Small Wars Journal

Throwing the Book at the Taliban

Wed, 09/01/2010 - 8:59pm
Throwing the Book at the Taliban:

Undermining Taliban Legitimacy by Highlighting Their Own Hypocrisy

by Colonel Greg Kleponis

Download the Full Article: Throwing the Book at the Taliban

My language assistant, Hamid came to me just the other day to express a safety concern he had for both he and his family. I paid attention because in the five plus months I have known him he never seemed to worry about security. In fact, one of the first things I noticed when arriving in Afghanistan was the lack of fear our Language Assistants, Cultural Advisors and local partners showed when working with us. This is in marked contrast from my observations during three years in Iraq where we lost more than a few interpreters to assassination. Hamid and I have traveled to various provinces throughout the country with the Deputy Minister and we have walked the streets of Kabul, in relative safety. What suddenly changed this? What did I see in his eyes that day that I had seen in the faces of my Iraqi Interpreters? I recognized it as fear and at last the real possibility that the enemy could and would take reprisals on those Afghans who assist us whom they most loathe -- interpreters.

He brought to my attention a communiqué allegedly released by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, issuing new orders to his commanders in Afghanistan, and obtained by NATO. A NATO spokesman stated that Omar issued the orders from Pakistan, calling on Taliban commanders to capture or kill Afghan civilians working for foreign forces or the Afghan government. This would represent a reversal of a previous order issued by Omar in 2009 directing the Taliban to avoid targeting civilians. In Hamid's words, "Sir they changed the rules!" I had no idea what he was talking about; rules for terrorists and insurgents? I then remembered that I had first heard about the Taliban's so called Rule Book from Dr. David Kilcullen, the noted Counterinsurgency theorist and adviser, over lunch at the Army Navy Club in Washington a few weeks prior. He also made mention of it in his book Counterinsurgency but only as a passing reference. The idea of a Rule Book for insurgents so intrigued me I decided to find out just what was in it, why it was issued, and how (knowing our experience with the Afghan National Security Force's [ANSF] habit of disregarding or selectively apply rules) how the Taliban was doing in the compliance arena. I also had to ask myself that if a 25 year old ethnic Tajik living and working in downtown Kabul "knew" the rules, how pervasive among the population was this knowledge and how could it be leveraged?

Download the Full Article: Throwing the Book at the Taliban

Colonel Greg Kleponis, U.S. Air Force, is currently assigned as the Senior Advisor to the Deputy Interior Minister/Security at NATO Training Mission Afghanistan / Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. He was previously assigned as Division Chief, Policy, Requirements & Applications, Global Combat Support Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installation, and Mission Support, Headquarters United States Air Force.

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Taylor (not verified)

Thu, 09/02/2010 - 12:53pm

A well written article overall but two things stood out to me.

In the section 'Lack of Full Spectrum Control' the author states that "In full spectrum control, ideally the government or proxy in these cases also provide social goods the established government otherwise does not such as hospitals, schools and charities. This is a strategy employed by Hamas and Hezbollah for example and one that is noticeably absent in the Taliban." (4)

It is true that the Taliban have been unable to establish services to the same degree of Hamas or Hezbollah, but I would say this has more to do with being tied up fighting and hiding from coalition forces and not a lack of will on their part. There are numerous examples of the Taliban establishing tribunals in areas they control and many Afghans preferring these tribunals to corrupt government courts because of their swift justice. I am unsure exactly how established or pervasive Taliban social services are but I think "noticeably absent" is not accurate.

Secondly, in the conclusion the author states that, "By the constant narrative that Taliban neither observe the true tenets of Islam nor honor the sacred code of Pashtunwali so essential to the identity of Pashtuns, we call into question as to who exactly they are." (9)

This could definitely be a weakness of the Taliban but only if the ruling government provides a competitive narrative. It would have to prove itself more able to follow the tenets of Pashtunwali, which is extremely unlikely. The government is dominated by Pashtun interests but I find it unlikely it will be able to compete with the Taliban in a contest other which adheres to traditional values while it remains thoroughly corrupt. This seems to be a difficult vulnerability to exploit.


Thu, 09/02/2010 - 9:24am


Great work. Great analysis. Thank you for taking the time to dig into this.

Will get this out to as many guys on the ground as I can.


Jim Gant