How do you envision the war in Afghanistan ending? Or let me rephrase that—presupposing you insist on victory in Afghanistan, how do you envision the war ending? This is the question I posed to commanders and their staffs at a recent Counterinsurgency Leaders Course at Camp Lejeune. I opened with this not out of jest, but rather to literally challenge the Marines to come to grips with a couple of hard realities. First, like all Marines, I do not like to lose, and as trite as it may sound, I am still a believer in “Old Blood and Guts,” U.S. Army GEN George S. Patton’s exhortation to the 6th Armored Division in 1944, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time.” This war in Afghanistan is not about achieving a stalemate or an exit strategy; it is not even simply about transition. It is about winning, and winning through that transition. Second, we also acknowledge the conventional wisdom that cautions that we will not shoot our way to victory in Afghanistan. While the valor and kinetic operations of the American fighting men and women, our coalition allies, and our Afghan partners are the principal reasons for turning around a rather poor situation in much of southern Afghanistan over the past 2 years, it will still only get us about 80 percent of the way to victory. Given the porous nature of Afghanistan’s borders with neighboring Pakistan and Iran, the regenerative capacity of the Taliban insurgency, and our own plans to transition the security lead to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by the end of 2014, there must be some other angle we need to pursue in order to seal the victory in Afghanistan. For this we should look to what the Afghans themselves are saying and how President Hamid Karzai and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) see this conflict being successfully concluded. As such, we advocate the vigorous and robust support for the implementation of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP).
This article is the continuation of two previous ones in which my coauthors and I suggested some of the principal means toward achieving stability in Afghanistan and, in doing so, ensuring victory. To understand why the APRP can constitute that last 20 percent toward achieving our shared goals, one must first understand some of the previous failed or only marginally effective attempts at implementing similar programs.
In 2003 the GIRoA initiated Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Program with the support of the United Nations Development Program; it included a process known as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of armed groups. This initiative, though, was mainly focused on former soldiers of the Afghan national forces or Afghan military forces, and particularly those groups that had formed the armed wing of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (also known as Ahmad Shah Masoud’s Northern Alliance). In simplest terms, this process dealt mostly with those militias of largely Uzbek, Tajik, and Hazara ethnicity. It lasted officially from 2003 to 2006 and overall was quite successful in its aims of disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating these specific former fighters; nevertheless, it really had no effect on the rather large body of Pashtun fighters and, therefore, only negligible effect on former Taliban insurgents.
Then in mid-2005, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan started to assist with the implementation of the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG); this effort was specifically directed at those illegally armed groups that remained outside the framework of the DDR program and attempted to encourage them to lay down their arms and to reintegrate into society. While it has been operational through to the present, and marginally effective, it has lacked an Afghan lead and, therefore, true Afghan acceptance.
In order to correct the deficiency with Afghan “buy-in,” the GIRoA initiated its own program in 2005 known as Prugram Tahkim-e-Solh, or the Peace Through Strength (PTS) program, and appointed former Afghan President, Sibghatullah Mujadiddi, to lead the endeavor. While PTS has indeed made some progress with reintegrating low- and mid-level insurgents back into their communities, it has been equally criticized for not following through on financial and job-related promises made to the former insurgents; neither have the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and their ANSF partners been fully read into and prepared to honor agreements between the PTS and former insurgents.
Evolution of the APRP
With that background in mind, President Karzai suggested an Afghan-led reintegration and reconciliation program that would focus on gaining the support of the Afghan people through an emphasis on community recovery. He named a former Communications Minister, Massoum Stanekzai, to begin the planning effort to devise a comprehensive framework that would subsume all existing reintegration programs. While it took several international and domestic conferences (starting with London in January 2010, Lisbon in February 2010, and the Afghan Peace Jirga in June 2010) to establish the groundwork for the new program, the Prugram Milli Sulh wa Jazab Mujadad(the National Program for Peace and Reintegration) was announced shortly after the end of the Kabul Conference in July 2010, and an Afghan joint orderwas published in August 2011 to provide the policy guidelines for its implementation. An executive policymaking body, the 70-person High Peace Council, was named in late September 2010 with another former Afghan President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, designated as its head.
Each Afghan mechanism is closely partnered by civilian and military personnel from ISAF. (Photo by author.)
