper oversight, the Afghan Territorial Army could be co-opted by regional strong men.

Text:  The number of U.S. and North American Treaty Organization troops currently in Afghanistan is insufficient to carry out U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy.  This strategy has multiple parts involving an increased use of air power, employing Special Operations Forces in more ambitious ways, and a constant fight to reverse Taliban gains and prevent the Taliban from securing additional territory.  Additionally, there is a counter-terrorism part of the U.S. mission, which unilaterally focuses on containing/defeating the Islamic State-Khorasan Province[1].

On November 19, 2017, The Guardian newspaper reported that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is currently considering a U.S. proposal to restructure the Afghan Local Police into the Afghan Territorial Army, modeled after the Indian Territorial Army[2].  The Guardian also reported that the proposal would start with 1,000 men, and possibly reach 20,000, over two years[3].  This proposal has raised numerous concerns with human rights groups, including the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, that fear any new iteration of the militia system will revive the serious abuses that the militias have been accused of in the past ranging  from child sexual abuse to extra judicial killings.  As global attention shifts away from Afghanistan, increased misuses of power are a concern.

If one types the word “arbakis,“ the Pashto world that generally means militias, into the search field on the Taliban’s alemarah website the result is 81 pages where the term is used.  Despite the deceptions and exaggerations that often appear in Taliban propaganda, the negative opinions regarding militias allow the Taliban to gain political capital by exploiting the distrust of these groups based on their records of abusive practices towards civilians.  If this anti-militia narrative did not produce some benefit for the Taliban, it is doubtful they would continue to adhere to it so closely.

The plans to form an Afghan Territorial Army are an attempt to provide a second-line defense against Taliban gains.  The Taliban understand that repeated attacks on military and police targets accomplish the goal of psychological intimidation.  For anyone who may be considering joining the Afghan National Security Forces, the awareness of how often security forces are targeted is a strong deterrent.  Taliban attacks on police and military targets have become increasingly ambitious, complex, and deadly.

The war in Afghanistan is both regionally strategic, and a micro-level conflict driven by local concerns.  All regional players have their own motives for involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan, whether related to security concerns (containing the Islamic State for both Russia and Iran, as an example), or economic opportunities, as in the case with India and the People’s Republic of China.  Also involved are the ever-complex machinations of Pakistan and its security services.  Concurrently, there are numerous local competitions for resources, favors, development projects, drugs, and all other commodities.  These conditions have allowed local powerbrokers, most of whom have connections to the Afghan National Unity Government, to consolidate their power and establish local fealties, policed by militias.  The idea that an Afghan Territorial Army would not be co-opted in some fashion by regional strong men seems dangerously naïve.  Afghan Territorial Army units might also be used as conduits for influence from other regional actors.  There is no reason why Russia, who already assists the Taliban with small arms and a fuel supply scheme[4], wouldn’t seek to co-opt the Afghan Territorial Army.  Any establishment of an Afghan Territorial Army must also take into account the shifting of alliances, which have been so characteristic of this conflict.

A critical part of the counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan includes the avoidance of another civil war, such as the devastating one that followed the Soviet departure in 1989.  While the continuation of Western aid would seem to prevent this outcome, it’s still a danger that existing conditions can be worsened by sectarianism, social inequality, and the ever-present corruption, that is too entrenched to be effectively combated.  The establishment of an Afghan Territorial Army that is unregulated and operates outside of an accountability structure, would further fuel declining social and political cohesion.  Combined with abuses, and little or no means of redress, Afghan hostilities may be directed at the Afghan National Unity Government, which ironically is greatly lacking in “unity.”  The inability of Afghans to redress the actions of an unregulated Afghan Territorial Army would ensure the Taliban gains support.  One way to preempt this inability of redress is to truly model the Afghan Territorial Army after the Indian Territorial Army, which is subordinated to the Indian Army to ensure proper oversight.

An Afghan Territorial Army with sufficient oversight, including maintaining an accurate inventory of its weapons and equipment, could contribute towards the U.S. strategic goal of recapturing territory from the Taliban (80% back in Afghan government control, after two years), and sufficiently degrading Taliban capabilities to make negotiations seem a reasonable option[5]. While this strategic goal is lofty, a narrower tactical goal could be an Afghan Territorial Army that succeeds in addressing the localized nature of the conflict and offsets the high level of desertions, among other problems that plague the Afghan National Army.

