November 15, 2010

Update to Canadian Afghan mission part 4: Not all in Kabul?

Matthew Fisher interviews the Canadian deputy commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) and elicits a couple new facts. Specifically:

--Not all the Canadian positions in any new mission would necessarily be in the Kabul area: the need is country-wide.

--The current demand is not so much for drill sergeants and instructors, since Afghans are supposed to do that, but senior instructor standards types and administrators (suggesting this deployment might be even more officer-heavy than current OMLT deployments).

--A significant number of positions in the new mission could be Canadian police officers or public service professionals (working as mentors in Afghan civilian ministries) instead of soldiers.

Another Fisher interview with Canadian Col. Paul Scagnetti* at the Afghan staff college gives more detail on the kind of work involved. Note the small number of actual Canadians required for this "behind the wire" stuff, though.

On the flip side, you have the CBC's Greg Weston doing a real drive-by on the subject, gutting a key phrase out of a Gen. (retd.) Rick Hillier piece, apparently only to score cheap points.

In a recent interview with Maclean's magazine, retired general Rick Hillier said: "You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army … you are going to be in combat."

Nice ellipses, Greg. The full quote, with the piece that makes all the difference:

If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan you are going to be in combat.

As a former Afghan army trainer in southern Afghanistan, I would tend to agree. But this simply isn't what was being floated by the government, which was quite clearly all about exploring an expanded role outside the south. Given that it's a web piece where length doesn't matter, there's no real reason Weston and the CBC couldn't have been honest with their readers.

That doesn't mean somebody's soldiers won't have to take over that work, though. Other than praising the Weston piece, I think this comment by the Galloping Beaver on some of the questions still to be answered was quite good. It raises the good point that a lot of the manning gap in the NATO Training Mission manning that we're now trying to fill is actually a result of our pulling our OMLT organization out of Kandahar in 2011.

UPDATE: The point here is not that there aren't ways that 950 Canadian personnel couldn't benefit the Afghan effort, and in "behind the wire" roles. There almost certainly is. The point is that there's likely not 950 jobs specifically in ANSF training roles for army personnel all clustered in just a couple facilities outside Kabul, as Fisher is clearly trying to emphasize.

*As an aside, it was Col. Scagnetti who came down to see me and my chalk off from CFB Trenton when we departed for ROTO 6, and had some very kind words for me in the terminal waiting room, something I quite appreciated at the time.

Posted by BruceR at 11:44 PM

Expert feedback on ISAF and Raziq: "Good program, good idea, wrong guy, place and time"

A little while ago I wrote a little bit about the decision to rely more heavily on Abdul Raziq and his Spin Boldak-based "police" to keep the peace in the Kandahar City area, and some of the issues that raised. I shopped it around to four people of my acquaintance with real experience with Kandahar, and elicited their responses to this development. None of them were very positive, but some of their reasons might surprise you. It's all after the fold.

Before I forget, also worth reading in this context is Anand Gopal's piece on the history behind the current Kandahar-area violence, which comes strongly recommended. I think it's a great stab at Part One of the history of the Kandahar Civil War: consider all that follows some rough notes for Part Two some day. The big takeaway, I should think, is how peripheral to the real local power dynamics ISAF frequently has been, and may still remain.

1) An experienced historian of the Kandahar area writes:

Raziq on the one hand gets the job done and it’s also said he instills a certain “fear” in the Taliban and the local population. Sometimes I think that we suffer by not matching the Taliban in our failure to prudently apply fear.

On the other hand, Kandaharis tell me that using Raziq even for very short operations has irrevocably tainted Op Hamkari as the Abdul Raziq operation. And unlike ISAF, Kandaharis do not forget Raziq’s past crimes. Our efforts to convince the population that Hamkari will alter the current despised political order are off to a dismal start.

I’m learning how much Afghan politics is theater and messaging, and the whole Raziq incident demonstrates our failures on that front.

2) A Canadian military officer and a one-time personal acquaintance of Raziq writes:

I'd never really considered US support for Raziq to be 'arming the tribes,' likely due to his sticking to the talking point that his ABP [Afghan Border Police] Brigade contains Afghans from all regional tribes. We never conducted a census to confirm that statement, but I think it was true to a degree, though I'm sure that being an Achackzai had the same benefits as a class ring or Masonic membership etc might provide elsewhere. As an aside, it's worth remembering that although he's the de facto leader, he's never actually commanded that brigade. He's the chief of staff.

Re the first article suggesting that the ABP are more effective than the ANA: I'm sceptical. My knowledge is, of course, outdated, but as I recall the ABP was spread fairly thin and was lightly armed. Raziq kept a small personal bodyguard (and I'll bet THEY were all Achackzai), but mounting a sizeable attack involved stripping the border. He would occasionally go off on a mission with his [ISAF mentors from] TF Phoenix ETT (C/S Fish Hook), but it was usually a pl/coy(-) sized operation off in Maruf or way down in the Reg [eastern and southern peripheries of Kandahar Province] - and always within about 50km of the border, as I don't think the Border Police had jurisdiction beyond that (or so I was told by the ETT). I'm sure, though, that because such actions were rare, when they did happen they happened with gusto. These guys were not as worn down as 205 [ANA] Corps. I suspect that if called upon to do this every day they would start to slow down to the point where they only really performed on operations that directly benefited Raziq.

