What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The limits of arming the Taliban

Some more details have surfaced now over what the UK was up to in Musa Qala, after the success of Operation Divide and Rule (just kidding, that name is not official). This shouldn't come as a surprise really. US defense secretary Robert Gates has said at the beginning of December, back in 2007, that it might be a good idea to start arming some of the tribes in southern Afghanistan, and, voicing some skepticism over whether this would be a good idea, I guessed it perfectly right that one of the places where this would be planned is Musa Qala. And that suspicion of mine was reinforced when UK PM Gordon Brown talked entirely openly about exporting the institution of the arbakai from eastern Afghanistan to places like Helmand.
The British idea certainly doesn't sound very conventional (comes as a bit of a hair-raiser), but if I knew that in December, and yet the Afghan government now says they are suprised by this, then I have a feeling that this is a diplomatic excuse for their stance in the Ashdown affair.
Here's the non-conventional part:
" An Afghan government whistleblower said the training camp was part of a controversial British plan to use bands of reconciled Taleban, called Community Defence Volunteers, to fight the remaining insurgents.
He said: "The camp would provide military training for 1,800 ordinary Taleban fighters and 200 low level commanders."
£64,000 had been spent preparing the camp and a further £102,000 was earmarked to run it in 2008, an Afghan official said. "
Details of the plan were found recently in a file on a memory stick taken from one of the two British officials who were expulsed from Afghanistan in the wake of the affair.
(One of the two officials was Michael Semple, an Irishman, there in Afghanistan as deputy EU representative. The other was a UNAMA official, Mervyn Patterson, British from Northern Ireland.)
So, it seems like that plan is not going to be realised now. Or if it will, that would further strain relations with the quasi-sovereign Afghan government, so this affair might be interesting to follow.
Update: Via Registan, an article from the Financial Times reveals some more details, like, for example, that the British plan included "the provision of communications equipment, including satellite phones" to the former adversaries (presumably Abdul Salaam's fighters).


Cannoneer No. 4 said...

I wonder if the Brits weren't trying to sneak in a Kit Carson Scout program on Kabul. Probably what is left of tribal authority in Helmand does not lend itself well to arbakai, but my perception has been managed to perceive the Brits as desperate to put some more indig boots on the ground to augment their own small force.

CLC’s Good, Arbakai Bad

Péter MARTON said...

Sure, that is a desperate move in fact.
That's why I was bitching about it a lot - because Afghanistan is not like Iraq was between February, 2006 and the first quarter of 2007. The indig boots could be substituted by NATO and CJTF boots, well, uh, I mean, if they really could be.
But to play the counterfactual game may be a dead end, as in my more desperate moments I tend to acknowledge that, and so your finishing remark in your post is probably correct: "Turned Taliban are better employed than left unsupervised."

Cannoneer No. 4 said...

The West is running out of patience. The ANA is taking too long to come up to speed. Kabul wants the ANP to be a national, multi-ethnic force loyal to Kabul and they don't seem to want any competing local, district, or provincial paramilitary law enforcement organizations, yet NATO units in Helmand need local auxiliaries, which they think they have found in turned Taliban. Saigon didn't much care for the Chieu Hoi Program either. But it worked.