Posted by: Christian | July 22, 2010

RAND, COIN and Case Studies

Do you ever read these big comparative analyses and wonder how accurate they are on each individual case study? I’m always wondering if there is somebody who dedicates much of their time to studying Chechnya, El Salvador, Congo, Cambodia or wherever and then sees their case study used in a big grand comparative study… and it’s all wrong? I always read these studies with that skepticism and recently I found one of my case studies butchered in two RAND studies on counterinsurgency, one of which uses 76 factors across 30 case studies:

  • Victory has a Thousand Fathers: Detailed Counterinsurgency Case Studies. Link.
  • Victory has a Thousand Fathers: Sources of Success in Counterinsurgency. Link.

So yes, they attempted to analyze Tajikistan’s conflict from 1992-1997. I’ll start with the first publications point by point:

Tajikistan, 1992–1997
Case Outcome: COIN Loss (Mixed, Favoring Insurgents)

Less than a year after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, a mix of democrats, Tajik nationalists, and Islamists joined together to form the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) to challenge the communist based government in Dushanbe. The UTO briefly gained control of the capital before being forced out by a group of former government leaders, aided by Russian and Uzbek forces, employing brutal methods and inflicting significant civilian casualties. The UTO then launched attacks from bases in Afghanistan and became more closely associated with the Islamic movement.

Terminology: The UTO did not exist as an “organization” (and I use the term loosely) until July 1994. The name UTO was first used late that year at the earliest. And the government was “communist based” in the sense that it was based on the bureaucracy that inherited an independent state, not in the ideological sense.

The “UTO” did not control the capital. Hizb-i Nahzat militiamen and the Ismaili Pamiri members of the Interior Ministry (who joined the opposition) – nominally controlled the capital while an ineffective incumbent sat in the position of president.

The “UTO” was not forced out by “former government leaders.” It was Safarov, Saidov and Salimov who led the attack on the capital. They were never government leaders (however, the former high-ranking government figure Kenjaev did lead an earlier unsuccessful attack on the capital).

The assistance of Russia and Uzbekistan is exaggerated. Furthermore, the bulk of Uzbekistan’s support was to Kenjaev, not to the eventual winners. And there were not significant civilian casualties in the capital. The dying was overwhelmingly being done in the south, not in the capital.

The “UTO” did not launch attacks from Afghanistan, the Movement for the Islamic Revival in Tajikistan did – led by the former number three in Hizb-i Nahzat – now leading both.

The new government of Tajikistan did little to meet the needs of its populace and relied increasingly on Russian military support.

Only for the border. Tajik troops were made to operate mostly on their own. The trend for relying on Russia was going the opposite direction. As for the troop numbers given for the “Russian” MRD, these are very likely total strength numbers. Not the number actually deployed.

While Tajik leader Emomali Rahmonov bowed to pressure to make some changes to his government and military leadership, they were not sufficient for the rebels, who continued to launch attacks. Only after the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan did Russia and Uzbekistan force the Tajik government to make greater concessions to the opposition, allowing for serious negotiations and the signing of the Peace and National Reconciliation Accord.

He bowed to pressure from Boimatov and Khudoberdiev, who were not rebels, but rather disgruntled allies who thought they had been short-changed. The opposition was active mostly in the Karotegin (a valley of very little worth in every sense), they did not threaten the economic or political assets of Tajikistan.

Was the government forced to negotiate? They had been negotiating since 1994 when the Taliban did not exist. The Taliban’s northern offensive did speed things up. Iran, Russian, Uzbekistan and Ahmed Shah Massoud all leaned on both sides. Both.

Phase I: “Back-and-Forth Battle for the Capital” (1992)
Phase Outcome: Mixed, Favoring COIN

As demonstrations continued, Tajik President Rakhmon Nabiev tried to create a national guard to defend his government and repress the opposition. When these efforts failed, he organized a private army. Leaders of the opposition responded by acquiring weapons and establishing bases in the southern provinces of Tajikistan. By May 1992, there was open fighting in the streets of Dushanbe.

