The Afghan National Army (ANA)

The election and the assumption of the command of Central Command (CENTCOM) by General David Petraeus has renewed interest in a solution to the quagmire in Afghanistan. Petraeus’ solution, at least implicitly accepted by both presidential candidates, calls for an application of the cointerinsurgency (COIN) doctrine applies in Iraq to Afghanistan. Has COIN worked in Iraq? Will it work in Afghanistan? The answer to the first question is that the jury is still out; answering the second requires answering the first.

The heart of the approach in Afghanistan is directed at reducing the insurgency/civil war there while simultaneously byulding up the Afghan National Army (ANA) to manage the post-war situation. The same approach has been undertaken in Iraq. In Iraq, the insurgency has been downgraded by coopting former Sunni insurgents against the U.S. and Iraqi forces and turning them against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Fortunately, the Sunnis did not like Al Aqeda (which is made up almost exclusively of foreigners) and was willing to be coopted, which means bought off by the Americans who agreed to pay their salaires in return for a change of loyalty. The long-term calming effect depends on whether these Sunnis will be integrated into the regular Iraqi army. If they are, they will continue to be a source of support and stability; if not, they could go back into opposition. No one is sure which; we hope they will wait until we leave before going one way or the other.

In Afghanistan, there are dual tracks to the strategy. One seeks to identify and convert “moderate” Taliban into opposition to the Taliban insurgency. The idea is to apply classic COIN theory to the Taliban areas; convert, then provide protection to these people so that they can resist the Taliban and be integrated into the national structure. At the same time, the ANA is to be strengthened into a force that can provide long-term stability and stability to the country. Meanwhile, U.S. and other NATO forces are to be enlarged (Iraq “surge” style) to provide assistance in achieving both goals.

Will this work? As discussed in previous postings, the insurgency/civil war in Afghanistan is really a Pashtun-government civil war, where the government is basically composed on the same, non-Pashtun coalition that, with American help, overthrew the Taliban (and thus the Pashtuns) in 2001. Converting Taliban to support the government means finding and converting anti-Taliban Pashtuns) in the tribal regions. As the inability to get anyone to turn in bin Laden for seven years suggests, buuying them off may not work as well as it has with the Sunnis. Moreover, since the Pashtuns resist the incursions of all outsiders, it is not clear whether helpful NATO forces will be greeted as protecting lierators or as the next invaders. Those who have been perceived by the Pashtuns as invaders have historically not enjoyed great success–ask Rudyard Kipling.

The key here is the ANA. At the moment, it is basically a non-Pashtun institution, and indeed, some of the Pashtun disenchantment with the current government and its Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai comes from the Pashtun belief that the ANA is too heavily Tajik and other non-Pashtun tribal in composition. For the ANA to be a truly national army, it will require Pashtuns roughly in proportion to their incidence in the population, almost half. If the ANA does not have this composition–which it apparently does not (no one is very anxious to provide statistics on this)–it is going to be perceived as an anti-Pashtun force, in which case the Taliban are not going to lack for Pashtun support.

One response to this dilemma may be–so what? Although opposition to the Taliban has been a central datum of U.S. policy in the region since 2001, why do we really care who rules Afghanistan? The answer, of course, is that the effort to capture bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda means getting cooperation from those among whom Al Qaeda is imbedded. And that means the support of the Pashtuns. That, in turn, means turning the Pashtuns into a less disruptive force (from our viewpoint). Representation in the ANA is not the only pillar of gaining a foothold with the Pashtuns, but it is certainly a part.

So, does the United States care about the composition of the ANA? Only if we want to have any chance of catching bin Laden.

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