Meanwhile, in terms of the Marines and their coalition allies in Helmand and Nimroz Provinces (the area of operations that became NATO’s Regional Command-Southwest in July 2010), the Marines had been complying with initial ISAF directives that first appeared in October 2009 under the leadership of then-ISAF Commander, GEN Stanley A. McChrystal, and his newly established Force Reintegration Cell (F-RIC) led by MG Phil Jones of the United Kingdom. The close cooperation between the 2d MEB, the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team, and the Helmand Provincial Governor, Mohammad Gulab Mangal, allowed the MEB to issue its own fragmentary order to subordinate units as they and their British, Danish, and Estonian allies prepared to launch clearing operations in Helmand’s Marjah District. This close cooperation would prove critically important as the Afghan joint order delegated the responsibility for implementation of the APRP on the provincial level to the Afghan provincial governors. Furthermore, while the APRP was not officially established until July 2010, there were however dozens of semiformal reintegration cases that occurred in 2009 and the first half of 2010 based on local area agreements—in line with policies that had been promulgated up to that time by ISAF, the F-RIC, and by the Afghan Joint Secretariat—that had been established by ISAF “battlespace” owners, their partnered district stabilization teams (DSTs), and Afghan provincial and district-level officials.
Why It Will Succeed
So what makes the Afghan Government and many of us believe that this time around a new program can succeed where others have seemingly failed? Here are at least five reasons why we should have confidence in this current approach. First, the various groups of the Taliban insurgency are indeed tired of fighting (and dying while their leaders live comfortably in Pakistan), and the locals are exhausted of living in a war zone. This is corroborated by numerous interviews with locals who have ties to the insurgency and through sensitive reporting tactics, techniques, and procedures. Second, as former long-time Afghan aid worker Michael Semple told the audience at the EMERALD EXPRESS symposium at Marine Corps University, Quantico, in August 2011:
Reintegration is in the Afghans’ DNA. Look at all of the former HIG [Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (an Afghan Islamist political party)] who have reintegrated over the years back into society and into the Afghan government; look at all of the talented khalqis who are in the government and in the ANSF. . . it’s natural for them to forgive their fellow Afghans.
Third, most Pashtuns favor allowing their wayward sons, uncles, brothers, and fathers to return to society with honor—something very much in line with Pashtunwali, or the traditional code of the Pashtun. They support the idea of an Afghan lead and the focus on community recovery and grievance resolution. To those who claim that some communities who suffered under the Taliban; e.g., the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, and the Hazaras, will not welcome reintegration, the simple answer is that they will indeed support it if they see that it will lead to an end to the conflict.
The three phases for implementing the APRP. (Photo by author.)
Fourth as David Hunsicker, a Muslim and a U.S. Agency for International Development official working as a development advisor for the F-RIC, explained to a religious engagement conference in Kabul in late May 2011:
The Quran exhorts Muslims to work for peace, to forgive, and to rebuild their communities; the current program is built around this framework—it is not asking them to surrender, but rather to honorably end the conflict and to work to assist their fellow Afghans. It is very much in line with Islamic principles.
Finally, it has cross-ministerial buy-in and acceptance from the Afghan Government, from all of its security forces, and from ISAF. To this last point, both GENs McChrystal and David H. Petraeus championed the need to support the APRP, and in a recent interview the current ISAF Commander, Marine Corps Gen John R. Allen, urged, “Now is the moment [with reference to sinking morale on the part of the insurgents and efforts to bring them back to their homes through the APRP].”
Current Program and Challenges
This last point about sinking Taliban morale is critically important for Marines to understand so that they feel comfortable with robustly supporting the Afghan program. The reason why the APRP has full concurrence from the GIRoA, ANSF, and ISAF is that the Taliban insurgency is losing, they know they are losing, and this program is being offered to them from a position of strength. There is no sense of desperation on the part of ISAF/GIRoA, and if insurgents fail to accept the generous offer—principally the ability to live—then they should face the fact that an early death is more than likely what awaits them on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
So what exactly does the average Marine need to know about the APRP? First, that it exists, that it is Afghan-led, that it is fully supported by ISAF, and that it involves three phases. The first phase—social outreach—essentially boils down to just getting the word out to all Afghans and all ANSF. In turn, we are confident that it will filter to the Taliban insurgents. During this phase, Afghan officials on the district and provincial levels will reach out to and engage insurgents directly or, potentially, engage an intermediary at first. This phase lasts as long as necessary while talking to the potential reintegree (PR), but must conclude with the PR agreeing to the following: signing an intent to reintegrate form, filling out an initial survey form, registering his individual weapon with the Ministry of Interior forces, and having his biometrics taken. On the ISAF side, a PR will be placed on a 45-day restricted target list, but only as long as the individual demonstrates a sincere desire to continue with the process. Once all of these requirements have been met, the PR becomes a reintegration candidate. During the next 90 days he will receive a modest stipend (transition allowance) and some disengagement training to help him understand the importance of supporting his fellow Afghans and the Afghan Constitution, and at the conclusion, he will sign a reintegration declaration form and move into phase three. The last phase is the community recovery phase and will involve some type of practical opportunity for the former insurgent in the form of literacy training, vocational training, and/or possibly job placement. More importantly though, the GIRoA and ISAF will work to establish community recovery plans that these former insurgents may benefit from, but even more law-abiding Afghans within the communities will be able to take part in. In this manner, the entire community benefits, and we avoid the idea of some perverse incentive for the former fighters.
