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Thu. July 18, 2024
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IA-Forum Interview: Seth Jones
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International Affairs Forum: Let’s start with the current news. General McKiernan is out as the top commander and Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is in. In your 2008 Rand study on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, you recommended that indigenous capacity in both the government and security forces is key to the counterinsurgency success. So how does General McChrystal’s leadership affect the indigenous capacity? Dr. Seth Jones: There’s an important question that needs to be asked in Afghanistan right now, and that is: “Are Afghan national security forces the only answer - the only indigenous answer - in protecting local villages, or does it make sense to begin to look towards local villages or tribes, sub-tribes, clans and others to begin to defend themselves?” So the reason this is important is because if you take General Petreaus’ numbers from the counterinsurgency field manual of 20 security forces for 1,000 inhabitants that is required to stabilize and provide security, and you take the area from Herat south through Farah, Helmand, Kandahar up through Paktika, Nangarhar and into some of the areas like Wardak - the areas where the insurgency in Afghanistan is happening - that “troop to population” ratio gives you a force requirement of about 274,000 security forces. There is no way that the U.S., other coalition forces, and Afghan national forces, the army and police, will get to that level in the next couple of years. So that leaves really one area where one can turn to and that is local security forces. And, in fact, when one looks historically at Afghanistan, this is how security in rural areas has always been established. Local communities, including tribes, sub-tribes, clans, and qawms generally do it themselves and government forces, for example, during the [King] Zahir Shah [1933-73] period, government forces are important for adjudicating disputes between them, or if there are organizations and groups that push to overthrow the government, that the national security forces are important for pushing back. So, this whole discussion then means that out of all the U.S. government agencies – State, USAID, the military, and the intelligence community – Special Forces has historically had this mantra of working by, with and through local indigenous forces. That’s what they are supposed to do. That’s what they’ve done in Latin America. That’s what they did in 2001 in Afghanistan with the CIA. So the key question, I think, as we now have a new commander in Afghanistan is how do the U.S. and other coalition forces leverage local Afghans? IA-Forum: In a January report for the U.S. Institute of Peace, Securing Afghanistan, you wrote that narco-traffikers have bought off hundreds of local police chiefs, judges and other officials. You recommended adopting a robust anti-corruption strategy and noted the cooperation in this must come from President Karzai, but he’s been unwilling to target corrupt officials. What do you think the coming fall presidential election will mean for this effort? Dr. Jones: Well, what it means is after the election happens, I hope there’s a window of opportunity that can be taken advantage of where individuals, especially senior government individuals involved in corruption, can be prosecuted. It’s a travesty when the World Bank governance indicators, Transparency International, rank Afghanistan as one of the most corrupt countries in the entire world. This is very serious. In the U.S. we sometimes call it “the first 100 days” and I’m hoping that in Afghanistan we have an opportunity for it, by taking advantage of the first 100 days to begin to put some teeth into serious anticorruption legislation, and then practice, because I strongly believe that it is undermining the counterinsurgency efforts. IA-Forum: In “Securing Afghanistan” you also wrote that although the war might be lost inside of Afghanistan, it cannot be won entirely inside the country. You recommend that relations with Pakistan be addressed and border security tightened. What are two things that Afghanistan, the United States, and/or NATO could do right now to improve Afghan/Pakistan relations and tighten the borders? Dr. Jones: I think one issue is to take advantage of what appears to be a window of opportunity between Presidents Karzai and Zardari – that is, they have a relatively good relationship for Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially compared to President Karzai’s relationship with General Musharraf which was quite bad. So, one step actually is to take advantage of this relationship. Now the problem is also that the civilian leadership in Pakistan is not that strong, but they’ve had meetings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the United States and elsewhere, and so that’s on a strategic level to continue to use those specific links to foster trust between the countries. The second thing I think that would be useful is to begin to target one or two major groups operating from Pakistani soil that are very serious threats to Afghanistan’s stability; they are the Haqqani network, which operates from North Waziristan in the tribal areas, and Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Taliban which operates primarily from Baluchistan Province. These two organizations pose very serious threats to the Afghan government. I think there really needs to be an effort on both sides of the border to target this organization. I’m not talking about military forces, I think this is really a police intelligence operation, just arresting them. Elements of the inner shurah are operating in some cases quite openly in Quetta and Karachi, but they are a very serious source of regional discord. IA-Forum: Now in a piece in the “Washington Post” in February, you basically touched on this topic saying that there are virtually no U.S. or Pakistani operations in Baluchistan, Quetta being the capital where senior Taliban officials have been gathering since 2001. Why do you think the U.S. or Pakistan hasn’t pushed in there? Dr. Jones: Well, two reasons. One is the Predator and Reaper [drone] strikes the U.S. has employed have mainly been in the federally administered tribal areas because that’s where most of the foreign fighters are. And so the bulk of U.S. efforts in Pakistan have not had a counterinsurgency focus, they’ve had a counter-terrorism focus. They are targeting Al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters. So I think that’s one reason why the U.S. focus