Assessment of Increased Chinese Strategic Presence in Afghanistan

Humayun Hassan is an undergraduate student at National University of Sciences and technology, Pakistan.  His areas of research interests include 5th and 6th generation warfare and geopolitics of the Levant.  He can be found on Twitter @Humayun_17. 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 Increased Chinese Strategic Presence in Afghanistan

Date Originally Written:  September 15, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  December 2, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the Chinese standpoint, with regards to U.S and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member country (NATO) presence in Afghanistan and the pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Summary:  Afghanistan is important to Chinese strategic interests. To ensure stability in its autonomous region of Xinjiang, expansion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and counter a perceived “encirclement of China” strategy, Afghanistan holds the key for China. Therefore, China is consolidating its interests in Afghanistan through “economic diplomacy”, facilitation of peace talks, and working with other regional players.

Text:  As a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China is establishing multiple economic passages, across Eurasia, Africa, and Southeast Asia. A total of six economic[1] corridors are designed to connect China with most of the major markets of the world. To consolidate her direct access to these markets, it is pivotal for China to maintain regional and political stability, especially in areas that directly pertain to these economic corridors. Two of these six corridors, namely CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and China-Central Asia and West Asia economic corridors pass through the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. This network of railroads, energy projects, and infrastructure is meant to connect Beijing with Central and Western Asia, along with the Middle East. Xinjiang is not only one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped regions of China, but is also home to almost 10-12 million Uighurs Muslims. In the past few years, Muslims in Xinjiang have caught significant media spotlight[2], due to growing sense of discontent among the local population with the Chinese administration. While the official Chinese narrative depicts a few Uighurs groups to be supportive of terrorist activities, the opposing viewpoint highlights internment camps[3] and over-representation of police force in the region. Nevertheless, the geo-economic importance of Xinjiang is paramount, which is why China is willing to use aggressive measures to restore stability in the area.

The militant factions of the Uighur community are supported by various group operating from Afghanistan. The Turkestan Islamic Movement, which was formerly known as East Turkestan Islamic Movement, is considered to be the primary organization undermining the Chinese sovereignty in Western China. In the past, this group has primarily operated from Afghanistan, with alliances with the Afghan Taliban (Taliban) and Al-Qaeda. However, since 2015, China has another reason to be cautious of protecting its economic[4] interests in the region. The Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) chapter of the violent extremist organization the Islamic State was established that year, with an aim to create its terror network in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Apart from tacitly supporting the Uighurs militant factions, IS-K has openly threatened to attack the ongoing CPEC projects, not only inside Pakistan but also in Western China[5].

The encirclement of China strategy advocates for constant U.S military and political presence in Chinese proximity[6]. With forces in Afghanistan the United States and NATO have opened up a new pressure point for China, a country that is already coping with the U.S forces in South China Sea and Japan, on the eastern front. After almost 18-years of non-conclusive war in Afghanistan, the U.S and Afghan forces have failed subdue the Taliban[7]. As the Kabul administration is facing financial and political turmoil, the U.S is considering reducing military presence in the country, and leaving a friendly government in Afghanistan. China seems to be aware of the political vacuum that awaits Afghanistan, which is why it presents an opportunity for it to find new allies in the country and work with other stakeholders to bring in a friendly government. This government vacuum-filling may not only allow China to neutralize U.S encirclement from Afghanistan, but will also help suppress terrorist organizations operating from Afghanistan. The latest developments in lieu of U.S-Taliban talks in Doha, Qatar indicate that China is enhancing ties with the Taliban. A Taliban government in Afghanistan may be suitable for China, at least in consideration of the available options. Not only have the Taliban declared war against IS-K[8], an entity that has openly threatened to disparage Chinese interests in the region and support militants in Western China, but also remained silent on the alleged persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. This war declaration may be regarded as a major milestone in the China-Taliban relations, since the late 1990s when the Taliban government in the country allowed militant groups, such as Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

For the first few years of the Afghan war, China passively supported it. However, as the United States, under the Obama administration started to hint a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, China assumed a more active role in the country. Since the initiation of BRI, Chinese exports to Afghanistan have increased significantly[9]. For the first time in modern China-Afghanistan relations, China has offered military aid to the Afghanistan. The Chinese foreign minister also expressed a desire to expand the ongoing CPEC into Afghanistan as well[10]. Another aspect that is often discredited is the natural resource potential in the country. Afghanistan incorporates some of the largest Lithium reserves, which are particularly essential for the manufacturing of most electronic products. As per the American Geological Survey, Afghanistan holds approximately $3 trillion worth of natural resources[11]. This alone makes Afghanistan an area of interest for major world powers.

In conclusion, China’s approach towards Afghanistan may be best deciphered by a paradigm shift. From a strategic limited involvement to active leadership, China has now become one of the key stakeholders in the Afghan peace process. With an apparent failure of the Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and U.S, the situation is deteriorating quickly. The Taliban, since then, have vowed to double down on militancy. From a Chinese standpoint, continuation of U.S presence in Afghanistan and the anticipated increase in violence would be the least desired outcome. China, over the years, has strategically played a balancing act between all the internal stakeholders of Afghanistan, from offering aid to the national government to hosting a Taliban delegation in Beijing. Therefore, any political settlement in the country, whether it is the creation of a new “national government” with the Taliban or a truce between the fighting forces within the country may suit the Chinese in the long-run. As the BRI initiative enters the next stage, and threats of terror activities in the Xinjiang loom, and the race to tap into Afghanistan’s natural resources intensifies, China is now in unchartered waters, where any significant development in Afghanistan will directly effects its regional political and economic interests. It seems that, in coming times, China may assume the central role in organizing new peace initiatives, ensuring that whoever comes to power in Afghanistan may not thwart China’s ambitions in the country.