The major support structures needed to implement the APRP and the agencies to support those structures from the national to the district level. (Photo by author.)
While the provincial governor is the overall lead for implementing reintegration in his province, he also has many support structures that have been built or are in the process of being constructed. Each province has a provincial peace council, which helps to advise the governor on policies related to the APRP. He relies on a five-man provincial joint secretariat team (PJST) that is responsible for the day-to-day execution of the APRP. Regional Command-Southwest’s C–9 (Stability Operations Section) has the lead for support from the ISAF side, and they maintain an AfPak Hands member who partners daily with the PJST. Both the C–9 reintegration cell and the political office of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team work with the Afghan provincial leadership and help to connect the Afghans from the national to the provincial to the district levels in terms of support for the APRP. The C–9 has likewise implemented three initiatives peculiar to Regional Command-Southwest that were lauded by GEN Petraeus in May 2011: (1) the establishment of a training officer who works with all elements of the ANSF in the province, as well as visiting the districts in the province to ensure that all elements of ISAF and the ANSF are fully aware of how to execute support for the APRP; (2) the establishment of district reintegration advisory teams (DRATs) to serve as the day-to-day implementers of the program at the district and village levels; and (3) engaging the community of religious leaders (i.e., the ulema council) within the province to speak out in favor of the APRP at religious and community shuras.
Funding mechanisms and practical means for delivering community recovery benefits as part of the APRP. (Photo by author.)
Regional Command-Southwest has made a lot of strides toward helping the Afghans to create support structures for implementing the program, but considerable challenges still remain. First, ensuring that the Afghans have the capacity to man all of these support structures (particularly DRATs) is not easy due to the dearth of literate Afghan civil administrators. This also affects the ability to establish new literacy training and vocational projects, or even to add to existing ones. Second, ensuring that cross-ministerial agreement and support for the APRP is translated down the line from the national ministries to every Afghan soldier and policeman is still a work in progress. Third, the funding of community recovery projects with U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Afghan reintegration program funds is onerous and has not yet been fully replaced by the use of the International Community Trust Fund monies; i.e., the APRP funds, that will constitute the long-term and sustainable solution toward funding all aspects of the current program. Fourth, the capacity for the Afghans to take the biometric data for each PR is likewise not at the point where it needs to be. Finally, and possibly the greatest challenge, is overcoming the Afghan’s worst fear—that our overemphasis on “exit strategy” and “transition” means that we will leave them lock, stock, and barrel by the end of 2014. This is a strategic communications challenge, however, and something that can best be allayed by a national-level narrative that is pushed down to the lowest level and communicated daily—over and over again—through partnering of ISAF with ANSF and with Afghan Government and civil society officials.
How Do We Improve Support?
