Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Afghanistan Forecast: Younger Recruits Changing The Taliban Movement

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on May 12, 2010

An alarming blurb from Newsweek:

“In a series of interviews for this story with more than a dozen young insurgent leaders over the past three months, they showed themselves to be more hotheaded and less respectful of authority than their elders. War against America has steeled these young fighters in combat with an enemy that employs more accurate and lethal firepower…the experience has only made them tougher and more uncompromising, in the judgment of veteran Taliban members.”

So lets see…

Younger and more extreme recruits are already seeping into the Taliban movement. And the old-guard is quickly being incapacitated from the leadership.

Even more reason for the U.S. to find a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan before its too late. Strike a deal before the entire Afghan Taliban insurgency becomes saturated with more ideological members, because when this happens, you can forget about withdrawing American troops next summer and leaving behind some kind of moderate government.

Obviously easier said than done, but the President, General McChrystal, and Ambassador Eikenberry need to make it happen nonetheless. Endorsing Hamid Karzai’s Taliban reconciliation proposal would be a good step forward.  And today is a perfect opportunity; President Obama is devoting an entire 3-hour session to the Afghan leader.

Note to the President: sign onto the plan now.  If not, don’t be surprised if your surge policy fails when July comes along.  And don’t be shocked if your approval ratings go down the tube as a result.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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3 Responses

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  1. anan said, on May 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Don’t agree. The Taliban movement in the 1990s was a bunch of hot headed teenagers and twenty somethings. If anything, the current generation of Taliban are older than the Taliban use to be. What has happened is that a new generation of Taliban are taking power from an older generation while the average age of the Taliban is growing slowly.

    Afghan public opinion matters. 90% of Afghans oppose the Taliban. There is a rising conviction among Afghans that the US and ISAF (and possibly Iran) are secretly supporting the Taliban against them, their government, the ANA and ANP. The ANA remains far more popular and respected among Pashtun Afghans than the Taliban.

    The last thing America needs to do is to reconfirm Afghan conspiracy theories that America is backing the Taliban against them. Recently, more and more Afghan National Army officers are speaking more openly about their suspicions that the ISAF are secretly backing the Taliban. You can imagine the kind of anger these suspicions generate among the friends and families of the tens of thousands of ANA and ANP killed or wounded by the Taliban.

    Daniel R. DePetris, do you realize just how unpopular the Taliban are among most Afghans? The young hot heads are probably more unpopular than their older more moderate colleagues.

    What really should worry you is the surge in young angry Afghans joining the ANA and ANP. If the ANA and ANP start to be percieved to be more like the Taliban [who are seen as angry unprofessional badly trained young hotheads who scare the bejeezus out of locals while delving into organized crime], you can imagine the consequences.

    Do you think the ANA and ANP should accept a smaller fraction of applicants; and increase the training cycles for the applicants they accept? Are you concerned about young emotional angry Afghans joining the ANA and/or ANP to get revenge for families and friends harmed by the Taliban, and the possibility that they might be rough on Afghan civilians they suspect are partly sympathetic to the Taliban?

    While ISAF cannot be seen to be supporting the Taliban “side” in negotiations between the Taliban and GIRoA; we should hope that the GIRoA does negotiate with the Taliban and tries to bring moderate Taliban on board.

    Another issue you might think about is that many of these younger more idealogical Taliban fighters are likely to fight in Chechnya, the Stans, Kashmir, Xinjiang, and against the Shiites. For this reason, expect substantial pressure from Russia, the Stans, Iran, and India on the GIRoA not to negotiate with the young hot head Taliban.

    • Dan said, on May 13, 2010 at 1:13 am

      “The last thing America needs to do is to reconfirm Afghan conspiracy theories that America is backing the Taliban against them.”

      Forgive me for sounding rash, but nowhere in my small post did I ever mention conspiracy-related theories. What does the growing number of young Taliban recruits have to do with the Afghan perception that “America is backing the Taliban” against Afghan civilians (which I’m not even sure is a widespread belief in Afghan society)? The first has to do with current transformations on the ground and the revitalization of the Taliban Movement, while the other is something out of the ballpark.