Endnotes:

[1]1 Hillman, J. (2019, September 4). China’s Belt and Road Is Full Of Holes. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.csis.org/analysis/chinas-belt-and-road-full-holes

[2] Sudworth, J. (2019, July 4). China Muslims: Xinjiang schools used to separate children from families. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48825090

[3] Shams, S. (2015, July 24). Why China’s Uighurs are joining jihadists in Afghanistan. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.dw.com/en/why-chinas-uighurs-are-joining-jihadists-in-afghanistan/a-18605630

[4] Pandey, S. (2018, September 22). China’s Surreptitious Advance in Afghanistan. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/chinas-surreptitious-advance-in-afghanistan/

[5] Aamir, A. (2018, August 17). ISIS Threatens China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.chinausfocus.com/peace-security/isis-threatens-china-pakistan-economic-corridor

[6] Gunner, U. (2018, January 18). Continuity of Agenda: US Encirclement of China Continues Under Trump. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from https://www.globalresearch.ca/continuity-of-agenda-us-encirclement-of-china-continues-under-trump/5626694

[7] Wolfgang, B. Taliban now stronger than when Afghanistan war started in 2001, military experts say. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/sep/9/taliban-strongest-afghanistan-war-started-2001/

[8] Burke, J. (2019, August 19). With Kabul wedding attack, Isis aims to erode Taliban supremacy. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/19/with-kabul-wedding-attack-isis-aims-to-erode-taliban-supremacy

[9] Zia, H. (2019, February 14). A surge in China-Afghan trade. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201902/14/WS5c65346ba3106c65c34e9606.html

[10] Gul, A. (2018, November 1). China, Pakistan Seeking CPEC Extension to Afghanistan. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/china-pakistan-seeking-cpec-extension-afghanistan

[11] Farmer, B. (2010, June 17). Afghanistan claims mineral wealth is worth $3trillion. Retrieved October 10, 2019, from, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/7835657/Afghanistan-claims-mineral-wealth-is-worth-3trillion.html

 

Afghanistan Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Great Powers Humayun Hassan

Alternative Futures: Assessment of the 2027 Afghan Opium Trade

Chris Wozniak is an independent analyst. He holds a BA in Political Economy from the University of Washington. 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:  Alternative Futures: Assessment of the 2027 Afghan Opium Trade

Date Originally Written:  July 3, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 3, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of a United Nations report outlining the rise Afghan heroin production and the consequences both within and beyond Afghan borders.

Summary:  A sudden exit of western troops from Afghanistan has fostered dramatic expansion of the already robust opium trade. Peace, profitability, and cynical policy calculations have led Afghan and regional players to embrace cultivation and trafficking at a cost to their licit economies, public health, and security. International players seem to think that Afghan peace on these terms is worth the corrosive influence that opium exports are carrying abroad.

Text:  In this 2027 30th anniversary edition of the World Drug Report, we have added an auxiliary booklet with an unprecedented singular focus on Afghanistan’s global impact on the drug supply chain and the threat it poses to security and development across multiple continents. This booklet covers the political landscape that allowed Afghanistan to become the world’s heroin epicenter and key players in the heroin trade. It also addresses the international response to the crisis and the global implications of the Afghan drug economy.

Five years after China’s 2022 acquisition of the port of Karachi through predatory One Belt One Road loans and a cooling in relations with Russia following the annexation of Belarus, major sea and air resupply routes to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were closed or compromised, making sustained operations in Afghanistan logistically untenable. The subsequent departure of all ISAF troops removed a principal roadblock in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban (Taliban): withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. The resulting hastily negotiated peace deal formalized a power sharing agreement between the existing Afghan government and Taliban shadow government in exchange for renunciation of support and safe haven for transnational terrorists. In practice, a crude federalization has taken effect that leaves the Taliban politically represented in Kabul and in control of the majority of arable countryside used for poppy growth. The Western-supported government of Afghanistan largely retains control of urban centers and major highways needed for processing and export. This delicate equilibrium is largely sustained due to recognition that uninterrupted Afghan opium production is in the interest of both Afghans and international stakeholders and any violence would negatively impact profitability.

Within Afghanistan, an influential lobby shaping the political environment that has had a hand in the opium trade for decades is the transport mafia. Afghanistan has historically been a crossroads of trade and transport interests have long exploited opportunities for profit. The modern transport mafia became robust beginning in 1965 following the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA). The agreement allowed the duty free trade of goods from Pakistan into Afghanistan, leading to smuggling of the same goods back across the border for illicit profit. Soviet-Afghan war transport mafia activities included cross-border smuggling of arms to the mujahideen and smuggling of opium on the return journey. Post 9/11, theft of American supplies shipped via Karachi and destined for Afghanistan was another common scheme[1]. The influence of transport mafia interests in Afghanistan is profound in the political and developmental arenas as well. Popular support of the Taliban in the 1990s was largely attributable to the Taliban elimination of highway bandits, making transport much more predictable. Following the improvement in conditions, the profitability of opium smuggling by transport interests proved too popular for even the Taliban’s ban on poppy cultivation and opium. Following the 2001 arrival of American and ISAF personnel, transportation interests continued to grow alongside poppy cultivation, and in 2017 cultivation reached an all-time high of approximately 420,000 hectares – seventy-five percent of the global total[2]. Yields have continued to improve in the years since as Afghans have repaired irrigation infrastructure all over the south and east of the country. Reconstruction of qanats destroyed in the Soviet-Afghan war when they were utilized as tunnels for covert mujahideen movement has been especially important to year-over-year poppy yield increases. Many of the improvements were enabled by international donations until media coverage revealed poppy farmers to be the chief beneficiaries. Subsequent donor fatigue has depressed additional rounds of Afghan development funding, making improvements in health care and education unlikely. With few alternatives, most Afghans are now completely dependent on either poppy cultivation or the transport enterprise for their livelihoods.

Regional players surrounding Afghanistan all reap unique rewards by allowing opium trade to continue. Pakistan has doubled down on the idea of “strategic depth” in any conflict with India that is afforded to them by a friendly Afghan power structure. Allowing the proliferation of poppy farming in Taliban-controlled districts and refining labs throughout the Hindu Kush has benefited Pakistan by restoring a major proxy force that is now self-sustaining. Moreover, extraction of rents from producers and traffickers by Pakistani military and intelligence factions supports asymmetric operations against India in the disputed Kashmir region. Iran has been exploiting the European heroin epidemic by extracting concessions from European stakeholders in nuclear talks in exchange for closure of their border with Afghanistan, thereby closing a major trafficking highway to Europe. Iran’s border closure has had the unforeseen consequence of driving the flow of narcotics north into the Central Asian states and the Russian Federation. Subsequently, Russia has made heroin trafficking into Europe their latest asymmetric effort to disrupt European cohesion, with reports that tacit support of the Russian Mafia by the state has expanded the volume of the Moscow trafficking hub from one third of all heroin being trafficked to Europe to two thirds today[3]. As for the United States, the domestic political atmosphere continues to reward an exit from Afghan affairs despite the diplomatic and security costs incurred abroad. For all of these actors, inaction or an embrace of Afghan heroin is a devil’s bargain. In Pakistan, the drug economy has further hollowed out the licit economy, risking the stability of a nuclear state and calling into question the security of its nuclear materials. For Russia and Central Asian States, drug use has skyrocketed and Russia’s population has been particularly hard hit by a corresponding rise in HIV/AIDS, tripling from an estimated one million citizens in 2016 to just over three million in 2025[4].

