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Is Afghan Insurgency is Becoming an Insurrection

#1
One British commentator in a liberal UK-based organization, FreeDemocracy believes recent events in Afghanistan suggest the "insurgency" is shifting to a more acute 'insurrection" in the sense that it is now not only the Taliban seeking to overthrow the Karzai government and eject the NATO forces but a much broader amalgam that also includes tribal, religious and other constitutencies.

Afghanistan: from insurgency to insurrection
Paul Rogers, 8 - 10 - 2009

A prospective change in the character of the Afghan war has momentous implications for the United States and its allies.

The Afghanistan war moves into its ninth year on 7 October 2009 - the anniversary of the day in 2001 when the United States bombing began, just under a month after the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11. The early weeks of the war appeared to show a rapid advance towards decisive military victory: intense US air-power and use of special forces combined with the significant rearming and financing of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance to secure the collapse of the Taliban regime.

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001

Bradford's peace-studies department now broadcasts regular podcasts on its work, including a regular commentary from Paul Rogers on international-security issues. Listen/watch here Even at that stage, however, the relief and acclaim surrounding the entry into Kabul was shadowed by suspicion that in many cases the Taliban paramilitaries were choosing to disappear from sight rather than being vanquished in a conventional military campaign. There were suggestions that this applied to the al-Qaida network as well.

An early column in this series made the point about the Taliban's tactical retreat, and concluded:

"There are also reports that much of the network has dispersed, and that many of its personnel are even quietly leaving Afghanistan for neighbouring countries to the north and east. A dispersal could last months or years. The level of local support in countries such as Pakistan means that network personnel would be almost impossible to track down. If the US does deploy forces in Afghanistan in pursuit of al-Qaida, there may be little to find" (see "From Afghanistan to Iraq?", 15 October 2001).

The termination of the Taliban regime was concluded with the fall of Kandahar in early December 2001, but sporadic fighting continued through the winter and then flared up on several occasions in 2002. By then, the George W Bush administration was fixated on its evolving project of ending the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq; as a result, Afghanistan receded from view. But the US army continued to maintain some thousands of troops in the east of the country, in the effort to end what was then understood as a relatively small-scale insurgency conducted by remnants of the former power.

By 2005, the picture looked very different: the Taliban had begun to make a serious comeback and the al-Qaida movement was entrenched in the border districts straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan. A seasonal pattern was emerging characterised by substantial violence in Afghanistan during the summer months, especially after the opium-poppy harvest was slowly gathered in, followed by a comparatively tranquil period in the winter.

In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here

Paul Rogers's books include Why We're Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007) - an analysis of the strategic misjudgments of the post-9/11 era and why a new security paradigm is needed. A third edition of his Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 2009) is forthcoming By mid-2006, there was increasingly bitter fighting in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand that engaged American and British forces (along with Canadian and Dutch troops). Yet even greatly reinforced numbers of foreign troops were unable to prevent more and more areas coming under Taliban influence.

In 2007-08, western military strategists became ever more deeply concerned that their pursuit of the war in Afghanistan was being undermined by western Pakistan's role as a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaida paramilitaries. The closing months of the Bush administration saw the beginnings of a US military "surge" in Afghanistan (on the pattern of Iraq in 2007), backed by the spreading use of armed drones and supplemented by heavy diplomatic pressure on the Pakistani army to challenge the Taliban in its old or new heartlands (such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and the Swat valley).

Zardari's promise

The Barack Obama administration, in the first nine months of its life, has followed the Pakistan policy of its predecessor. There has, for example, been a further rise in the number of drone attacks as well as in troop deployments (see "Drone wars", 16 April 2009). At the same time, the delays in responding to General Stanley McChrystal's request for an additional steep increase in troop numbers (perhaps as many as 40,000, which would take the total of foreign troops in Afghanistan close to 150,000) reflect serious discussion in Washington about the current "AfPak" strategy.

Several recent columns in this series have highlighted the difficulties facing the US military effort. They include the growing sophistication of the militias within Afghanistan (see "The Afghan dilemma", 4 September 2009); and the extension of militia activity to the north of the country (for example in Kunduz province on the border with Tajikistan) and to the takeover of parts of Kandahar in the south (see "Afghanistan: limits of military power", 18 September 2009).

In the past month there have been two further developments, one on each side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; together, these may determine the course of the war in the 2009-11 period.