      You are quite right that the Taliban insurgency is highly unpopular in Afghanistan as a whole. But in the Pashtun areas (Southern Afghanistan), where the Afghan Government is already weak and increasingly corrupt, the insurgency provides the citizenry with a tempting alternative. In fact, many of the recruits that choose to fight with the Taliban are doing so for a number of reasons; some firmly believe in the Islamist agenda that the movement is trying to accomplish, but others are lending their support based on personal grievances (like joblessness, revenge, political marginalization, and downright frustration).

      Yet with that being said, it’s also very important to look at the jihadi narrative. Much to the dismay of American generals, some of the actions the United States has embraced throughout the war (including night raids, accidental killing of civilians, air strikes in populated areas, etc) have empowered the very same enemy they wish to defeat. This is where the Newsweek article comes in…many of these young recruits (teens and in their 20’s) have experienced destruction first hand. Many have undoubtebly witnessed their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters die in U.S. military operations, and I’m sure that some have had their houses flattened by U.S. bombs.

      Perhaps past suffering is mainly responsible for the more radical outlook of these younger recruits. Or perhaps it’s a genuine belief that Afghanistan should be ruled by a “pure” and conservative Islamist regime. Whatever the reason, the rank-and-file of the insurgency is growing just as additional U.S. forces are entering the country.

      This vicious cycle cannot be broken by military force alone. Relying exclusively on guns and soldiers will only reinforce the negative attitudes that are embedded in the minds of so many young Afghans (Pashtuns in particular). Military operations must be followed up by some sort of political deal before the environment becomes even more violent, and to this date, Karzai’s reconciliation plan is the best version that is currently available.

      The United States will surely cringe by the thought of negotiating with the same Taliban that harbored Al’Qaeda, but the costs of the status-quo are even higher.

      As always, thanks for your comment and spread the word to your friends!

      • anan said, on May 14, 2010 at 7:17 am

        It might be easier to explain offline. I would argue that possibly the most dangerous Taliban IO at the moment is the theme that ISAF is backing the Taliban. This makes ISAF liable for all Taliban atrocities; and fuels Afghan rage at ISAF. In ANA classes; ANA officers openly broach the possibility that ISAF backs the Taliban.

        Many Afghans think that this is the only explanation for why the Taliban has been able to kill large numbers of ANP and ANA recently.

        It is critically important that the GIRoA be seen as leading the negotiations with the Taliban on their own terms; and “NOT” because of any ISAF pressure.

        I would hope that leaders from ISAF countries don’t discuss “negotiations with the Taliban” in public; and merely pressure the GIRoA to do so in private; because otherwise it could fuel anger at ISAF on the part of the Afghan public.

        Why do you think the Taliban movement has been revitalized? Another way of putting it would be to say that Taliban funding has increased . . . the Taliban still pays their soldiers, experienced cadre, and officers, more than the ANA pays.

        A lot of civilians are inadvertently killed by ANSF and non US coalition (of which there will soon be over 50,000); both of which have a worse record than many US forces. In fact; in many parts of Afghanistan existing ISAF/ANSF forces are having to deal with blowback from mistakes made by ANSF or ISAF (including non US ISAF) years ago. As you know; until recently most ISAF were not American.

        A huge component of McChrystal’s focus on protecting the population is focused on ANSF and non US coalition behavior. Politically, it is extremely difficult for McChrystal to take on . . . so in public he appears to be berating US forces.

        Examples of this include poor driving by ANSF and ISAF; night raids by ANSF and ISAF; check points by ANSF and ISAF; and tactical air support for ANSF and ISAF who get into trouble.

        On nightraids; are you aware of any ISAF nightraids that are not joint ANSF/ISAF operations? If so; part of the reason for Afghan resentment relates to ANSF force behavior. You can understand the sensitivity of this.

        On negotiations; Karzai has been trying negotiations with the Taliban with ISAF support for many years. They have gone no where; because till now the Taliban hasn’t been interested in negotiations. To say you support Karzai’s initiative now is meaningless; since that has been ISAF/GIRoA policy for many years (supported by Presidents Bush and Obama.)