Peace in Afghanistan has been achieved at the cost of the public health, security, and economies of nations across the Eurasian landmass. Moreover, it is a peace sustained by a tenuous illicit economy and cynical policy calculations that steadily erode the licit economies of neighboring nations and transit states. Without multinational cooperation to address the corrosive fallout of Afghan heroin exports, the international community will continue to feel the negative effects for years to come.


Endnotes:

[1] Looted U.S. Army Gear For Sale in Pakistan,
Chris Brummitt – http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39542359/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/t/looted-us-army-gear-sale-pakistan/#.XR0AcZNKgb0

[2] World Drug Report 2018 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.18.XI.9).

[3] Crimintern: How the Kremlin Uses Russia’s Criminal Networks in Europe,
Mark Galeotti – https://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/crimintern_how_the_kremlin_uses_russias_criminal_networks_in_europe

[4] Russia At Aids Epidemic Tipping Point As Hiv Cases Pass 1 Million – Official,
Andrew Osborn – https://www.reuters.com/article/russia-aids/russia-at-aids-epidemic-tipping-point-as-hiv-cases-pass-1-million-official-idUSL2N1551S7

Afghanistan Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Chris Wozniak Drug Trade

Alternative Futures: Assessment of the Afghanistan Bureau 2001-2021

Michael Barr is a military historian and Director of Ronin Research, which specializes in high stress performance improvement.  He has 47 years’ experience in close quarter control and combat and is also the Director of the Jiki Ryu Aikijujutsu Association.  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 Afghanistan Bureau 2001-2021

Date Originally Written:  May 30, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 23, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This assessment paper provides an alternative history and therefore an alternative future to U.S. actions in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks.  This paper is written from the point of view of a staff officer providing an overview of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan from 2001-2021 to an incoming political appointee in the Department of Defense.

Summary:  Despite conventional force cries for large troop footprints in Afghanistan following the ousting of the Afghan Taliban in late 2001, the U.S. chose a different route.  The combined interagency efforts of U.S. Special Operations Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of State have enabled minimization (not defeat) of threats to U.S. interests in Afghanistan thus enabling the U.S. military to remain prepared for large scale threats posed by Russia and China.

Text:  The initial response to the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan after 9/11 involved U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA restored old ties with Afghan tribal leaders in the Northern Alliance. Backed by U.S. air power, the operation toppled the Taliban within two months and leveled the playing field allowing for the aspirations of various tribal leaders. 

With these initial operations complete, conventional force proponents argued for a text book counterinsurgency operation using a series of forward operating bases to project force and prop up a weak central government in Kabul. Asymmetric proponents argued for a return to influence and shaping operations and a strategy of stabilization and deterrence. No matter how noble the objective or heroic the effort, the U.S. would not achieve a political victory through a massive intervention that would have a large foreign footprint that even our Afghan allies did not favor. In Afghanistan, the U.S. had something to lose but nothing to gain in the conventional sense. Stability was the objective and that would be better achieved by helping the Afghans fight their own war rather than U.S. troops fight it for them. The more the U.S. efforts were unseen, the better. Instead of fighting a pointless counterinsurgency, a pragmatic strategy of forging relationships necessary to keeping Islamists from developing any significant power base in Afghanistan was pursued. 

The Afghanistan Bureau (AFBU) was created as part of U.S. Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), to follow a strategy of realistic, attainable goals, and restricted rules of engagement, with operations calibrated to the Afghan political, cultural, physical, and mental landscapes. AFBU allowed strategy to be custom-tailored to the reality on the ground. As a result AFBU has created stability through an often tedious and contentious negotiation of tribal interests with a minimum use of force. AFBU is primarily an intelligence and influence / shaping organization that makes suggestions and entreaties to various tribal elements. Within AFBU is the Afghan Operations Group (AOG) which includes both FID (foreign internal defense) and UW (unconventional warfare) elements:

  • 100 long term advisors from CIA, SOF, and the Department of State are embedded at the tribal leadership level.
  • A fluctuating number of specialists rotate through AOG based on tribal requests and advisor observations. These specialists have included military trainers, civil affairs, engineers, teachers, medical and even civilian specialist in blacksmithing and agriculture.
  • Sufficient procurement and logistics elements to both support the AFBU and train their partners in the Afghan military.
  • AOG forces: A light, strong, mobile force of 2000 men that continually rotates its presence living and purchasing from the various tribes. This rotation creates a pragmatic symbiotic relationship. Various force components have been temporarily added. An active drone force is maintained. Support Force provides intelligence to AFBU, solidifies tribal relations, acts as a deterrent, and makes periodic strikes to reduce opposition build ups. Terrorists may never be eliminated but AOG keeps them minimized. In this way AOG imitates the Israeli response to terrorism threats. 
  • A clandestine force works from within tribal support areas to collect human intelligence and reduce the need for intervention.

Despite public claims, Afghanistan is not a nation state but a tribal society with tribal interests. Even the urban elite are really a tribe. Cash and other assets which can be measured and accounted for, are capable of accommodating many tribal needs. Limited cash and assets help solidify existing relations with tribal leaders. Refusal to provide assets, threats by other leaders, the presence of AOG forces, and loss of prestige has proven an effective mix in maintaining the peace. There is a constant battle among interested parties to supplant opium income, but the broad mix of assets available to AFBU has served as a greater inducement than illicit income. 

