The Failed Promise: Reflections on America’s Afghanistan Experience
By Bill Gormley, COL (ret) US Army Reserve
Afghanistan did not have to become a failure nor America’s longest war. It was a conflict which was a great opportunity to show American mastery of hard and soft power. From my admittedly limited perspective, America’s failure to achieve its aims was avoidable if realistic expectations were articulated, appropriate resources were applied when needed, and basic military doctrines and processes were followed, while not discouraging creativity and initiative. Too many leaders dismissed many of the lessons of counter insurgency warfare learned in the last century.
Please note, this article is not an academic work, but a reflection on my firsthand accounts.
I often think about sitting in my little room in the corner of a World War II barracks at Fort Bragg in May 2003, playing with a cheap Chinese made radio which were being given away to Afghans. After tuning into the local NPR station, I heard Donald Rumsfeld had declared an end to major combat operations in Afghanistan. I remember feeling afraid my soldiers and I were not going to get a combat insignia for our uniforms after our deployment. It seems foolish in retrospect, but at the time it seemed like a real possibility.
My Army Reserve Tactical Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Company had mobilized the previous month. The mission of PSYOP is to convey selected information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, ultimately to get them to behave in ways that support US objectives.
When another company from my battalion had mobilized earlier that year, the attitude of our higher headquarters was “spare no expense” while when my company mobilized for Afghanistan their attitude was just a little bit better than “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Everyone was too busy preparing units for deployment to Iraq, and we had to muddle through the best we could.
Later that week, my officers and senior enlisted leaders received a briefing from an active duty officer from the PSYOP Task Force (POTF) in charge of supporting the US Central Command (CENTCOM). The briefing officer stated that Afghanistan was relatively quiet, and we were deploying into Kosovo type peacekeeping mission and recommended we base our PSYOP campaign on a similar model. I thought this had set the wrong tone for the mission. The soldiers may lose some of the aggressive spirit I had been trying to instill in them, or worse maybe become complacent.
Earlier in 2003, most of the PSYOP efforts focused on promoting the Afghan national government and the Afghan National Army as effective and legitimate institutions. It was recommended during our deployment, we should focus publicizing the Afghan constitutional convention and begin promoting national elections, which would take place shortly after the end of our mission in 2004. A third of my company had been in Kosovo only six months earlier and had a great deal of success supporting Kosovo’s elections, so, many of them were looking forward to a sequel.
At that time, the core of a PSYOP task force came from active duty units who had language and cultural training in particular areas of the world. They would be responsible for developing at campaign plan and creating PSYOP products: print and audio-visual materials to get our message out to foreign target audiences. Print and broadcast units would be attached to the task force as needed. Tactical PSYOP (usually from the Army Reserve) would disseminate PSYOP products in support of Army or Marine Corp units to whom they were attached. The POTF was supposed to have a strategic PSYOP plan for each of the campaigns it was responsible for and to provide the tactical units with guidance which supported the strategic campaign
Before deploying, I was informed the POTF’s senior PSYOP officer supporting CJTF-180, the joint task force responsible for Afghanistan, had be reassigned to Iraq, and I would have to do double duty as the senior PSYOP officer and tactical PSYOP company commander. This meant I would not just be responsible for my company, which was in direct support of a Special Force task force, but I would also be responsible for print and broadcast detachments, a small contingent of active duty enlisted soldiers that wrote newspaper articles and radio scripts, and an additional tactical PYSOP detachment which was already in country, supporting a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division. Much of this organizational structure was not solidified in any written orders, it had just evolved over time.
Doing double duty was a not good situation. My tactical teams supported Special Forces detachments throughout Afghanistan. It was hard to visit these teams because anytime you left the CJTF-180 headquarters at Bagram Airfield, you would be gone at least a week. As a “hands on” and actively engaged commander this was tough for me. When the POTF commander visited me at Bagram about five weeks into my deployment, I asked him to please send another officer to take over as the Senior PSYOP officer. He instead informed the Special Forces task force commander, he wanted to place me at CJTF-180 permanently. The Special Forces commander denied that request. A week later, CENTCOM issued an order attaching all US PSYOP forces in Afghanistan directly to the POTF commander, taking the Special Forces commander and even the CJTF-180 commanding general, completely out of the picture.