So what do the Marines need to know, and what do they need to do in terms of this program? I would argue that if a Marine unit is only worried about the security line of operation during its predeployment training, and once it hits the deck in Afghanistan, then the most they can hope to achieve at this point in the conflict is to mark time in place or, at best, to move the ball slightly down the field with regard to development of the ANSF—important, but not game changing. Marines should absolutely know how to maintain security, to kill and capture the bad guy, and how to be good role models for the Afghan National Army, the Afghan uniformed police, and the Afghan border police. However, if we really want to move the ball down the field and across the goal line, first we need to ensure that every one of our Marines understands how the APRP will contribute to victory and what they can individually do to support its implementation. There is a huge strategic communications piece in all of this; the Marines, by and large, will have the most contact with the average Afghan out at the village and district levels, and he needs to be equipped with the tools to explain to every Afghan with whom he meets the benefits of the APRP and about the strategic partnership that is going to be forged between the United States and its allies and GIRoA and the Afghan people. Classes on the APRP should therefore be incorporated into every level of training—from the MEF to the division to the regimental combat team to the battalion—so that Marine leaders and their staffs are already thinking about how they will support this program well before they deploy. Second, as I noted to the Counterinsurgency Leaders Course, not every Marine is going to have the privilege to command or to lead a unit in this theater, and neither is the only partnering requirement one with the Afghan army or police—something that is familiar and comfortable to many Marines. We need men who are ready to excel in areas where they might not necessarily be in their comfort zone; this is one area where some really hard-charging and innovative Marines—company and field grade officers and SNCOs who seek the opportunity to work daily with Afghan officials—can really make a difference. We cannot just give lip service to this program; i.e., agree that it is important but then not source it properly. If we recognize that it is indeed the key to that last 20 percent to achieving victory, then we need to place the requisite human capital against it for partnering with DRATs, for developing ideas in cooperation with Afghan officials to offer practical opportunities in the way of community recovery projects, and for working through administrative and financial hurdles that will surely challenge the implementation of the program. Whatever it takes to win!
1. ANSF is comprised of all Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior forces, essentially equating to the army and the police.
2. We define victory as basically the strategic purpose outlined in the Helmand Plan 2011–2014. In other words:
By the end of 2014, GIRoA has the capacity to independently control, employ, and maintain state institutions to ensure the insurgency, narco-networks, and criminality effects are reduced to a point where they do not pose a threat to the sustainability of GIRoA’s provision of governance to the Helmand population.
This purpose could equally apply to all of Afghanistan.
3. “Victory in Afghanistan” with CWO5 Terry Walker, USMC(Ret), Marine Corps Gazette, July 2010, advocated a Marine Corps approach toward training the Afghan uniformed police, and “The Mullah Engagement Program” with Center of Naval Analyses field analyst Patricio Asfura-Heim, Marine Corps Gazette, January 2011 online edition, described the work being done by military and civilian personnel in Regional Command-Southwest to counter the Taliban narrative with the support of the Afghan mullahs or religious leaders.
4. The DIAG has achieved 54,138 weapons turned in and 759 groups disbanded according to United Nations Development Program’s DIAG Annual Project Report for 2010.
5. While the Afghans do not differentiate between these two concepts, essentially lacking a Dari or Pashto term for reintegration, and preferring to think of the entire effort as a means to “make Afghanistan whole once again,” the ISAF coalition distinguishes between reconciliation; i.e., efforts by the GIRoA to convince Taliban senior leadership to end the insurgency, and reintegration; i.e., efforts by ISAF forces and their GIRoA counterparts to encourage low- to mid-level insurgents to leave the battlefield formally, to renounce violence, to support the Afghan Constitution, and to return to their communities. Marines will focus exclusively on supporting the reintegration effort.
6. The original Dari name given to the APRP.
7. Here the term “joint” indicates that this order has received cross ministerial approval by President Karzai, the head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Interior, and the Head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS). It is also supported by all elements of the ISAF.
8. Bahrain, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Tonga, and the United Kingdom.
9. Operational MOSHTARAK (Operation TOGETHER) was launched in February 2010 to clear the Nad Ali District’s section known as Marjah of insurgent activity. Marjah would later be named its own district by an Afghan Presidential Decree.
10. The Joint Secretariat is led by Minister Massoum Stanekzai and comprises an interagency body with representation from the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, NDS, IDLG (the Directorate responsible for provincial government), ISAF, and other GIRoA ministries, as required. In short, these are the day-to-day national-level action officers for implementing the APRP.
11. DSTs typically refer to the civilian advisors from the British Stabilisation Unit, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture who lead the effort in a district along the governance and economic development lines of operation.
12. The principal Taliban insurgent group in the south and southwest is the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Haqqani Network operates mainly in the east and is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, and the HIG operates primarily in the north under the leadership of the former mujahed and warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
13. A reference to the former Communist Khalq (and Parcham) parties that were active during the 1960s through the 1980s. In fact, the very capable Helmand Provincial Governor Mangal is a former Khalqi, as is Minister Massoum Stanekzai.
14. Ulema literally “scientists” or scholars. ‘Alim is the singular form.
15. Shura is the traditional Islamic assembly.