AFBU’s strategy leverages the fact that the parties do not like or get along with each other. AFBU’s small but effective presence and its outsider position allows it to orchestrate adversaries more as a referee. This relationship works to U.S. benefit and against U.S. enemies. AFBU is not creating Jeffersonian liberals but selectively supporting dependable leaders who can create stability and minimize Islamist capability. Sometime this means winning over factions of the Taliban. This winning over has been controversial, but a 51% reduction in extremism is sometimes better than nothing at all. Every tribal leader affiliated with AFBU is one less enemy and it allows us to monitor and influence their behavior.

AFBU has succeeded because of:

  • Sufficient funding and bipartisan Congressional support.
  • General public support or at least no vocal opposition.
  • Clear, pragmatic policy objectives.
  • Restraint imposed by the force size and the acceptance that there are limits to U.S. influence.
  • Emphasis on assembling tools in innovative ways which are applied with sufficient foresight and duration to achieve lasting effect while avoiding major combat operations.
  • High priority on intelligence.  

AFBU has converted some opposition tribes, neutralized others to ineffectiveness, and isolated most resistance to the Waziristan region. Pakistan’s ambiguous blind eye support of the Taliban, although still operative, has been muted by AFBU operations. AFBU has been able to provide long term stability for the past 20 years at a minimum investment of money, materiel, and manpower. AFBU has established a template for an overall influencing and shaping strategy which provides a structure for projecting power with a minimum of intrusion and risk. By calibrating to local concerns, similar strategies have been successful in Syria. Venezuela, Central America, Cuba, the Philippines, and even larger states like Ukraine. These small operations have allowed more resources to go to conventional near peer preparation while creating a matrix of support and influence in areas distant from the United States. 

In conclusion, AFBU has provided outsized results for its limited investment, while providing a first option for achieving U.S. objectives without large expenditures of personnel, material, and political support. The model has proven an excellent counter to gray zone conflicts related to Russia, China, and Iran.


Endnotes:

None.

Afghanistan Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Assessment Papers Michael Barr United States

An Assessment of Air Force Advising Concepts in Small Wars, “Paper Falcons”

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Riley Murray is a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force currently pursuing his master’s degree in the Georgetown Security Studies Program.  He can be found on Twitter @rileycmurray.  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:  An Assessment of Air Force Advising Concepts in Small Wars, “Paper Falcons”

Date Originally Written:  May 29, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 9, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active duty Air Force Officer. The Article is written from the Point of View of the United States Air Force in Air Advising and Security Cooperation operations.

Summary:  Andrew Krepinevich’s “Army Concept” provides a useful model for understanding the mindset military organizations take towards advising operations, which subsequently shapes outcomes, including the U.S. Air Force’s advising efforts in small wars. Efforts to advise the South Vietnamese Air Force and Afghan Air Force demonstrate that U.S. Air Force advising concepts have been poorly suited towards irregular conflicts, creating counterproductive effects.

Text:  Andrew Krepinevich coined the term “Army Concept” in his 1986 study of the Vietnam War. The U.S. Army uses the Army Concept framework to hypothesize how wars will be fought, and to shape its operational planning and training[1]. During the Vietnam War, the Army Concept focused on large-scale conventional warfare against the Soviets in Central Europe with emphasis on firepower and technology[2]. Krepinevich criticizes the Army for using this conventionally oriented concept to advise the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) during its campaign against an irregular foe: The National Liberation Front (Viet Cong)[3]. This counterproductive (ineffective) assistance program resulted from a failure to understand the threat faced by the ARVN, a poorly conceived plan to address the insurgency, and advisors that had spent their careers preparing for conventional warfare[4]. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has made similar mistakes when advising its partner forces.

Any conceptual approach to advising begins by assessing the environment and threats partner forces face. This analysis is the basis for decisions regarding prioritization and risk that result in concepts of what air elements should be able to do[5]. This strategic view is then translated into operational and tactical tasks. However, planning and execution are heavily impacted by variety of factions involved in advising missions, each with unique concepts and different decision-making processes, leading to mixed outcomes. In an ideal world, planning any advising mission would be a cyclical process of tightly coordinated activities that continually reconsiders assumptions and adjusts policy accordingly. However, even under clear planning guidance, this policy-tailoring process can be undermined by the interests of subordinate organizations.

In Vietnam, the U.S. military attempted to meet the Kennedy administration’s directive to prepare for “wars of national liberation.” The USAF responded to this challenge by establishing the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron with the mission to develop and train foreign air forces on counter-guerrilla tactics[6]. Outside of this unit though, the USAF made no major changes in organizational guidelines or doctrine. Although the counterinsurgency mission was accepted, USAF doctrine did not highlight the role of local air forces or advising[7]. The USAF developed “what amounted to an absolute model of airpower in warfare,” based on the principles of classical airpower theory (primarily the primacy of offensive, strategic, and independent air operations)[8]. This single-minded view drove the USAF’s organization and mentality, but largely neglected the lessons learned from irregular conflicts since World War II and assumed that alternate concepts were unnecessary. The USAF failed to understand airpower’s role in effective irregular warfare strategy and to foresee the potential negative effects airpower could have when fighting a guerrilla force. This made the USAF ill-equipped to develop a reliable partner force in Vietnam.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy authorized an advising mission in 1961 to assist the South Vietnamese military in countering the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese supporters. The USAF was tasked with training the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF), but its actions and ideas were often counterproductive to the VNAF[9]. The USAF entered Vietnam planning to develop tactics for fighting guerrillas but was unprepared and unwilling to effectively assess and address strategic and operational issues. USAF advisors helped the VNAF develop a centralized air control system in alignment with USAF doctrine, which increased efficiency, but also dramatically hindered air-ground coordination and resulted in operations that had little strategic value in counterinsurgency[10]. When the USAF and VNAF did develop useful tactics, many of these innovations were simply relearning the lessons of previous conflicts (such as the Marine Corps’ small wars in the Caribbean)[11]. U.S. assistance dramatically increased the VNAF’s size, but contemporary USAF emphasis on jet aircraft led to a force that was incredibly difficult to maintain without U.S. assistance. Rapid growth was coupled with USAF advisors frequently flying the missions themselves and neglecting the tactical development of the VNAF[12]. After a decade of advising efforts, the end result was a VNAF that could not independently perform many key processes and was poorly oriented towards the threat faced by South Vietnam.