Any future development of the Afghan Territorial Army will require a functioning, sustainable system of oversight, and an awareness of consequences that could potentially damage U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, thus strengthening support for the Taliban.  If the U.S. is invested the creation of an Afghan Territorial Army, then Afghan partners must be willing to adhere to mutually agreed upon guidelines for its employment and oversight, and due care must be taken to evaluate both the potential successes and failures of this type of program throughout its life.


Endnotes:

[1] Author interview, with The Guardian’s Kabul correspondent, Sune Engel Rasmussen, September 11, 2017.

[2] Rasmussen, S. E. (2017, November 19). UN concerned by controversial US plan to revive Afghan militias. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/19/afghanistan-militias-us-un-diplomats

[3] Ibid.

[4] Loyd, A. (2017, November 11). Afghanistan: the war that never ends. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/afghanistan-the-war-that-never-ends-mchjpgphh

[5] Stewart, P., Ali, I. (2017, November 20).  U.S. General Sets Two-Year Goal for Driving Back Afghan Taliban.  Retrieved November 27, 2017, from www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-11-20/us-general-sets-two-year-goal-for-driving-back-afghan-taliban

Afghanistan Assessment Papers Irregular Forces Suzanne Schroeder Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) United States

Assessment of the Potential Security Challenges Posed by Water Security Between Afghanistan and Iran

Max Taylor is currently an Intern Intelligence and Security Analyst at Intelligence Fusion where he focuses on the Afghan security landscape.  Max also has a Master’s degree in International Security and Terrorism from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.  Max contributes to the @AfghanOSINT Twitter account.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Assessment of the Potential Security Challenges Posed by Water Security Between Afghanistan and Iran

Date Originally Written:  September 8, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  October 23, 2017.

Summary:  Whilst the relationship between Afghanistan and Iran is characterised by generations of shared history and culture, concerns over water security provide a more contemporary security challenge.  Iran’s reliance on Afghanistan’s water supply and Afghanistan’s refusal to cede control over its waterways to Iran will ensure that this issue, if left undressed, will fester.

Text:  Water security between Afghanistan and Iran is not necessarily a new concern, as disputes can be traced back to the 19th century when Afghanistan was under British control[1].  However, as time has progressed, water security as a challenge facing Afghanistan and Iran has continued to grow.  In an attempt to respond to the looming challenges posed by water security, both countries have engaged in various treaties and agreements which intended to ensure Iran received a sufficient amount of water.  The question as to how to allocate sufficient water supply to Iran has not been simple, as the treaties designed to manage the Afghan water supply have largely failed to provide effective oversight and control.  Therefore, with much of Iran’s water supply originating in Afghan sovereign territory, Iran has very little control over their own water supply.  This relative lack of reliable control over their own water supply is a particularly pressing concern for Iran, and is likely to continue to dominate the Afghan-Iran relationship.  This article will aim to expand upon this assumption by first examining the position from which both parties approach their water security, and will then analyse what Iran has done to address the problems it faces.

From Iran’s perspective, the forecast is somewhat bleak.  A study by Dr M. Molanejad and Dr A. Ranjbar[2] suggested that Iran has seen more extremes of weather as a result of climate change, such as draught, and can continue to expect additional extremes of weather.  Precipitation levels recorded in Molanejad and Ranjbar’s study show that in 1998, Iran saw its lowest total precipitation since 1969, but show that such extremes are only going to occur more often.  As within 10 years of the 1998 draught, a similar extreme low in rainfall was recorded which exceeded that of 1998.  Furthermore, agreements such as the 1973 agreement between Afghanistan and Iran which guarantees that Iran can expect to receive 22 cubic meters per second of water from Afghanistan provide little comfort.  The water allowance extract of this agreement is a static figure (albeit with the option to buy increased water allowance) and therefore does not correlate with predicted Iranian population increase.  With Iran’s population expected to be over 90 million in 2021[3], the figures of the 1973 agreement will not be sufficient in years to come.  As climate change is expected to increase the occurrence of extremes of weather, it is wise to assume that Iran’s fragile reliance on their Afghan water supply will become increasingly important.

