Small Wars Journal

Gen. Petraeus Considers Expanding Afghan Village Forces

Gen. Petraeus Considers Expanding Afghan Village Forces - NPR interview with Dr. David Kilcullen.

"General David Petraeus is settling in as President Obama's top man in Afghanistan. Petraeus and his commanders are pushing a plan to help Afghan villagers fight the Taliban on their own but Afghan President Karzai is said not to like the idea much. David Kilcullen talks to Mary Louise Kelly about adapting counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Kilcullen was a senior advisor to Petraeus during the Iraq surge in 2007."


TCMSOLS (not verified)

Thu, 07/15/2010 - 11:25am

The change in ROE is linked directly to the LDI's and producing an uprising against the Taliban. While we stated that the change in ROE and the COIN was to protect the population. We let the White House know that we would require a force structure over 500,000, this was to made up of 160,000 ISAF and 400,000 ANSF, to provide security.

We hoped to have that force structure 3 years into the 5 year strategy, allow us 2 years with 560,000 on the ground. The fear was that after we leave or start a draw down, the Taliban would launch a Tet type offensive across the country. To place them in a stronger position as the endgame and negotiations played out. In the 3 year we hoped to launch a reverse Tet offensive and fan out across the country to prevent their counter offensive.

Once it was stated that we would seek to protect the population under the new strategy (knowing full well we could not with our current force structure) the Taliban just like the VC would seek to undermine that perception. This resulted in an increase of civilian casualties by the enemy while our toll went down due to the ROE. This has seen parts of the population including in the south of the country to rise up and form LDI's in conjunction with the US and independently.

What started out as the Taliban trying undermine ISAF on security by targeting civilians has led to frustration, as they try to keep support and control of the population, which for many years they took for granted, due to ISAF killing of civilians. Which is why Mullah Omar's directive was not adopted be the regional commanders and shadow governors, it is starting to slip throw their fingers and they cannot see anyway other than a campaign of fear. The change in COIN/WHAM and ROE was a game changer it was something the Taliban did not have to deal with before.

The Taliban due to their response to the change in ROE and our WHAM from the ROE, can no longer be considered a legitimate form of resistance, it is clear that the Taliban are no longer in the position to say that they are protecting the population from the foreign invaders as we have limited civilian casualties. This is also important as when time comes to negotiate they cannot say they are representing the population. They are not negotiating for anyone other than themselves. This places them in a much weaker position.

This situation is similar to Sinn Fein and the IRA military campaign, with many operations which the public, their support base including in the heartland such as Derry (Kandahar) saw as atrocities take place, meant that they would be in a much weaker position during negotiations with the UK, as they would not be seen to represent the majority of the population as they had lost support of the population.

From Karzai's first visit to Kandahar(Derry)in which local elders did not want the operation to go ahead in Kandahar and the second visit in which a green light for the operation to go ahead, the Taliban has committed many assassinations and atrocities in their heartland against their support base. This has lead to some uprisings in their heartland in the south and some LDI activity.

So as you can see the roll out of the LDI's is fundamental core to the new strategy, it has taken far longer than we would have liked. The key issue is to dismantle the Talib shadow government system, by deconstructing their support base and contact with the population forcing the Taliban from a force structure with shadow governors, regional commanders, taxation system, justice system into compartmentalized cells.

This way when negotiations take place if they fail the insurgents have been contained, second the Talib will not have any alternative other than integrating into the government system. The alternate shadow government is a system to undermine and overthrow the legitimate government. It's deconstruction is highly important both tactically and via perception of the population.

This is the point the White House, Afghan Government and NATO Government want negotiations, but the key aspect of the strategy is to contain the insurgency. One to put the Taliban in a weaker position for negotiations, second if the intractable elements do not accept negotiations they cannot be a threat to the State. Thirdly to prevent al-Qaida from developing a safe haven in Afghanistan, as the insurgency cannot threaten the state. That is important also because the success of the strategy is not solely reliant on forced negotiations with the Quetta Shura. As the Taliban would like the endgame to play out.

Now a recent incident of NATO bombing ANA forces conducting nocturnal ambushes in the field. To cut down IED's and for WHAM purposes it was decided to limit night time raids in favor of a larger forces structure conducting nocturnal ambushes. As the ANA will make up the bulk of our force structure for the nocturnal ambushes to have the desired foot print, the ANA has to be heavily involved. Lack of night vision goggles and slow roll out to the ANA has slowed down these operations and limited their effectiveness.

As can be seen via al-Qaida in Iraq issuing the fatwa on marrying windows. The strategy for Afghanistan is the same, we want people to give up the insurgency and stay inside their compounds during nocturnal hours. As the men go out at night and are interdicted (KIA) by the nocturnal ambushes. Word gets around and the wives once we have the momentum and there is a high probability that the man will not return plead with their husband not to leave the compound in the nocturnal hours.

The reasons al-Qaida in Iraq has issued this fatwa is the widows are undermining their support base and wives are drawing their husbands away from the organization and the insurgency. The man as you all know is everything in Islamic society, a widow has six kids to feed, no income, cannot leave the compound. One man has more than one wife, the senior wife and the others gang up on the husband in relation to his responsibility. In a rural insurgency the insurgent has two responsibilities, one primary and one secondary, the primary responsibility is the family, the secondary is the insurgency. These are the insurgent elements we call reconcilable or what Kilcullen calls accidental guerrillas.

This is important in deconstructing the shadow government system and marginalizing the Taliban away from the population into compartmentalized cells.

Pakistan knows our COIN plan and our 25 year (2035) Taliban denial plan, as such they know that if they were to negotiate a deal for Haqqani and Omar the sooner the better. They know that the best deal they could get is one they could get now. People must remember Pakistan are not trying to cut a deal for Haqqani because they think we are going to lose and they are trying to help us. Pakistan have their own strategic intent and are acting solely in their own strategic interest.

People often ask what victory in Afghanistan looks like, how is it defined. Gentlemen winning in Afghanistan as in Iraq is via the objective of containment of the insurgency so it cannot be a threat to the State. We are going to contain the insurgency and win another so-called un-winnable war. We are on the verge of a historic victory.

These are superb discussions and I hope key decision makers at next week's Conference in Kabul take a page or two from our comments.

A couple of things still disappoint me given how long we have been there (hey im not saying its easy):

1. When you read the interview on the ISAF website with the Snr Civilian Representative, is the whole focus is still so centralised. Yes, the legitimacy of GiRoA needs to be omnipresent, but the focus of the conference is too Kabulcentric. The Taliban's influence and deep infection is in the provincial and rural heartland. "All politics is local" - is so so true for Afghanistan.

3. Until corrupt Governors (one who threatened me directly for refusal capitulate to his financial demands)are removed then the local people will continue to hedge their bets with alternitive authority - especially when these alternatives are so entwined within their local communities. Locals used to ask me why are you supporting the Governor when he is so corrupt and we never see him?

4.The Kabul conference continues to have a sense of the pursuit of a Utopian free and open democratic society i.e. imposing Western processes. If it is a free and open democracy, the elimination of corruption, respect for human rights and building an economy not based on the export of Opium, then we will be severely disappointed.

Isnt the best we can hope for is sustainability security so the Afghans can sort out Afghanistan for themselves (that means keeping Pakistan out)?

Maybe Im being too naive.



Mike Few (not verified)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 8:42pm

COL Maxwell,

Sir, thanks for providing the link. I'm glad this is finally in the public sphere so that we can discuss it.


Glad you're back up on the net. I heard from Jim today. He's doing well. Looking forward to hearing more analysis.


Given the new information, take what I initially said and add,

-Karzai postures the hard front of No-Go to Village Defense Forces.

-GEN Petraeus flexes back and throws a jab.

-Karzai submits with given concessions to remain classified.

-Studs and quiet professionals like Jim Gant go to work making it happen.

Round one goes to the GEN Petraeus.

And so the A'stan Surge continues.



Per the article on the Washington Post web site Karzai has approved the program:
Karzai approves village defense forces
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has approved a U.S.-backed plan to create local defense forces across the country in an attempt to generate new grassroots opposition to the Taliban, U.S. and Afghan officials said Wednesday.

The plan Karzai approved calls for the creation of as many as 10,000 "community police" who would be controlled and paid by the Interior Ministry, according to a senior Afghan government official.

U.S. military officials said the community police program would be modeled upon a set of local defense units, called the Afghan Public Protection Police, created over the past year in Wardak province by U.S. Special Forces. That effort has achieved mixed results, according to several military sources, but it has been regarded as the most palatable of the various local security initiatives pushed by the U.S. military because its members wear uniforms and report to the Interior Ministry.

"It's a community watch on steroids," said a U.S. military official in Kabul. "The goal is to create an environment that will be inhospitable to lawlessness, to reduce the number of places where insurgents can operate."

The official said members will carry weapons and will be authorized to guard their communities. They will be trained by the Special Forces but they will not be instructed in offensive actions, the official said.

Although U.S. military officials have pushed to expand local security initiatives, the concept had been opposed by Karzai and some of his security ministers because of concerns that assembling armed bands of villagers could lead to militias. In the 1990s, after Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the country was wracked by fighting among rival militias.

As a consequence, the top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and his predecessor, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, sought to assuage Karzai that community police forces would have a clear connection to his government, a stipulation sought by the president and his ministers.

"We'll be following a well-known concept," said the senior Afghan government official. "This is not a militia -- no way."

The Afghan official said the new force would be different from the public-protection police experiment in Wardak -- "We agreed on the community police, not the Afghan Protection Police," he said -- but the U.S. military official said the programs are the same.

"It's essentially a name change," the U.S. official said.

Winning Karzai's approval for the local defense program had been a top initial goal for Petraeus, who took command of coalition forces this month. But an early meeting with Karzai turned tense over the issue as the president renewed his objections to the U.S. plan. Petraeus and his aides then worked quickly to address Karzai's concerns and urged him to reconsider, officials said.

The public-protection police pilot program has operated for about a year in two districts of Wardak province. Sources familiar with the program said it has helped to reduce insurgent activity in some areas but participation has split along ethnic lines. Tajiks and Hazaras have signed up but Pashtuns have been slow to join. Most insurgents are Pashtuns.

The Wardak experiment was also judged by military officials to be very labor intensive, requiring multiple Special Forces teams to train and mentor the local defense units. Some officials had questioned whether such a program could be easily and quickly replicated.

But the U.S. official who talked about the new effort on Wednesday said the expansion would be aided by additional resources from the United States, NATO and the Afghan government. "We've got a new commitment behind it."

Aside from the public-protection units in Wardak, there are more than a dozen village-level defense squads that have been formed by the Special Forces in parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan. The official said those squads, which do not always have a clear connection to the Kabul government, will eventually be integrated into the community police program. It was unclear whether those units would then undergo changes. U.S. military officials had wanted to significantly increase the number of villages in the program, modeled on a similar initiative with Sunnis in Iraq, but the Karzai government had opposed it.

Still, the village-level squads had been deemed by some military commanders to be more effective than those in Wardak because residents regard them as community-generated -- and are more willing to support them -- as opposed to having been created by the national government, which many Afghans view with suspicion.

The U.S. official said members of the new program will be considered for jobs in the Afghan national police and army once their services are no longer needed.

Partlow reported from Kabul.

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Joshua Partlow | July 14, 2010; 1:04 PM ET…

Vito (not verified)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 5:56pm

It boils down to the right thing to do, in our nation's interest. We do, after all, have a lot invested in this adventure. All said and done (and not concrete, but nothing is concerning COIN and chance taking goes with the territory) it seems that a bottom-up approach is in our best interests and offers up the best of all bad options. Regardless of what Gentile espouses, Iraq was lost; until the overall strategy was altered to align with particular tactical success's leading into the "surge". To quote those much smarter than me, it isn't how many troops you have on the ground (to a certain extent), it's what they are doing.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 2:40pm

Maybe Karzai is winning because he rejects the idea that his government, unlike modern information age (industrial) society, has to govern by popular consent or participation. Robert Taber in "The War of the Flea" describes a tendency on our part to believe that what is true of an "industrial state is also true, with minor qualification, of non-industrial states" and that ... (m)odern governments must seem to be popular. They must make concessions to popular notions of what is democratic and just, or be replaced by regimes that will do."

President Karzai appears to follow an imperial-confederacy model which assumes that disparate Afghan territories are controlled by autonomous groups and where quid-pro-quo and patronage relationships assist in imposing order and stability. The system of government in Afghanistan is an ad hoc combination of political expediency and private enterprise. It is efficient in its own way, but can also lead to flagrant abuses and corruption.

The accomplished strategist seeks harmony, not sameness. E pluribus unum -"out of many one" - is an American political myth. The question we seem to be continuously asking ourselves is how to help an ally who lacks popular support, resources and men especially since COIN should be conducted by a government making use of its own popular support, its own resources and its own men? While we ponder this Zen riddle, President Karzai is working his support to integrate autonomous areas into his imperial domain.

We may actually be winning if assessed from an Afghan perspective but if we dont like the Karzai approach, maybe we can switch our support to Mr. Abdullah Abdullah. On the other hand, do we actually believe Mr. Abdullah Abdullah would go about consolidating his domain any differently, especially if he is required to garner Pashtun support?

If assessed from an imperial-confederacy perspective it might begin to make sense why President Karzai's may be reluctant to incorporate select villages/valleys into his domain.

Just a thought.


Mike Few (not verified)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 11:00am

I don't know what the "right" answer is.

One point of view is that the only COIN the US does is within the borders of the US. This viewpoint would suggest that this is Karzai's war so if he is successful, then we're successful. All we can hope to do is encourage him and attempt to persuade him to do the right thing.

The constrasting point of view is that we must "fix" and transform it into a government that is acceptable to the US. This point of view would suggest that we know better than Karzai b/c our interest is all the Afghan people. Thus, we conduct pseudo-colonialism COIN, and Karzai is minimized as our stooge.

The best answer is definitely somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. That's the art that GEN Patraeus will attempt to master. A combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches balancing the carrots and sticks of money and security in the hopes that we end up with a least-bad solution (whatever that is).

PulpFiction (not verified)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 9:51am


Thank you. I agree with you on both counts. In other words, as Mac Mccallister has stated: KARAZAI IS WINNING. How can it be that Karzai is accomplishing HIS goals but WE (the US) are NOT accomplishing ours? It is also true that the central "government" of Afghanistan not only controls, but is fighting to retain control of a vast majority of the "development and governance" aid.

So...what to do?

On the issue of locals defending their areas - it only makes sense. ANSF and CF are still unable to maintain basic security in a vast majority of the pashtun controlled areas. This seems like the way to go. Am I missing something on why we shouldn't try to influence something that is going to happen anyway? ie areas defending themselves from whoever they see as a threat?


Mike Few (not verified)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 9:07am

From what I've gathered, there are two reasons: control and money.

1. Control. Karzai is hedging his bets and trying to consolidate political control internally in his state and externally to the regional and international community. Internally, he may believe that empowering local tribes would decentralize his power of the state-controlled area. Contrastingly, negoitiating with the Taliban/Haqanni network from a position of strength (i.e., we've dismantled much of their security apparatuses) may help him maintain greater control in the long run. Externally, he is talking to Pakistan, India, and China for the post-US/NATO Afghanistan.

2. Money. If Greg Mortenson is correct in "Stones into Schools," then much of the reconstruction money is distributed at the national level and ciphered off to Karzai and his allies. If we decentralize with micro-grants and direct payments to tribes on a grand scale, then he loses a big paycheck for his beachfront property in Dubai.

PulpFiction (not verified)

Wed, 07/14/2010 - 8:55am


That is a very good question.

I don't quite understand that one either. I understand doing BOTH.

Can anyone help answer this?

Don't both of these things have to occur for us to succeed?


So President Karzai wants to negotiate with elements of the Taliban (inevitable) but objects to the expansion of Afghan Village Forces? Please explain. While I dont have experience in Iraq I saw it working first hand in Wardak, Afghanistan. The community were much happier with the village forces than with many of the corrupt ANP and NDS.