The first is in Pakistan, where Asif Ali Zardari's government has been encouraging the army to escalate its offensive in the Swat valley offensive into a broader assault on paramilitaries in the key provinces of North and South Waziristan. The president's motivation is in part to secure a promised $7.5 billion in civil aid to Pakistan in 2009-13 from the US Congress; in part too, it is the Pakistani leadership's worry over the growing power of radical Islamists, seen in some elite circles as presenting a threat to the very viability of the state (see Jim Lobe, "U.S. Congress Approves Big Increase in Aid to Pakistan", IPS, 6 October 2009).

The Obama administration strongly supports Zardari's pressure for an assault; it hopes that a major Pakistani military effort plus the US's own continued use of drones to target Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida figures may weaken these adversaries (and possibly even lead to the death or capture of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri themselves).

The Pakistani public's opposition to Islamist operations (such as the suicide-bombing of a World Food Programme [WFP] office in Islamabad on 5 October 2009 which killed five people) is encouraging to the Islamabad government's anti-Taliban drive; at the same time, the more marked involvement of US forces within Pakistan - and the regular civilian casualties that accompany drone attacks - increases the popular anti-American mood (see Karen De Young & Scott Wilson, "Pakistanis Balk at U.S. Aid Package", Washington Post, 8 October 2009). For its part, Washington views the prospect of major Pakistani army actions in the Waziristans as greatly welcome at a time of deteriorating security in Afghanistan.

Kamdish's lesson

The second recent development is relevant here. This is the way that an insurgency centred mainly on the Taliban is beginning to be transformed into a more general insurrection directed at foreign occupiers and the Afghan government. A feature of this evolution is that the campaign involves fighters drawn from well beyond traditional sources - committed Taliban supporters and militias linked to warlords.

A notable instance of this trend is the attack on 3 October 2009 on two American outposts in Kamdish district of Nuristan province, near the border with Pakistan. The bases had been positioned in areas that allowed them to interrupt the movement of military supplies from Pakistan to Afghanistan, though the degree of local opposition meant that the US forces installed there had been unable to conduct extensive foot-patrols.

It nonetheless came as a brutal shock when local militias were able to organise a well-armed force of around 300 paramilitaries to stage an all-day assault which placed the local US troops under intense pressure - even though they had superior firepower on the ground and were able to call up close-air support. This meant too that could inflict heavy casualties on their assailants, but themselves lost eight killed and many wounded, with several Afghan police also killed and thirteen officers (and the district police chief) captured.

The great significance of the Kamdish attack is that the US army initially said that it was conducted by "Nuristani tribal militia" and that "the sources of the conflict in the area involve complex tribal, religious and economic dynamics" rather than the Taliban (see "US, Afghan troops beat back bold enemy assault in eastern Afghanistan", Long War Journal, 4 October 2009). This characterisation, if true, implies that the resistance to the US presence is not confined to the Taliban and certain warlords but rather is far more general.

The US army, perhaps aware of the dynamite buried in its early description, then claimed that Taliban and other elements "may have helped facilitate the attack"; this in turn was followed by another "clarification" - that this was actually a Taliban operation aided by al-Qaida's "shadow army" and paramilitaries linked to the veteran mujahideen warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

An ominous shift

The intensity and number of attacks in Afghanistan in September-October 2009 make it apparent that the American and British counterinsurgency forces now face an evolving insurgency rooted much more in local communities than in itinerant Taliban paramilitaries. The context of this situation is that many Taliban elements may be far more embedded in local communities than had been assumed - or that they are being joined or supported by local militias motivated to act primarily against foreign occupiers, rather than impelled by any fierce religious orthodoxy.

In either case, there are ominous signs that an insurrection may be starting to evolve. It may go quiescent during the coming winter, and it is possible that Islamist paramilitaries across the border in western Pakistan will be constrained by Pakistani army operations before winter fully sets in. But by May-June 2010, a clearer understanding of just how entrenched is the opposition in Afghanistan to foreign troops could be possible. If the insurgency does indeed become an insurrection, then whatever happens in Pakistan could be much less relevant than Washington's military planners currently think. Afghanistan's ninth continuous year of war promises to be decisive.

http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/afghanistan/afghanistanfrom-insurgency-to-insurrection
 
#3
The great significance of the Kamdish attack is that the US army initially said that it was conducted by "Nuristani tribal militia" and that "the sources of the conflict in the area involve complex tribal, religious and economic dynamics" rather than the Taliban (see "US, Afghan troops beat back bold enemy assault in eastern Afghanistan", Long War Journal, 4 October 2009). This characterisation, if true, implies that the resistance to the US presence is not confined to the Taliban and certain warlords but rather is far more general.
This is the meat of the above essay; the rest is just waffle.

