In the last few posts I have reviewed a posting by “Afghanistan Shrugged” and the latest report on the ANP by the International Crisis Group. One notes how a higher commander can derail an honest effort by a subordinate in a dangerous situation, bringing failure to an operation on the verge of success, and the other details the current state of one of the two main pillars of Afghan security; the ANP (and with it the Ministry of Interior.) The second also touches on the Afghan Judiciary; the shadowy realm where criminal prosecution and corruption blend into a tie-dye of injustice that threatens the very viability of the Afghan government.
These are not just my perceptions, but a thread that runs through the actions and decisions of hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, especially leaders. These soldiers have an underlying sense of frustration that sometimes seethes to the surface. The feeling of struggling against the stream is at times intense. The author of “Afghanistan Shrugged” clearly brings this feeling forward in his post describing the events of a night when he was denied illumination and four Taliban rocketeers escaped to rocket another day.
We’re not talking about a JDAM on a village here, folks, we’re talking about mortar illumination rounds. The ANA Vampire 06 advises don’t have NODS, and it was apparently one of those nights in Afghanistan that was darker than Osama’s Soul.
I also reviewed Ghaith Abdul Ahad’s article in The Guardian containing interviews with Taliban leaders in Wardak and Khost. A large part of the value of the article lay in these Talibs explaining their insurgency plan. They explained how they use the general inefficiency of and distrust in the ANP to their advantage, as well as the lack of faith with which the people regard the judicial system of the IRoA government. The Talibs explained the simple truth that the field in which they sought to compete with the government… and therefore destabilize it through de-legitimizing it… was in the provision of essential services to the people. One of the major services that they offer is a sure justice system.
These posts tie together to paint a picture of reality in Afghanistan, one that is felt if not completely articulated in the minds of most who serve outside the wire; a couple of sides of the Rubik’s Cube that is the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. They also tie in to a story of intrigue that is still unfolding.
At at a FOB in Wardak, a small group of puzzlers whose job it was to move individual blocks around in the Rubik’s Cube found themselves ensnared in the Afghan Conundrum. A spy had been identified; a small group of them, actually. They were undoubtedly providing information that was directly used by Qomendan Hemmet in his tactical and probably strategic operations against Afghan and Coalition forces in Wardak. American and Afghan lives were at risk, and the root cause of that risk was identified and in custody. Now the clock started ticking. Afghan law sets a time limit for action to be taken. Local nationals cannot be held indefinitely.
There are two paths to justice in Afghanistan with these types, and one of them is to turn the suspects over to the local judiciary.
Now, with the information provided by several sources, including the International Crisis Group, we have seen that the Afghan Judiciary is most likely to have these guys out and on the run in short order. No justice there; and the individual lives to harm another day. What’s a young Company Commander to do? He may seek option number two; the American military-driven option. This interpreter-turned-spy deserved to spend some days at a nice detention center with American guards and daily interrogation, wouldn’t you think?
BTW, if you’re thinking of going all Abu Ghraib on me, I’ll advise you to not even go there. The detainees at the American facility are very bad people who are treated very humanely and are in much nicer accommodations than any Afghan facility would provide. No, the interrogations do not include torture.
This young American officer then appeals to his commander for option number two and is met with… silence. His boss is leaving him out to dry. His distrust (along with the rest of Wardak’s population) for the Afghan system complete, he takes action. Now he is facing Article 32 hearings (part of the Military Justice System’s path to potential incarceration for crimes) at Khost for his actions.
I do not mean to excuse the men who participated in the interrogations that day in Wardak, but when an American reads an article about this officer and his First Sergeant and the trouble that they find themselves in, they do not see all that is behind it. While this is an extreme example, it is one that many of us who have operated outside the wire could easily imagine. My interpreter in Afghanistan was a stellar young man. Nearly every interpreter I ever met there was. I have also written about how Sam the Combat Terp and his family were threatened on more than one occasion, to the point that he moved his family twice within a few months. The pressure on these young men is intense. I don’t know whether the interpreter in question was a plant or if he was pressured via threats or coercion to his life or his family’s safety, but finding that your terp is a spy is every soldier’s nightmare.
Only having a spy for a terp who is never discovered is a worse scenario.