Re the allegations about mixing it up in Panjwaii just prior to Op Medusa: I'm pretty confident that is true ... I also think it is a better indicator of his motivations and ambitions than any one-off direct action with US forces.

I'm curious why you think that pairing him up with SF would mollify his behaviour. He had an ETT when I was there, full of some really level-headed officers (mostly Armo[u]r, and mostly Iraq vets with some Afgh experience too). The SF guys I met, by contrast, were a lot more of a 'shoot from the hip' crowd. They also had a different approach to local forces, likely due to their Foreign Internal Defence backgrounds. Whereas the conventional ETTs were of the mindset that they were building institutions, the SF guys were looking for short term allies with whom they could hunt high value targets. I would think they'd tend to encourage more extreme behaviour. That might explain why he's suddenly operating in the Arghandab, which is more than a little way outside his normal area of responsibility.

Ultimately, though, I agree with your conclusion that this is all support for the Karzai faction, albeit not in the way envisioned by idealists.

Bruce responds: I was trying to say there that compared to having none at all, having an ETT/OMLT with him, Special Forces or not, could mollify Raziq's behaviour. I don't believe he had any mentor support at the time of the earlier alleged depredations against Noorzai Afghans in Panjwaii. I tend to agree that Special Forces FID support in Afghanistan where I've encountered it seemed to be tended to be more focussed on achieving kinetic results than capacity development, but that's just personal experience.

3) An American officer with extensive experience in Zhari and Arghandab writes:

I grew very familiar with Raziq all the way in Zhari/Panjwaii. The man is a god. It seemed as if every tribal elder, every businessman, had their income stemming from some Raziq operation...(or was being threatened to become apart of one). At the end of the day, Raziq is a businessman and he will work for the highest bidder. If he was making $5-6 mil a month working with Taliban drug cartels, I can only imagine how much the US is paying him to clear out these villages.

But what fascinates me is what separates Raziq from guys like Atta, Dostum, Mohaqueq, and other warlords who we've managed to sweep under perview of the legitimate government (at least publicly). How does the NATO solve the issue of bringing Raziq into this fold? How do we make it in his self-interest to become a legitimate security leader in Kandahar? The answer is sure to be expensive and one that will require a lot more of our attention that either of our countries are willing to invest.

As a side note- when 5/2 was in Kandahar, the 8-1 Cavalry Squadron Commander, LTC Clark, was Raziq's biggest supporter. The entire HTT [Human Terrain Team] and Civil Affairs staff that actually patrolled those areas brought up countless examples of Raziq's crew harming civilians and pillaging enemy tribal areas. COL Tunnell and LTC Clark continued to disregard those reports, or at least view those examples as the lesser of two evils: the other being a Raziq who operated with Taliban money as opposed to US money.

Bruce notes: It's really interesting how Col. Harry Tunnell's name keeps coming up in the Kandahar context in these sorts of ways. I hadn't previously noted his role in elevating Raziq to his current position.

4) Finally, a former U.S. intelligence officer with extensive personal relationships with Soviet-era Afghan mujahideen leaders writes:

In general Raziq is Shirzai-lite [Gul Agha Shirzai, former warlord and current Karzai ally]. He is really a creation of last ten years. He does not really fit into the traditional tribal pattern.

Raziq's Dad used to work with Shirzai's Dad during the Soviet War. Shirzai's
Dad was a Barakzai but not a leadership family over the last century. Raziq's Dad strangely enough was also heavily involved with Road tolls etc from the Chaman crossing and to some extent played both sides during the Soviet Occupation. Raziq's family are Achekzai and have been power players in the Spin Boldak area for a long time. When the Taliban came in, they took over the road tolls from Raziq's family and group thus the enmity.

(I met Shirzai's Dad before he was killed and he did not get a whole lot of respect from the HiK guys but was known as a good fighter.)

Raziq's original ties thus come from his connection to Shirzai. When the US occupied Kandahar, there was a lot of back and forth and the initial power broker at the Airfield was Shirzai and not the Karzais. Raziq was set up as a small time road master at first, back then he was about 20 years old. As Shirzai got bigger, Raziq's importance grew.

Around 5 years ago, Shirzai was moved out of Kandahar. He was moved out before the population rose up and hung him. He was that unpopular. Mention of his name in many parts will cause someone to curse. As part of the deal, Raziq was set up on the Border Police unit and slowly since 2007 started to change or add to his contacts with Wali [Karzai] and guys like Ruholah and the Noors etc.