TBH, I'd assumed that the Nuristan assault was a Hekmatyar job, but apparently there is a specifically Nuristani group (or rather, a Nuristani franchise of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba): http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=482

That said, SWJ is now saying:

Attack was not launched by a 'Nuristani tribal militia'

The US military has also backtracked from its initial statement that the assault was carried out by a "Nuristani tribal militia" and that "the sources of the conflict in the area involve complex tribal, religious and economic dynamics."

"Additionally, ISAF now believes that while the attack was conducted by local anti-Afghan forces, ... local Taliban and elements of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin may have helped facilitate the attack," the US military stated in a press release today.

US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal on Oct. 4 that the attack was carried out by local Taliban fighters under the command of Nuristan shadow governor Dost Mohammed and that the strike force was aided by al Qaeda's paramilitary Shadow Army, or the Lashkar al Zil. Elements of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin man units within the Shadow Army.

Read more: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/10/more_than_100_enemy.php#ixzz0TSQOLPMs
Nuristan's always been slightly different- for a start, the locals were only converted from paganism to Islam, by force, in the 1890s- so saying 'this wasn't a Taliban job' isn't really saying much. Haqqani and Hekmatyar have the East sewn up, and have always stood slightly at an angle from the Quetta and -more relevantly- Peshawar shuras. There's little new in this article to worry about.
 
#4
Rumpelstiltskin said:
Nuristan's always been slightly different- for a start, the locals were only converted from paganism to Islam, by force, in the 1890s- so saying 'this wasn't a Taliban job' isn't really saying much. Haqqani and Hekmatyar have the East sewn up, and have always stood slightly at an angle from the Quetta and -more relevantly- Peshawar shuras. There's little new in this article to worry about.
As usual, valuable insights RS. I was just curious, when did Islam have any major advance in terms of new "converts" absent the sword?
 
#5
jumpinjarhead said:
As usual, valuable insights RS. I was just curious, when did Islam have any major advance in terms of new "converts" absent the sword?
Thanks, JJH.

I'd say, off the top of my head:

1) The Ottomans in Anatolia & the Balkans (lower taxation can be quite persuasive to a hard-pressed peasantry)

2) Pakistan/India: spread by Sufis who the local Hindus, accustomed to mysticism, found quite appealing.
 
#6
Rumpelstiltskin said:
jumpinjarhead said:
As usual, valuable insights RS. I was just curious, when did Islam have any major advance in terms of new "converts" absent the sword?
Thanks, JJH.

I'd say, off the top of my head:

1) The Ottomans in Anatolia & the Balkans (lower taxation can be quite persuasive to a hard-pressed peasantry)

2) Pakistan/India: spread by Sufis who the local Hindus, accustomed to mysticism, found quite appealing.
As our wayward youth so quaintly say here, "You're the Man!" :D

Can you hazard a guess as to what percentage these 2 instances represent of the total of Islamic "evangelism?"
 
#7
Nobody has yet demonstrated that the insurgency in Afghanistan has been uniquely Taleban.

There has been, from the very beginning, significant evidence to suggest that the insurgency is being conducted by local tribesmen for a variety of different reasons other than an attempt to re-install a Taleban government.

This, however, has been completely drowned out by media over-simplification and political mendacity to equate the insurgency as purely a part of the global jihaad.

Afghanistan is in the throes of a vicious civil war with NATO forces providing support to one of the warring factions lead by the Major of Kabul.
 
#8
jumpinjarhead said:
As our wayward youth so quaintly say here, "You're the Man!" :D

Can you hazard a guess as to what percentage these 2 instances represent of the total of Islamic "evangelism?"
Depends on how you want to define 'converts' in relation to current practitioners.

Take an individual born and bred in the UK, but Muslim through parentage and ethnic origin. Do we count him as being 'converted at the tip of a sword' or one who practises it by choice?
 
#9
whitecity said:
Afghanistan is in the throes of a vicious civil war with NATO forces providing support to one of the warring factions lead by the Major of Kabul.
Sounds similar to Bosnia....would explain why Hairplugs (VP Biden) is wanting to go and bomb them for 30,000 feet, seeing how successful that conflict was ;-)
 
#10
whitecity said:
jumpinjarhead said:
As our wayward youth so quaintly say here, "You're the Man!" :D

Can you hazard a guess as to what percentage these 2 instances represent of the total of Islamic "evangelism?"
Depends on how you want to define 'converts' in relation to current practitioners.


