I’ve just lost a lot of respect for these two. They have just demonstrated how clueless they are in regards to Afghanistan and how desperate they are for some silver bullet of an idea. Or is it a Hail Mary Pass? Or deus ex machina? Whatever it is, it is a sad commentary on these two men and on the efforts in Afghanistan.
So, what am I talking about? There’s an article in the Washington Post about Major Gant and his terribly faulted paper on Pashtuns and tribalism in Afghanistan. The article by Ann Scott Tyson – titled “Jim Gant, the Green Beret who could win the war in Afghanistan”- reads like a press release by some public relations rep. David Ignatius’ WaPo piece on Gant was similarly fawning. In the Tyson article there is this disappointing passage:
“Maj. Jim Gant’s paper is very impressive — so impressive, in fact, that I shared it widely,” Petraeus said, while McChrystal distributed it to all commanders in Afghanistan. One senior military official went so far as to call Gant “Lawrence of Afghanistan.”
[…] Adm. Eric Olson, who leads the 57,000-strong Special Operations Command, said in the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly that Gant’s proposal is “innovative and bold” and likely to have “strategic effects.”
And here I was thinking that Rory Stewart is the “Lawrence of Afghanistan.” But seriously, the fact that McChrystal and Petraeus were impressed by this paper and that they possibly see it as a model is seriously troubling. That Secretary Gates liked the paper doesn’t surprise me too much, I expect him to be ignorant of ground-level issues such as this, but not the military commanders.
You can find Gant’s paper here and give it a read:
Maj. Jim Gant, 2009. ‘A Strategy for Success in Afghanistan: One Tribe at a Time.’
What problems do I have with this paper? I’m in agreement with Judah Grunstein’s short criticism of Gant’s work. But I have other issues with the work as well.
Well, for one, he committed a war crime. And a rather serious one at that. He wrote:
The highland people had taken and were using some land that belonged to the lowland people. The Malik told me the land had been given to his tribe by the “King Of Afghanistan” many, many years ago and that he would show me the papers. I told him he didn’t need to show me any papers. His word was enough.
I made the decision to support him. “Malik, I am with you. My men and I will go with you and speak with the highlanders again. If they do not turn the land back over to you, we will fight with you against them.” With that, a relationship was born. […]
Without going into further detail, suffice it to say that the dispute with the highlanders was resolved.
This is also known as “ethnic cleansing.” He doesn’t identify the “highlanders”, so if they are Pashtuns rather than Pashai or Nuristani speakers then it’s not ethnic cleansing, just “tribal cleansing” – American sponsored brutality against Pashtuns. So, we’ve left a bunch of people without the land they’ve been farming/grazing and living on for at least the last 50 years, and possibly well before that (this may be land seized by King Zahir Shah or a previous ruler as punishment and/or granted as a reward to a loyal local leader). It’s as if Gant is a recruiter for the insurgents. What will these people do now? If I was them, I would join the insurgency for sure.
Other problems? Gant’s paper certainly is not informed by history, anthropology, religious studies, etc… The best the references get is 3 pages in an older book by Antonio Giustozzi.
Gant starts his foreword with this eye-roller:
Afghanistan. I feel like I was born there. The greatest days of my entire life were spent in the Pesch Valley and Musa Qalay with “Sitting Bull” (a tribal leader in the Kunar Valley)…
Gant is, well…he’s on Pandora, 10 seconds from scoring with a blue skin lizard-cat girl. His avatar is a beard and some local clothing. He’s obviously not of the scary Kandahari variety of SF. Unless of course you see things from the perspective of the highlanders. Then he’s very scary.
He soon follows with this:
I love the people and the rich history of Afghanistan. They will give you their last bite of food in the morning and then try and kill you in the evening.
I have no idea what that means, but it belongs in the 1850s in the private diary of some British traveler. Still on the same page, Gant writes this clunker:
Afghan tribes always have and always will resist any type of foreign intervention in their affairs. This includes a central government located in Kabul, which to them is a million miles away from their problems, a million miles away from their security.
