Jean MacKenzie: war by other means

It is a famous axiom of military strategy that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” This GlobalPost special report looks at how economic aid in Afghanistan has become “war by other means.” It reveals how the “civilian surge” is struggling to succeed and in some places actually creating instability and inadvertently benefiting the Taliban.

Part one: aid as a weapon.

To recast the 19th-century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s enduring axiom of war, economic aid has become “the continuation of war by other means.”

Nowhere is this more obvious than in “The Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapons System,” released by the U.S. Army in early 2009.

It is a handbook for using assistance as a tool of war.

“Warfighters at brigade, battalion, and company level in a counterinsurgency (COIN) environment employ money as a weapons system to win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents,” says the handbook.

It continues, “Money is one of the primary weapons used by war fighters to achieve successful mission results in COIN and humanitarian operations.”

With the U.S. military escalating troops in Kandahar this summer, a development offensive is part of the strategy. In fact, the “civilian surge,” as it is being called, is already well under way.

A Channel Four News report on the role of Nato-backed militias in Khandahar:

Part two: arming the militias.

There is a whole new crowd of “security actors” on the Afghan scene.
Known, variously, as “militias,” “arbakai,” “defenders” and even the chillingly euphemistic “guardians,” these groups are springing up with U.S. funding and assistance in some of Afghanistan’s most unstable areas.

But, according to international experts on policing, the new quasi-military actors are more window dressing than actual additions to the security environment. They are intended to create the perception of improvement more than a real solution to a deteriorating security situation. These entities artificially boost numbers on the ground and allow local leaders to boast that they have matters well in hand.

But, in fact, some of the latest initiatives may actually make things worse, by bringing active insurgents into the government, by giving weapons and authority to barely trained local residents who may have personal scores to settle, and by further degrading the already fragile trust the population has in its government.

Part three: guardians of Wardak.

With his grey silk turban and bushy black beard, Ghulam Mohammad looks just like the Taliban commander that he was for many years.

To many critics what is less convincing is his current title: head of the Afghan Public Protection Program, known as “AP3,” a joint Afghan-American effort to bring security to his home province of Wardak.

Ghulam Mohammad himself seems a bit conflicted about his new role. When questioned about his former allegiance to the Taliban and how that squares with his work on behalf of an American-backed program, Ghulam Mohammad just smiled and shrugged.

“That’s my business,” he said.

With his Taliban past and his U.S.-affiliated present, Ghulam Mohammad seems to embody classically Afghan shades of gray — a mixture of both hope and peril — that make up a controversial component of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

Part four: the law of unintended consequences.

When a 13-year-old boy asked for admittance to Abdullah’s wedding feast, the groom thought it only hospitable to let him in.

He did, however, think it strange for this young, uninvited guest to be swathed in a blanket-like shawl, or “patu,” given the sweltering summer heat.

Rather than extending felicitations, the young boy darted into the center of a courtyard where the male guests were eating dinner, according to eyewitnesses of the attack.

Seconds later, a massive explosion rocked the night. Dead bodies lay on the carpets spread under the pomegranate trees. Cries and moans could be heard from the injured. Blood soaked into the ground in this remote village in the Arghandab Valley in Kandahar Province.

At least 50 people died in the June 9 attack, according to official estimates; local residents say the total was over 80, with more than 90 injured, including the groom. The June 9 attack in Nagahan was, by any measure, one of the worst of Afghanistan’s brutal suicide attacks, and certainly among the cruelest.

The groom, Abdullah, who like many Afghans goes only by his first name, and at least 12 of the men who were killed in the attack were members of a local tribal militia that sought to protect the village against the Taliban. The militia was also part of a little-known U.S. initiative known as the Local Defense Initiative (LDI) to arm local tribes in the fight against the Taliban in exchange for generous reconstruction projects.

Afghan leaders, U.S. military officials and tribal elders believe the boy was a suicide bomber sent to target the members of this U.S.-backed militia and the families who benefit from development projects attached to the militia’s service.

The attack seems to underscore what many aid and development experts believe is the peril of imposing military strategy into the realm of aid and development. The approach can often serve to create divisions and increase hostilities, these critics say, as it appears to have done in the horrific incident Nagahan.

Formerly program director for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting in Kabul, Jean MacKenzie now works as a journalist trainer and consultant and covers Afghanistan for GlobalPost. She has created a network of Afghan reporters who can gather news and information from all over the country, lending an all-important local perspective to coverage of the conflict there.

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4 thoughts on “Jean MacKenzie: war by other means

  1. Christopher Hoare

    The problem is fundamental to the creation of ISAF in the first place. UN missions in other situations have had a checkered history at best, but at least there has been a wider pool of expertise than the Pentagon to draw upon. Many people have commented that the UN and UNAMA should have been the lead organization, not the bastard created by the miscegenation of Washington and NATO.
    Aid should always be supplied as a humanitarian and developmental contribution — placing it in the hands of the military is certain to degrade it into a mere tactic, as is clearly happening here.

  2. DE Teodoru

    Ah, but now, we’re getting sooooo smart and showing up the Afghans by cutting funds!!!!

    So, the Empire seeks excuses to depart as its Death Star runs out of gas. Obama’s Karzia re-playing JFK-Diem 1963 isn’t going to go any better in the end. We could be manly and admit a very stupid mistake under a very stupid president elected by a very stupid America that on election day 2004 only thought of video invading diner-hour via TVnews of two gays in pastel tuxes kissing at their wedding, saliva string stretching from their separating mouths as they disentangled. That got administration of criminally insane Jesus freaks re-elected, exactly as the Devils Rove&Cheney assured us they would be. But Obama was supposed to be “CHANGE”! Alas he is only the innocent Dauphin of the “apres moi le deluge” Roi. What else could he do but lower his head for the guillotine for he knew nothing when he came in but what the Clintonistas told him to think. Of course, their game was to kill his presidency by 2012. Now, having destroyed the Petraeus/McChrystal presidential campaign by firing the campaign manager, McChrystal, and exiling candidate Petraeus to KabulHQ so he can’t campaign, the Clintonistas killed two birds with one stone. Hillary’s chop-chop lady, Congresswoman Lowey, drives the spike in Obama’s heart cutting Afghan funds to make him look really stupid. Yet she sure condemned Turkey for its outrage at Israel’s murder of 9 of its citizens on the high seas– that’s piracy!
    America’s brainlessly dying!

  3. scott

    I wonder if the UN was willing to operate in such a scenario. The Quran warns against the offering of conditional aid–so these people are wary of these arrangements. It also encourages one to accept money or something of value in lieu of losses rather than violence.

    But, to restate, Muslims are VERY wary of conditional aid. Even if some are willing to take the money, that doesn’t mean it happens without social approbation.

  4. Dieter Heymann, Houston, USA

    It is interesting that you mentioned Carl von Clausewitz. In the same treatise in which he aired his famed axiom about diplomacy and war he also warned the King of Prussia that armies do not like to be used for the personal adventures of rulers, an axiom that is seldom if ever mentioned.

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