Take an individual born and bred in the UK, but Muslim through parentage and ethnic origin. Do we count him as being 'converted at the tip of a sword' or one who practises it by choice?
Sorry-I was imprecise. I was referring to those "major" extensions of Islam over history rather than by accretion through inheritance and the like.
 
#11
whitecity said:
Afghanistan is in the throes of a vicious civil war with NATO forces providing support to one of the warring factions lead by the Major of Kabul.
Let's be optimistic. :wink: We've got:

1) The Panjshiris
2) The Farsiwans (Herat &c)
3) The Uzbeks
4) The Hazaras
5) The 'pro-Kabul' Pashtuns- a section of the Durranis? Karzai's immediate family? Fcuk knows, but they're probably our wobbliest and most attention-worthy element.

Anecdote: I had a very unproductive meeting a couple of years ago in the Afghan embassy with one of Karzai's minions- a Popalzai Durrani, and presumably one of Karzai's kin. He spent a large proprtion of our limited time together grumbling about a framed portrait of Massoud someone in the next office had installed in the hallway. Moral: even in Princes' Gate, we're working with more than one faction.

JJH, I'm really no expert and wouldn't be able to even begin hazarding a guess. I would just say don't presume Islam was spread primarily by the sword. In the early days, the Caliphs weren't too bothered about making converts, contrary to centuries-old assumptions; it depleted their tax base.

Islam's spread can be attributed to a number of reasons; local proto-nationalism (eg Bosnia); distaste for Byzantine Orthodoxy buttressed at spearpoint (eg Syria, Egypt or Palestine); or even simple social climbing.

And that's just looking at the 'negative motivations'- as a coherent worldview, or civilisation, Islam (as is practised, as opposed to its monolithic representation in tabloid journalism) can be very appealing. Anecdote 2: I spent a week's hols in the Fez medina last month, during Ramadan. Even my girlfriend, once she'd acclimatised to the lack of Muscadet, began to be seduced by the courtly hospitality, near-beatific calm and- hippyish though it sounds- tangible spirituality that life in a Muslim country can have.

Now imagine living for generations in a world whose rhythm is shaped by the call to prayer, where the schools, hospitals, universities, are Muslim waqfs and the key to social advancement is taking the shahada.

It could be argued that it was only the growth of mercantile capitalism that ensured the survival of Christianity in much of the Balkans.
 
#12
jumpinjarhead said:
Sorry-I was imprecise. I was referring to those "major" extensions of Islam over history rather than by accretion through inheritance and the like.
Ah! But be careful. What value does that have other than an academic argument?

Many Serbs and Croats, following on from ctauch, claimed that the Muslims of Bosnia were simply converted Slavs - ie Serbs and Croats - and thus were ineligible for political equality as an ethnic group.

Academically it's a sound argument regarding ethnic origin, but has no relevence in determining current political considerations.
 
#13
Rumpelstiltskin said:
whitecity said:
Afghanistan is in the throes of a vicious civil war with NATO forces providing support to one of the warring factions lead by the Major of Kabul.
Let's be optimistic. :wink: We've got:

1) The Panjshiris
2) The Farsiwans (Herat &c)
3) The Uzbeks
4) The Hazaras
5) The 'pro-Kabul' Pashtuns- a section of the Durranis? Karzai's immediate family? Fcuk knows, but they're probably our wobbliest and most attention-worthy element.
You need more than wink at me young man! :)

Just to demonstrate how naive, misguided and myopic the media (collectively) have been and how mendacious the politicians have proven to be, the world-renown hard-hitting in-depth-political publication known as National Geographic (?) described how one Pashtun sub-tribe was 'at war' with another Pashtun sub-tribe who had decided to ally themselves with the US military in their area. By default, this also meant that one tribe was 'at war' with the US. Each tribe simply trying to obtain maximum advantage over one-another whatever the prevailing situation.

If the superficial National Geographic can see it and report it in December 2004, where does that leave all the clever analysis and policy????



Rumpelstiltskin said:
It could be argued that it was only the growth of mercantile capitalism that ensured the survival of Christianity in much of the Balkans.
I thought it was just that the Ottomans were more interested in taxation than conversion. Those that convert were a necessary 'middle class' selfishly seeking advantage.
 
#14
ctauch said:
whitecity said:
Afghanistan is in the throes of a vicious civil war with NATO forces providing support to one of the warring factions lead by the Major of Kabul.
Sounds similar to Bosnia....would explain why Hairplugs (VP Biden) is wanting to go and bomb them for 30,000 feet, seeing how successful that conflict was ;-)
VP Biden was/is very much 'in the pocket' of one of the Balkan warring factions. His comments in that field were as objective as a Partizan supporter shouting from the terraces. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOnCLv2_AhI

I'm not sure the same applies to Afghanistan where he is probably kept ignorant (deliberately) of the realities thus preventing him from coherent and sound comment.
 