Ignoring the fact that he uses tribes as a unit or reference for the time being, why does he neglect to mention American interference in their affairs? Why highlight Kabul and not America? And why does he think that Kabul is not tied up in local politics? It most definitely is, as the fact that his friends were claiming a piece of land that the King of Afghanistan had given to them.
Now, at this point it appears I am picking around the edges and just mocking the accompanying commentary rather than going for the core of the argument. So I will go for the core. Gant writes:
The central cultural fact about Afghanistan is that it is constituted of tribes. Not individuals, not Western-style citizens—but tribes and tribesmen. It is my deep belief—and the thesis of this paper—that the answer to the problems that face the Afghan people, as well as other future threats to US security in the region, will be found in understanding and then helping the tribal system of Afghanistan to flourish.
Afghanistan is not constituted of tribes, no matter what wikipedia or your local friends tell you. The decisions of individuals and of men who are not identified as tribal leaders have always had, and still have a huge amount of relevance. Examples, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hizb-i Islami is a Kharoti Pashtun. But he is no tribal leader. Communist-era President Najibullah was an Ahmadzai Pashtun. But he is no tribal leader. Mullah Omar is a Hotak Pashtun. But he is no tribal leader. All of these men recruited from a broad spectrum of Pashtuns and even non-Pashtuns (Omar less successfully). At times they used tribal networks. But mostly they totally disregarded them. These men need to be considered individuals, not prisoners of a tribal system that dictates their moves. The insurgents have members from every tribe, the government has members from every tribe. These people often made decisions independently.
Looking at Pashtun tribes, how is it that in a single tribe, even khel or family, there are divisions and divided loyalties that can often become violent? Using “tribe” as your dominant analytical tool will lead to failure. The individual is important. Even if it is not as obvious as in western Europe. The anthropologist Martin Sökefeld (“Debating Self, identity, and Culture in Anthropology” in Current Anthropology, #40) sums up the earlier conceptions of the individual in the “East:”
In the conceptualization of non-western selves, the Western self was taken as the starting point and the non-Western self was accordingly characterized as its opposite: unbounded, not integrated, dependent, unable to set itself reflexively apart from others, unable to distinguish between the individual and a role or status that individual occupies, unable to pursue its own goals independently of the goals of a group or community. Effectively, this characterization involved the negation of all the definitional qualities of the self…
Martin Sökefeld of course dismantles these ideas. Related reading can be found in James C Scott’s work, wherein you will find that individuals in “eastern” society do matter.
Moving on, Gant seems a little too positive on the power of SF:
I believe the “light footprint” approach put forth in this paper will not only work, but will help to ease the need for larger and larger numbers of US soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan. I firmly believe that a relatively small number of special officers and noncommissioned officers could maintain influence on large portions of Afghanistan by advising, assisting, training and leading local tribal security forces (Arkabai) and building strong relationships with the tribes they live alongside.
So Gant believes that he can take Rumsfeld’s basic strategy and retool it for success? And how, outside of Loya Paktia, will these be done? Please, please read this:
Susanne Schmeidl and Masood Karokhail. 2009. ‘The Role of Non-State Actors in ‘Community-based Policing': An Exploration of the Arbakai (Tribal Police) in South-Eastern Afghanistan’, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 30, No. 2.
Schmeidl and Karokhel’s work should bring one’s arbakai fantasies down to a more realistic level.
Continuing with Gant’s writing:
One Tribe at a Time reflects what I believe to be the one strategy that can help both the US and the people of Afghanistan by working directly with their centuries-old tribal system. We can only do this by giving top priority to the most important political, social and military force in Afghanistan—the tribes.
