06 April 2009

Hybrid War: Afghanistan Style

In the Small Wars community, we discuss the term "hybrid war" quite a bit. In the context of Afghanistan, I would (and I'm stealing this from David Kilcullen) define it as an operating environment in which NATO forces are forced to simultaneously fight three separate types of war simultaneously.

Counter-Terrorism: There's good news and bad news in the fight against terrorism. The bad news first—the fight on terrorism has cost the US considerably in terms of money and diplomatic power. The good news is that it's cost al Qaeda considerably as well, particularly in terms of their ability to plan and execute larger attacks. Now, granted, I guess there's more bad news in the fact that there are quite a few other takfiri organizations in the world (LET from Mumbai being one), but al Qaeda is the big one, for certain, so that's at least some more good news. Kings of War ran a recent article which discusses the blow that operations in Afghanistan have dealt to al Qaeda. It also mentions that, just as the US was naïve in believing that it would spark a revolution in democracy all over the Middle East, so did al Qaeda miscalculate in believing that they could spark regional jihad against the United States. PS—al Qaeda, when your adherents blow themselves up in the middle of wedding parties in moderate Arab states, you tend not to attract that many people to your cause. If the US and NATO need a central focus, attacking al Qaeda and tracking their sources of income and their ability to recruit fighters—to included accidental guerillas—is critical.

Counter-Narcotics: The Washington Post ran an article today which compared counter-insurgency/counter-narcotics in Colombia with CI/CT in Afghanistan. Foremost among the parallels drawn between the two nations is that eradication efforts do little to hurt narco-terrorists. If anything, eradication efforts simply affect the impoverished farmers who, let's face it, make more money selling coca or opium than they would selling coffee beans. For those of you who've ever seen rural Latin America or Afghanistan, you can probably see why so many farmers turn to drugs. Not to mention—I always wondered what would happen if the pharmaceutical companies attempted to buy some of the opium from Afghan farmers to use in morphine/codeine.

Counter-Insurgency: Here's the biggie. It's common to lump al Qaeda and the Taliban into the same group, but they're not. Al Qaeda is primarily composed of foreign Arab fighters, who are not concerned with controlling Afghanistan's government. The Taliban are local Afghans who are concerned with controlling Afghanistan's government—and they've largely attempted to divorce themselves from al Qaeda in recent years. While al Qaeda represents a massive threat to American national security, the Taliban do not. They are a brutal people, to be certain. In recent months, the Taliban have resorted to spraying acid in the faces of girls attempting to go to school. America has a responsibility to protect its national interests, hence a "Global War on Terrorism". It would certainly be noble to protect girls going to school in Afghanistan, but the US doesn't have the resources right now to single-handedly wage a "Global War on All People in the World who are Not Nice". Not to mention, when you consider that Hamid Karzai's government is supporting a man's right to rape his wife, and also recently jailed a man for life for forwarding an article via e-mail which suggested that, maybe, women have rights, you'll notice that there are a LOT of not-so-nice people all over Afghanistan, one of the poorest, most illiterate and war-torn countries on the face of the Earth. And apparently, the rest of NATO has noticed this.

Moment of self-reflection: After looking at Hamid Karzai, I have to admit that we, as Americans, are really, really, really bad at choosing our friends in foreign governments.

1 comment:

SJ said...

There are a good number of people who proposed bringing Afghanistan into the legal opium market where the buyers are international pharmaceutical firms. The problem I have heard is that the legal opiate market is already at saturation of not in excess to global supply, and introducing a large new supplier like Afghanistan could potentially destabilize the entire program by pushing the price too low and destroy the successes gained by other suppliers from Turkey to Thailand.