“he organized a private army”? No he did not. After his national guard flopped he hid out in the National Security building and had nothing to do with the organization of forces.

And the opposition did not respond by “acquiring weapons” – they were already doing so. The outbreak of violence just widened the process. And in the city they didn’t need to do much acquiring since the bulk of the Interior Ministry came over to their side.

As for applying “COIN ” to 1992, you would need a definition of insurgency that is so broad as to be meaningless. In different locations at different times throughout the year both sides could be described as insurgents.

Fighting escalated in the summer of 1992 as various armed groups vied for control in the capital at the same time that progovernment forces mounted attacks on rebel bases in southern Tajikistan.

This is completely backwards. Nobody was fighting for the capital in summer 1992. The fight was in the Vakhsh valley. As for this talk of “progovernment forces” and “rebel bases” in the south, the people who I’m sure you are calling “progovernment forces” had renounced the GNR and the president as illegitimate. And the “bases” were just farms and government buildings where Kulobis and Uzbeks were fighting Gharmis.

In September 1992, the tide turned toward the opposition. President Nabiev was forced to resign at gunpoint, and a coalition of opposition groups composed of secular democrats, nationalists, and Islamists from the Pamiri and Gharmi clans assumed control of the government.

Nope. In September the tide turned against the opposition as Safarov and Langariev took Qurghonteppa city from the “opposition” and started to push them south. Nabiev, by now completely irrelevant, was forced to resign (at gunpoint is disputed). But his equally powerless replacement was his political ally Iskandarov. Nothing else of significance changed in the GNR administration.

The former communist government then launched a bloody counterattack with the support of Russia and Uzbekistan. Government forces engaged in widespread massacres, torture, looting, and ethnic cleansing, leading to more than 50,000 deaths. Control of Dushanbe went back and forth between the former government and the “opposition” over the course of the next few months.

That 50,000 figure includes people killed by the opposition. Both sides used the exact same tactics and attacked civilians they associated with the other side. The winning side just did it in greater quantities (no hearts and minds here). And at this time the casualties were far less. This number is reached during the December to February offensive in the Vakhsh and lower Kofarnihon when the Popular Front attacked civilians they associated with Hizb-i Nahzat.

And “back and forth”? Not really. Kenjaev was there for less than one day before being chased off. The capital fell and fell quickly when Safarov and Salimov arrived.

By December, a coalition of former government leaders led by Emomali Rahmonov, a former Kulyab district communist party official, forced the opposition leaders out of the capital.

No he did not. It was Safarov leading a rag-tag “army” that he recruited/conscripted as overall leader. Rahmonov was installed as Kulob regional leader (puppet) by Safarov and then picked as interim leader of Tajikistan at Safarov’s gentle urging.

Fighting continued as Tajikistan remained divided along regional and religious lines, and the actions of the COIN forces sparked greater interclan violence between Kulyabis and southern-based clans.

The “interclanviolence” (more problematic terminology) was overwhelmingly over by early 1993 and continued to decline. As for the “religious lines”, this perceptions comes from the core of the opposition fighters belonging to an Islamist party and the continued use of “communist” in describing the other side. The Mullahs, Ishans and Imamkhatibs and other religious notables of Kulob, Hisor and the north overwhelmingly condemned the opposition. And they meant it. They did it at every phase of the conflict.

Phase II: “Militias and Russians Versus the ‘Islamist’ Opposition”
(1993–1995)
Phase Outcome: Mixed, Favoring COIN

Beginning in early 1993, the UTO launched powerful attacks against the government from Afghanistan and provincial areas outside Dushanbe and continued an assassination campaign against senior Russian and Tajik officials, thus maintaining a threat to the government’s stability.

