The Afghan Police and the British Public; Are either ready for Afghan Self-Governance?

First, please read the attached article.

This got me thinking:

  1. At the NATO summit last week (19th – 20th November 2010), Cameron announced that all British forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2015 and, starting in Spring 2011 and ending in 2014, that domestic security would be handed over to the 50,000 strong Afghan police force. Meanwhile the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, argued that a military withdrawal from Afghanistan should be “condition based” not “calendar based”.
  2. Mao (amongst others) argued that insurgents can win asymmetrical war because their opponents are fighting on two fronts; against the insurgents and the public at home. This means guerrilla insurgents have the advantage because they simply have to survive long enough for western politicians to feel that their voters are not prepared to put in the time needed to win and so pull out.

Now consider the attached article. Given that Britain is increasingly engaged in conflicts that require political and social reconstruction afterwards, that politicians are clearly creating deadlines that suit the political situation in Britain rather than the military situation on the ground, and if the Afghan police force as bad as this article suggests, can Britain possibly succeed in leaving Afghanistan in a stable, self-governing state? The friend who gave the article to me said he was so surprised by the contents that he thought everyone should be made to read it, particularly because the state of Afghanistan’s self-governance is so rarely reported here, let alone that they might not be ready for it.

My question is – if Afghanistan isn’t ready for self-governance as suggested in the article but Britain is going ahead with the handover to their police force next spring and withdrawing in 2015, then is Mao right and the west can’t win an asymmetrical war because it’s not prepared to put in the time? Given that asymmetrical warfare is the British army’s current concern, why isn’t the media and the government doing more to acclimatise the public to the idea of long-term, peace-keeping wars? The public doesn’t seem to understand the complexities of the current role of the army, while the media propagates the public perception of ‘conventional’ war by only reporting new pushes into Taliban controlled territory or fire fights. There was little or no mainstream reporting of the recent elections on 18th November 2010 or the establishment of the first Afghan run blood donation service in Helmand in 2008, for example. Surely it would be better if the government and media could inform and educate the public of the realities of asymmetric warfare, so the public begin to anticipate a long term involvement. They might, consequently, be less surprised by the time frame needed to achieve military victory and restoration when the next conflict occurs. This might then prevent politicians assuming that the public want speedy troop withdrawal and give the army the time it needs to give stability to a country so that political regeneration can take place.

By Victoria Henshaw

3 responses to “The Afghan Police and the British Public; Are either ready for Afghan Self-Governance?

  1. Assuming that the public can be talked around to the idea of a long counter-insurgency in Afghanistan is assuming that a) the public can be talked around to the idea of being in Afghanistan at all b) the public care now (or ever seriously did) about the long-term outcome of the war. I don’t think either of those is a safe assumption to make, and neither do opinion polls.

    Afghanistan is now generally perceived as a futile, unwinnable quagmire, and nobody here really cares about the Afghan police, the Afghan elections or the welfare of the Afghan people; they just want their government to stop spending their taxes and their soldiers’ lives.

    Any attempted education about the commitment needed to win a long war will be answered by a war-weary populace with “we shouldn’t be there in the first place” – which is not at this stage a useful thing to say, but remains a pertinent one.

  2. I agree with Jeremy. I am not altogether sure that you could call Asymmetric Warfare the current ‘concern’ unless you mean occupation (as in employment rather than geo-politically), in that it is involving a significant number of mostly ground troops. Within five years most of whom will not be in the army incidentally.

    At present the Afghan COIN Centre, part of the Land Warfare establishment, is headed by a full colonel with a staff of about six to eight people. This one could argue, possibly demonstrates the level of priority given to the operations of this nature. In the long term certainly some victories, and not necessarily military ones, might be achieved. Health care and welfare benefits, education maybe, might be implemented in certain areas.

    No one wants the long term, although the indigenous forces on both sides will wait out and see what happens, then as usual, they will decide whom they are going to fight and whom they are going to fight for, if they have any choice that is. That is the nature of things in Afghanistan.

    As for territorial control, it is a pretty meaningless concept in this environment. The press may latch onto it on occasion because it is something that the public can understand, easy stuff like ‘take’, ‘pull out’ and ‘lose’ are ready if not realistic concepts; but I do not see the public as being interested any more than the press are in sending them an online message, one to the effect that there is a job to be done and it can be achieved like this, and it will take this long (or longer) because simply put (1) there is no UK political commitment to this unpopular war and (2) it is clearly unwinnable.

    Successful transition might yet occur somewhere in the world but it is not going to happen here. And as for lessons learned being applied in future conflict? You’re an historian, you are trying to make me laugh aren’t you?

  3. Forgive me for flying off-topic a little but Mao’s quote got me thinking about the whole winnable/unwinnable thing.

    It strikes me that when considering the possibility of success in asymmetrical war there’s a number of factors to consider: culture, aims and methods. History has kinda proven Mao wrong…ish. Bear with me during this example: The British in South Africa 1901-02 successfully subdued the insurgency by the Boer commandos but at a humanitarian cost unacceptable even by Edwardian standards. Importantly though, the Boers while driven by ideological factors were similar culturally to their imperial overseers. Thus, when losses were driven high enough the political will of the Boers broke. This can be tied to the aims, neither the Boers nor the British were fully committed to the absolute destruction of one another (although Milner did wish to Anglicize the Boer republics). In this respect the failed insurgency brought about a political compromise.

    Mao (and others) seem to have a narrow view of politics being that of organised governance. The Taliban, if anything like Al Qaeda, will have their own political concerns not least that of the divisive suicide bombing of fellow muslims in the mosques and markets of Pakistan. Politics is not limited to democracy. Rather I suspect the real factor is a case of which side can maintain the political will for longer. Clausewitz and all that. To assess that, factors like cultural homogeneity and ideological support come into play. This clearly does not exist in Afghan between ISAF and Taliban forces, but it does exist between the Pakistanis, ANA and Taliban forces. I suspect in layman’s terms ‘it’s better coming from them than from us’. Ironic then that despite the failings of the ANA and local police it is they who’ll hold the key to bringing this conflict to a conclusion. If they can win the ideological battle, then we’ll win the war.

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