These arrangements were highly unusual, and it meant nobody in Afghanistan had to provide any support to my company if they did not want to. If a unit is attached to another unit, it means the receiving unit is responsible for all logistical and administrative support to attached unit; something the POTF was not capable of doing. The Special Forces group, who housed and fed my company headquarters could have refused to do either. The print and broadcast detachments were officially attached the print/broadcast battalion at Fort Bragg. This meant the radio and print detachments did not have to listen to me or even support the PSYOP campaign I was in charge of implementing.
Getting support based on good will, became a big problem later as units we had established relationships with, began to redeploy. It became a hassle to even get approval to travel to Kabul to pick up our PSYOP newspapers which we had printed by a local contractor, since all ground travel off Bagram needed approval of an officer with the rank of Colonel, which we did not have in country.
The POTF commander said, since the Special Forces task force was reducing its size from three battalions to two battalions, I had too many troops. Because the northern provinces did not have much enemy activity, the Special Forces task force thought it could reduce its footprint. In a sense, the POTF commander was right: A tactical PSYOP company by doctrine can support either one general-purpose force division (consisting of three maneuver brigades) or one Special Forces group (consisting of three battalions). This is what it said in the PSYOP field manual, however, the manual in use at that time was written after Desert Storm and was largely focused on supporting conventional operations. Although the Special Forces task force did go from three battalions to two battalions, it essentially just redeployed a battalion headquarters and a few detachments, and reassigned other detachments in northern Afghanistan to the two battalions that remained. These Special Forces commanders were not happy about losing their PSYOP support and I got a good dressing down from the SF task force’s deputy commander when I was briefing him my plan to reorganize.
Even after I managed to redeploy my soldiers in the north to more active areas, I still did not have that “extra” detachment the POTF commander said I had. The “extra” detachment which had supported northern SF battalion was understrength. I had sent one its tactical PYSOP teams (TPT) to one of my other detachments in a more active sector of the country. I had also previously transferred individuals from the detachment headquarter to replace combat losses on other teams. The officer who I had replaced in Afghanistan had also created an additional team from some of his headquarters soldiers and I was compelled to do the same. I tried to explain this to the POTF, but they dismissed it as a lot of excuses.
The PSYOP community’s experience with the Peace Enforcement missions of the 1990s may have been in part responsible for shaping the view that Afghanistan was winding down. There was a very robust PSYOP force structure on the first rotations in these operations, but it got dramatically smaller by the third. This may have been appropriate for these missions, but it should not be taken as a prescription.
Since Operation Iraqi Freedom had kicked off before my company mobilized, I knew that the Afghan mission was no longer the top priority, and I would not get everything I thought the mission required. If POTF commander just told me to do the best I could with what I had, I would not complain. From my business training and having worked in the private sector for many years, I love a challenge and I always look for ways to improvise. What still angers me, is the insistence that I had extra forces, based on 10-year-old doctrine, written for a different type of war, ignoring I was fielding one addition team which my company was not organized to field, and ignoring my losses due to combat causalities and accidents.
From my perspective, it appeared the POTF was overwhelmed by being responsible for operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq and Afghanistan were two different wars. As the situation in Iraq worsened, the POTF moved from CENTCOM in Florida to Camp Victory Baghdad. After that, the POTF became even more Iraq focused, to the point where they did not want to hear from me at all.
It was not just that manning issues that lead me to believe that the Afghanistan mission was not taken very seriously. There did not seem to put a lot of thought into supporting the radio broadcast efforts. When I arrived in June 2003, there were two transmitter broadcasting PSYOP messages, news, and Afghan music and poetry. One broadcasted from Bagram in Dari while the other was based in Kandahar and broadcasted in Dari and Pashtun. Both transmitters broadcasted in AM, FM, and shortwave.
The POTF had planned to replace these systems with two new shortwave transmitters. These systems were supposed to be able to cover the entire country from Bagram. One transmitter would broadcast and the other would be kept as a spare. AM and FM broadcasts would be discontinued, which meant our broadcasts could not be heard on car radios. It became apparent to me that plan was not based on a good analysis.
