Anti-Taliban Tribal Militias Come with Baggage

Anti-Taliban Tribal Militias Come with Baggage - Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times.

... The incident this year highlights the pitfalls of establishing militias in Afghanistan, a country marked by tribal rivalries, age-old feuds and warlords. In principle, the concept makes sense. Even as the United States sends tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, its forces cannot police every patch of a country about the size of Texas. The Afghan army and police remain a work in progress. Tribal militias represent a ready-made answer. In a society where firearms are prevalent, members are already well-armed. And they have an intimate knowledge of the lands they patrol.

But as anti-Taliban militias have surfaced here in Nangarhar province and several other areas of the country, they have been accompanied by a wide array of troubles, from armed robbery to an alleged gang-rape. Some experts and Afghan lawmakers believe a reliance on tribal militias to help combat an insurgency is the wrong approach, especially if governmental monitoring is scant or nonexistent...

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Mr. Rodriguez is correct in stating that tribal militias come with baggage but ignores the point that, in war, everything comes with baggage. His acknowledgement that tribal member are already well armed leads one to infer that villages/tribes already have the foundation for an organized defense force whether it is called a militia or not. The fact that these groups sometimes act as criminal gangs or vigilantes is a response to the environment vice the establishment of recognized militias. His connection of the creation of a militia to a suicide bombing at a wedding is a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc; he offers no logical linkage to the two events.

Given that the potential for militias exists it would be short sighted of ISAF and/or the Afghan government to ignore them. They wont go away; what is needed is a way to gain some influence with them.

If, and this is a big if, they are under some form of local control then the key is to discover what common cause that controlling entity and ISAF/AFG can find and mutually support on a continuing basis. Control will be tenuous as long as central AFG authority remains tenuous. If a proper "carrot/stick" relationship can be established the militias could be used as a local posse comitatus but only within their tribal zone to avoid conflicts with other militias. Such actions would also help foster both bottom up and top down government growth, assuming that corruption and historic mistrust dont derail everything.

I suggest reviewing 10 USC 311 for the US definition of militia; what is under discussion here would be in paragraph (b)(2); turning them into RF/PF/CIDG analogs would put them in paragraph (b)(1). My personal opinion is that today and for the near term they should be left "unorganized" as long as the local "sheriff" has the authority to "round up a posse" when needed.

The CIDG model from Vietnam was probably the most successful counter-insurgency program in that war. From Ron Shackleton's team experiment under the CIA in the early 1960s, the CIDG grew to eventually be folded into ARVN conventional battalions.

But it started at the village defense level with the tribes fighting and defending their own home areas. It also started under U.S. control, though nominally under ARVN supervision. US Special Forces has a successful model. It need only look at its history for success in Afghanistan. Dealing with the individual issues of each Tribe is what our Special Operators are trained to do. It is time to get these excellent soldiers back to their core mission.

Granted, the event this article is centered on took place in late February while the APPF/VS was still evolving, but it shows the inherent dark side to 'one tribe at a time.'

I'm not saying bottom-up security isn't a better way to bring stability than top-down through Kabul, but NATO or GIRoA/MoI will have a very difficult time trying to put the cat back in the bag as it were.

From my perspective, some questions that haven't been answered while the program is charging full steam ahead are:

Will Village Stability Programs successfully fold into the ANP? Will they want to? Will MoI be able to manage the conceivably thousands of various village-level programs with all their disparate situations and requirements? Will the 'neighborhood watches' voluntarily lay down their arms and give up their duties to the ANP if and when asked? How impartial is NATO capable of being wrt the individual efforts when they (and they will) go beyond the scope of their charter, as in the example here. Or do we have a duty to call it like it is and fully develop village/district-based militias that are accountable to the ANP and not simply farmers with AKs and shoulder patches?