Within this context the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) is unlikely to commit to  agreements which may limit their control over their own water ways.  Development of water management projects such as the Baksh-Abad Hydroelectric Station is both an effective way to win over the hearts of the Afghan population in the NUG’s ongoing conflict against the Taliban and a highly symbolic move.  In Afghan provinces such as Nimroz, where agriculture characterises the majority of the province, a damming project instigated by the NUG is an effective way for the NUG to connect with a population traditionally isolated from Kabul’s central control.  Construction of water management projects also acts as a symbolic gesture to the people of Afghanistan and the international community.  The NUG’s leading role in organising the projects suggests to observers that the NUG is capable of rebuilding itself in the wake of decades of conflict.

With climate change promising to increase the frequency of extreme weather and the creation of additional water management projects continuing in Afghanistan, time is not on the side of Iran.  Iran is not ignorant of this fact, and has attempted to assert an element of control over Afghan’s water supply.  Iranian President Rouhani has attempted to voice his concerns regarding water security through traditional diplomatic means, but Iran has also been accused of pursing more covert avenues of approach.  Afghan and U.S. officials have frequently accused Iran of supporting the Taliban by funding[4] and supplying the group.  As part of this support, Iran is accused of using the Taliban to sabotage key Afghan water management projects such as the Kamal Khan Dam which Iran claims will negatively affect the Iranian Sistan-Baluchestan Province.  In 2011, a Taliban commander was allegedly offered $50,000 by Iran to sabotage the Kamal Khan Dam[5].  Predictably, Iran explicitly denies that it supports the Taliban, and justifies its dialogue with the group by highlighting their common interest in combating the Islamic State.

Iran’s alleged support for the Taliban as a foreign policy tool has led to obvious implications for the Afghan-Iranian relationship.  With Iranian support for the Taliban being denied by Iran, and largely conducted under the guise of plausible deniability, the Afghan NUG is struggling to bring Iran to justice for their accused support.  Regardless, the sheer volume of accusations of Iranian support for the Taliban emanating from analysts, policy makers and Afghans alike adds an element of credibility to the claims.  The exact nature of Iran’s support for the Taliban is unclear, as the Taliban is a largely decentralised force with local commanders having substantial autonomy.  Furthermore, the Taliban’s traditional opposition to Iranian backed Shia groups in Afghanistan also holds back an ideologically supported relationship forming freely.

In order to comprehend the complexity of the issues posed by Afghan-Iranian water security, it is important to observe the subject from the perspective of both countries.  Iran finds itself stuck between a metaphorical rock and a hard place, with climate change and a rising population acting as the rock, and the continued creation of water management projects acting as the hard place.  On the other hand, the Afghan government is faced with a powerful Taliban insurgency and a distinct lack of public support from within more remote areas of the rural south.  Therefore, improved irrigation would act as an effective bridge between the NUG and the rural Afghan population of provinces such as Nimroz.  With both Afghanistan and Iran’s disposition in mind, it is difficult to comprehend how such an issue will be resolved.


Endnotes:

[1]  Fatemeh Aman, Retrieved 10th September 2017, from: http://www.css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/resources/docs/Atlantic%20Council-Water%20Dispute.pdf

[2]  Dr M. Molanejad & Dr A. Ranjbar, Retrieved September 8th 2017, from: http://www.comsats.org/Latest/3rd_ITRGs_ClimateChange/Dr_Molanejad.pdf

[3]  Parviz Garshasbi, Retrieved September 8th 2017, from: http://www.droughtmanagement.info/literature/UNW-DPC_NDMP_Country_Report_Iran_2014.pdf

[4]  Ahmad Majidyar, Retrieved September 8th 2017, from: https://www.mei.edu/content/io/iran-and-russia-team-taliban-undermine-us-led-mission-afghanistan

[5]  Radio Free Europe, Retrieved September 10th 2017. from: https://www.rferl.org/a/captured_taliban_commander_claims_trained_in_iran/24305674.html

Afghanistan Assessment Papers Environmental Factors Iran Max Taylor

Options for Constitutional Change in Afghanistan

David Benson is a Professor of Strategy and Security Studies at the United States Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS), part of Air University in Montgomery, Alabama.  His area of focus includes online politics and international relations.  He can be found on Twitter @davidcbenson.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The United States is attempting to broker peace in Afghanistan allowing it to remove troops, leaving behind a stable country unlikely to be used to stage transnational terror attacks.

