Let's Stop Lying to the Afghans

Gen. David Petraeus, who collapsed while testifying on Capitol Hill just last week, now has another failed war on his hands. The flap that led to his appointment, and the resignation of his predecessor Gen. Stan McChrystal, might be the most fortuitous thing that has happened to President Obama in quite a while.

Before the row, Obama found himself at the precipice of the "stay the course" period. In the absence of any palpable successes in the theater, and with a full year before the troop drawdown is scheduled to begin, he would have soon faced loud calls for reassessment on the surge.

But because of the change in leadership, and because of the American public's supreme confidence in Gen. Petraeus, Obama has probably bought himself another six months. He also got the opportunity to demonstrate his command and resolve, two qualities he has felt a bit lacking of late, while eliminating one of his most significant potential opponents for the 2012 election. Not a bad day at the Oval all tolled.

Petraeus, as he inherits a counterinsurgency operation that seems to be failing outright -- consider the bleeding ulcer of Marjah, which was expected to be a quick, confidence-building success, and the recent congressional report "Warlord, Inc." documenting massive corruption used to protect the U.S. supply chain -- should begin to reconsider the war's current doctrine, even if it's within the confines of the president's objectives.

The success of Petraeus's Iraq surge, many argue, had as much to do with an ethnic onslaught that had run its course and local men deciding to band together to defend their families, homes, and neighbors, as anything that U.S. forces did.

Quietly, and against the wishes of Hamid Karzai and the U.S. civilian leadership in Kabul, the army has begun to build several models of something similar to the "Sons of Iraq."

Because of the fractious, tribal nature of Afghanistan, and because of its history of brutal internal conflict, the national police and army will always face distrust among the population, even if the forces manage to overcome their corruption and incompetence. A more indigenous answer to the security equation is likely required.

The Local Defense Initiatives (LDI's), previously known as Community Defense Initiatives, are the latest in a series of attempts at local, auxiliary security services. They're also the most indigenous and perhaps the most controversial. Previous models have required regimented training and substantial investment; the vision for the LDI's is somewhat more steeped in grassroots and tribalism.

The initial plan was for fighters to supply their own weapons, which would be registered with the federal government, and volunteer for the betterment of their local community. They would be selected by village elders, and would receive support from the community rather than direct pay. Community development grants, such as agricultural projects and revenues for roads or other infrastructure improvements, were intended as the sole reward for taking up the role of local security providers.

Karzai and Ambassador Holbrooke's resistance to the plan centers upon the question of allegiance to the federal government: what's to keep militiamen from turning into warlords, dragging Afghanistan back into years of civil war?

Presented by

Brian Till is a Research Fellow with the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the author of Conversations With Power. More

Brian Till is a Research Fellow with the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. He writes on foreign policy, the strengths and shortcomings of the millennial generation, and the perils of the digital age. Previously a nationally syndicated columnist, he is the author of a book of interviews with former global leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Fernando Henrique Cardosso, Bill Clinton, F.W. de Klerk, and Pervez Musharraf: Conversations With Power.

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