Once the new shortwave system was up, my teams did a survey on where the signal could be heard and what the signal quality was. After a week, I determined that shortwave could only be heard around Bagram and sometimes in Kabul. I do not think the POTF accounted for Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain when computing the transmitter’s broadcast footprint. Bagram is in a valley surrounded by high mountains. It seems like they just took the transmitter’s advertised range and drew a circle on a map. POTF commander became angry with me when I reported the system did not work as planned and when I requested help to fix it. He told me “who cares, nobody listens to it anyways.” This begs the question if nobody was listening then why did we bother to do it?
The POTF commander, however, was wrong on this point. Local Afghanis did listen to our broadcasts. The governor of Kandahar asked one of my junior officers why our radio broadcast stopped. Average Afghans had also asked some of my teams where our radio broadcasts had gone as well. Many of these Afghans listened to our broadcasts on FM and AM and would not be able to listen to them even if the shortwave system worked as planned. The fire support officer from a brigade from the 10th Mountain Division, who had replaced the 82 Airborne, informed me that he had soldiers, manning check points around his area of operations, examine all car radios and not one was tuned to our station. He thought I would be shocked and contrite with this news. I told him; this was not news to me: the average car radio does not pick up short wave.
After some agitation, a team of experts came out from Fort Bragg with some specialized equipment to conduct a survey of the signal strength around Afghanistan. They recommended the second transmitter be set up at Kandahar. They also determined the cheap Chinese made radios we gave to the locals were not good enough to get the signal. They recommend we start giving away a German made radio. These much more expensive German radios were better but did not have the small solar panel Chinese radios had. I thought this limited their utility, in a less developed country like Afghanistan. I made sure when we began to distribute the new radios, they were pre tuned to our station and had a sticker on the handle with our frequency and the station’s logo. We also started putting the station’s logo and frequency in our newspaper. These were measures I came up with and had not been done before in Afghanistan.
Eventually, I got the second transmitter set up in Kandahar. Even with more expensive receivers, the broadcast footprint was less than what was required. By that time, an active duty officer, had come in to act as the Senior PSYOP officer for Afghanistan and that was his problem now. I could finally get out and visit some of my teams more. From their daily reports and my few short visits, it became much clearer that we were in a counter insurgency fight and not some type of Kosovo like peacekeeping operation.
Any PSYOP officer is always going to have a difficult time balancing long-term objectives with immediate objects, or the tactical with the strategic. If you concentrate too much on the strategic, you will get tagged as inflexible or unresponsive. Concentrate too much on the tactical and you will get tagged as reactive and not proactive. The Afghan government, Army, and National Police Force were not up to maintaining order, despite some real progress. The Taliban were starting to plan their comeback and had become more active in the time I had been in country. One of my soldiers went home, permanently disabled from an IED bast before we had even completed our transition with the previous PSYOP company. Mao Tsung ‘s maxim “When the enemy advances, we retreat. When he stops, we harass. When he retreats, we attack”, still has some validity. They were harassing US and Afghan forces, as well as rebuilding their support and communications networks.
A tactical PSYOP company has a PSYOP product development detachment, to make PSYOP products in support of company’s tactical teams. This is to tailor PSYOP products to the local situation and the supported ground forces commander’s mission. When I was the Senior PSYOP Officer, I put my development detachment leader in charge of the radio broadcast and newspaper staff. My intent was to get more synergy between all the different types of media we were using. For example, the newspaper listed the radio station’s frequencies and program schedule, and some of the newspaper’s articles were modified and read on radio broadcasts. Some of the artwork from leaflets and handbills were also reprinted in the newspaper. For my perspective, it did not make sense to have a detachment led by an experienced mid-grade PSYOP officer making leaflets, posters, and handbills while the radio detachment was led by a new second lieutenant and the newspaper section was led by a young sergeant, each largely doing their own thing.
Together, the active duty soldiers who developed radio scripts and newspaper articles, and my Reserve PSYOP development detachment made a formidable team and developed some what I thought were really good materials. My PSYOP soldiers provided the newspaper and radio updated target audience analysis, and my illustrators did artwork for the newspaper.
The problem I later had was getting my own development detachment to make products for my tactical teams. The officer in charge of product development was assigned to my company right before our deployment, considered these tactical products a distraction and wanted to almost exclusively concentrate on supporting the strategic PSYOP objectives. She had recently been in charge of a PSYOP mission in Kosovo and was largely stuck in the peacekeeping mind set, since that was what she knew best and possibly, because she knew it looked better on PowerPoint slides back at Fort Bragg.