Many of these conceptual failures continue to plague the USAF’s mission to advise the Afghan Air Force (AAF). As the Afghan Taliban resurgence threatened security in Afghanistan in 2007, the original USAF advisory mission of establishing an AAF presidential airlift capability was expanded and the AAF became a “helicopter/transport/light-attack-based fleet” oriented towards counterinsurgency[13]. Developing these capabilities has been difficult, particularly without consensus on the roles and missions the AAF should be able to conduct. USAF advisors have labored to develop a centralized control system, but this doctrinal solution continues to conflict with the structure of the Afghan military and its entrenched habits[14]. There is also a split between the conventional AAF and the Special Mission Wing and their respective advisors which focuses on direct support for Afghan special operations forces, resulting in two parallel concepts that remain poorly integrated at both the tactical and strategic levels[15]. The mission statement of the 428th Air Expeditionary Wing in 2014 emphasized the importance of developing “a professional, capable, and sustainable [Afghan] Air Force[16].” However, without a clear concept driving what these terms mean and how they should be pursued, air advising operations cannot be successful. In 2018, a DoD Inspector General report highlighted that Train Advise Assist Command-Air (TAAC-Air) lacked a defined end state for AAF development and failed to explain how the AAF would integrate with U.S. forces in Afghanistan[17]. Without an end state or effective strategic plan, the USAF cannot integrate and leverage its full range of advising capabilities.

While Vietnam highlighted the dangers of applying the wrong concept to air operations in counterinsurgency, Afghanistan demonstrates that the lack of a unified concept that similarly undercuts advising operations. Concepts are difficult to quantify, but they have had an unmistakable impact on advising operations. Success requires both a holistic view of the strategic value of air operations in irregular warfare and the capability to assess individual cases and tailor advising approaches. With a clear strategic concept, advising, planning and operations can be synchronized, ensuring that the United States effectively leverages its capabilities to assist partners and allies.


Endnotes:

[1] Krepinevich, A. F. (1990). The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. P. p. 5.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Krepinevich, A. F. (1990). The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. P. pp. 258-260.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Krepinevich, A. F. (1990). The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. P. pp. 11-14.

[6] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 238-239.

[7] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 242-243, 246-247.

[8] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 267-270.

[9] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 241-244.

[10] Sheehan, N. (2013). A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York, NY: Vintage Books, a division of Random House. pp. 112-115.

[11] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. p. 261.

[12] Corum, J. S., & Johnson, W. R. (2003). Airpower in South Vietnam, 1954-1965. In Airpower in small wars: Fighting insurgents and terrorists (pp. 225-278). Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp. 271-273.

[13] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 51-52.

[14] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 156.

[15] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 55.

[16] Marion, F. L. (2018). Flight Risk: The Coalition’s Air Advisory Mission in Afghanistan: 2005-2015. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 186.

[17] United States, Department of Defense, Inspector General. (2018). Progress of U.S. and Coalition Efforts to Train, Advise, and Assist the Afghan Air Force (pp. 1-76). Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Defense.

Afghanistan Assessment Papers Capacity / Capability Enhancement Riley Murray Small Wars Journal Writing Contest Training United States

An Assessment of the Private Military Industry and its Role in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which ran from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Naiomi Gonzalez is currently a doctoral student in history at Texas Christian University. She can be found on twitter at @AmericanUnInte1.  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:  An Assessment of the Private Military Industry and its Role in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Date Originally Written:  May 31, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  August 5, 2019.

Summary:  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan required the support of the private military industry. However, the United States government’s increased reliance and dependency on private military firms has not been without controversy. In fact, the lack of accountability that has allowed certain sectors of the private military industry to act with impunity have arguably complicated the U.S. military’s already difficult missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Text:  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought the United States government’s increased reliance on private military firms to the forefront[1]. During the Vietnam War, it is estimated that there was 1 contractor for every 55 uniformed military personnel. In Iraq the ratio has hovered around 1 contractor for every 1 military personnel and in Afghanistan the number is 1.43 for every 1 military personnel[2]. During specific time periods, the number of contractors has even surpassed that of uniformed military personnel[3].

Private military firms undoubtedly provide much needed services and therefore, should not be discounted for their services. Private military firms, for instance, can draw on a large pool of expertise in a variety of fields while the military is limited by who they can recruit. This private military firm manpower flexibility is particularly important as technology continues to develop at a rapid pace. The Department of Defense (DoD), like most other government agencies, already heavily relies on the private sector to meet many of its technological needs. For example, the DoD has close relationships with many commercial agencies and contractors in order to develop and maintain the latest computer systems. If the DoD were to focus on developing their own computer systems, it would take about seven years for it to become operational. By that time the system would be obsolete and the efforts a waste[4]. For the DoD, which is often inundated by numerous other concerns and responsibilities, it makes sense to team up with private enterprises whose expertise lie in remaining on the cutting edge of new technological advances. Likewise, when it comes to maintaining the military’s vast and increasingly sophisticated technological arsenal, it benefits the DoD to hire contractors who already have years of experience on using and maintaining these specialized weapon rather than rely on military technicians who are most likely not trained in the nuances of a specific piece of equipment[5].

Another benefit of using contractors is that they provide a degree of political flexibility that enables political and military leaders to engage in policies the larger American citizenry might find objectionable. For instance, since the Vietnam War, Americans have shown a disdain for large scale conflicts that result in a large number of U.S. military causalities[6]. This low tolerance for long, drawn out wars became more pronounced as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, year after year. However, this aversion to American casualties does not always extend to those working as contractors, especially if those contractors are locals or third-world nationals. Because their roles in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is not always obvious, contractor deaths and injuries usually attract little attention. Exceptions to this disinterest usually center on particularly vicious deaths or injuries[7]. While not a panacea for increasingly unpopular wars, the use of contractors, especially in place of uniformed military personnel, ensures that extended conflicts remain palpable to the American public for a longer period of time.

However, the use of private military firms also comes with some severe drawbacks. On the economic front, their cost-effectiveness is in doubt. By 2012 the U.S. had spent about $232.2 billion on contractors and about $60 billion had been lost as a result of waste, fraud and abuse on the part of the contractors[8].

Much more concerning is the lack of accountability and impunity that has plagued the industry. In April 2004, CBS News published photographs showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American personnel. While media focus centered on uniformed American personnel who were abusing prisoners and on their courts martial, contractors also played a role in the scandal. Two private military firms, Titan[9] and CACI provided all of the translators and about half of the interrogators involved in the abuse case[10]. Yet no contractor was held legally responsible for their role in the abuse.

