07 Feb 2009 @ 11:24 PM 

Tribal Militias; Listen To The Local Voices


Abbas Daiyar, view a member of the Editorial Board at Daily Outlook Afghanistan has written a good piece about arming tribal militias in Afghanistan. I maintain that listening to the Afghans on this issue is very important. As Mr. Daiyar points out, find what worked in Iraq is not necessarily the solution in Afghanistan.

The change of tactic vision was also under discussion among circles. Seeing the success story in Iraq, viagra the US decided to try the Anbar Module in Afghanistan. Which in my previous articles, I have been articulating that it would result vice versa. Afghanistan is not Iraq therefore; similarities of insurgency should not be a justification for a similar military strategy. Iraqi society is merely divided on sectarian bases while Afghanistan’s is ethnic and clannish. Here tribalism plays vital. After political circles and media strongly opposed the idea of arming local militias against Taliban, the stakeholders in Afghanistan decided to launch the militia idea under another label maybe “pilot program”.

So it appears that even the Afghans realize that Afghanistan is not Iraq. Perhaps we should listen to them. There are some very good reasons not to rearm militias that have been so painfully disarmed in Afghanistan.

Here is another point from Mr. Daiyar that helps keep me from feeling alone:

Interior Minister, Hanif Atmar said this is a “Public Protection Police” which would a semi-paramilitary type force against insurgents. He said “in its first unit, youth from insurgent areas would be chosen by community elders.” How a Government police force is it that personnel are being chosen by community elders? Who are community elders to choose Police operating under Interior Ministry? Was there a real need of such a force when already our National Police is fighting Taliban?


Before arming tribal militias, we should do everything possible to work with and mentor the ANP. We have not done this with anywhere near the vigor required before giving up on them to arm locals. Anbar is a far cry from Wardak.

Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: Afghanistan, COIN
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 07 Feb 2009 @ 11 24 PM


Responses to this post » (11 Total)

  1. MaryAnn says:

    Given that the militias already exist, what should happen with them? (Although speaking of “the militias” as if they are the same or even similar groups with similar demographics, ideologies, etc. is likely far too simplistic.)

    Do they remain/become the focus of kinetic operations?

    Do we marginalize them by providing their “services” through legitimate means and hope they melt away?

    Should acceptable members be actively encouraged to apply for the ANA and ANP? If so, how are their leaders and other stakeholders dealt with?

    I’m not arguing your central point here. Just trying to visualize the process.

  2. Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure says:

    Armed militias are illegal right now. The exception is that in most villages that have a bazaar the locals hire local men to guard their shops at night, and they are armed.

    Existing militias are usually focused on either criminal enterprise or they are loyal to a warlord. Afghans are willing to fight for money in a lot of cases. They are often what we called ACM or “Anti-Coalition Militias.” They are anti-Coalition because the Coalition supports a government who is nominally opposed to criminal or warlord groups. The HiG would be a good example of a political/ideological ACM.

    Should we hire the HiG? Only individually. Galula wrote about converting insurgents/militia members to become productive members of society. We need to pay special attention to them as they may be “plants” in the ANP or ANA, but there are plenty of them. As long as they are not interfering with operations, then there is no problem. We did have those who were spies for the local Taliban, but we caught them and some gun-runners. Did we catch all of them? I don’t know. We did catch some.

    You’ll have that when you are working with groups of men who may have different loyalties. You can’t avoid that in a place like Afghanistan. It’s a complication, but that doesn’t mean that we should throw our hands up in the air and give up.

    Some militias are tribal militias that have traditionally formed to enforce the decisions of the local Jirga or Shura (councils of elders.) The ANP can fill this role, too. I’ve seen it done, and it was the most smoothly running district that I ever saw in the country. That was the Koh Band District, Kapisa Province. The ANP filled the role of Arbakai, or tribal enforcers of the Shura. That wasn’t their only role, but because the justice was local… kind of like a Mayor’s Court here in the States, it worked well. That made Arbakai irrelevant and unnecessary.

    That’s how that’s done.

    If you are providing security to the population, and you are working to improve the professionalism and root out corruption from the ANP, the ANP become more effective. People will tell on the bad guys more and more often, because they don’t fear retribution anymore. That’s when a counterinsurgency takes on a life of its own. Results beget results beget more results.