But what does Gant know of previous centuries? The previous centuries are littered with discarded tribal names and new tribal names and tribal splits and detribalization and Pashtunization and… I could go on. The point is that Gant’s appeal to history should be able to get past a historian. I’m only a junior historian, but his call to history is lost on me. As for Gant’s view that “the most important political, social and military force in Afghanistan [are] the tribes.” Well, feel free to ignore me and say that I’m young and inexperienced, but for God’s sake listen to someone with about 50 years experience. The anthropologist Richard Tapper in Conflict of Tribe & State in Iran and Afghanistan (1983) writes:
The notion of ‘tribe’ is notoriously vague… it has almost ceased to be of analytical or comparative value.
And a leaked military publication collected these three quotes:
No clear evidence exists of tribes actually coalescing into large-scale corporate bodies for joint action, even defensively, even for defense of territory.
The tribal system is weak in most parts of Afghanistan and cannot provide alternatives to the Taliban or U.S. control. The Pashtuns generally have a tribal identity. Tribal identity is a rather flexible and open notion and should not be confused with tribal institutions, which are what establish enforceable obligations on members of a tribe.
…As a matter of fact in most cases tribes do not have observable organizations which could enable them to perform collective actions as a tribe.
The quotes belong to Jon Anderson, Gilles Dorronsoro and Bernt Glatzer, respectively. That a ridiculous amount of combined expertise right there. Glatzer doesn’t deny that tribes exist, just that “the tribal system is only one component within a much more complex social and political web.”
Gant’s dream rolls on:
When we gain the respect and trust of one tribe, in one area, there will be a domino effect will spread throughout the region and beyond. One tribe will eventually become 25 or even 50 tribes. This can only have a long-term positive effect on the current situation. It is, however, not without pitfalls and difficulty. But it can and must be done.
Pitfalls and difficulties? Gant gives as an example of his successful strategy an anecdote where he helps his favorite tribal personality wage war on his neighbors and accumulate more land at their expense. How the hell is his strategy going to work when in the Byzantine local political and social environment making a friend with one can often mean making enemies with their enemies? And by enforcing the power of one tribal notable does he not think there will be resentment by rivals with the same tribe or even family? And we’re supposed to expect that American soldiers can navigate all of this while embedding with a local tribal leader?
Another observation from Gant as he imagines himself as an Afghan:
If the national government cannot protect “us,” if US forces cannot protect “us,” if we cannot protect ourselves . . . the only answer is to side with the Taliban. How can you blame anyone for that? I would do the same.
Protect from whom? He makes the assumption that the Taliban is the main threat. The threat can be the Taliban, but it can also be the government, and it can also be your neighbors, and it can be your brother. The assumption for the need of protection is in need of some serious qualification here. And going back to the “highlanders,” it’s clear that they required protection from Gant himself.
As for the government…
A strategy in which the central government is the centerpiece of our counterinsurgency plan is destined to fail. It disenfranchises the very fabric of Afghan society. The tribal system in Afghanistan has taken a brutal beating for several decades. By supporting and giving some power back to the tribes, we can make positive progress in the region once again.
First sentence: sure. But what does Gant know of the tribal system as it pre-dates 1979? And can “we” transform an entire society back to even just a reflection of some imaginary past? That’s some massive hubris right there. “We” have problems tying our shoes in Afghanistan. Now we should bolster the “tribes” as if they are some sort of entity with regenerative properties that fit your ideal and can be used for your benefit? We do not have the skill, expertise, the time or the will to even just give this a try. There are many roads to failure, and this is definitely one of them (good chance that all the roads at this point lead to there).
To bolster his argument, he uses Seth Jones as a back-up:
Even the people who advise our national policymakers see the need to engage the tribes. “The Afghan government is not competent enough to deal with the dire threats that currently face Afghanistan,” says Seth Jones, an analyst at the RAND Corp. who advises the Pentagon. “This means working with tribal leaders.”
Big difference in severity scale between “working with tribal leaders” and Gant’s strategy. Gant takes Jone’s quote to the extreme and uses it to back up his strategy. But I just don’t see that in a short quote.