It was in this capacity that he first started coming to the US Command's attention. Since they did not get the history of his relations with Shirzai he seemed good enough. He did keep the road open and the Taliban down and a blind eye was turned to "other activities."

This last year and a half he has become the go to guy. But the problem is

A. He is not a "real" tribal leader
B. He is tainted by his relations with Shirzai
C. Sending him on operations to Malajat and Arghandab is not a good idea as this just pisses off the other tribes.

YES, he is being called names now by the normal folks on the street who equate him with Wali and the foreigners as a corrupt SOB. Going in on a two day raid cowboy style wins him nor us any points with the other groups out of his area. The level of destruction on these raids is not being covered but all those villages have people in Kandahar City counting their losses to Raziq and the Surge.

He is fine in Spin Boldak. North of there no. I would cut him off on the Dand District line for sure and that is where he has his limits.

I would not have used him because he is not a "traditional" leader and rather perceived more as an American favorite and not as an Afghan leader. This goes for Matiullah Khan [Raziq's equivalent north of Kandahar], Shirzai, Dostum and a few others, but not Noor. These folks say the right thing when the US folks are in the room and run rampant when they are not. Not good eggs and the Afghans do not respect, like or want them anywhere around.

The Iraq comparisions do not work well since this encompasses the whole country and not just Anbar etc..and this is NOT sectarian in nature. But we DO need Pres. Karzai IN CHARGE now of HIS WAR and HIS COUNTRY. NOW.

We cannot create our own "tribal leaders" they do not come ready made or pliable just because they push the right buttons with our SOF guys. This does not work. It is a short cut. Takes real time to sit down with Afghans for a week and hash things out, maybe two weeks. That is the the only way to work because that is how they do things together. It may take a month, but that is what must be done by all parties everywhere to get everyone working together in the right direction.

There are many other, off the radar leaders that do command respect, forces and have stayed out of going haywire-corrupt in the past ten years. These are the ones we need to find and work with in the next five years. They will have a place in ten years, these "created" tribal leaders will not.

Each province needs a specific study and recommendations as what mix ANSF tribal will work. But everyone needs on the same page now immediately. The Afghans need to work this out and advise Karzai as he knows some areas and not others. This needs to be thought out not done off-the-cuff in dartboard, get-your-good-OER style.

This is the problem in Kandahar, a lot of the older structure has been washed out over time with both Taliban new leadership and traditional leaders being frozen out. This is not the case in other parts of the country. Kandahar was not the ideal area for a Surge at all.

The sidelining of the ANSF using Raziq in this case was not perceived too well and with the governance vacuum and surge drawdown a lot of creative thinking needs to be done by Pres. Karzai as to how to create a new tribal order here. Very difficult now. Pres. Karzai has a tough job especially here as it hits close to home for him not only on a family level but a tribal level. ISAF has kept things busy for the past year, the future the Afghans need to structure. This is going to be very, very tough. There are a lot of bad feelings out there now. Next year will be a litmus test for this area.

(I have a lot of friends who are intermarried with Kandaharis so I am getting good feedback from Uncle this and Uncle that and Cousin that. They are a wild bunch.)

Next year we will see how the QST [Quetta Taliban] responds. They seem pretty confident that the Surge has been countered. Kandahar is still a vacuum and up for grabs. Thus, the problem with ISAF putting so many eggs in one basket as we have discussed. Maiwand is getting reinfiltrated now as we speak. Panjwaii will be rehit soon so that everyone knows the QST is not backing down.

[ANA 205 Corps Commander General] Zazai has a good head on his shoulders and will do what he needs to keep the city covered. I do expect the outlying areas will go back to hit or miss operations which is fine to me. This is about all that they can do in this particular zone. The pushback needs to start in Nangarhar, maintain in PPK and get active for real in the North allowing time for more ANSF to come on line and combat capable.

OK...That about covers it. Good program, good idea, wrong guy, place and time.

This is what happens when no one knows what happened in the past 20-30 years which causes a lot of mistakes. Pick the wrong guy, pay the wrong folks, lose them later and everyone else right away...

Bruce notes: Sarah Chayes, another past acquaintance, has previously written about the locals' distaste for Shirzai and his allies as well, in her book The Punishment of Virtue. I'm grateful to all four of the experts above for their input, which I've reprinted here without redaction.

UPDATE: If there is a point to all this, it's that unleashing Raziq in the Kandahar context is a little like the old idea in the China-strategic context of "unleashing Chiang" to fight the communists, which was favoured by American commentators and pooh-poohed by people like the first George Bush who had deep China experience.

There was a reason this lever wasn't seen as pullable, previously, when Canada had the lead in this province... our ignorance of local conditions didn't go that far. At best, this would seem to be a move to maximize short-term gain, at the expense of long-term stability; at worst it's a last-ditch dice throw. By calling Raziq the "Robin Hood" who saved Kandahar, the Washington Post, in other words, was being both a little amnesiac, and certainly very kind to its subject.

Posted by BruceR at 10:41 PM