    I’m hoping that helped. Did I address your question?

    Thanks for the comment, MaryAnn!

  3. Cannoneer No. 4 says:

    Sure we should listen, and nod our heads and drink some more chai and act like we actually might stop doing what we think we need to do because he doesn’t like it, but other than being an indig journo who can write English and is probably somebody in the Afghan Information Operations infrastructure, what bonifides does Abbas Daiyar have that make his tactical and operational advice worth more than anybody else’s on Chicken Street?

    This is all about whether it is a good idea for the Kabul regime to have a monopoly on force in the middle of an insurgency. Certainly the Armed Oppositional Groups don’t think very highly of it. For sure the Tajik intellectuals who can write in English don’t want to see Pashtun political power grow out of the barrels of guns the Americans gave them. Most definitely the transnational progressivist Euro NGO types hate the idea of armed citizens.

    Everybody has their agenda.

    Who are community elders to choose Police operating under Interior Ministry?

    The exact same community elders who must be convinced to let the ANP be their arbakai.

    The Afghan Public Protection Force could be a Pashtun version of the Rhodesian Guard Force.

    Protected Villages have to be protected by somebody. Maybe the villagers.

  4. MaryAnn says:

    My question was meant to be more specific.

    Take your example of how the ANP filled the role of the Arbakai in Kapisa. What exactly happened to the members and leaders of the Arbakai after they became “irrelevant and unecessary”? Didn’t they resent losing their jobs/power/stauts? Where are those people now? What are they doing? Did they leave the area? Are they dead? Have they become used car salesmen? ;-)

    I assume the answer is what I alluded to in my question and you in your response: Some can be integrated on an individual basis into a new system (i.e. the ANP). Others, not so much.

    If that’s the case, I don’t see a huge conceptual difference between that and what we did in Iraq. Yes, in Iraq we directly armed say, the 1920s Brigade before integrating them, which I grant is a big tactical difference.

    But there were many other flavors of integration as well, such as the CLC, Sons of Iraq, etc., all with the ultimate goal of assimilation/legitimization at one point along the line. These “fuzzy” integrations leave a bit of a mess mid to long term, but they do buy time.

    Again, I’m not arguing your central point. I’m not in favor of arming militias. But from a very practical standpoint I’m not sure you don’t need some kind of migration path for individual militia members, unless you plan on just summarily killing them all. That’s why I keep digging on the specifics of what happens with individual militia members after their militia is “disenfranchised”.

  5. membrain says:

    I’d just like to point out that the 1920’a Brigade which MaryAnn used as an example were already very heavily armed. They were a particularly effective insurgent group with access to sophisticated weaponry well before they were encouraged to throw in their lot with the coalition and Iraqi Army in the fight against Al Qeida in Iraq.

    Prior to that, during the Anbar Awakening, those tribal militias were also armed though not to the degree, generally, of the 1920’s Brigade.

    It’s important to remember that the rule in Iraq during that time was that every household was allowed one AK-47 for personal protection.

    To sum up: In Iraq the policy was to NOT provide arms to militias but to encourage them to switch sides in their own best interests against AQI a common enemy. The Iraqi militias were responsible for arming themselves.

    The situation in Afghanistan is much more complex. Arming Afghan militias sounds like a disaster in the making. Where would the oversight come from?

    In Anbar Sheik Sattar sought and gained cooperation from the Marines who worked very closely with the Sheik tactically.

    Maybe I’m totally out of it here, but even with the ‘surge’ that the president has been alluding too, I don’t think there would be nearly enough troops to train, monitor and coordinate such an effort. I would prefer to see the ETT’s and PMT’s expanded. The succes with the ANA is well established and results with the ANP are improving.

  6. MaryAnn says:

    Yes, agree that’s an important difference, membrain. It would have been more accurate for me to say “we accepted them as allies of sort” rather than “we armed them”.

    I’m fairly familiar with what happened in Anbar leading up to the Awakening, that the buy-in from these groups came from their leadership, and that we rejected their offers of cooperation many times before accepting it.