Gant then makes an appallingly misleading comment on Afghans:
When one says “Afghan people” what I believe they are really saying is “tribal member.” Every single Afghan is a part of a tribe and understands how the tribe operates and why. This is key for us to understand. Understanding and operating within the tribal world is the only way we can ever know who our friends and enemies are, how the Afghan people think and what is important to them. Because, above all, they are tribesmen first.
Then why do anthropologists find conflicting views when Afghans tell them what their society is all about? Why are there observed contradictions in action? How is it that Gant thinks every Afghan is a member of a tribe when many have never in their history been in a tribe and when for many a tribal identity is a fuzzy historical memory? Why can’t Gant find an anthropologist to agree with him? Why does Gant not define or analyze tribalism in Afghanistan in a historically and socially informed manner instead of using personal anecdotes?
And that’s just Gant’s introduction. On to chapter one:
We will be totally unable to protect the “civilians” in the rural areas of Afghanistan until we partner with the tribes for the long haul. Their tribal systems have been there for centuries and will be there for many more. Why should we fight against not only what they have been accustomed to for centuries, but what works for them? They will not change their tribal ways. And why should they?
“Works for them?” The two relatively stable periods in modern Afghan history were preceded by the stomping of local leaders by the central government. I don’t advocate that now. And it wouldn’t work now even in a Machiavellian sense. But more importantly, we do not know or understand to a sufficient degree what was happening in rural Pashtuns areas for the last few “centuries.” And I don’t think Gant is the one to make the breakthrough one this (it’s not going to happen, BTW).
Gant puts an exclamation point on his work:
Bottom line: “Winning” in Afghanistan will be an elusive prospect until we base our operations within the cultural framework of the tribal systems already in place.
Gant’s point here is that we need to understand the “cultural framework of the tribal systems already in place.” Unfortunately Gant does not understand the “cultural framework.” He needs to convince us that the anthropologists have it wrong and he has it right. So he moves into chapter 2:
Afghanistan has never had a strong central government and never will. That is a fact that we need to accept, sooner rather than later.
Major Gant apparently does not know about Amir Abdur Rahman, nor of King Zahir Shah and his early rule (mostly of his relatives, I know). The central government was formidable during these times. And Dost Muhammad and Nadir Shah were hardly irrelevant Mayors of Kabul, for their part. This is one of the popular myths about Afghanistan, and Gant swallows it whole.
Gant keeps making bold statements:
The only existing structure that offers governance and security for the Afghan people is at the tribal level. We should leverage this and use it to our advantage—before it is too late.
Really? Maybe all the options are faulted, but there are option to tribal membership when looking for governnace and security.
Gant asks a question, I’ll answer it:
Tribes offer their members security, safety, structure and significance. What other institutions do that right now in Afghanistan?
Answer: The Taliban. And that’s just one of many answers. The idea of a society with a single source for structure and significance is, to anyone who has read a book from the modern (post-WW2) era of anthropology, absurd.
Gant goes to another RAND expert to back this point up:
“Tribes,” says RAND Senior Fellow David Ronfeldt in his paper, Tribes First and Forever, “can foster a sense of social solidarity. [Belonging to a tribe] fills people with pride and self-respect. It motivates families to protect, welcome and care for each other and to abide by strict rituals that affirm their connections as tribal members to their ancestors, land and deity. This kinship creates trust and loyalty in which one knows and must uphold one’s rights, duties and obligations. What maintains order in a tribe is mutual respect, dignity, pride and honor.”
But nowhere in this quote does Ronfeldt say that the tribe is the sole source of all. Religious institutions, governments, family, friends, professional networks, insurgent groups, secular civil society, terrorist groups, etc… compete with tribal identity and give people options when they don’t get what they want from their tribal identity, if they actually have such an affiliation. That is why identity and loyalty is situational and flexible, a basic thing you get in intro anthropology.