has been there. A second reason the U.S. focus has been there is because the U.S. has had very few conventional forces in Southern Afghanistan. With the U.S. Marine push into the south now, in particular Helmand and Farah provinces, this may create a new impetus to begin to deal with the sanctuary across the border in Baluchistan. And I’m actually going to add one third thing, which is Mullah Omar’s Taliban does not present a strategic threat, or at least this is the way it’s perceived, to Pakistan - in fact, quite the opposite. We know there are elements of the Pakistani government that do provide support to that Taliban leadership in Baluchistan Province for two reasons. One is to balance against India and India’s involvement in Afghanistan which they view as a zero sum game. Second, I think also as a hedge against a potential U.S. withdrawal. I mean, the U.S. reputation in this area of the world is people eventually leave. So I think Pakistan wants to continue to hone a relationship with proxy organizations that have frankly been successful in taking Afghan territory historically. There have been some elements of the Pakistan government who have established a relationship with actually both the Haqqani network and Mullah Omar’s Taliban. IA-Forum: In a March interview in Boston, Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad said he thought Osama Bin Laden was “probably spending a lot of time in the metropolitan areas in Pakistan”. What do you make of this statement? Dr. Jones: Well, it’s very difficult to support. What is clear is the reporting on Osama Bin Laden is not good in general. So, in general if there was actionable information on Bin Laden, we would have seen more targeted strikes against him. In fact what we see is better information against Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abul al-Yazid, he’s the head of al Qaeda operations for Afghanistan, and not Bin Laden himself. Even those other two individuals, Zawahiri and al-Yazid have not been targeted or killed, there is some intelligence reporting on them. IA-Forum: In the May issue of Foreign Affairs, Lesley Gelb suggests a policy of deterrence might work in Afghanistan. He said, “U.S. military power could damage anyone there who intends to harm U.S. forces or allies, poppy fields can be destroyed, and the U.S. could conduct operations against terrorist leaders without occupying the country.” What do you think of this idea? Dr. Jones: I think seven and a half years into the war in Afghanistan, the clock is unquestionably ticking. In fact, a senior Taliban official who was captured and interrogated by the CIA a couple of years ago in Afghanistan quite pointedly said to his interrogators, “you people, you international forces, have the watches, but we have the time.” The implication here is they are willing to wait this one out. In Afghanistan the clock is ticking for the United States. Levels of support for the U.S. military, for the U.S. more broadly, and then the international community as well, is decreasing. So I think one implication, going back to your first question, is that we have to think outside of the box. I think we’re increasingly probably past the time where large numbers of U.S. forces, especially acting unilaterally, can pacify Afghanistan. We do not have the numbers and we’re losing those support levels. IA-Forum: The former wing commander of Bagram Air Base, Brigadier General Mike Holmes, spoke with IA-Forum recently and said that aerial spraying an eradication program for Afghan poppy fields would be very unpopular with the Afghan people. So what do you think is the solution to the lucrative poppy crop? Dr. Jones: What’s interesting about the poppy crop is that in many areas of Afghanistan we’ve actually seen a slight reduction over the past year or two in poppy cultivation. Where it’s tended to explode is in the south in Helmand, for example, Kandahar, and then parts of the west. And so, part of the question is, in the areas where poppy has been reduced, what are the reasons? Well, what we are seeing are a couple of things. One is actually in areas where U.S. and other coalition forces have been able to help stabilize the country. In Kunar Province, for example, big chunks of Kunar are fairly secure. Levels of violence in the Korengal and Pech Vallies are high, but the bulk of the province is relatively secure, so poppy’s actually gone down quite a bit because of increased security, and it’s also led to a whole range of alternative crops being produced. I think the first step in areas where poppy cultivation is so pronounced is to begin to control territory. Without the ability of NATO forces or Afghan forces to control territory, most of this stuff is moot. I mean, alternative livelihoods, eradication, interdiction, all of this is extremely difficult if you can’t enforce anything and if you don’t control territory, you can’t enforce any of this. So I would say a first step along these lines actually has to be increasingly clearing and holding territory where poppy is being grown in. That has been the difficulty in the south right now is that British forces in Helmand, for example, are having an extraordinarily difficult time holding territory. IA-Forum: In your National Interest article, “Cell Phones in the Hindu Kush”, last summer, you praised General David Rodriguez from the 82nd Airborne saying that he embraced the “holy trinity” of counterinsurgency: security, governance and development. Rodriguez will now be the number two U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. How do you think he will hold what’s been cleared and built? Dr. Jones: Holding in particular is the most difficult aspect. Again, the U.S. and Afghan national forces do not have enough people to hold territory in and of themselves. I honestly think there is only one way to hold territory in rural areas of the country, and that is the U.S., the coalition, and the Afghan government are going to have to look towards villages to help provide for their own security. That means working much better with local Afghan entities. This is adding a bottom-up component to what has been historically a top-down process. IA-Forum: Do you think that private security contractors have a role in any part of this in Afghanistan? Dr. Jones: Well, I would say one has to be a little careful. Historically where local security has been most useful, it has been tied directly into legitimate local institutions at the village and district level. Without a doubt, those are local jirgas or shuras local tribal institutions. That is, if there are security forces in a village that are protecting the village, they’re not doing it for an individual like a warlord, they are