Afghanistan's Descent To Chaos Part One From Confrontation To Cooptation

12 October 2014

By Al-Ikhwah Al-Mujahidun 

For the past few years United States and her allies in Afghanistan have tried everything to break the resistance of the Afghan people to foreign occupation. Looking at some of the strategies employed over the past few years it appears that the United States considers victory in Afghanistan as a forlorn hope. Instead it has encouraged mechanisms in Afghanistan which on the face of it are aimed at preventing a takeover of Afghanistan by the Islamic Emirate in the eventuality of full withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. 

Afghan Local Police: 

One of the mechanisms to this end has been the setting up of local vigilante forces, known as Afghan Local Police (ALP) under the command of local warlords throughout Afghanistan. Presumably US thinking behind this strategy was that as local actors are familiar with the terrain and people of their localities they would be able to identify insurgent fighters and supporters more easily and would be less prone to insurgent ambushes and attacks. In order to maximize the effectiveness, some would say ruthlessness, of these forces, they have been allowed to operate outside governmental structure and without any meaningful accountability to the government. It is true that while on paper these militias are fully accountable to the Kabul administration, but in reality because these forces mostly operate in areas the government forces don't usually patrol, they have de facto control of these areas and without any meaningful oversight. 

Because they operate outside of the legal framework of the government they act with impunity in carrying out their tasks. Many of these local commanders are the very same people who contributed to the lawlessness in Afghanistan prior to the emergence of the Taliban and the subsequent establishment of Islamic Emirate. It is ironic that the US in its initial years of occupation bewailed the 'warlordism' prevalent in Afghanistan. They openly accused some of these warlords of grave human right abuses including extortion, random killings, torture and the like. Some of the civil and human right groups in Afghanistan openly talked of the need to prosecute some of these warlords in the International Criminal Court.  

From confrontation to cooptation: 

Today, in an ironic turn of events, the US has co-opted these very same warlords in their fight against the insurgency in Afghanistan. They have been given free rein to commit all sorts of abuses including extra-judicial killings, kidnappings, rape, indiscriminate killing of civilians, torture and the like. In many places US Special Forces use these forces as the dirty gloves to do their deeds for them. If the US forces capture a suspect and have no proof against the accused they simply handover the suspect to these forces. In most cases the suspect is never seen again and his family cannot find out what happened to the apprehended after the handover to these forces. It is not that the US troops are not aware of what is being done to these suspects after their handover. For a detailed account of US Special Forces and CIA personnel cooperation with the ALP refer to AAN article Arguably the disappearance of these suspects after their handover to these local forces is done under the affirmative instructions of US and ISAF troops. On more regarding the impunity of these militias refer to the following Human Rights Watch Report 

While the extent to which US and ISAF forces are responsible for the war crimes committed by local militias (due to operating under US instructions) is an issue for a different time, what this article is more concerned with is the implications of these local warlords operating outside state structures and control and their implications for the sovereignty and wellbeing of Afghanistan. As stated earlier, these local militias, for all practical purposes, operate outside state control, they owe allegiance to their local commanders with little sense of responsibility to their nation or people, and poorly trained they have little idea of international humanitarian laws or Islamic laws on armed conflict. 

ALP after 2014: 

While at the moment these warlords act as mercenaries operating under the payroll of US Army, the concern is what role will these militias play once US forces withdraw and the war chests of Kabul administration dry out. These militias do not fight due to a sense of patriotism. Rather their main concern is maximizing their profits. If these commanders are not receiving money to operate around the main highways linking Kabul with the provinces then most likely these militias will resort to their previous practices of extortions, kidnappings and drug trafficking to sustain their forces and influence. Moreover in the absence of government forces in these peripheral regions, these local militias will set up their own parallel rule in their controlled areas and will refuse to heed government orders. The eventual proliferation of these heedless militias will eventually drag Afghanistan into a similar security dilemma as that facing Libya currently. 