Now to irritate the historians:
Tribes by nature are conservative. They hate change and they don’t change. “The more tribal the society, the more resistant it will be to change.” (Ronfeldt, Tribes First and Forever, p. 73). The tribal system has been the means of governance in Central Asia for centuries. It has resisted and defeated invaders since Cyrus the Great. The more an alien force tries to change the way tribes live, the more the tribes resist.
Tribes don’t change? I’m not a throwback to the old modernizations theorists who believe that the modern state will steam role everything in its path, but the above statement has no basis in the history of Central Asia. First of all, in much of Central Asia the tribes WERE the invaders. A sedentary non-tribal society “mixed” with Turkic and Mongol invaders. Even Pashtuns have expanded into non-Pashtun areas and displaced cultures whose cultures we know much to little to nothing about. And Afghanistan, in its modern form, is more so the product of invading and occupying peoples who stayed than it is locals who resisted. And Cyrus the Great? Have I read an entirely different history or does his name not belong in the passage above?
On to one of my favorite myth-making subjects:
What about democracy? A tribe is a “natural democracy.” In Afghan shuras and jirgas (tribal councils), every man’s voice has a chance to be heard. The fact that women and minority groups have no say in the process does not make it less effective nor less of a democracy to them. Asking them to change the way they have always conducted their business through their jirgas and shuras just does not make sense.
Every man’s voice has the right to be heard in the same way in does in the West, meaning that the powerful often monopolize the debate. As for the fantastic jirgas… Let’s check out these sources on the Loya Jirga:
Christine Noelle-Karimi (2002). “The Loya Jirga – An Effective Political Tool? A Historical Overview.” In: Noelle-Karimi, Christine, Conrad Schetter and Reinhard Schlangenweit (eds.), Afghanistan – A Country Without a State? (pp. 37-52). Frankfurt: IKO-Verlag für Interkulturelle Kommunikation.
Benjamin Buchholz (2007). “Thoughts on Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga: A Myth?” In Asien, No. 104.
M. Jamil Hanifi (2004). “Editing The Past: Colonial Production of Hegemony Through the “Loya Jerga” in Afghanistan,” Iranian Studies, Volume 37, Number 2, June 2004.
Would you believe they don’t share the same idealistic view of jirgas? And how many shuras and jirgas have happened at all levels since 2001? Jirgas and shuras are tools that are better than nothing, and probably better than many other options on the table. But such a glowing praise for these meetings of notable local men is totally misplaced.
Onward to chapter 4 and Major Gant’s personal experiences with his local friend Noorafzhal…
I will not get into the specifics of the different clans and sub-clans but there was a “highland” people and a “lowland” people. Noorafzhal’s tribe included people whose physical location is on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The highland people had taken and were using some land that belonged to the lowland people. The Malik told me the land had been given to his tribe by the “King Of Afghanistan” many, many years ago and that he would show me the papers. I told him he didn’t need to show me any papers. His word was enough.
He then told me he had given the highlanders 10 days to comply with the request or he and his men would retake it by force. Here was the critical point for me and my relationship with Malik Noorafzhal. It is hard on paper to explain the seriousness of the situation and the complexity we both were facing. He had asked for help, a thing he later would tell me was hard for him to do (especially from an outsider) and I had many options. Could I afford to get involved in internal tribal warfare? What were the consequences if I did? With the tribe? With the other tribes in the area? With my own chain of command?
I made the decision to support him. “Malik, I am with you. My men and I will go with you and speak with the highlanders again. If they do not turn the land back over to you, we will fight with you against them.” With that, a relationship was born. Malik Noorafzhal then told me he had only eight warriors on duty at the current time. I told him, “No, you have sixteen.” (I had eight team members at the time).
[…] Without going into further detail, suffice it to say that the dispute with the highlanders was resolved.