I bring this situation into this thread of posts to illustrate that the situation in Afghanistan is indeed a Rubik’s Cube, and we have a serious need to make a huge difference in reforming not only the ANP but the Afghan Judiciary. We also need to stress that highly trained leaders on the ground need to be trusted when they call for support from the little places in Afghanistan. Here we have two scenarios where the counterinsurgency was foiled by Battalion Commanders who made calls that negated their subordinates’ positive actions (one had four rocket-firing insurgents trapped in the open and couldn’t see them in the dark, the other had a known spy in custody who he feared… and rightly so… that this spy would go free if left to Afghan civilian justice) because they failed to back those subordinates. There is something intrinsically wrong with both of these scenarios. That young Company Commander and his First Sergeant would not be facing the ends of their careers and possibly incarceration if they had been treated with the respect that they were due. Four insurgent rocketeers would be either dead or in custody and unable to fire more rockets if the officers who asked for mortar illumination rounds had been given the respect that their judgment was due on that night near the Pakistani border.
Their commanders replied with, “I don’t trust you to make a sound decision. I know that I will always know better than you what is best for your AO (Area of Operations.)”
I’ll wager that if you asked the officers who are at the slimy end of that stick, “We are going to put you out in a very difficult and dangerous position downrange. We do not trust you and when you most sincerely need it we will not support you. Do you accept this mission?” the answer would be, “No. I hereby submit my resignation.”
That Company Commander and his First Sergeant found themselves confronted by the nightmare scenario which was immediately followed by being left holding a bucket of steaming excrement. Judging their decisions from that point forward is not my job, but the job of the Article 32 Board. What I do know is that they should never have been left holding that bucket.
Yes, Afghanistan is a Rubik’s Cube. Many people have solved Rubik’s Cubes at some point in their lives; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and we are spinning the individual blocks around in a seemingly disjointed and random pattern instead of in a coordinated series of movements that see the whole cube. I, like CPT Hill, 1SG Scott, and Vampire 06, was working at moving one or two of the little blocks that make up the larger cube, and every once in a while the Big Hand reaches in gives the cube a couple of quick twists that undo considerable effort or short-circuit a favorable turn in battlefield fortunes. We in the Army have a polysyllabic yet simple word for this effect, but I’ll give you a more generally acceptable and family-friendly word that starts with the same letter; counterproductive.
As the warnings of many experts and pundits ring, our window of opportunity in Afghanistan is growing smaller and smaller. It’s time to reconsider… read unscrew… ourselves in how we are approaching this war. A symptom of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Real insanity is the inability or unwillingness to perceive, understand, and abide in the truth. The truth is that what we are doing isn’t working. Putting more effort into what isn’t working isn’t going to work much better. It’s like trying to force a nut onto a bolt counterclockwise. Putting more umph into it isn’t going to make the bolt thread the other way, but possibly just get the nut stuck in a supremely untightened position.
We are trying to go lefty-tighty. It just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t even sound right.
Of course, there are other sides to the cube. “Free Range International” has an incredibly insightful post on some of the rest of the cube in his most recent post. This guy needs to be listened to.
Read that, “People who make big decisions should be paying attention to what this guy is saying.”
It’s time to figure out the Rubik’s Cube, and it’s time to do it quickly rather than slowly. Our window is closing, and there are those out there who are trying to close it faster.
I realize that all of the things that I linked to are a lot to read, but if you read all of them, or if you have read all of them, it will really help to paint a picture of what it’s like in Afghanistan on a conceptual level on down to some of the dirt-level effects. This isn’t the rantings of some FOBBIT about interpersonal relationships on a deployment, so it’s a bit dry. There aren’t any bullets flying around in these pieces, so it’s not a mile-a-minute thriller; but if you want to get a feeling for some of the challenges and how it comes down to men on the ground making difficult decisions and having their very best efforts on behalf of this country sometimes come to naught, it will help with that. It’s the stuff that is in the back of their heads when they are deciding where to go that they might get shot at or blown up. It’s the stuff that underlies the next words they choose when they mentor their Afghan charges or brief the battlespace owner. It’s the stuff that rattles around inside one’s skull when trying to figure out just how much to trust an Afghan village elder who could seriously screw them over if he had such an inclination, which he will tell them himself is the farthest thing from his mind. It’s the stuff that makes a young Specialist shake his head in disbelief and wonder if it’s all worth it. Like a Rubik’s Cube, it’s all tied firmly together and when you move one piece the rest of it moves, too.
