Afghanistan: It's the Tribes, Stupid
Interesting to see US intelligence crawl out of the shadows again, this time making strong comments about Afghanistan. Like the Iran report back in December, this seems to be a sign of a growing political movement within the intelligence community, perhaps a reaction to the misunderstandings of the role of intelligence that led to the failure in Iraq.
After six years of US-led military support and billions of pounds in aid, security in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" and President Hamid Karzai's government controls less than a third of the country, America's top intelligence official has admitted.
Mike McConnell testified in Washington that Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control...
But the gloomy comments echoed even more strongly worded recent reports by thinktanks, including one headed by the former Nato commander General James Jones, which concluded that "urgent changes" were required now to "prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state".
General Jones's comment requires a little deconstruction: Afghanistan is not going to "become a failed state" - it has pretty much always been one. I would argue that it is not even a state at all, dominated as it is by tribal factions.
McConnell mentions that "Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control." There's your key. Rather than 'Afghanisation', it may be better to recognise that the 60% under tribal control is the key ground. Just as with Pakistan's NWFP, it's impossible to rule over these chaps in a conventional manner - so why try?
The way to bring stability is to support local governance networks and hope that security and development will mean that they in turn don't support the Taliban. Unfortunately that means massive amounts of troops and cash, not the paltry 30,000 troops or so under ISAF and the other 30,000 separately-led and counter-productive US contingent.
Force multipliers such as PNGs and AH-64s help, but do not solve the problem of space. To cover an area as large as Afghanistan you need a lot more than that. Can't find the stats but I'm sure that there was ten times that number in the initial occupation of Germany post-WW2. Boots on the ground.