Date Originally Written:  August 23, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  September 25, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article provides a neutral assessment of two possible courses of action available to the U.S. and Afghan Governments.

Background:  Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, religious and linguist state.  Nicknamed “the graveyard of empires,” the disparate nature of the country has prevented both foreign empires and domestic leaders from consolidating control in the country.  The most successful domestic leaders have used Afghanistan’s rough terrain and complicated ethnography to retain independence, while playing larger states off each other to the country’s advantage.

The U.S. and its allies have been conducting military operations in Afghanistan for 16 years.  In that time, the coalition of opposition known as the Taliban has gone from control of an estimated 90% of the country, down to a small fraction, and now controls approximately 50% of the country.  At the time of the U.S.-led invasion, the Taliban was a pseudo-governmental organization capable of fielding a military that used modern tactics, but since than has devolved into a less hierarchical network, and in some ways is better thought of as a coalition of anti-government forces.  Although officially a religious organization, the Taliban has historically drawn its greatest support from among the Pashto majority in the country.  The current Afghan government is at Kabul and has supporters amongst every ethnic group, but has never controlled much territory outside of Kabul.

Following the collapse of the Taliban the U.S.-sponsored government installed a constitution which established a strong central government.  Although the constitution recognizes the various minority groups, and provides protections for minority communities, it reserves most authority for the central government.  For example, though the government recognizes 14 ethnic groups and as many as 5 language families as part of Afghanistan, it still calls for a single centrally developed educational curriculum.  The president even appoints regional governors.

Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump and some of his key advisors have raised the possibility of a negotiated solution in Afghanistan.  Such a negotiation would necessarily include the Taliban, and Taliban associated groups.  Insofar as the ongoing conflict is between the central government and those opposed to the central government, a natural accommodation could include a change in the government structure.

Significance:  Afghanistan was the base of operation for the terrorist organization al-Qa’ida, and where the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States were planned.  The importance of the September 11th attacks in the U.S. and international consciousness cannot be overstated.  The perceived threat of international terrorism is so great that if Afghanistan is not stable enough to prevent transnational terror attacks from originating there, regional and global powers will be constantly tempted to return.  Afghanistan is also a potential arena for competition between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.  India seeks an ally that can divide Pakistan’s attention away from India and the Jammu and Kashmir, while Pakistan wants to avoid encirclement.

Option #1:  Do not change the constitution of Afghanistan which would continue to centralize authority with the government in Kabul.

Risk:  The conflict never ends.  The Afghan constitution provides for a far more centralized government than any western democracy, and yet Afghanistan is more heterogeneous than any of those countries.  Ongoing populist revolts against elite leadership personified by Brexit in the United Kingdom and the election of President Trump demonstrate the desire for local control even in stable democracies.  Combined with Afghanistan’s nearly 40 year history of war, such desires for local control that are currently replicated across the globe could easily perpetuate violence in the country.  Imagine the local popular outrage in the U.S. when Barack Obama and Donald Trump were elected if the President also appointed the governors of every state, and dictated the curriculum in every school.

A second-order risk is heightened tension between India and Pakistan.  So long as Afghanistan is internally fractured, it is a source of conflict between India and Pakistan.  If Pakistan is able and willing to continue to foment the Taliban to thwart India’s outreach into the country, then this raises the possibility of escalation between the two nuclear countries.

Gain:  Afghanistan externally looks more like other states, at least on paper.  The Taliban and other terror groups are in violation of local and international law, and there is a place in Kabul for the U.S. and others to press their claims.  The advantage of the constitution as it now stands is that there is a single point of institutional control.  If the president controls the governors, and the governors control their provinces, then Afghanistan is a more easily manageable problem internationally, if not domestically.

