The Washington Post's Greg Jaffe published Part 2 of a revealing series on COIN in action, the focus this time on the aftermath of the disastrous attack on COP Keating in Kamdesh, Afghanistan last fall, discussed here.
Keating itself -- indefensable, exposed -- was COIN in action, "nation-building at a local level," as a reporter noted in 2007. What's interesting (chilling) here is how even after the disaster waiting to happen happened -- the attack by 300 Taliban that left 8 Americans dead -- COIN just picked itself up and marched on.
NARAY, AFGHANISTAN -- Last November, Lt. Col. Robert B. Brown received an enticing offer from a mysterious enemy.
The entreaty followed a devastating insurgent assault on a small base under Brown's command in eastern Afghanstan. More than 300 fighters had attacked the outpost, killing eight of his soldiers. For the first time in his 19-year career, Brown had serious doubts about his future in the military.
The offer came from an insurgent known as Mullah Sadiq, who had been on the U.S. kill-capture list since 2005. Brown assumed that some fighters aligned with Sadiq had taken part in the assault.
Sadiq wanted 50 assault rifles, $20,000 and a promise that U.S. forces would not kill him. In return, he promised to turn against more-radical Taliban insurgents and to begin to work with the Afghan government.
What, no Brooklyn Bridge?
Sadiq's proposition gave Brown a chance, however tentative, to achieve a victory of sorts in his corner of Afghanistan and redeem the loss of his men.
"This has the potential to work," Brown told his commander....
This is so sad -- the understandable, if COIN-conceived (i.e., misconceived), impulse to extract something worthwhile from the rubble.
Brown, 41, has struggled to make sense of Sadiq, who insists on dealing with the Americans solely through intermediaries.
Assuming his intermediaries are Muslims, Sadiq could be acting on the Islamic belief in "najis" things -- unclean things -- which as catalogued by Iraq's Iranian Grand Ayaltollah Sistani included urine, feces, pig, dog, and "kafir" or nonbeliever in Islam.
Some Afghans describe Sadiq as a religious scholar and brave commander. Others maintain that he is a warlord and extremist.
Um, what's the difference?
"The bad guys aren't bad because they were born bad," Brown said from his base in Naray. "What no one ever teaches you is how to get to the bottom of the story. No one ever teaches you to ask, 'Why is Mullah Sadiq the way he is?' "
Sigh. I know it's tedious, I know it's like an old joke with a tired punchline, but we're back to the same old root of the problem: Our military has gone to war without assessing the enemy threat doctrine -- Islam. It's a shockingly easy fix: One day with attorney, decorated intelligence officer and Islamic law expert Stephen Coughlin could help Brown understand what makes Sadiq tick and why he is not ever going to help further US strategic goals.
Sadiq grew up in a poor family in Kamdesh district, an isolated valley of about 22,000 people. His parents sent him at an early age to be educated at a free religious school in Pakistan.
A bright student and stirring speaker, Sadiq was tapped as a regional commander in the anti-Soviet insurgency ...
Notice how the reporter glosses over that key clue -- that Sadiq was sent to be "educated at a free religious school in Pakistan" -- as thought it was no more remarkable than an American boy being sent to be educated at a free Catholic school, or something. Obviously, Sadiq went to a sharia-based madrassa where he learned jihad.
Sadiq's battlefield exploits and knowledge of Islam made him a power broker in the region, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. In 2004, he met regularly with a U.S. Special Forces officer known to locals as Sean.
"Sean was transfixed by Mullah Sadiq," said Col. Shamsu Rahman, a border police commander and Sadiq's brother-in-law. "He said he knew everything -- geography, politics, religion."
The piece goes on from there, a spiralling narrative of tribal antagonisms, rivalries and jockeying that, like a vortex, have sucked Americans deep into black nothingness. "We spent the first five or six years in Afghanistan making enemies, because we were used to settle political, economic and historical conflicts," [Brown] said. "We were pretty credulous."
The Taliban and Sadiq had long competed for the allegiance of fighters in Kamdesh, and the U.S. withdrawal [after the battle of COP Keating/Kamdesh] heightened the split. Sadiq wanted to allow long-stalled development projects to resume. The Taliban vowed to attack such efforts as part of a campaign to discredit the Afghan government.
