Posted by: Christian | April 8, 2009

The Mysterious Insurgency

No kidding?:

U.S. intelligence about the makeup and recruiting power of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan is so shallow that it impedes the U.S. war effort, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the region said Tuesday.

“I am deeply, deeply dissatisfied with the degree of knowledge that the United States government and our friend and allies have on this subject,” veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke told reporters during a break in daylong talks with Pakistan government officials and private citizens.

As late as last year I hoped that there was a relatively new built-up reserve of knowledge on this matter that wasn’t making it out into the open. I was told “no” by a few people who seemed to be in the know. A few high-ranking people surprised me with their ignorance (and not just that “what is the Durand Line?” moment) when they opened their mouths in public. So this is just confirmation:

“We need to make sure we know what the appeal of the Taliban is,” Holbrooke said.

Others commented (or refused to do so):

“We know a heck of a lot more about Iraq on a very granular basis than we do about Afghanistan,” the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, said March 26. “We need to ramp up a level of intelligence support in Afghanistan, and that will be a lot more than just making sure the villages are on the maps.”

A CIA spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on Holbrooke’s remarks.

Maybe the locals know?:

Frequently, in meetings with Afghans as well as Pakistanis, Holbrooke posed simple questions: Who are the Taliban? Why do people join them?

He seemed less than satisfied with the answers he got.

Meh. Business as usual.

On the topic, I’m looking forward to this edited volume. No idea who the contributors are [update: check comments for a list of contributors]:


  1. I assume you’ve made it through Giustiozzi’s “Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop” on the Neo-Talibs…. a good read.

  2. Yup:

  3. He’s a busy bee, this also coming out by Giustiozzi:

  4. Here’s that list of contributors. Book is due out in 6-8 weeks.
    Michael Dwyer (Publisher, London)

    introduction Antonio Giustozzi
    1. the taliban and the opium trade Gretchen S. Peters
    2. Reading the taliban Joanna Nathan
    3. the Resurgence of the taliban in Kabul: logar tand wardak
    Mohammad Osman Tariq Elias
    4. loya Paktia’s insurgency
    (i) the haqqani network as an autonomous entity
    in the taliban Universe Thomas Ruttig
    (ii) Roots of the insurgency in the Southeast Sébastien Trives
    5. the Return of the taliban in andar District: ghazni
    Christoph Reuter and Borhan Younus
    6. the taliban in helmand: an oral history Tom Coghlan
    7. Unruly commanders and Violent Power Struggles: taliban
    networks in Uruzgan Martine van Bijlert
    8. taliban in Zabul: a witness’ account Abdul Awwal Zabulwal
    9. what Kandahar’s taliban Say Graeme Smith
    10. the taliban’s Marches: herat, Farah, baghdis and ghor
    Antonio Giustozzi
    11. taliban and counter-insurgency in Kunar David Kilcullen
    12. northern exposure for the taliban Sippi Azerbaijani Moghaddam
    13. the tehrik-e taliban Pakistan Claudio Franco
    About the Contributors

  5. Yeah, I posted on this because ignorance of the Taliban means they have no strategy:


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