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October 28, 2009

Major Gant's Tribal Engagement Strategy for Afghanistan

** BUMPED and updated *** [ Drew thought this was so important a topic that it needed to be bumped so the morning crowd would see it. I agree. Afghanistan doesn't need to be a loss. We (i.e. the West) need to frame our expectations of what a "win" looks like in Afghan terms. Elections are nice and all that, but to the vast majority of Afghans, they are essentially a meaningless construct. We don't see it that way, but that is OUR error in trying to impress western tradition on a completely different culture that tends to resist change. We will not change Afghanistan, we need to allow Afghanistan to change us. Only then can we see what a "win" looks like, and the path to take that gets us there. The Major has charted such a path, and what a "win" looks like. The good news is his plan has a very small footprint, but not of the type currently being bandied about in the media. What he lays out is a SF-centric, small team, long term cultural immersion plan where we essentially become defacto members of the various tribes. This is not all theoretical musings either -- he implemented it in a tribal area some years ago earlier in the fight and the results were a stunning success.]

If you want to understand Afghanistan, take a couple of hours and soak this paper up (if you're in a hurry it can be skimmed in 15 minutes or so, but you'll be missing a lot). Think on it, think hard. But, toss your western perspective out the window before doing so or you won't appreciate its brilliance or time investment and personal commitment the men who would implement it have to make.

The Major has no formula for a "quick" win. I do however believe he has a formula for a damn near slam dunk long term win that leverages Afghan tribal society and traditions far more effectively than any talking head in Washington or resident of the White house could ever imagine possible.

The Major's plan is not anything resembling a "nation building" exercise either. The strength of his approach pretty explicitly minimizes the importance of "national elections" and governance in Kabul (which has historically had weak influence through the ages). Kabul and top-down approaches can do little to help our efforts once you understand how the culture and tribes work, but it can do a lot to derail efforts among the tribes and out in the villages.

There are at least a couple of problems with implementing the Major's approach on a wide spread basis that instantly made themselves apparent. They're all OUR INTERNAL problems, having little to do with defeating AQ and the Taliban.

1) Is the US military command structure's culture flexible enough to allow the kind of small unit autonomy that would be necessary? Heavy handed diktats handed down from the usual Washington information vacuum could be deadly.

2) Do we have enough SF bodies available to do it, and are they willing to make the kind of very long term commitments necessary for it to be effective? ex. traditional rotation schedules would need to be scrapped allowing cohesive and effective units to stay in place for some years at a rip completely immersed in the local culture. Our efforts at the beginning of the "awakening" in Iraq were somewhat hindered due to arbitrary rotations that came along just when a unit was really getting good.

I'm sure more problems exist, and more likely than not they'll be OUR problems, rather than anything intrinsic about Afghanistan itself.

If you're in a hurry, reading through about page 25 or so will give you a better education on the cultural aspects of Afghanistan and its tribes than anything you've ever read in the MSM. Major Gant is a good writer too. Michael Yon grade good.


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posted by Purp at 05:30 AM

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