"…facet of the Iraq strategy that McKiernan doubts can be duplicated in Afghanistan is the US military’s programs to recruit tribes to oppose insurgents. That effort, begun in 2006 in Iraq’s Anbar province, led a loose coalition of tribes to turn against the Sunni insurgent group al Qa’ida in Iraq and side with the U.S. military. It was expanded in early 2007 in a U.S. military effort to hire local tribesmen and former insurgents to serve as armed guards in their neighborhoods. In Iraq, nearly 100,000 of the volunteers, primarily Sunnis, are on the job. " Wash Post
"Tribal engagement in Afghanistan is also vital, McKiernan said, but it must be carried out through the Afghan government and not by the U.S. military.
"I don’t want the (US?) military to be engaging the tribes," he said. Given Afghanistan’s complicated system of rival tribes and ethnic groups and the recent history of civil war, allying with the wrong tribe risks rekindling internecine conflict, he said. "It wouldn’t take much to go back to a civil war." " Wash Post
General McKiernan is someone deserving of respect. He was the coalition ground force commander for the invasion of Iraq. His principled resistance to Rumsfeld’s demands for an excessively small troop list for Iraq was impressive.
There clearly are not enough US ground troops in Afghanistan. The lack of enough force is limiting action severely and causing troops to be spread across the landscape in such a way that tactical risk is markedly increased. The same phenomenon increases reliance on air power for the fire support needed to redeem bad situations.
Nevertheless, I think McKiernan is looking at the situation in Afghanistan in an unrealistic way.
Afghanistan is a country dominated by tribal loyalties and structures. No matter what the State Department or his political scientist advisers may tell him, those loyalties and lifeways are not going to change much any time soon. The US government is rotten with the political science inspired notion that societies evolve and "progress" in the direction of the creation of geographically logical centralized states. This is merely a theory. It was created to provide a satisfactory (to some)explanation of European history.
The Afghan government of today is merely one of the many "players" in the complex socio-political situation in Afghanistan. If the United States backs the Karzai government with the idea of creating a highly centralized state in Afghanistan, then it is going down the road to re-creating the same social chaos that led to several years of ferocious tribal and factional revolt in Iraq.
Afghanistan is never going to be the kind of country that the neocons would like to see. Success in Afghanistan will require a realistic use (manipulation if you prefer) of the actual playing pieces on the board of Afghan Chess.
Can the existing Afghan government adequately engage its tribal and clan competitors and adversaries? I doubt it. The ability to coordinate the efforts of varied tribal entities often depends on a certain independence of interest.
TE Lawrence is back in fashion. We seem to have missed this lesson that his example teaches. pl