doing it for the tribal leaders and the community more broadly. Tribal leaders will obviously be representative of their community or their constituents. So, for the large number of contractors that are involved, one has to be a little careful because they have no legitimacy with local Afghans, but where they can be useful, I would say, is in helping provide protection in key areas where there’s infrastructure that’s being built. At the Kajaki Dam, for example, there is a useful contingent of security contractors that are helping provide protection to the dam. Any of the logistical supplies coming through Khyber or from Chaman into Kandahar – there are some security details that are providing protection to the trucks, the jingle trucks coming through. So, there will be a role but I don’t view that as the answer to protect local villages. IA-Forum: Because civilian experts are reluctant to go to Afghanistan, the capacity of the inter-agency process and therefore development has been hobbled. Half the ranks of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are filled by soldiers. What measures can be implemented to increase civilian numbers? Dr. Jones: I think there are a few things. It has to almost be mandated as the U.S. embassy, how the State Department had to do in Iraq, to increase numbers of people in Afghanistan and to get them out to the PRT’s. Second, ultimately the U.S., in areas that it’s involved in, is going to have to do with what it’s got. In some cases if the U.S. military really doesn’t have the expertise, it has to be willing to do something that it has not done yet which is in some cases to actually provide security to civilians who are involved in rural insecure areas to do development work, and that’s been a big sticking point. The military for the most part has considered its job to be maneuvers or a whole range of other things, but not to provide force protection to civilians wandering around. But I think if civilians are willing to go to some of these areas, they will need security and so that’s something that has to be negotiated. IA-Forum: On a somewhat related issue, the Human Terrain teams, the U.S. Army program involving civilian anthropologists – they’ve been controversial and three civilians on them have died. Are they useful? Dr. Jones: In my view, the Human Terrain teams have been only moderately useful at best. I think there is a great need, in general, to understand the tribal, sub-tribe, clan, and qawm institutions across the west, south and east and other parts of Afghanistan. So I think that places an impetus on the U.S. military, other U.S. agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency, to do a better job of mapping. But what’s also been really lacking in Afghanistan is a central database that can pull a lot of this information together. So I actually do think there is a fair amount of expertise in the government in general to pull this information together without having to resort to outsiders. But what’s really almost embarrassing is that in seven and a half years we do not have a central database, so if someone wants to go to a specific district in Afghanistan, finding the tribal dynamics in that area can be excruciatingly difficult because it may be on some individual’s hard drive and so you’re going to have to find that individual. The U.S. has not created a lot of institutional memory. I think that’s actually been the bigger problem. IA-Forum: Benedict Anderson said in his book “Imagined Communities,” that “the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship.” Fraternity and patriotism creates citizens. Is Afghan nationalism a worthwhile or achievable goal? Dr. Jones: Not really. What you find when you get into rural areas is identity is often very parochial, so based in the south, for example, on tribal identities in many areas, Popalzai, Barakzai, Ishaqzai. In some areas of the north it actually may be Tajik or Uzbek. In the center it may be Hazara. But at least for the foreseeable future, in reality most people in Afghanistan don’t identify themselves really as “Afghan”, so taking Benedict Anderson and asking a question about what this means for Afghan nationalism and Afghan identity, I just don’t see this as being historically palatable and at least for the near future, likely. This is why the entire border between Afghanistan and Pakistan was called the Durand Line, it was negotiated by the British, almost doesn’t exist in reality. It’s because there are a whole range of tribes that live on both sides of this border and they cross it regularly and they don’t recognize the border and they don’t consider themselves mostly Afghans. They consider themselves as Massouds or Wazirs or a whole range of others. IA-Forum: You’ve got a new book coming out, “In the Graveyard of Empires.” Is it possible to ask you for maybe two or three elements of your idea of the plan to avoid a quagmire? Dr. Jones: The part on how to get us out of the quagmire is fairly short, because the book focuses on actually how we got to where we are. But I would say one key element to get us out of this quagmire centers around this interesting tidbit which is recognizing that much has changed in Afghanistan over the past several decades, how was Afghanistan been stable in the past? How was it stable, for example, between 1933 and 1973 during the reign of King Zahir Shah? And so part of the answer as one actually begins to peel back the onion is that there was a legitimate central government that established some order in urban areas, but as you got into rural areas, these were local communities that established order, either local shuras adjudicated or you had local communities able to defend themselves and the central government occasionally would have to step in and adjudicate some disputes or push back aggressors, but for the most part you had a fairly weak central government and you supported local entities in rural areas. Part of my argument is to stop conceiving of Afghanistan as a very strong central state capable of establishing order in rural areas. It is an ahistorical view. It is not likely to be the solution. Creating that kind of solution is the work of decades, so I think relaxing those expectations and at least reaching out towards local communities and developing like a bottom-up component actually is part of the solution. IA-Forum: Thank you. Dr. Seth Jones is a political scientist with RAND Corporation. His research focuses on Afghanistan, Europe, the Middle East, nation-building, terrorism, and counterterrorism. Jones’ upcoming book, “In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan,” will be out this summer.

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