Private military provider/security firms have their own unique sets of issues and problems. While they make up the smallest number of contractors[11], the controversy they provoke belies their relatively small numbers. Blackwater Security[12] was the most notorious of these private military provider firms.

The 2007 Nisour Square case involving Blackwater helped spur the wider American population to question the utility of private provider/security firms. On September 16, 2007, Blackwater contractors shot, killed, and injured dozens of Iraqi civilians, in what they claimed was an act of self-defense[13].” The killings provoked widespread outrage. The Iraq government claimed, “The murder of citizens in cold blood…by Blackwater is considered a terrorist action against civilians[14]…” At that time, questions arose regarding whether private provider firms aid or hinder the United States’ mission in Iraq. Then U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that the provider firms’ singular focus on completing their mission, can at times mean that they are working “at cross-purposes to our larger mission in Iraq[15].”

This obsession with ensuring that they complete their assigned task, no matter their costs, can be attributed to the for-profit nature of the companies and the personnel they hire, many of whom have a mission-focused mindset from their former military experiences. Before the Nisour Square incident, Blackwater took pride in its ability to get the job done, no matter what. Such a mindset ensured its success and profitability. However, the Nisour Square episode forced contractors, the government and the public at large to doubt the utility of such a mindset, especially when it results in the deaths of civilians, which only inflames anti-American sentiment. It is difficult to win “hearts and minds” by killing civilians. Moreover, the process of holding the contractors legally responsible for civilian deaths has met with many obstacles. The legal cases against four contractors involved in the Nisour Square incident has dragged on for years[16] while mainstream media attention has faded.

Private military firms have played vital roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their roles will only continue to expand. However, the U.S. government’s increased dependency on private military firms has not been without controversy or problems. These problems and controversies have hindered rather than aided the U.S. in completing their already difficult missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Endnotes:

[1] Peter W. Singer divides private military firms into three groups: military provider firms (aka private security firms), military consulting firms, and military support firms. While in some cases it is clear which firms fall into what category, in other cases the lines are more blurred as some companies take on a variety of roles. For an in-depth explanation of the different groups see Singer, P. W. (2008). Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press

[2] Taylor, W. A. (2016). Military Service and American Democracy: From World War II to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. (pg. 172) Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

[3] For instance, during the third quarter of fiscal year 2008, there were 162,428 total contractors in Iraq, compared to 153,300 uniformed military personnel. In Afghanistan the contrast in numbers is much more pronounced. During the fourth quarter of the 2009 fiscal year there were 104,101 total contractors compared to 62,300 uniformed personnel. See Peters, H. M., & Plagakis, S. (2019, May 10). Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq: 2007-2018. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/R44116.html

[4] Ettinger, A. (2016). The Patterns, Implications, and Risks of American Military Contracting. In S. V. Hlatky & H. C. Breede (Eds.), Going to War?: Trends in Military Interventions (pp. 115-132). Montreal, CA: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Stanger, A., & Williams, M. E. (Fall/Winter 2006). Private Military Corporations: Benefits and Costs of Outsourcing Security. Yale Journal of International Affairs, 4-19.

[7] For instance, on March 31, 2004 four Blackwater contractors were killed, dismembered and their body parts paraded through the streets of Fallujah. Blackwater faced criticism for its decision to send only four contractors instead of six into an incredibly hostile part of Iraq in jeeps that were armored only with one steel plate. See In Re: BlackWater Security Consulting LCC, http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/051949.P.pdf 1-28 (United Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 2006).

[8] Taylor, 117. This number is most likely an undercount.

[9] In 2005 Titan was acquired by L3 Communications. See Staff, SSI. “L-3 Communications Agrees to Merger With Titan Corp.” Security Sales & Integration, Security Sales & Integration, 7 June 2005, www.securitysales.com/news/l-3-communications-agrees-to-merger-with-titan-corp/.

[10] Singer, P. (2005, April). Outsourcing War. Retrieved May 24, 2019, from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2005-03-01/outsourcing-war.

[11] The number of private military provider/security firms peaked in Iraq at 15,000 individuals and in 2012 at 28,000. See Peters, H. M., & Plagakis, S. (2019, May 10). Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq: 2007-2018. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/R44116.html

[12] Blackwater was eventually sold and it underwent numerous name changes. It is currently called Academi. See Ukman, J. (2011, December 12). Ex-Blackwater Firm gets a Name Change, Again. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/checkpoint-washington/post/ex-blackwater-firm-gets-a-name-change-again/2011/12/12/gIQAXf4YpO_blog.html

[13] A subsequent FBI investigation found the shooting to be unjustified. See Johnston, D., & Broder, J. M. (2007, November 14). F.B.I. Says Guards Killed 14 Iraqis Without Cause. Retrieved May 27, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/14/world/middleeast/14blackwater.html

[14] Tolchin, M., & Tolchin, S. J. (2016). Pinstripe patronage: Political favoritism from the clubhouse to the White House and beyond. Pg. 183 London, UK: Routledge.

[15] Spiegel, P. (2007, October 19). Gates: U.S., Guards are at Odds in Iraq. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-oct-19-na-blackwater19-story.html

[16] See Collins, M. (2018, December 19). Former Blackwater Guard Convicted of Instigating Mass Shooting in Iraq. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/12/19/iraq-war-jury-convicts-ex-blackwater-guard-second-time-massacre/1941149002/

Afghanistan Assessment Papers Iraq Naiomi Gonzalez Private Military Companies (PMC etc) Small Wars Journal Writing Contest United States

Options for U.S. Use of Private Military and Security Companies

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Christophe Bellens is a policy advisor at the European Parliament. He completed two MS degrees from the University of Antwerp in History (2017) and International Relations (2018).  His thesis focused on the use of Private Military and Security Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. He can be found on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/christophe-bellens/ and on Twitter @ChristosBellens.  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 use of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC) by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and its consequences on military effectiveness in a counterinsurgency.

Date Originally Written:  May 6, 2019. 

Date Originally Published:  July 15, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article considers from the perspective of the United States government what options are on the table in the use private military forces. Decision makers have three possibilities, explained by their effectiveness in Iraq or Afghanistan, for a future PMSC-strategy.