This is the stupidest, most criminal thing I ever heard a soldier admit to outside of a court martial or criminal trial. Imagine for a moment that Gant met the highlanders first. The highlanders would have given their own version of how the King of Afghanistan had stolen their land and given it to some guys from down the valley. The SF team, following Gant’s playbook, would kick the shit out of the people down the valley and then congratulate themselves on how damn smart they think they are. Bottom line: the locals played Gant and destroyed the livelihood of their neighbors. Is this a model to defeat the insurgency? No. It’s a model for driving Afghans into the insurgency.
An even more absurd scenario following Gant’s model would be if another US Army SF was embedded with the “highlanders” while Gant was embedded with the “lowlanders.” Both SF teams, having gone native, would be all pissed off on Pandora wanting to ride some banshee down upon their enemies so that their friends can keep their Home Tree. The US Army could then fight itself. Well, of course not, you say. There would be a mechanism to prevent that. But there would still be a losing side as both SF teams would claim that they guys they drink chai with are the good guys. This is the model that is supposed to be replicated across a landscape fill with local conflicts?
Anyways, Gant has more fun stories with his friend:
He then came next to me and said (through my interpreter), “Jim, the last time I saw a person with a face like yours (meaning white) the Russians killed 86 men, women and children of my village.” He continued, “This is my old village. We fought the Russians. They never took my village. We are ready to fight again if we have to.” He looked and finished with, “You have great warriors with you. We will fight together.”
This gets back to an earlier point about tribes. Gant was in Kunar and in his paper he inserts a map of where Mohmand Pashtuns live and remarks that his friends straddle the order. So I’ll make the obvious assumption that his buddy is a Mohmand Pashtun. And his friend says that he fought the Russians. What he fails to mention is that there were Mohmand Pashtuns in the communist government and communist military forces. So there is apparently an alternative to tribal loyalty. On the plus side, this got a Mohmand Pashtun into outer space thanks to the Soviets.
Jihad, or outer space? Outer space:
As I mentioned above in regards to alternative loyalties, loyalty to the Soviet cosmonaut program was hardly the one and only thing that could overcome the Middle Earthesque predetermined loyalties of Pashtun tribesmen.
And Gant loves the kids:
I want to interject a couple of situations that might also tell of the relationship that was built with Malik Noorafzhal and my team. He and Dr. Akbhar were very open with their homes and families. I spent countless hours playing with Dr. Akhbar’s small children and the Mailk’s grandchildren and great grandchildren. The Mailk used to say to me, “Jim,I am getting too old. Play with the children today. They love you.” So do you know what my primary task would be for the day? I would play with the children—for hours.
The little girls and I would walk around the village holding hands and laughing at “stuff.” They would teach me Pashto and I would teach them English. We would be watched by literally hundreds of younger children and women as we played. I often thought that these play sessions did more for our cause in the Konar than all the raids we did combined.
Now Major Gant, close your eyes and imagine what the children of those highlanders are doing at this moment with the land they relied on for their livelihood being stolen by your friends. Were any of their parents killed? Are they starving? Did their parents have to sell them into marriage at an early age? Did they pack up and move to Jalalabad, Kabul or Pakistan to eke out a miserable existence as a day laborer? Do you realize that not just your friends have children? I realize that this gets a little to close to point number 13 in my tips for bad writing on Afghanistan. So let’s toss moral outrage and focus on the fact that making friends with kids does nothing to counteract the fact that you’ve given the Highlanders a massive incentive to join the insurgency. This is bad for the US military.
But, not all fun and games:
Over time, it became very clear that the relationship we had built with the tribe was causing them to become a target for HIG [warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s armed party, Hezb-e Islami] in the area.
Now why would anybody in the local area want to target Americans and their local allies? Perhaps the Americans intervened strongly in a local conflict and forced one side into the insurgency? Just maybe.
Gant then dedicates a chapter to Pashtunwali and argues that the “”tribesman”
…lives in a regional world where day-to-day military strength means the difference between survival and being overrun by other tribal elements whoever they might be (the Taliban, other aggressive tribes, or the Russian army).