        How exactly will you persuade Siraj Haqqani to negotiate with the GIRoA? If Mullah Omar negotiates with Karzai in good faith; how do you keep Siraj, LeT, LeJ, JeM, IMU, IJU, Uighurs, TTP, TNSM, from killing him? How do you protect the Mullah Omar centric portion of the QST from the other parts of the QST and QST “allies”?

        The Mullah Omar centric QST don’t fight nearly as well as Siraj’s forces; and those of his LeJ/Jundullah, LeT/JeM, UMU/IJU, TTP/TNSM allies.

        Can Mullah Omar afford to negotiate with the GIRoA before the ANSF are large and capable enough to protect him and his core supporters?

        There has been a bigger surge in Afghan Pashtuns joining the ANA and ANP; than there have been in Afghan Pashtuns joining the Taliban. [The ANA grew by a net 6,300 in April alone; which means gross additions were a lot higher than this. The ANP also grew.] But is this entirely a positive thing? Is it good for the ANA and ANP to be flooded with fresh angry young slightly trained Afghan recruits? Is it possible that rough behavior by fresh ANA and ANP are part of the problem in Afghanistan?

        “This vicious cycle cannot be broken by military force alone. Relying exclusively on guns and soldiers will only reinforce the negative attitudes that are embedded in the minds of so many young Afghans (Pashtuns in particular).” Do you know any general in the ANA, ANP, or ISAF who hasn’t agreed with this since 2002?

        Many Afghan Taliban are open to joining the GIRoA provided the GiRoA can protect them and their families from other Taliban; including non Afghan Taliban. Unless the GiRoA can offer this; negotiations are meaningless.

        What is your plan to convince Afghan Taliban that their villages and families won’t be sacked by other Taliban? When they point out the many times this has happened before; what will your response be? When they point out the tens of thousands of well trained and well equipped Taliban troops in Pakistan preparing to enter Afghanistan; what can Pres Karzai tell them?

        Economic reform and governance are also important; but not as important as security. Afghanistan is getting a stunning amount of international economic grants. But this too is a mixed blessing. For example, the education budget alone is greater than total annual GIRoA revenue. The entire health, education and governance system of Afghanistan are unsustainable.

        Sorry if I am ranting on you. However, haven’t ANA, ANP, GIRoA, and ISAF leaders been saying very similar things to what you wrote continually for how many years? It would be nice if something new was discussed occasionally.

        In my view; the central problem was that the ANA and ANP were under resourced until recently. Now Obama has ordered that training cycles for the ANA and ANP be sharply reduced (from 16 weeks to 9 weeks for the ANA, 12 weeks to 6 weeks for the ANP) so that the ANA and ANP numbers can be boosted quickly. [There still remains a large waiting list for the ANA . . . ANP has more difficulty recruiting.]

        Officer training for the ANA and ANP has been reduced to 20 and 22 weeks respectively. [Which I consider a mistake.]

        Do you worry that the large surge in ANA and ANP might behave roughly with Afghan civilians? How do you think Afghan villagers will like large numbers of gun toting freshly minted ANP and ANA living with them and protecting them?

        What is your plan on ANSF development.

        What might concern you is that much of the training and advising for the ANSF is conducted by countries other than the US. For example, the 111th ANA Kabul Capital Division is advised by Turks (with Italian help.) 207th ANA Corps is Italian/Spanish/Marine advised. 209th ANA Corps is Lituanian, Hungarian, Swedish, German, US advised. 3rd Bde 201st ANA is advised by a French Major General and multinational ISAF under his command. 1-205 is Canadian advised. 2-205 and 3-205 are similarly primarily advised by allies. 215th ANA is Marine and British advised [you worried about the relationship between the Marines and Brits? I am.]

        Mongolians teach the ANA how to shoot artillery [pretty good I think.] NTM-A has a polyglot.

        The Germans have 50 ANP embedded training teams. Other countries similarly have ANP embedded training teams.

        Given this; how do you improve the quality of the ANSF. How do you improve the quality of ANSF advised by non US forces?

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