This put me in a bad position. I was not going to deny a request from an Infantry battalion commander to support his operation with a leaflet drop, because it took time away from developing a product promoting some new educational or agricultural program the Afghan government was doing with Coalition support. I was also not about to deny a tactical PSYOP team a product they felt they needed, so the development detachment could develop products supporting a national election that took place after we redeployed. I am not saying strategic objectives are not important, it is a question of proportionality. I did give a great weight to strategic support, but it was not as much as others thought it should be. We could support both by spreading our strategic development over several months while taking care of immediate tactical needs as they arose. We could take care of immediate demands faster by modifying products we already had developed, when appropriate.
The hard-core Taliban cadre did not make a good PSYOP target. They would not be very susceptible to any message Coalition Forces could make up. Insurgencies depend active and passive supporters, who may have different motives for providing this support. The village elder, who may look the other way on Taliban activity to avoid a hassle with them, or the “Accidental Guerilla” who may lay an IED or act as a guide or look out for a few dollars are susceptible targets. An insurgency that does not get some level of popular support or complicity either through persuasion or intimidation cannot succeed. The Taliban was not a popular broad-based movement, and it relied heavily on intimidation. Reducing their military effectiveness was the best way to support the more strategic nation building objectives. Development supports security but you really cannot have effective development in a violent and insecure environment.
In Afghanistan, the best way to influence people is through personal contact. The message in the PSYOP product (handbill, trifold etc.) was only part of the purpose of the product. A big part of the product’s purpose was to facilitate an introduction or to start a dialogue. Anything that will start a friendly exchange between a Coalition Soldier and local Afghans, begins to improve security. Local Afghans become less susceptible to Taliban propaganda, more likely to provide information on Taliban activities, and possibly resist intimidation tactics.
In a nation of 26 million people (at that time) you can’t make personal contact with everyone, but you can make personal contact with many of the local key leaders (formal or informal leaders) whom other Afghans look to for guidance, in areas where the Taliban were working to reestablish influence. Gaining support of local leaders, from my analysis was going to be the “Psychological Center of Gravity” for both the Coalition and the Taliban. The old saying that “All politics is local” was especially true in Afghanistan in 2003.
The POTF ultimately settled the debate by taking my company’s development detachment way from me and giving it to one of their officers. Ironically, when a Ranger task force arrived in January 2004, the development detachment ended up making products exclusively for their tactical PSYOP detachment. The tactical support products that were declared a nuisance became top priority because the Ranger mission was “high vis”.
It was a gray morning when my company arrived back in the United States. When the massive C-17 transport aircraft landed at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, there was none of the hoopla that had previously greeted returning troops. There was just a senior officer from my reserve command, his senior enlisted adviser, and some local volunteers serving some stale baloney sandwiches and tepid chicken soup which actually tasted pretty good at that moment. These would have tasted a little better if I was not getting quizzed by the senior officer on how many soldiers I would have ready to deploy to Iraq in the coming year, while I was trying to eat them.
After I demobilized and returned home to California, I did not feel any great sense of pride for my service. I actually felt like I failed. The unit did well in that we produced and disseminated more and possibly better products that the previous units has done. One of my teams had saved the lives of two Afghan soldiers in a flash flood, and another team talked an Afghan family out of a building the Taliban were holding before it was destroyed. Despite many successes, many of my soldiers on tactical team thought they did not get the support they needed and felt I had abandoned them.
I also felt ashamed I did not fully do what my analysis and intuition told me. I felt pressured to tell the leadership what they wanted to hear rather than what I saw was happening and what I thought was needed to address it. The PSYOP effort was under resourced both in personnel and equipment. I would have been more than happy to “soldier on” trying to do the best I could with what I had. What I object to strongly is the notion of solving problems by pretending they do not exist.
The PSYOP footprint in any operation, especially in a counter insurgency or stability operation should be based on a “troop to task” analysis, and not a Cold War era “troop to supported unit” ratio. If anything, when you reduced the number of trigger pullers in country, you may consider raising the number of PSYOP soldiers, because PSYOP is a force multiplier.