Option #2:  Change the constitution of Afghanistan decentralizing some governing authority.

Risk:  Once the Afghan constitution is on the table for negotiation, then there is no telling what might happen.  The entire country could be carved up into essentially independent territories, with the national state of Afghanistan dissolving into a diplomatic fiction.  Although this would essentially replicate de jure what is de facto true on the ground, it could legitimize actors and outcomes that are extremely deleterious for international peace.  At worst, it might allow bad actors legal protection to develop power bases in regions of the country they control without any legal recourse for other countries.

Gain:  A negotiated solution with the Taliban is much more likely to succeed.  Some Taliban members may not give up their arms in exchange for more autonomy, and perhaps even a legal seat at the table, but not all people fighting for the Taliban are “true believers.”  The incentives for people who just want more local control, or official recognition of the control they already exercise, change with a constitution that cedes control from the central government.  Ideally the constitution would replicate to some degree the internal autonomy with external unity created in the 20th under the monarchy.

Other Comments:  War, even civil war, is always a political problem.  As such, a political solution may be more practical than a military one.  While changes can be applied to force structure, rules of engagement and strategy, until all involved are willing and able to change the politics of the situation, failure is imminent.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

None.

Afghanistan David Benson Governing Documents Option Papers United States

Options for a Future Strategy for the Afghan Taliban

Paul Butchard is a graduate student in the Department of War Studies at Kings College London in the United Kingdom, where he is pursuing his master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security.  He also holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Politics.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Options for a future strategy for the Afghan Taliban.

Date Originally Written:  July, 12, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  July 17, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of someone with influence over strategic policy making within the Afghan Taliban, possibly a member of the Quetta Shura.

Background:  The Taliban has seen continuous conflict for over two decades now and despite its overthrow in 2001 by the United States and the 2013 death of its founder Mullah Omar, remains a potent force within Afghanistan.  The Taliban is currently estimated to hold more territory than at any time since 2001[1].

Significance:  Given the territorial degradation being suffered by Daesh in Iraq and Syria and the presence of a Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan, the Taliban may once again find itself in the crosshairs of an international anti-terrorism coalition.  There are also increasing levels of international training and advisory support being given to the Afghan government[2] to counter the Taliban.  These developments raise the prospect of United States and international re-engagement in Afghanistan.  As such, the Taliban must constantly assess their future direction should they hope to survive and thrive.

Option #1:  Enter negotiations with the Government of Afghanistan (GOA).  Although announcing their intentions not to participate in peace talks, the Taliban, or factions within it, have previously indicated a willingness to engage in negotiations to achieve political goals.  This is evidenced by their opening of a political office in Doha, Qatar and engagement in talks in 2014 among other events.

Risk:  The Taliban risks giving up the 86 districts they currently estimate themselves to fully or partially control, potentially for few guarantees[3].  This option risks the support afforded to the Taliban by Pakistan’s military, as identified by a recent United States Defense Department report, among numerous other sources[4].  Pakistan would not approve a deal in which it loses influence or operational control over the Taliban or subsidiaries like the Haqqani Network.  Pakistan would also oppose subsequent warming of Afghan-Indian relations.  Military demobilisation of any kind leaves the Taliban potentially vulnerable to United States and allied forces reorienting to Afghanistan post-Daesh, a risk when the Trump administration centres its national security policy on the confronting of “[T]he crisis of Islamic extremism, and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds[5].”

Gain:  The GOA has continuously reaffirmed its willingness to enter peace talks with the Taliban and the pardon issued to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is evidence of a willingness to provide concessions[6].  This option has the support, even if understated, of the British and United States governments[7].  The Taliban enjoyed considerable military success against Afghan forces (ANSF) in 2015-16[8].  Thus, it is in a strong position to push for concessions such as autonomy within its strongholds such as the Pashtun region.  This option enables the Taliban to avoid the ire of the United States coalition turning toward Afghanistan after Daesh in Iraq and Syria are defeated.  This option also points to the possibility of restoration of the notion of the Taliban as a sociopolitical not just militant movement.  Should the right deal be reached, this option also provides chances to increase Pakistani influence in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and thus sustain or increase support from the ISI to the Taliban even against international pressure.

