Could it be that the United States will seek to create tribal-based militias in Afghanistan, as it did in Iraq?
Carlotta Gall of The New York Times caught up with Central Command chief David Petraeus in London, and it appears he’s considering that option:
Yet some of the Iraq experience is already being examined in the Afghan context, he said. In particular the success of the Awakening Councils, and persuading former insurgents to reconcile and work against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, could work in Afghanistan and was already under consideration there, Gen. Petraeus said.
“Certainly many on the ground think that perhaps in certain areas local reconciliation initiatives hold some potential,” he said.
Now, it could be that Petraeus isn’t talking about creating what might be called Sons Of Afghanistan, and is instead concerned with the general strategic option of separating irreconcilable enemies of the Afghan government from those who can be bought off or otherwise induced to abandon insurgency.
If so, the approach seems unassailable — at least if you would prefer not to fight an endless war.
Since Petraeus emphasized in his Times interview that “every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture,” it’s probable that, at the least, he’s not going to impose an Iraq template onto Afghanistan.
But. It’s worth remembering that Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, has a long history of warlordism — with every thug and regional potentate commanding a band of gunmen.
For years, the Karzai government — admittedly not the most competent entity — has labored to disarm the militias or weaken their power. An Awakening Council-based approach will almost certainly sound to the Afghan government like an abrupt about-face of that years-old approach, and it’s an approach that has its fair share of value.
Janine Davidson, blogging at The Washington Post — you remember her from my counterinsurgents series — recently made the point that localism is crucial for counterinsurgency. But as applied to Afghanistan, the question may be: how local is local?
Important national figures in Afghanistan, I happen to know for a fact, are extremely wary of creating new militias — for understandable reasons.
Later this morning, Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, will hold a press conference that I’ll be at. Let’s see if I can get him to address this question.
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