Gant proudly admits that he overran another tribal element. Why then not mention the US military as a threat? And how can he not be sure that his friends are not one of those “aggressive tribes”?
Gant attempts to discuss Pashtunwali without actually defining it or looking at any of the studies on Pashunwali, which would actually deeply disappoint him. Pashtunwali, like many codes from other cultures around the world, is riddled with contradictions and loop-holes. Pashtunwali, which was likely shaped in popular understanding by nationalist urban Pashtun intellectuals (dating from the rule of Prime Minister Daoud), can be endlessly researched, yet will not allow you to accurately predict human behavior.
Gant also decides that Shari’a and Pashtunwali are incompatible:
It is also important to remember that most of the insurgents are Pashtuns. In many cases the Taliban rule of law (Shar’ia law) is in direct conflict with Pashtunwali. We currently are not using this to our advantage.
Ask a Pashtun what comes first, Islam or Pashtunwali, and he will invariably answer: “Pashtunwali.” (Malkasian and Meyerle, Difference in Al-Anbar)
As written on paper, Shari’a and Pashtunwali are in conflict on many aspects. But in practice there is no great social divide that can be exploited effectively, and most certainly not by Americans. Anyways, ask an insurgent what comes first, Islam or Pashtunwali, and he will invariably answer “Islam.”
Gant emphasises his point:
Bottom line: A thorough and deep understanding and respect for Pashtunwali is critical for the success of US Tribal Engagement Teams and the overall US strategy in Afghanistan.
Well, it’s hard to find any sort of consensus on Pashtunwali, and I caution against Major Gant’s sub-wikipedia level analysis becoming our guide.
One example of how Gant has emphasized Pashtunwali while completing ignoring it: Gant stresses the importance of Pashtunwali while also extolling the value of jirgas and shuras (meetings where important social, military and political issues are discussed and issues ironed out – in their ideal state). Now what did he do when the issue of a land conflict came up between his local friends and the “highlanders”? In the broad definition of Pashtunwali you can find conflict prevention and resolution tools where situations like this are solved without bloodshed or massive economic loss for one side. You can check out Alef Shah Zadran or Willi Steul’s work for examples from Loya Paktia. Same goes for jirgas and shuras, in their ideal state they would allow an issue like this to be resolved.
But what did Gant do? He skipped the possibility of a jirga or shura and he disregarded Pashtunwali and used good old-fashioned violence or the threat thereof. Now, I’m under no illusion that these traditional tools would have resolved this issue to everybody’s satisfaction. But Gant didn’t even try what he recommends in this paper. His case study contradicts his main points.
Anyways, this gets me to page 23 of 45. But I can’t take this anymore. I’ll just say that the second half is just as bad as the first half. It is filled with contradictions, fallacies, horrendous mistakes and wishful thinking. Gant ends with this:
Bottom line: There may be dozens of reasons not to adopt this strategy. But there is only one reason to do so—we have to. Nothing else will work.
Is this what is going through McChrystal and Petraeus’ minds? A year ago I was positive that Petraeus had dumped any idea of a tribal/militia strategy. The military leadership was quite skeptical, including Gen. McKiernan (whatever happened to that guy?). I take the current enthusiasm as a sign of desperation. However, this strategy will just do more to brutalize local communities and strengthen the insurgency. Doing nothing is actually better in this case.
Honestly, I don’t care about Major Gant. What I’m worried about here is that Petraeus and McChrystal have demonstrated just how clueless and desperate they are for new “bold” ideas in regards to Afghanistan. I don’t recall ever trashing these two in this manner. Or even trashing them at all. This is no anti-war blog. I’m no leftist. I’m not anti-American. I’m genuinely disappointed that our leadership appears to be so bankrupt and intellectually lazy.
You can read the document below for yourself, and then read the leaked military document below it that pushes back against similar ideas.