Six years later, older, and possibly wiser after two tours in Iraq and at the Pentagon during the interim, I found myself back in Afghanistan. From January 2010 to January 2011, I served as a Human Terrain Team leader. In that capacity, I did not get the strategic view I had gotten in 2003/04, since I only worked in one province. My team supported Task Force White Eagle, a brigade combat team from Poland, which consisted of two battle groups. Later a battalion from the 101 Airborne was added to this task force. A team from the Illinois National Guard, headed by a colonel, mirrored the Polish staff to act as a liaison / mentor. As part of the State Partnership Program, the Illinois Guard has had a relationship with Poland for a number of years. There was also a US Navy led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and Agriculture Development Team (ADT) from the Texas National Guard located with Task Force White Eagle in Ghazni Province.
One of the things that strikes me about my time in Ghazni was there was not a lot of taking the fight to the enemy. When enemy contact was made, we did not try to fix and finish the enemy, unless it was a planned offensive operation. If contact was made in the course of routine activity such as route clearance or movement to leader engagements, we returned fire and moved out of the kill zone. Normally, it was not too hard to drive the attackers away by returning fire, as if you were swatting away insects, but there was little effort to pursue the attackers and finish them off.
I remember well getting caught in an ambush while traveling with a platoon of Poles and some Afghan Nation Policemen. The Afghan police in Ford pickup trucks, dismounted and returned fire with their individual weapons. The Poles in Rosomaks (a wheeled infantry fighting vehicle) returned fire with the Rosomaks’ main guns and moved off the road where they got some protection from the road berm. All the soldiers in my vehicle were yelling to the vehicle commander for permission to dismount and return fire, but the vehicle commander was told to remain mounted by the patrol leader. The Polish patrol leader ordered the patrol to return to the FOB Ghazni without completing the mission, even though no casualties were taken, despite the urging by an IL National Guard officer to continue the mission.
The Taliban had been firing from an orchard which gave them some concealment, however, from my limited field of vision, it looked like the Polish platoon could have assaulted the ambushers and finished them off. Breaking contact and returning to the FOB gave the Taliban a minor, but nevertheless, moral victory and may have diminished our credibility with the Afghan National Police. The ordinary Polish soldiers also seemed dishearten by this retreat. They seemed to be as tough as their great grand fathers who in World War II, charged the Panzers on horseback or threw rocks at the Fallschirmjäger at Monte Casino, but they were restrained by their leadership.
During the 2010 Afghan elections, I was with the ADT, who had been given the task of blocking the road that led from Ghazni City (the provincial capital) into Khogyani District which was largely under Taliban control. The mission was to keep the Taliban out of Ghazni City for the elections. There was sporadic enemy contact most of the afternoon. After dark, the Taliban began concentrating more fire at our vehicles. So much ammunition was expended that day, the ADT’s mission commander requested a resupply. The Polish brigade commander refused to send out a patrol to resupply us and ordered back his platoon that had been supporting ADT. The PRT commander then volunteered his sailors and his security platoon from the South Carolina National Guard to bring out the ammunition. With a fresh supply of ammo, the soldiers from the Texas ADT were ready to continue the fight and were disappointed when they were withdrawn a few hours later. The Polish Task Force, under a new and more aggressive commander, did plan an operation to clear that area, but it was not implemented until the winter, when most of the Taliban had gone back to Pakistan. I went on more patrols in that district where we found IEDs but never came under direct fire again. I was in many more enemy encounters, but they all seemed to take the same course. At first, it did seem like a waste of resources to let the Taliban take you off mission by hitting patrols with minor attacks. You are essentially letting the enemy dictate the pace of the battle and distracting you from you overall strategy. However, the Taliban always seemed to avoid battle when you were actually out looking for them. Hitting the Taliban whenever and wherever they were met, would have been the best way to take them off the battlefield. One Afghan district governor told me; he could tell me where all the Taliban in his district were but would not because he did not think the Coalition would act on the information. When I was a young rifle platoon leader in the 7th Infantry Division (L) in the late 1980s, the phrase “Find, Fix, Finish” was our mantra. A phrase we all should have remembered in Afghanistan.
