Mideast ethnic divisions keep tribal troops unteachable
With Congress set to reconvene for the lame-duck session on Nov. 14, support for the Obama administration’s anti-ISIS strategy will be up.
Now that we are “at war with ISIS,” Congress passed a resolution to allow the Pentagon to “train and equip” Syrian “moderate” rebel forces. At the White House, the United Nations, and in speeches to the nation, President Obama has emphasized “training” of Syrian, Afghanistan and Iraqi troops to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, also called the Islamic State, as well as al Qaeda, Khorasan and other terrorist groups.
“Training” is a myth. U.S. troops are devoted and committed to their mission after nine weeks of basic training, or “boot camp.” Our men and women in uniform are ready to fight to the death as soon as they take the field. Yet we have been training in Afghanistan and Iraq for 13 years and spent more than $2 trillion on the wars. The issue is not training; it’s loyalty.
According to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, as of late last year, only two brigades out of 23 in Afghanistan are “combat ready.” One U.S. trainer in Afghanistan told us, “They are unteachable, untrustable and untrainable. They can kill you at any time.” He added that they pretend they are loyal and then they are talking with their Taliban friends. He said, “When mortars were coming in, Afghan soldiers would be on the roof on their cellphones saying where to aim, “To the left, to the left.”
Afghan and Iraqi soldiers have run from al Qaeda, the Taliban and advances of the Islamic State. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell stated that the “Iraqi army has turned and fled when Mosul and other major cities were attacked.” Even before ISIS attacked Mosul, 300 troops were deserting daily. From 2012 to 2014, more than one in 10 U.S. deaths were attributed to Afghan Security Forces, according to the Pentagon. On Sept. 22, three Afghan troops disappeared from a training site in the United States and were captured escaping to Canada.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai slammed the United States in his farewell speech on Sept. 23, asserting that Afghan citizens “are the sacrificial lambs and victims,” and that the U.S. “failed to match its words with actions.” He refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay because we insisted on “immunity” when the CIA and U.S. military murdered and tortured. The State Department reported as far back as 2006 that 75 percent of Iraqis would “feel safer if the U.S. and other foreign forces left.” Yet, on Sept. 30, we signed an agreement with new Afghan leaders to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. media have nearly ignored this development.
Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, as well as local tribal divisions, have agendas based on centuries of conflict. We do not know who the “good” or “moderate” opposition really is regardless of “vetting.” The family spokesman for beheaded journalist Steven Botloff, as well as Botloff’s mother, said on CNN that one of the Syrian “moderate” groups had sold Sotloff to the Islamic State for $50,000. ISIS then beheaded him. She said the “policymakers” are “ignoring” these facts.
In a tape released to Al Jazeera in 2004, Osama bin Laden said it was “easy to provoke and bait this administration. All we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note.” We have fallen for the trap set by ISIS.
The other big flaw in U.S. strategy is neglect of the illicit narcotics economy that funds terrorists throughout the Middle East. On Sept. 15, the Presidential Determination on Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries stated: “For the third consecutive year” in Afghanistan, “which has the world’s largest opium poppy cultivation, cultivation increased.” Afghanistan has become a narco-state — the No. 1 world opium and heroin producer. Ninety percent of the world’s opium is produced there.
According to the U.N., “50 percent of Afghan opiates are trafficked via Iran” — a nuclear nemesis — with roughly “35 percent via Pakistan”— our “ally” — whose bad guys hid bin Laden.
The administration needs a “Plan Afghanistan” similar to Plan Colombia, which reduced terrorist attacks by 79 percent in that nation, the No. 1 coca-producing country in the world, by reducing coca cultivation. According to the president’s report, Afghanistan’s opium is grown in “less than 3 percent of farmable land; nearly 10 times more is devoted to wheat production.” The U.S. should be supporting the non-drug economy.
The administration has refused to acknowledge the myth of “training” and the rise of the narco-state. Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, chairman of the Out of Iraq and Afghanistan Caucus, told us that the answer to fighting the Islamic State and terrorism is “international cooperation,” especially “from the region.” On that, the administration agrees and needs to make it happen in more than words. Following the same failed policy in Syria as we’ve carried out in Afghanistan and Iraq will only drag us deeper into Middle East conflicts caused by volatile and fractured ethnic and religious feuds.
Robert Weiner is former spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office and the House Government Operations Committee. Joseph Abay is senior international policy analyst for Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.