The two groups exchanged emissaries and argued. "I am not supporting the U.S.," Sadiq told the Taliban, according to his brother-in-law. "There are no Americans in Kamdesh. I am supporting myself, my village and my people."
Oh, I get it (not really).
In December, the Americans gave Sadiq a few thousand dollars to organize meetings with the Kamdesh elders, and an Afghan official passed him some guns....
Every few nights, one of Sadiq's deputies telephoned Brown to work out the terms of the deal. By March, the insurgent commander had assembled an informal police force of about 230 locals, some of whom had probably taken part in the Keating attack. Brown arranged for the United States to pay the men about $25,000 a month until the Interior Ministry formally accepted them as police....
Brown could only guess at Sadiq's motivation for approaching him. Sadiq's religious education and his exploits as an anti-Soviet commander had helped him gain acceptance among the wealthy landowners in Kamdesh.
"If the Taliban were to dominate the area, Sadiq would lose prestige and his position," Brown hypothesized. Brown also hoped that Sadiq understood that Taliban rule would be a disaster for Kamdesh.
How about the $$$?
"Honestly, I am speculating about the motives about someone I have never met or talked to," he said.
In mid-March, Col. Randy George, Brown's immediate commander, met with Brig. Gen. Mohammad Zaman, the local Afghan Border Police chief, to discuss how to move ahead with Sadiq. Zaman's relationship with the insurgent leader went back to their days together in the anti-Soviet insurgency.
"Mullah Sadiq has no help from the government," Zaman told George. "He is not sure he can trust us."
Hmmm. Maybe more money would help. Think Zaman gets a cut?
Zaman offered to dispatch more than 500 Afghan troops to link up with Sadiq's fighters. The U.S. and Afghan officers made plans for a reconciliation ceremony at which Sadiq would declare his support for the Afghan constitution, Zaman would announce the return of Afghan government forces to Kamdesh and the provincial governor would pledge $150,000 in new development projects.
Your tax dollars at work.
George and Brown planned to stay away from the event. "I don't see us saying a word," George told Zaman.
Remember, Sadiq's men likely participated in the Taliban or whatever assault on Keating.
The Afghan general disagreed. Sadiq needed public assurance that the cash for reconstruction projects was going to arrive.
"Everyone knows we don't have anything," Zaman explained. "All the money comes from the Americans."
So much for the Afghan-Afghan mutual show of solidarity. Sadiq wants to see his cash cows, I mean, American friends at the "reconciliation."
In early April, the deal with Sadiq began to fall apart. Senior Afghan officials in Kabul banned Zaman from sending any of his forces to meet up with Sadiq's fighters.
"They are worried that we are trying to give Kamdesh district to the HiG," Zaman said. "They don't want us to give these guys a say in the government."
The hedging in Kabul also unnerved Sadiq, whose representatives immediately called Brown. "We are surrounded by 1,000 Taliban, but our government doesn't accept us!" one of Sadiq's deputies screamed over the satellite phone. He demanded Brown's help in acquiring 600 assault rifles, 16 Ford Ranger pickup trucks and two dozen machine guns and grenade launchers for the new Kamdesh police force.
Brown explained that the weapons had to come from the Afghan Interior Ministry, which was refusing to send any arms to Kamdesh. Sadiq's representative hung up on Brown in mid-sentence.
To get the deal back on track, Brown and George pressed the Afghan officials to write a letter to the central government in Kabul detailing the need to move forces into the valley and to better arm Sadiq's police force.
"After much cajoling, we have gotten all the Afghan players supporting the resources for the police in Kamdesh," Brown wrote in an e-mail in early May. Sadiq didn't get all the weapons he wanted, but he got some.
A new U.S. unit was scheduled to replace Brown's cavalry squadron at the end of May. He knew the next U.S. commander wouldn't have the same incentive to close the deal with Sadiq. Brown also had ample reason to question Kabul's commitment to working with Sadiq.
For once, I can't blame Kabul.
"We want this to happen more than the Afghans do," he said he often worried.
The reconciliation ceremony has not been held, but in recent days hundreds of Afghan army and police forces have been inching along the perilous road to Kamdesh to link up with Sadiq. Taliban commanders have been assembling a force to stop them.
Brown said he does not know exactly what to make of the maneuvering, although he detects signs of progress. "The momentum change has been significant," he wrote in an e-mail.
He expects to be home in Colorado in about two weeks. Kamdesh will be a new commander's fight.