Training Tribal Militias in AfPak

There is intense debate about whether the US should send more troops to Afghanistan as President Obama considers Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more soldiers and Marines to fight the Taliban. But most officials and analysts agree that American forces should train Afghans to perform counterinsurgency operations so that they can ultimately take over responsibility for securing their country, a development which would enable Western troops to withdraw without leaving a power vacuum that anti-American elements could fill.

Thus far, the US and its NATO allies have been trying to build up the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), but success has been limited for several reasons, including corruption, ethnic rivalries and the weakness of the central government. A more promising approach would be to work with local tribes, especially the Pashtuns living in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban is strongest, to create tribal militias capable of fighting insurgents (Kyle Flynn, a former Special Forces NCO who served in Afghanistan, has suggested something similar). The Pakistanis might be amenable to training Pashtun fighters on their side of the border, where the Taliban and other militants currently have a sanctuary, in order to relieve the pressure from the US to attack militant strongholds (although the logistics of getting tribesmen out of dangerous areas in Pakistan for training would be complicated).

Coalition forces should also train Tajik tribes in northern Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recently established a greater presence. German forces, the leading NATO contingent in the area, have engaged in firefights with insurgents in Kunduz Province. Kunduz used to be a fairly safe place where soldiers could patrol in unarmored vehicles, but now they do not even travel in armored vehicles without a convoy.

The US and its allies are trying to create a strong national government and security apparatus in a place where neither has ever existed. The coalition should recognize the tribal nature of Afghanistan and adjust its training strategy accordingly.

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