I must have missed these powerful attacks. They were engaged in the Karotegin valley from Kofarnihon to Tavildara. Again, the periphery of the periphery of the periphery. Assassination campaign? That was the government side fighting each other for economic assets and positions of power. Opposition did very little. One day they killed 24 border troops, and that was their best day by a long shot. Briefly taking control of Kofarnihon seems like something until you consider the over all worth of the place and the brief period for which they occupied the place. The threat to the government’s stability was from its unruly allies in Hisor and Qurghonteppa, not the opposition.

Over the course of the next two years, however, the government (which consisted of a coalition of regional and clan groupings) was able to consolidate its power by relying on armed militias and benefiting from the role of the CIS collective peacekeeping force. The CIS forces, composed of Russian troops and nominal contingents from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, provided critical support for the government The Russians eventually assumed primary responsibility for Tajik military operations and their military presence gradually transformed the country into a virtual protectorate.

This section has citations, which I disagree with. The Russian troops (who were overwhelmingly ethnic Tajik except at the top) were mostly involved in securing the border. Operations were much more a Tajik affair. Overall Russia is being credited with too much here.

With the assistance of the Russian Motorized Rifle Division, the government was eventually able to take the offensive against the rebel opposition, forcing many southern Tajiks to flee across the Afghan border.

No. You can even ask the UNHCR. The Russian MRD (again, Russian controlled but staffed by Central Asians) did not lead or even participate in the offensive that caused the flow of refugees. This happened in late 1992 and very early 1993. This was all Kenjaev, Saidov and Safarov with help from Uzbekistan.

The government had less success in improving governance or delivering services. Nabiev showed “no interest whatever in running the state.

Yeah, probably because he was no longer president. And as of April 2003 he was quite dead.

As Olivier Roy explained, “the Kulabis [or Kulyabis] methodically set about plundering official positions and sources of wealth for the benefit of their faction. . . . This predatory attitude destroyed the economy and led to their fellow regionalist factions going into opposition.

Roy is using “opposition” in the wide sense. He does not mean the opposition insurgency. These disgruntled folks were a third pole in the conflict and not insurgents.

While the intensity of fighting decreased by 1995, rebel groups continued to control certain areas of the countryside, and urban areas were subject to continuous attacks and harassment. Hostage-taking,
assassinations, and contract killings were commonplace. Moreover, the opposition became increasingly identified with the Islamists and supported by Iran.

“Certain areas”? Again, the most unproductive parts of the country that weren’t really worth fighting that hard over. The violence mentioned more has to do with the criminal sector and with infighting – excluding the opposition. As for Iran, the opposition was scrambling for crumbs from Massoud, who was getting support from Iran. But overall very little. Iran was not a significant player in providing support.

Phase III: “Taliban Rule Next Door Creates Pressure for Peace”
(1996–1997)
Phase Outcome: Mixed, Favoring Insurgents”

Favoring insurgents? I’ll get to that below…

In 1996, opposition demonstrations increased and put greater pressure on the government to enact political reforms. Rahmonov bowed to pressure to make some changes to his government and the leadership in areas where fighting was taking place, but these changes were not sufficient for the rebels, who continued to launch attacks.

Citation please? Who were these opposition people who were protesting in 1996? I’m quite unfamiliar with these brave people. And Rahmonov made changes due to pressure from his “allies,” esp. Khudoberdiev.

Finally, under significant international pressure, the government and the leaders of the UTO entered into discussions on reconciliation. In June 1997, they signed the Peace and National Reconciliation Accord that provided for the return of opposition supporters and refugees to Tajikistan, legalized political parties that made up the UTO, and called for the integration of the armed forces of both the government and the UTO. It also promised to grant the UTO 30 percent of government posts at the national and regional levels.

On paper, yes. But this 30% was distributed in a manner that gave the state little worry. As for those refugees, the vast majority had already returned with the coordination of the UNHCR, the government of Tajikistan and the intervention of Rashid Dostum and Naderi (when the opposition tried to force refugees to stay in Afghanistan as assets).