In such an eventuality it appears that these militias will play a crucial role in the future of Afghanistan. Some of these militias, linked with warlords allied to Kabul will continue to operate in support of Kabul administration albeit they might continue their criminal activities as well in order to sustain their coffers. Already most of these militias operating around the country, in addition to receiving salaries from the government, also confiscate money and valuables for the local populace under the guise of taxes, ushr and the like. Others who are neither allied to Kabul administration nor any other party will simply continue their criminal activities and resist any attempt by either Kabul to rein them in. Yet other militias being either surrounded by Taliban or lured by them might ally themselves with the Taliban and embark on the military campaign against the Kabul administration. Regardless of which path they choose their mere presence, size and numbers in Afghanistan will result in complete decentralization of Kabul government. If Kabul ever wishes to reassert its control over the territory of Afghanistan, then they will need to confront these very same militias that it has so encouraged in order to stall the Taliban advance on Kabul. Ironically any attempt by the Kabul administration (without strong support from the US) to disarm these militias or limit their power will most likely drive them into supporting the campaign of the insurgents. 

A calculated strategy? 

This proliferation of militias and expansion of the powers of warlords in Afghanistan is one instance where the US has prioritized its short term interests to the long term detriment of Afghanistan. It is interesting to consider why the US did not try to set up these militias in the initial years of their occupation but turned to this strategy after they announced the surge in Afghanistan and the 2014 withdrawal deadline. The US had tried the very same approach in Iraq and in 2009 under the leadership and advice of General David Petraeus. The tendency to create such militias when withdrawing from an occupied land is usually driven by the desire to create a semblance of 'mission accomplished'. Setting up these local militias usually is very successful in stalling the advances of insurgents in the short term because it creates resistance at every level of a military advance. However these militias are usually funded by large sums of money which sooner or later is likely to dry up. The impunity offered to these local militias coupled with ever diminishing resources creates a strong desire in these militias to turn on the local populace and extort money from them under various pretexts. This total control over the population and lack of any oversight also encourages militias to become more audacious and criminal in their demands upon the local populace. Unlike the insurgents who generally rely on local support and therefore go to great lengths to accommodate their needs, local militias hardly have any need or desire to accommodate the local populace. Their increasing burden on the local populace usually alienate the local populace and drive them into the arms of the insurgents or other anti-government forces. 

A recent article by AAN regarding the advances of Taliban in Kunduz province is instructive in how such local militias can create the very conditions that drive the local populace into the arms of insurgents. Moreover it can be argued that the creation of these local militias can be counterproductive to the very results intended for them. The presence of local militias often encourage government forces to withdraw to the main centers. Also the grievances against local militias are easily transferred to all government forces and institutions by the local populace. Moreover because such local militias operate independently and without coordination from the government or each other, it is possible to defeat them piecemeal enabling insurgents to quickly capture the territory outside of main urban and district centers. The recent Iraq experience shows how the setting up of the Awakening Council and its disintegration soon after the US withdrawal created the conditions where the Islamic State group was able to advance on the marginalized territories and occupy them with lightning speed.  One cannot account for the blitzkrieg or the Islamic State in Iraq without taking into account the marginalization of the local populace at the hands of the Shia dominated government and the heavy handed tactics of the Awakening Council. 

How are the ALP counterproductive to the needs for which they were created? 

It is argued that the ALP is one instance where a US strategy employed to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan will result in achieving the very opposite. At the very least the presence of these local militias will serve as a double-edged sword. While the militias may partially succeed in denting the advance of the Taliban, their mere presence serves to diminish Kabul's control over the outlying provinces. The militias accustomed to a culture of impunity will serve to alienate the local populace and enflame anti-government sentiments. Their localized and uncoordinated approach against a localized insurgency might prove successful but when faced with large scale insurgent offensives these local militias will either melt away or be defeated piecemeal. As more and more areas fall to the insurgents and as the Taliban military machine becomes more conventional most of these local militias will be left with one of two options, either flee or join the Taliban.



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