Nine years after my last misadventure in Afghanistan. I was sitting on the beach in Florida, with a good friend who was on leave from Afghanistan as contracted linguist. She did not have any prior military training or experience, but she was shocked by the lack of urgency, consistency, or follow up among the officers she worked with. For example, an Afghan police chief called her to remind her boss about a long scheduled meeting with NATO police trainers and police commanders around the province. Her boss said he could not go because he did not have access to an armored vehicle and security detachment. The Afghan chief volunteered his armored vehicle and security detail, but this Lieutenant Colonel refused. This is understandable considering quality of the Afghan police varied but it begs the questions, why could this officer not get a security detail if this meeting had been scheduled for some time or what else was a higher priority for him? Normally, I would not be critical of another officer based on the observations of one person who did not have similar training or experience, but just sounded too eerily familiar and this was not the only of her anecdotes that sounded so.
From my experience, it seems the US could easily out fight the Taliban with our better equipment, training, and levels of physical fitness. It is highly probably that America’s failure to achieve its objectives was a result of the total a cumulation of incidents, like the ones described in this article, which by themselves seem unimportant. This cumulation combined with desire to turn responsibility for battling the Taliban over to the Afghans long before they were ready, provided an opportunity for the Taliban to make their come back.
In order to get better outcomes, in case America finds itself in in a similar situation in the future, I would recommend the following. Please note, nothing I am recommending here is infeasible, draconian, or exotic.
Find and engage the enemy centers of gravity. In 2003, the Taliban needed to reestablish support networks in order to effectively conduct combat operations. An insurgency cannot survive long without some measure of local support, whether that genuine popular support or support as the result of intimidation. Separating the Taliban from their active and passive supporters was an achievable objective with persistent engagements with local influencers. This should have been the immediate focus of Information Operations instead of touting new Afghan institutions that were just not up providing stability at the time, and it was just the sort of a mission a tactical PSYOP company is trained, organized, and equipped to do.
Stay on the attack! Taking enemy forces and resources off the battlefield needs to be the immediate priority. If you stumble into any ambush, you must not just fight your way out, but you need to pursue your attackers and finish them off if you are capable. If you are not capable, maintain contact until help arrives. If you have a good idea where the enemy is, keep visiting that area, even if you do not have all the forces required to clear, hold, and build in that area. This is not playing “whack a mole”. Frequent movements to contact will keep the enemy off balance and keep them from concentrating all their efforts on operational objectives. Holding off on attacking the enemy so you can plan a large, integrated, and comprehensive operation is fine as long as you are sure that big comprehensive plan is going to actually be executed.
Be careful with metrics. For most of my civilian career, I worked in banking, so I am fond of graphs and numbers, but the old line about “Lies, Damnable Lies, and Statics” should be kept in mind. Measures of Effectiveness and Measures of Performance need to be tied to achievable battlefield effects and not your report card. Ideally, what one needs to do to get promoted should support what needs to be done to win the war. In 2003, I tried to cut the number of copies of our newspapers we had printed by a local contractor because my teams were not able to disseminate all of them. It seemed like a waste of money to print so many papers. Even, getting the papers from Bagram to the teams each month was a problem to due to limited space on aircraft or locally hired trucks. I was overruled by the POTF, I suspect because the less impressive number would not look as good on efficiency reports. Data collection and analysis is an important part of warfare, but in a large non-permissive environment with an underdeveloped communications infrastructure, you not going to tie all your actions to an effect as if you were counting re-Tweets or likes on a Facebook meme. Do not be discouraged from taking an action you think needs to be done, because there is not a good way to measure if the desired effect is the sole result of your efforts.
Do not be persuaded to doubt what your knowledge and experience tells you. Since I was a reserve officer, who had no experience in Central Asia at that time, I was deferential to the active duty PSYOP officers who supposedly had the regional expertise. Although I respect their studies and experiences, their situational awareness was sometimes dated. From what I could gather from my limited travels in Afghanistan, and from reading daily reports, the situation was moving in the opposite direction. Never be afraid to give your best analysis even if it is not what you think people want to hear.
I am reminded of my time in Afghanistan every day because I am always in some physical discomfort from a torn rotator cuff, I received from an IED in 2010. It was a slight wound, but it never healed correctly. What hurts much more thinking of all the lost opportunities for the United States to really excel, especially when many of the reasons for these lost opportunities were unnecessary and correctable.
 The Accidental Guerrilla theory suggests that local actors come to fight alongside extremist forces not because they support [their] ideology but because they oppose outside interference in their affairs, or because they are rallied to support local tribal or community interests. See The Accidental Guerrilla, by David Killcullen