#15
whitecity said:
I thought it was just that the Ottomans were more interested in taxation than conversion. Those that convert were a necessary 'middle class' selfishly seeking advantage.
Oh, absolutely. I meant much later on- the Balkan Christian Enlightenment 'Counter-Reformation', or perhaps 'Reconquista': http://www.scribd.com/doc/8521754/The-Conquering-Balkan-Orthodox-Merchant

Trade-->Wealth-->Schools/Printing Presses-->Enlightenment-->Nationalism-->Eastern Question [-->Whitecity's livelihood :D ]
 
#16
whitecity said:
I'm not sure the same applies to Afghanistan where he is probably kept ignorant (deliberately) of the realities thus preventing him from coherent and sound comment.
and the joke has always been Military Intelligence is a Oxymoron...now your comment has me really thinking, well laughing actually.

Joe hasn't had a clear thought since birth...let's see...oh right his solution to Iraq was to "divey" it up into 3 parts along religious and ethnic lines, he even said that "is what the Iraqis want"...IIRC; that was even poo pooed by Achmed the camel groomer during an interview in Anbar province while dodging bullets from some AQ supporters.

No Joe is a moron and was choosen to make team Obama look smart :roll:
 
#17
Rumpelstiltskin said:
JJH, I'm really no expert and wouldn't be able to even begin hazarding a guess. I would just say don't presume Islam was spread primarily by the sword. In the early days, the Caliphs weren't too bothered about making converts, contrary to centuries-old assumptions; it depleted their tax base.

Islam's spread can be attributed to a number of reasons; local proto-nationalism (eg Bosnia); distaste for Byzantine Orthodoxy buttressed at spearpoint (eg Syria, Egypt or Palestine); or even simple social climbing.

And that's just looking at the 'negative motivations'- as a coherent worldview, or civilisation, Islam (as is practised, as opposed to its monolithic representation in tabloid journalism) can be very appealing. Anecdote 2: I spent a week's hols in the Fez medina last month, during Ramadan. Even my girlfriend, once she'd acclimatised to the lack of Muscadet, began to be seduced by the courtly hospitality, near-beatific calm and- hippyish though it sounds- tangible spirituality that life in a Muslim country can have.

Now imagine living for generations in a world whose rhythm is shaped by the call to prayer, where the schools, hospitals, universities, are Muslim waqfs and the key to social advancement is taking the shahada.

It could be argued that it was only the growth of mercantile capitalism that ensured the survival of Christianity in much of the Balkans.
I asked without any agenda but rather from curiosity flowing from my recollections of a comparative religion class I took as an undergraduate back when the 2nd Crusade was still underway.
 
#19
whitecity said:
VP Biden was/is very much 'in the pocket' of one of the Balkan warring factions. His comments in that field were as objective as a Partizan supporter shouting from the terraces. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOnCLv2_AhI

I'm not sure the same applies to Afghanistan where he is probably kept ignorant (deliberately) of the realities thus preventing him from coherent and sound comment.
If nothing else, "Eloquent Joe" adds just a hint of comic relief amidst all the real drama created by THE LEADER OF THE WORLD.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#20
SNIP
National Geographic (?) described how one Pashtun sub-tribe was 'at war' with another Pashtun sub-tribe who had decided to ally themselves with the US military in their area. By default, this also meant that one tribe was 'at war' with the US. Each tribe simply trying to obtain maximum advantage over one-another whatever the prevailing situation
SNIP

A sound point.

So: If the key tribal philosophy is simply to ally oneself with the strongest player on the block, what is to stop the US extending a friendly hand to all warring tribes? Of course, this requires putting operations on hold, a very carefully crafted and craftily delivered communications offensive and truckloads of bribes - I mean redevelopment aid - but is most certainly cheaper in both blood and gold than war fighting. In short, a strategy of reward rather than punishment. And co-opting the right tribes worked/is working in Iraq, did it not?

Moreover, even allowing for "holier than thou" attitudes among those warring tribes not allied with the Franks - I mean Yanks - I don't see how Islam can be leveraged against us in this war, as all the tribes (right...?) are Muslim, albeit some have been off the bacon for longer than others. So sorry, no jihad here, thank you.

(Hold that Nobel PP, as I am sure there is a catch somewhere...and I look forward to it being pointed out on this very thread)
 

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