Here’s the best part; it’s Rubik’s Cube by committee, really… but that’s a bigger subject.
This is the second report from the International Crisis Group that I have read, and comparing it to last year’s, there are but a few changes in the overall picture. Some of those changes are due to recommendations that have been implemented (although those changes were not necessarily implemented due to the ICG report.) Numerous articles have been written in the mainstream media concerning the report, each with its own synopsis. Each synopsis seizes upon the conclusion drawn from the report, which is that the ANP are too busy fighting the Taliban to enforce the law and that the major military driver, the United States, views the ANP only as additional combat forces.
The substantive areas of the report are spot-on. The report points out that the ANP are rife with corruption and that public confidence in the professionalism of the ANP is extremely low. These assertions are, from my personal observations, correct. The report also leaves its lane a bit to delve into the Afghan Judiciary, which certainly needs some delving into and is appropriately addressed for its dysfunctional relationship with the ANP. The report points out that there is a battle for corruption that occurs when a suspect is detained, with each of the two branches (Executive and Judiciary) vying for their piece of the bribery pie.
The Judiciary is another subject all its own, but we certainly do not have anything resembling a grip on it and we truly need help from other (successful) Islamic countries with functioning judiciaries. This may provide opportunities for engagement; again, a totally new subject.
The observations of fact about the ANP are correct, and I found myself cheering the report on these issues. However, the shortcoming of the report lies in the commission’s complete and total lack of understanding (and rightfully so) of COIN. Why does this make a difference? Because the ANP are a linchpin in the COIN fight. Unfortunately, some senior officers do not see this, but a simple perusal of Galula will show that local authority and governance is necessary in the absence of military forces.
The ANA can only take care of so much battlespace. The insurgent tends to leak away from areas with robust military presences, unless that area is necessary to their survival, such as the border areas and the infiltration routes from Pakistan. In areas where there is no such necessity, the insurgent enemy will tend to vacate areas that are stepped on by the Army, the way that water vacates a puddle when a foot lands in it. As with the puddle, when the foot is removed, the water seeps back in; and so do the insurgents.
The Army cannot be everywhere at once, and so the local guarantors of security are the ANP. By this doctrine, the only doctrine that is relevant, the ANP have a key counterinsurgent role. This role does not absolve the ANP for their responsibility in general criminal law enforcement, but rather falls under it. Galula points out that insurgents need to be criminalized. Criminalization of the insurgent brings several beneficial effects, but in order to criminalize the insurgent, there must be a rule of law to begin with.
In the clear, hold and build strategy of counterinsurgency as practiced in Iraq, for instance, the Police can and should participate in all phases. Participation in the Clearing Phase is actually necessary, as the national law in Afghanistan forbids searching of private residences unless it is done by ANP. ANP must be present, at a minimum. This is something of a nod to our Posse Commitatus, in my opinion, designed to prevent abuses by the Army. While the presence of the Army is not necessarily mandated in the Hold and Building Phases (but may be required due to the local situation,) the ANP begin to take the primary role in providing local security. This includes normal law enforcement activity.
When civilians think of the ANP, they tend to think of civilized countries where the only job of the Police is to enforce civil law. This is not the case in Afghanistan, or in any country where there is an active insurgency. The ANP resemble the law enforcement arms in western countries very little in their tasks and armament. While lightly armed compared to the Army, the ANP are excessively armed by any other measure. ANP carry automatic weapons, belt-fed machine guns, and RPG’s, which function more as hip-pocket artillery than as the anti-tank weapons that they are designed to be.
The ANP are more like frontier deputy marshals in our own “wild west” days. They are often running into heavily armed criminals, whether they be insurgents or smugglers. When they make contact or are contacted, they are most often in small groups and usually outgunned. They are also often static, such as at checkpoints. This leads to the much higher death rate as compared to their Army counterparts. Make no mistake, though; they are killed by criminals. Even the Taliban are basically criminals.