Some outbreaks of violence occurred after the accord was signed, as neither leader had complete control of his troops, yet both sides were committed to the accord. Casualties eventually declined to a minimal level, and the peace process produced a coalition government that consisted of representatives of factions that had been mortal enemies only a short time before. Such an immediate resolution to violent conflict is rare and may not have succeeded if not for the ongoing threat of intervention from abroad. (citing Gleason)

The “coalition government” had the opposition as a very junior partner, it’s worth noting. As for the threat of intervention from abroad. This study has been arguing that the Russians were already heavily involved. So I’m not sure whose intervention they are talking about.

The case study ends with an absolutely absurd list of 76 factors across the three phases that this study divides into. Many of them are wrong, and many couldn’t possibly be “ticked” without someone dedicating a few years of their life to studying that factor on the ground in Tajikistan. How the authors think they are qualified to do so is beyond me.

On to the second report, which is mercifully shorter:

In three cases (Moldova, Rwanda, and Tajikistan), the COIN force had the support of the majority of the population but failed to significantly reduce the insurgents’ tangible support (which was primarily coming from supporters outside the three countries).

They did not have the support of the majority of the population. Not even close. Where did you get this idea?  Their support was regionalized and small.

Consider the case of Tajikistan in the mid-1990s, in which the Tajik government and its Russian allies aggressively and indiscriminately beat back an initially successful insurgency, temporarily gaining the upper hand but further alienating the population by ignoring its needs, grievances, and wellbeing.

The only people alienating the people more than the government was the opposition.

Only after the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan did Russia and Uzbekistan force the Tajik government to make greater concessions. This outside pressure led to the signing of the Peace and National Reconciliation Accord that met most of the UTO’s political demands.

Negotiations had been going on for years and the opposition progressively dropped the majority of its demands. I’ve read the accords and read about the reality that did not reflect the accords and have been on the ground and I’m quite sure that the accord is nothing like described here. The UTO was played by Rahmonov. He played his allies and supporters and he played the UTO and eventually waved them off. Tajikistan is marked today by a government victory. Full stop.

So that’s what I have to say about the RAND case study on Tajikistan. It’s built on incorrect assumptions and facts that are not based in fact. It’s mostly wrong on outside intervention, wrong completely in describing the first phase of the conflict as an insurgency, wrong on levels of support, wrong on who was doing the fighting, wrong on insurgent strength, wrong on describing a two-sided conflict, wrong on leadership, wrong on etc….

I hope the other 29 case studies aren’t nearly as faulty.

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“In three cases (Moldova, Rwanda, and

Tajikistan), the COIN force had the support of the majority of the

population but failed to significantly reduce the insurgents’ tangible

support (which was primarily coming from supporters outside the

three countries).”

They did not have the support of the majority of the population. Not even close. Where did you get this idea. I’ve never even seen Hizb-I Nahzat or MIRT make this claim. Their support was regionalized and small.

“Consider the case of Tajikistan

in the mid-1990s, in which the Tajik government and its Russian

allies aggressively and indiscriminately beat back an initially successful

insurgency, temporarily gaining the upper hand but further

alienating the population by ignoring its needs, grievances, and wellbeing.”

The only people alienating the people more than the government was the opposition.

“Only after the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan did Russia and

Uzbekistan force the Tajik government to make greater concessions.

This outside pressure led to the signing of the Peace and National Reconciliation

Accord that met most of the UTO’s political demands.”

Negotiations had been going on for years and the opposition progressively dropped the majority of its demands. I’ve read the accords and read about the reality that did not reflect the accords and bee on the ground and I’m quite sure that the accord is nothing like described here. The UTO was played like Rahmonov. He played his allies and supporters and he played the UTO and eventually waved them off. Tajikistan is marked today by a government victory. Full stop.


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