Background:  Since the start of the ‘Global War on Terror’, U.S. government organizations such as the Department of Defense (DoD), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State (DoS) have contracted PMSCs to manage security risks. The employees of these corporations perform duties that until recently were fulfilled by military members, such as the protection of key personnel, convoys and sites. Due to a reduction in troop numbers and an environment where privatization was heavily favored, PMSCs became a vital component of counterinsurgency. Despite their importance, planners often overlook the role of these contractors. The two cases of Iraq and Afghanistan offer three pathways to reach the envisioned political, tactical, operational and strategic objectives during counterinsurgency. 

Significance:  Private security contractors are part of contemporary small wars. In 2010, around 30,479 contractors worked for the DoD in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the DoS and USAID employed around 1850 and 3770 security contractors respectively in Afghanistan alone. Hence, per 1 security contractor 3.7 U.S. military members were deployed in Afghanistan in 2010[1]. As a vital component of the security environment, they strongly influenced the outcome of the counterinsurgency. 

Option #1:  The US employs mainly security contractors from outside the host state as in Iraq. Between Q3 2008 and Q4 2013, 90% of the private security contractors were non-Iraqi citizens[2]. 

Risk:  Major potential drawbacks of employing non-native contractors exist in the political and strategic dimensions. PMSCs are there to protect their clients, not to win the hearts and minds of the population. This client protection focus led to a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’-policy vis-à-vis potential threats. During the ‘Nisour Square’-shooting seventeen Iraqi civilians were killed. The worldwide public outcry that followed, worsened relations between the Iraqi government and the U.S. Insurgents gladly used this outcry against the lawless look-alike U.S. military members. Insurgents later released a video named ‘bloody contracts’ bemoaning the abuse, aggression and indiscriminate killing by U.S. contractors[3].

Foreign nationality (especially British or U.S. citizens) make contractors a valuable target for insurgents[4]. During the 2004 Fallujah incident the non-American truck drivers were able to escape as the insurgents focused on what they imagined were agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. In fact, the convoy was rushed and understaffed by the PMSC to show how quick they could perform contract obligations. After a video of their bodies being paraded through the streets hit the news, U.S. President George W. Bush favored immediate military retaliation. The First Battle of Fallujah ended in an operational failure and shifted the focus away from the strategic goal of strengthening the Iraqi government. 

Gain:  These PMSCs were often well equipped. Their arsenal existed of a variety of small arms, machine guns and shotguns in addition with grenades, body armor and encrypted radio communication. Their vehicles ranged from local undercover secondhand cars to military-style high mobility multi-wheeled vehicles. Blackwater even had eight Boeing Little Bird helicopters in Baghdad. The personnel operating this equipment often had a law enforcement or military background. In addition, contractors for the DoS had to undergo 164 hours of training in protective detail[5]. Hence, experienced foreigners are likely to demonstrate the necessary skills to ensure the successful completion of the assigned tasks.

Option #2:  The U.S. employs mainly local contractors as in Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the private security contractors between Q3 2008 and Q4 2013 were Afghan citizens.

Risk:  Eighty percent of the Afghan contractors were former militiamen or part of an existing armed group[6]. While this often provided valuable combat experience, it was a potential security hazard. Consequently, foreigners protected high-profile targets. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s use of the PMSC Dyncorp security detail reinforced the image for many Afghans that he was a U.S. pawn. The former militiamen often lacked the ability to read or write, let alone speak a foreign language. This only reinforced the lack of integration with allied forces. 

While problems with equipment did exist as the contractor normally was obliged to bring their own aging gun (AK47, AMD-65, PKM and RPK), studies show that a PMSC had 3.47 firearms per contractor[7]. The problem here is the lack of disarmament and demobilization by legitimizing existing armed groups. Consequently, the Afghan state couldn’t create a monopoly on violence. 

Gain:  A major gain, among giving locals an instant job and income, is the use of local knowledge and connections. The downside, however, is the potential to insert oneself into local rivalries and even fuel conflict by starting competition over a contract[8]. 

Option #3:  The U.S. helps to create a public company in the host state that offers protection services. An example being the creation of the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) in 2010.

Risk:  In the beginning, the APPF lacked equipment and had to be trained by PMSCs. Customers lamented the slow reaction of the APPF[9]. The force was mainly based in Kabul where they offered their services. If they managed to offer their services in the periphery, the gain of using local contractors, such as their local knowledge and connections was lost.

Secondly, the creation of a public company gives a -potentially corrupt- host leadership indirectly incentives to let some level of threat exist in its territory. The public company -and hence the state- would lose income if the security environment improves.  

Gain:  Compared to giving contracts to local warlords, the APPF-system reduces the risk of financing and legitimizing local organized crime and insurgent groups. 

Moreover, such a force can greatly improve the integration in the overall force due to centralization. In addition, in a state of emergency, the public enterprise can be used for the public good. 

Other Comments:  None. 

Recommendation:  None.


 

Endnotes: 

[1] Bellens, Christophe, Antwerp. (2018). “De impact van de uitbesteding aan Private Military and Security Companies op de militaire doeltreffendheid van de COIN-campagnes in Irak en Afghanistan”, 18 & 60-62.

[2] Ibid.

[3] S.N. (2008), “IAI Documentary Exposes Blackwater’s Crimes in Iraq”, CBSnews. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/iai-documentary-exposes-blackwaters-crimes-in-iraq/

[4] S.N. (2007), “Blackwater says guards were betrayed by Iraqi forces on 2004 mission”, Newsweek. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/blackwater-says-guards-were-betrayed-iraqi-forces-2004-mission-103555

[5] Isenberg, David (2008) “Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq”, Praeger Security International, 31.

[6] Joras, Ulrike, and Adrian Schuster, editors. (2008). “Private Security Companies and Local Populations: An Exploratory Study of Afghanistan and Angola”, Swisspeace, 13, 33-34.

[7] Small Arms Survey, Geneva. (2011). Small Arms Survey 2011: States of Security (Small Arms Survey). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 15.

[8] See the case of Shindand airbase in: McCain, John. (2010). “Inquiry into the Role and Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan”: Congressional Report: DIANE Publishing.