Let’s put this into US terms. In the United States, if someone were to run about killing policemen, what would we call them? Criminals. If someone were to (as some drug gangs have done) establish themselves as a local governing body and impose their own rule of law, what would we call them? Criminals. If someone were to refuse to obey the lawfully elected government, declare it to be illegal, and attack governmental offices, officers, and institutions, what would we call it here? Criminal. It is no different there. These are criminal acts. What do we do with “insurgents” here? We label them as criminals and we lock them up for a very long time. It doesn’t matter to us whether their beef with the government is financial or political in nature here in the United States; here they are all just criminals and are treated as such. Timothy McVeigh thought he was an insurgent. He wasn’t. He was just a murderer; a criminal. He was treated as such by the people of the State of Oklahoma. He wasn’t captured by the Army, he was captured by law enforcement.
Insurgency is an internal problem, and therefore a criminal problem. The Taliban could each lay down their arms and take part in the process. They could vote. They could run for office. They could participate. What’s the difference between any of the Taliban and Tim McVeigh?
There are more of them.
Afghanistan is trying to move on in the post-Taliban era. No longer an authoritarian theocracy, this country has ratified a Constitution and has held successful elections. Now, burdened with the detritus of 30 years of warfare and the lack of any real institutional memory of how to govern, this nation struggles to survive. The ANP are, again, key to the development of a healthy country. Are they treated as such?
Uh, I’ll take “No” for a thousand, Alex.
The ANP are the bastard children of the Islamic Republic. Our own Army didn’t want the ANP training mission, again preferring the ANA mission; at least it had the word “Army” in it. The organization I belonged to fell under the ARSIC-East. I heard it said at an ETT team leader conference that even though General Cone said that the ANP were the main effort, he didn’t agree and the ARSIC-East’s main effort would remain with the ANA. If I had disobeyed my commander at that level it would have been my butt, but I suppose that at that level there were gentlemen’s agreements or something. The point is that the ANP are and have been lower on the priority list for training and mentoring, though we have seen what all of that can do for the ANA.
Six years ago the ANA were scarcely better than criminals in the eyes of the people. They often did things that the ANP are known for now; shaking down the populace for money, corruption on an incredibly grand scale, nepotism, clannish cronyism, thievery and misdirection of government assets… the ANA were champs of all of that behavior. Now the ANA are widely trusted and looked up to by the population. Their stock in the eyes of the people has risen immeasurably. My ANP were threatened by local village elders during an operation, “We like the ANA. We respect the ANA. When the ANA leave, you are through.”
I also saw the ANP Colonel that I was mentoring taking care of law enforcement calls while engaged in a major combat operation. Arrests were made, referrals to prosecutors made. I then witnessed the same erratic behavior from the Provincial law enforcement system that the ICG report details. On the first day of the operation, one of my cohort’s team captured the Taliban S-2 (Intelligence Officer) for the Tag Ab Valley. Major find, eh? Yep, what a coup; right up to the point where he got to the provincial prosecutor.
The Provincial Governor (brand spanking new one, too) had him released. By the next day, he was leading 60 Taliban all over the Tag Ab Valley trying to kill us. I cannot express my admiration for the Afghan Judiciary and the current Provincial governance structure. During the same period, I was personally asked to intervene by an Afghan mother. Her son had been declared innocent by the court in Kabul, but she couldn’t get the Provincial Government to release him, although she had copies of the decision in her hands.
They wanted a bribe to release him, and she couldn’t afford the bribe.
This is why the Taliban, the criminals, are making headway; because it doesn’t take much to out-govern such a government. All of these problems are fixable, though. If you had seen the ANA six years ago, you would have thrown in the towel. However, it’s going to take a renewed effort, some re-delegation of responsibilities on the part of some of our non-combatant or sub-combatant allies (those countries with national caveats on use of force or employment of armed forces) into roles that don’t require combat except in self-defense but can seriously impact governance, and potentially some help that is not currently being sought or used, such as to rework the Afghan Judiciary into something resembling a fair and honest system.
The ICG report hits the nail on the head with its depiction of the institutional flaws of the ANP, but misses the mark with its stress on removing the ANP from the counterinsurgent role. This is an honest mistake, though, made from the viewpoint of an organization that doesn’t understand that criminalizing insurgents is part of the only strategy that will secure success in Afghanistan, and the fact that where the Army isn’t, the ANP are static and are the government’s first line of contact with the people and their rightful guarantors of security, just like they are here in the States. The report’s recommendations for reforms and accountability are excellent. Overall, it’s a good document and well worth a read.
Parking tickets are a long way off for these folks. Think 1870’s in our own West.