The liberal press is upset that much of local security in Afghanistan is provided by U.S.-backed “warlords.”
When a New York Times correspondent arrives in your area with the recommendation from your spec ops superiors in Kabul that he be “assisted in all appropriate manners,” your only alternative is to open the door to your facility whether it is a white-washed compound or a mud-walled hootch. This apparently was what happened with the Special Forces unit in Oruzgan Province. It was not expected that the journalist would end up trashing in print your principal agent and local paramilitary leader, but that’s just what happened.
It’s often not the individual correspondent’s call, but simply a directive from an editor to go out and get that story that shows U.S. government operations’ dark side. They call it an exposé. The Times and other elements of the liberal press are particularly upset over the fact — and it is a fact — that much of the local security of Afghan communities and the roads that connect them are under the protection of what they refer to as “warlords.” Apparently the anti-war media object that these private security entrepreneurs in baggy pants are doing the job they think the resident NATO forces should be doing. What’s more, as in Oruzgan, the local warlords are accumulating fortunes in payments, bribes, extortion and, of course, the illegal drug trade.
The problem is that the farangay officers and soldiers can’t do what local chieftains (a much better term than warlord) can do. This has been recognized ever since British forces were chased out of Kabul in January 1842 and annihilated in their retreat eastward to Jalalabad. Use of local forces led by tough, self-interested indigenous chiefs has been part of American history going back to before the Revolution. During the French and Indian Wars both sides, French and British, used Native Americans of rival tribes to fight in an environment not conducive to European military tactics. The results were consistently bloody and ultimately exploitive of the indigenes.
The Crow fought alongside the U.S. Cavalry against the hated Sioux, and Apache Scouts helped Lt. Charles Gatewood locate and bring in Geronimo and his band hiding in the badlands of Mexico. Burmese tribes of Kachin were trained and equipped by the OSS to battle the Japanese during WW II, as were the Hmong and Nung tribes in Laos and Vietnam, respectively, a loyal fighting force for U.S. Army Special Forces in the Vietnam War.
There are many precedents for the use of Afghan leaders and their tribal fighters in Taliban-infested areas of Afghanistan. The local “dons” make deals and carry on the brutal tasks of war, the results of which Washington wants but does not wish to acknowledge. It’s called unconventional warfare (UW) and is the typical response of traditional armies when faced with what has come to be called “asymmetric opposition.” In the course of their subsidized “policing” the leaders apparently make millions of dollars, according to the N.Y. Times and other media. It’s not clear whether the media resent the amount of money accumulated by the local chiefs or that they are involved at all.
The definition of unconventional warfare by the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center where Special Forces are trained refers in part to “… a broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations, predominantly conducted through, with, or by indigenous or surrogate forces organized, trained, equipped, supported and directed in varying degrees by an external source. Unconventional warfare includes, but is not limited to, guerilla warfare, sabotage, subversion, intelligence activities and unconventional assisted recovery.” UW may be exotic but not unique.
When the U.S. utilized the local forces of the Northern Alliance in 2001 to force out the Taliban, there was no objection by America’s political class. The problem that exists today is the realization that control of non-traditional forces is at best limited — and expensive. Considerable sums are earned keeping the Taliban from attacking trucks carrying NATO cargoes. That a portion of this transiting fee ends up in the hands of Taliban operatives is one of the devices used to secure the supply routes.
The argument has been made by politicians and media that using indigenous contractors to provide security and restore local order runs counter to the American aim of building up the Afghan civilian administration. These nation-building goals, however, are actually not why we are in Afghanistan — or at least that’s what the current and past White House have told us. Supposedly we are committed to a military goal of containing and destroying the Taliban in the course of eliminating al Qaeda as an operational entity.
Unconventional warfare does not lend itself to classic surrender scenarios; nor does this type of military and paramilitary action offer definitive victories. Afghanistan’s fierce ancient culture and feudal dominance defies modern military and political systems. In the meantime, the unique drug trade-based income source provides sustenance for the Taliban while underpinning the entire national economy of Afghanistan.
Although not mentioned in the N.Y. Times article, the opium crop of Oruzgan and Helmand provinces has been badly hit by blight this year. Ironically, Special Operations-aided paramilitary activities are one of the few sources of funding for the impoverished farmers. Now that is truly an unconventional way to fight a war. And it works. But the good old NYT wouldn’t see it that way. To them it’s just not, well, ACLU-approved.
Nonetheless, the “first-in, last-out” Spec Ops Forces will be fighting in their unconventional way in the outback of Afghanistan long after American media have lost interest.
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