[9] Bellens, Christophe. (2018). “De impact van de uitbesteding aan Private Military and Security Companies op de militaire doeltreffendheid van de COIN-campagnes in Irak en Afghanistan”, 23 & 33-34.

Afghanistan Christophe Bellens Iraq Option Papers Private Military Companies (PMC etc) Small Wars Journal Writing Contest United States

Options for Peace in the Continuing War in Afghanistan

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. 


National Security Situation:  The war in Afghanistan continues to hurt the Afghan people, Afghan Government, Afghan Taliban (Taliban), and causes the U.S. and its Allies and Partners to expend lives and treasure in pursuit of elusive political objectives. The goal of a defeated Taliban has proven to be outside of the realm of realistic expectations, and pursing this end does not advance American standing.

Date Originally Written:  February 6, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  March 11, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Suzanne Schroeder is an independent analyst. She has a particular interest in the history of the Taliban movement, and how it will continue to evolve.

Background:  As of this writing, talks have begun between the U.S. and the Taliban. What decisions can promote and sustain constructive dialogue?

Significance:  It remains to be seen if, after almost eighteen years in Afghanistan, the U.S. can achieve a “respectable” peace, with a credible method of ensuring long-term security.

Option #1:  The U.S. makes peace with the Taliban, and begins a withdrawal of U.S. forces. 

Risk:  Terrorists with global ambitions will again operate from Afghanistan, without being checked the Afghan Government. In the past two weeks, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker has written two pieces, and was interviewed in a third, warning of the dangers of making a hasty peace deal with the Taliban. In a February 10, 2019 interview for New York magazine, Crocker replied to a question about the chances of the Taliban (if they took power), allowing Afghanistan to be used as a “staging ground, for U.S. attacks.” Crocker replied: “Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way is that the Taliban decided it would continue to stand with Al Qaeda, even though it cost them the country. They would not break those ties, and I would absolutely not expect them to do so now[1].” In the recently published work, The Taliban Reader, Section 3, which covers the period when the Taliban re-emerged as an insurgency, is introduced with this remark: “In the run-up to Operation Enduring Freedom, opinions among the Taliban leadership were split: some were convinced the US would attack, others-including Mullah Mohammed Omar-did not think the US would go to war over bin Laden[2].” The Taliban Reader essentially challenges Crocker’s assertion, that the Taliban made a conscious decision to lose their Emirate, in defense of Al Qaeda.

Gain:  The gain would be an end to a costly and destructive war that U.S. President Donald Trump has stated is “not in our national interest.” Peace with the Taliban might allow Afghanistan to achieve a greater level of stability through regional cooperation, and a more towards level of self-sufficiency.  This assumes that supportive means are well thought-out, so the war’s end would not be viewed as U.S. abandonment. In the absence of ongoing conflict, civil institutions might develop and contribute to social stability. Obviously, this is a delicate and precarious process, and it cannot be judged, until the participation of the Afghan Government takes place.

In July 2018, Dr. Barnett Rubin, the Director of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, appeared on Tolo News to discuss the Eid Ceasefire that had just taken place between the Taliban and Afghan Government forces the previous month. Dr. Rubin made the following statement about the Taliban: “They have acted in reciprocity to the Afghan Government’s offer, which shows that they are part of the Afghan political system, whether they accept its current legal framework or not[3].” Dr. Rubin’s point was that the Taliban, at some juncture, must enter the Afghan system not defined as necessarily entering the Afghan Government per se, but no longer being a party to conflict, and an eventual end to the restrictions that were currently in place would give them a means to full civil participation. 

Negotiations are at an initial stage and will not be fully underway until the Taliban begins to speak to the current Afghan Government. But with the widespread perception that the Afghan government is not viable without continued U.S. support, this means that the Afghan Government will be negotiating from a disadvantaged position. A possible way to overcome this may be for the Taliban to be included in international development initiatives, like the Chabahar Port[4] and the Belt and Road Initiative[5].  With a role that would require constructive participation and is largely non-ideological, former enemies might become stakeholders in future economic development.

Option #2:  The U.S. and Afghan Government continue to apply pressure on the Taliban — in short, “talk and fight.” 

Risk:  This strategy is the ultimate double-edged sword, from the Taliban’s point of view. It’s said that every civilian casualty wins the Taliban a new supporter. But these casualties also cause an increased resentment of Taliban recalcitrance, and stirs anger among segments of the population that may not actively oppose them. The Afghan Peace march, which took place in the summer of 2018, shows the level of war fatigue that motivated a wide range of people to walk for hundreds of miles with a unified sense of purpose. Their marchers four main demands were significant in that they did not contain any fundamental denouncements, specifically directed at the Taliban. Rather, they called for a ceasefire, peace talks, mutually agreed upon laws, and the withdrawal for foreign troops[6] (italics added). With such strong support for an end to this conflict, the U.S., the Afghan Government and the Taliban all damage themselves, by ignoring very profound wishes for peace, shared by a large segment of the Afghan population. The U.S. also recognized taking on a nuclear-armed Pakistan may not be worth it, especially as the conflict in Kashmir has once again accelerated, and it’s unlikely that Pakistan will take measures against the Taliban.

Gain:  U.S. and Afghan forces manage to exert sufficient pressure on the Taliban, to make them admit to the futility of continued conflict. The U.S. manages to construct a narrative that focuses on the complexities of the last thirty years of Afghan history, rather than the shortcomings of U.S. policy in the region.  

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Hart, B. (2019, February 10). A Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Thinks Trump’s Exit Strategy Is a Huge Mistake. NewYork.

[2] Linschoten, A. S., & Kuehn, F. (2018). The Taliban Reader: War, Islam and Politics in their Own Words. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[3] Tolo News Special Interview with US Expert Barnett Rubin [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEEDrRTlrvY

[4] Afghanistan opens new export route to India through Iran’s Chabahar port – Times of India. (2019, February 24). Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/international-business/afghanistan-launches-new-export-route-to-india-through-irans-chabahar-port/articleshow/68140985.cms

[5] Afghanistan’s Role in the Belt and Road Initiative (Part 1). (2018, October 11). Retrieved from http://www.outlookafghanistan.net/topics.php?post_id=21989

[6] Ali M Latifi for CNN. (2018, June 18). Afghans who marched hundreds of miles for peace arrive in Kabul. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/18/asia/afghanistan-peace-march-intl/index.html

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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)