Afghan tribal rivalries bedevil a U.S. plan

The New York Times reports:

Six weeks ago, elders of the Shinwari tribe, which dominates a large area in southeastern Afghanistan, pledged that they would set aside internal differences to focus on fighting the Taliban.

This week, that commitment seemed less important as two Shinwari subtribes took up arms to fight each other over an ancient land dispute, leaving at least 13 people dead, according to local officials.

The fighting was a setback for American military officials, some of whom had hoped it would be possible to replicate the pledge elsewhere. It raised questions about how effectively the American military could use tribes as part of its counterinsurgency strategy, given the patchwork of rivalries that make up Afghanistan.

Government officials and elders from other tribes were trying to get the two sides to reconcile, but given the intensity of the fighting, some said they doubted that the effort would work. At the very least, the dispute is proving a distraction from the tribe’s commitment to fight the Taliban, not each other.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports:

A growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment, according to U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials.

The officials, citing evidence from interrogation of detainees, communications intercepts and public statements on extremist websites, say that threats to the militants’ long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.

As a result, Al Qaeda fighters are in some cases being excluded from villages and other areas near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where they once received sanctuary.

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1 thought on “Afghan tribal rivalries bedevil a U.S. plan

  1. Carl

    Given that US inteligence estimated there were 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan last year, the LA Times story sounds like pure propaganda. How much less support can they receive?

    I’m surprised McChrystal didn’t anticipate the Afghan tribal problem. Doesn’t anybody read the army’s own reports?

    http://www.comw.org/wordpress/dsr/study-of-pashtun-tribes-tradoc

    …In this report, the HTS Afghanistan RRC warns that the desire for
    “tribal engagement” in Afghanistan, executed along the lines of the recent “Surge”
    strategy in Iraq, is based on an erroneous understanding of the human terrain. In
    fact, the way people in rural Afghanistan organize themselves is so different from rural
    Iraqi culture that calling them both “tribes” is deceptive. “Tribes” in Afghanistan do not
    act as unified groups, as they have recently in Iraq. For the most part they are not
    hierarchical, meaning there is no “chief” with whom to negotiate (and from whom to
    expect results). They are notorious for changing the form of their social organization
    when they are pressured by internal dissension or external forces. Whereas in some other
    countries tribes are structured like trees, “tribes” in Afghanistan are like jellyfish…

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