Paul Avallone has drawn my attention to an enlightening essay by Ann Jones that helps explain why, after eight years (and counting) of intensive and expensive US training of Afghan military forces and police, the numbers on the page don't match the boots on the ground. Not even close. As Jones writes:
Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police. Why, you might ask, didn't the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own?
(I wondered the exact same thing, for instance, in a post called: "Is That Dar al-Islam, or Duh al-Islam.")
No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to "operate independently," but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they? My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist.
Jones' lengthy piece at TomDispatch.com ("a project of The Nation Institute") explains her hunch in great detail -- save one. Her analysis, like the analysis coming from the publications and think tanks on the Right, ignores Islam as a factor in considering the situation in Afghanistan. For example, she writes:
Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far -- of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point. ...
True enough, but isn't there some other little thing strategists need to be aware of? After all, the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan -- yes, its official name -- affirms sharia as the highest law of the land, a fact which puts the US and other infidel nations at instant odds with it, if we were just honest about the implications. But we, Left to Right, don't admit that there even are any implications.
The significance of Jones' reportage is of the time-honored Emperor Has No Clothes kind. She writes:
In the current policy debate about the Afghan War in Washington, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin wants the Afghans to defend their country. Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, agrees but says they need even more help from even more Americans. The common ground -- the sacred territory President Obama gropes for -- is that, whatever else happens, the U.S. must speed up the training of "the Afghan security forces."
American military planners and policymakers already proceed as if, with sufficient training, Afghans can be transformed into scale-model, wind-up American Marines. That is not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. No matter how many of our leaders concur that it must happen -- and ever faster.
If Jones is correct -- and the evidence (still no musterable Afghan army) is already on her side -- the proposal to expand further the already invisible Afghan forces to ever greater numbers as a point of the "COIN" equations computed by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, among others, becomes more and more a figment of theoretical mathematics, a maze of hieroglyphics on a chalkboard.
Toward the end of the essay, Jones writes:
There is, by the way, plenty of evidence that Taliban fighters get along just fine, fighting fiercely and well without the training lavished on the ANA and the ANP. Why is it that Afghan Taliban fighters seem so bold and effective, while the Afghan National Police are so dismally corrupt and the Afghan National Army a washout?
When I visited bases and training grounds in July, I heard some American trainers describe their Afghan trainees in the same racist terms once applied to African slaves in the U.S.: lazy, irresponsible, stupid, childish, and so on. That's how Afghan resistance, avoidance, and sabotage look to American eyes. The Taliban fight for something they believe -- that their country should be freed from foreign occupation.
Did I mention this piece came out of The Nation Institute, folks? The reference to "African slaves" is beyond gratuitous, particularly when the implication is that the US trainers -- risking their lives every living second to help these people with training, food, arms, material, clothing, jobs counseling, health care FOR NOTHING -- are the slaveholders. Burn.
But the main point worth highlighting here is that last bit about the Taliban: that they, according to Jones, "fight for something they believe in -- that their country should be freed from foreign occupation."
ISN'T THERE SOMETHING ELSE THEY BELIEVE IN?
I'll defer to the words of a Taliban spokesman who put it this way in a January 2008 interview:
Q: “Recent reports based on the claims of NATO and the Afghan government say that in different parts of Afghanistan the Taliban are suffering great losses. How do you recruit new fighters? Do the Taliban have any strategy for recruitment?”
A: “The legitimate struggle of the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate is based on the true belief that we are fighting for the sake of Allah almighty. When a person holds this belief then there will be no reduction of recruits. When someone embraces martyrdom another will come forward and
fill his place. We are sure that there will be no shortage of recruits, because our goal is achieving the happiness of Allah and establishing Islamic rule in the country. When the goal and aim is sacred, it is for sure that there will be no failure, and the number of Mujahideen will increase by thousands.”
Q: “Mr. Mujahid, you said that you are fighting for the sack of Allah almighty, so is the struggle limited to Afghanistan, or if you get the opportunity will you take the struggle to the West?”
A: “Those who are in control of the Parliament [in Afghanistan] today had the same slogan [faced the same issue], but they failed. We will look at the circumstances, our responsibilities and abilities. It will become clear later.”
By August 2008, according to another Taliban spokeman, it had become clear.
Q: What is your view regarding jihad on the international level?
A: Jihad, as you know, is an important responsibility. Our Holy Prophet (PBUH) stated 1400 years ago that jihad would continue until doomsday. Jihad, which the Muslims of the subcontinent and Pashtuns have launched against the injustices and cruelty of anti-Islamic forces. If they had not committed cruelties, if they had not destroyed Iraq, there would be no fedayeen (suicide attackers). If they had not occupied Afghanistan, there would be no fedayeen. Similarly, if they had not attacked the tribal areas, particularly, Bajaur and Waziristan, there would have been no mujahideen and Taliban in such large numbers. This is also God’s will, who keeps jihad alive in different times.
The ongoing jihad against America and its allies is on one side. This has benefited Muslims as it has inculcated the importance of jihad in every Muslim heart. The anti-Muslim forces are on one side. They are under the name of allies. The Muslims are on the other side, under the name of jihadis. This decision has been taken by the Quran 1400 years ago (verses from the Holy Quran), which quoted God as saying when the anti-Muslim forces fight you collectively, you should also fight against them jointly.
In this war, Bush and Musharraf are standing in one row along with there allies, and in the other row Mullah Omar, the Mujahideen and their companions are standing. This will be the last war between Islam and Kafirs (infidels). This is a tough war because they (Mujahideen) do not have the support of any Muslim country in the world, nor any other Mujahideen. This ongoing jihad is harder than any other jihads, but there is still good news, as this will be and is the last war. And once the Muslims win this war, they can establish an Islamic government throughout the world.
Just don't tell anybody.