Option #2:  The Taliban continues the insurgent war against the ANSF.  This course of action is the one currently favoured and being pursued by Taliban senior command.

Risk:  Although gaining considerable ground since coalition forces withdrew, the Taliban, like the ANSF, has been unable to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.  The Taliban is unlikely to win back Afghanistan through force of arms alone.  By continuing military operations, the Taliban risk attracting the attention of the United States military, which may soon turn to combating the Daesh presence in Afghanistan more directly after the Daesh territorial holdings in Iraq and Syria are eliminated.  By persisting primarily with a military strategy, the Taliban remain somewhat hostage to the whims and machinations of their Pakistani patrons, should the future political environment change, due to domestic or international pressure, the Taliban could theoretically find themselves short on friends and overwhelmed by enemies.

Gain:  The Taliban is enjoying a military resurgence since the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014.  There are few prospects of an outright ANSF victory.  Operation Mansouri, the recent spring offensive by the Taliban has combined guerrilla tactics, conventional assaults and an increasing number of suicide operations to devastating effect[9].  The Taliban have also seemingly learnt from both coalition successes in Iraq and Afghanistan and from Daesh in their use of small, mobile special operations type units with advanced equipment carving inroads to populations centres and forming of human intelligence networks and sleeper cells, rather than full frontal attacks.  The Taliban’s efforts have culminated in the appearance of the Sara Khitta, or Red Group, a Taliban commando force[10].  Such successes display that the Taliban remain militarily capable and it may be unwise to sacrifice such capability.  The fact that the Taliban have sustained a war of attrition against coalition and ANSF forces shows they have no pressing need to cease military operations, the poppy cultivation it protects, and the goal of conquering the Afghan government it is working toward.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] O’Donnel, L (2016, June 16) The Taliban now hold more ground in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001. Retrieved July 11, 2017, from http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2016/06/16/afghanistan-nicholson-commander-pentagon-report-war/85972056/

[2] Associated Press (2017, June 16) US sending almost 4,000 extra forces to Afghanistan, Trump official says. Retrieved July 10, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/15/us-troops-afghanistan-trump-administration

[3] Roggio, B (2017, March 28) Afghan Taliban lists ‘Percent of Country under the control of Mujahideen’. Retrieved July 12, 2017, from http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/03/afghan-taliban-lists-percent-of-country-under-the-control-of-mujahideen.php

[4] United States Department of Defense (2017, June) Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan. Retrieved July 12, 2017, from: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/June_2017_1225_Report_to_Congress.pdf

[5] Talev, M (2017, May 22) Donald Trump drops phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ on Saudi Arabia trip to soften tone on Muslims. Retrieved July 12, 2007, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/donald-trump-saudi-arabia-radical-islamic-terrorism-muslims-soften-tone-iran-palestinians-israel-a7748541.html

[6] Rasmussen, S.E (2016, September 22) ‘Butcher of Kabul’ pardoned in Afghan peace deal. Retrieved July 12, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/22/butcher-of-kabul-pardoned-in-afghan-peace-deal

[7] Yousafzai et al. (2016, October 18) Taliban and Afghanistan restart secret talks in Qatar. Retrieved July 12, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/18/taliban-afghanistan-secret-talks-qatar

[8] Koven, B.S (2017, July 09) The End of Afghanistan’s Spring Fighting Seasons and the Demise of the Afghan National Security Forces? Retrieved July 12, 2017, from http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/the-end-of-afghanistan%E2%80%99s-spring-fighting-seasons-and-the-demise-of-the-afghan-national-secu

[9] Roggio, B (2017, April 28) Taliban announces start of ‘Operation Mansouri’. Retrieved July 11, 2017, from http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/04/taliban-announce-start-of-operation-mansouri.php

[10] Snow, S (2016, August 12) Red Group: The Taliban’s New Commando Force. Retrieved on July 11, 2017, from: http://thediplomat.com/2016/08/red-group-the-talibans-new-commando-force/

Afghanistan Islamic State Variants Option Papers Paul Butchard Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan)