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Simply a Nirvana Fallacy

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Simply a Nirvana Fallacy:

Seeing Everything from the Prism of Islamic Extremism in Afghanistan

by Metin Turcan

Download The Full Article: Simply a Nirvana Fallacy

Abstract. There has emerged a vast literature at the strategic level on the COIN efforts of the CF in Afghanistan, which is generally considered as an integral part of the struggle against global extremism. Nonetheless, to see Afghanistan as a "front" in the struggle against global extremism severely distracts our focus and falsely lead us to cover all other related phenomena under the blanket of "Islamic extremism.' The utmost aim of this article is to challenge traditional COIN wisdom available in the literature which takes "Islamic Extremism" as the single factor that explains everything in rural Afghanistan. This article suggests that the tribal and rural characteristics of Afghanistan precede the Islamic identity of Afghanistan, and therefore, the current debacle of international community in rural Afghanistan does not conform to established frames or assumptions in the literature.

Download The Full Article: Simply a Nirvana Fallacy

Metin Turcan holds an MA degree in Security Studies from Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. He served in northern Iraq (1999, 2004), Kazakhstan (2003), Kyrgyzstan (2004) and Afghanistan (2005) in both fulfilled liaison and training missions. Currently, he is working as a security advisor in the Interior Ministry of Turkey and a Ph.D candidate studying Afghanistan and the changing nature of warfare in the 21st century.

All opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of any institution or organization the author has been associated with.

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carl (not verified)

Tue, 04/05/2011 - 3:35am


I don't know if you have read Mr. Turcan's other paper that was the blog entry of March 11, 2011 but if you haven't you should. It was as good or better than this one.

One thing this paper suggests but doesn't state comes from its' emphasis on local knowledge. With reference to the imaginary company commander cited in the paper, it seems to me that no matter how much he studies his area before hand and no matter how good the handoff was, nothing will teach him the ins and outs of the local area like being there for a long time. So the challenge is how to keep that company commander there for a long time, 2 years, 3 years maybe. I don't know how that may be done, but if it could be, it might radically increase the effectiveness of our forces.

G Martin

Mon, 04/04/2011 - 11:52pm

Great paper!

I think this paper goes a long way in addressing two issues which I have personnaly struggled with:

1) why is our STRATCOM having such a limited effect?
2) what is the REAL CoG in Afghanistan (if there is such a thing?)?

The answers this paper provides- that we have no clue what the rural area values and/or we can't provide it or don't have the patience, capability, or political will to provide it; and that the real CoG is justice- are very interesting.

The greatest takeaway for me is that 2nd idea: that security, governance (as we define it), and development are all fine- but that what the rural folk demand above all else is justice- swift and in-line with their unique and local tribal cultures- and we should be focusing on that- but that we can't, or at least we shouldn't focus on it directly. I submit we've struggled mightily with the concept of justice and how to provide it and I'm not sure the author is wrong when he posits that we are missing it by a wide mark.

I especially was interested in these points:

- U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan have highly limited access to "real locals"
- the political cost of a fallen soldier outweighs the risks of interacting with the locals
- One of the enormous fallacies of the traditional COIN literature is the excessive
emphasis of the notion of "security."
- it is much more important to be "justly"
treated than to be "secured" for the residents of TRMEs.
- Furthermore, with regard to justice, the Western mindset puts "accuracy" above all other
considerations. In the Western world, a methodical and long process to find justice is always appropriate. The Western mindset demands that the decision of the judge be accurate and objective. In contrast, people in TRMEs seek "the swift implementation" of justice rather than concern themselves with accuracy
- In the light of the fact that it is a must for the CF to operate on the village/district level, there are two possibilities. The CF can try to penetrate into the real world of rural Afghanistan with the consent of the warlords, whose sole aim is to seek more political and military power, or without their consent. If the CF decides to operate with the consent of the warlords and give them what they want, the CF would then be adding more corruption to the system, the first dynamic which alienates people in rural Afghanistan. If the CF decides to [act] without consent of the corrupted tribal order, then this penetration is an immediate threat.
- [recommendations]: keep the presence and visibility of the CF in every COIN effort "low profile" [in order to] increase the visibility of Afghans, and increase the number of Muslim troops in the CF- [this] may be the solution for now to neutralize [the]... basic propaganda theme of the extremists.
- In many incidents, the fight has been among the actors in local politics, which means that it was not a fight between the insurgents and the COIN forces as we read and watch in the media.