    My point is that the militias exist and must be dealt with one way or another. Or perhaps in various ways in parallel. If they are truly ACM, they are not going to suddenly and voluntarily give up their power to the ANP or anyone else.

    If, as you say (and I agree), we don’t have the resources to provide oversight for the militias, then it also stands to reason that we cannot possibly identify and eliminate them all no matter how many troops we add or new ANP come online – at least not short term. So it seems reasonable to at least consider attempting to co-opt some of them.

  7. Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure says:

    Canoneer: You are killing me with your cynicism. I’m not sure, but judging from some of his other writings, Mr. Daiyar may be a Hazara. He is certainly someone who is rightfully concerned with Pashtun warlords reemerging.

    If you are alleging that he is a Taliban mouthpiece, I would contend with that. If you go to that newspaper’s site, you don’t find a bunch of anti-Americanism. What you do see is Afghans discussing Afghan issues with a fair amount of insight. I would recommend that you not disregard the credibility of Mr. Daiyar so lightly. Look not for his bona fides, but for the quality of his thoughts. The new generation of Afghan political thinkers and leaders will not have any bona fides, old buddy. They are newly hatched. This is a smart young man who is not saying anything that Afghans themselves would find shocking in the least. Many Afghans are rightly deeply concerned with rearming the warlords who were only recently largely disarmed.

    These were the same warlords who destroyed what was left of Afghanistan after the Soviets left. Afghanistan is not Iraq.

    Lastly, I would point out that our job as counterinsurgents is to provide legitimacy to the central government and de-legitimize the independent actors. The Taliban are themselves a militia. No one can successfully argue that the ANP development has failed, because for the most part we are just getting started with it. The program is only two years old and very poorly resourced. Arming militias is the easy way out.

    Mary Ann: Currently armed militias are illegal in Afghanistan. Whenever a citizen is found with an automatic weapon, it is confiscated. Part of the problem with the Afghan justice system is that there is no functional courts in much of the country. The Taliban destroyed traditional tribal structures because they competed with Taliban control. In many places, there are no Shuras, there is no Arbakai. The ANP in Koh Band did not replace anyone; they filled a void that needed to be filled. In so doing, it gave life to a system that provided the justice and rule of law that the people craved, provided local accountability and reinforced traditional structures that were very beneficial to ordered life in a disordered place.

    Afghanistan has a history of warlordism. Arming “tribal militias” in areas where the moderate tribal system was destroyed over the course of the Taliban rule would likely serve to rearm warlords or create new ones. The Afghans themselves understandably fear this. The ones who are saying, “arm us, and we will fight the Taliban” are likely to be those who would rearm their militias. It potentially recreates the patchwork of minor monsters that spawned the Taliban to begin with.

    Mullah Omar’s rise to fame began with hanging a minor warlord, supposedly from the barrel of one of his own tanks. This action had tremendous popular appeal.

    Afghans would, by and large, like to see the government succeed, but they would take the Taliban over the warlords any day. That’s how the Taliban gained strength in the first place. Arming militias at this point, and given their history, is like treating a flu with massive doses of arsenic.

    The militias that do exist are either criminal enterprises or remaining warlords such as Gulbuddin’s HiG.

  8. MaryAnn says:

    So basically every (non-ANA or ANP) citizen with an automatic weapon is a bad guy. Got it. Sorry for being so thick. I misunderstood your comment about Koh Band.

    Well… that makes things pretty straightforward then, doesn’t it? ;-)

  9. membrain says:

    “So it seems reasonable to at least consider attempting to co-opt some of them.”

    I agree MaryAnn. I think we’re basically on the same page. To co-opt them requires the effective use of COIN which, for the most part, is not happening at the moment.

  10. David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/09/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  11. Rex Brynen says:

    While one should be very careful about the weight put on polling data, just about every survey I’ve seen out of Afghanistan shows that local militias have very, very poor trust and approval ratings—another reason to be careful about a SoI model in Afghanistan:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/05_02_09afghan_poll_2009.pdf (Q29-30)

    http://www.asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/Afghanistanin2008.pdf (p. 25)

    Indeed, it was in response to the predations and excesses of local armed militias and warlords that the Taliban was first propelled to power in the country.

    Outstanding blog, by the way.

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