Will Militias Save Afghanistan or Doom It?

Pros and cons of the U.S. initiative to support local anti-Taliban militias

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The U.S. is supporting the rise of anti-Taliban militias in the country's destitute south and east, the New York Times' Dexter Filkins reports. The strategy, which U.S. officials are calling the "Community Defense Initiative," is meant to spur an organic, popular uprising against the Taliban insurgency. But the militias are not without risk. Are we plowing the way to stability at last, or undermining it?

  • Our Best Option Time's Joe Klein sees this strategy as "the only way the situation can be stabilized." He writes, "This is important because the weakest link in the military's Afghan plan is the idea that we can train a 250,000 man Afghan army and 150,000 police officers. It's important to train up some organized security forces, especially for the more urban areas. But Afghanistan is a land of a thousand remote valleys and those are best defended by their residents, as they always have been."
  • Bad for Civil Society The American Prospect's Adam Serwer argues that militias shouldn't be relied on as a long-term solution. "The problem is though, that at some level part of the goal is to leave Afghanistan with a stable civil society, something that militias aren't exactly conducive to. This is, at best, a stopgap measure," he writes. "The risk of this not working that well is pretty high, which is why Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak seemed so lukewarm on the whole 'militia' idea when discussing this kind of approach months ago. It's not like this hasn't been tried before."
  • Full U.S. Support Commentary's Abe Greenwald underscores the importance of long-term presence by U.S. forces. "In Iraq, the Sunnis realized that coalition forces were a) the strong horse, and b) sticking around." Greenwald worries that even the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal could frighten off the militias. "If in reality our resolve proves to be uncertain then we will have squandered an invaluable gift."
  • Didn't Work in the 1980s The Guardian's Jon Boone warns that militias aren't exactly easy to govern. "[T]he prospect of re-empowering militias after billions of international dollars were spent after the US-led invasion in 2001 to disarm illegally armed groups alarms many experts. Senior generals in the Afghan ministries of interior and defence are also worried about what they see as a return to the failed strategies of the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan. Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said the US risked losing control over groups which have in the past turned to looting shops and setting up illegal road checkpoints when they lose foreign support."
  • Unpopular Taliban Powerline's Paul Mirengoff thinks the Taliban is inspiring a popular backlash in our favor. "The Taliban proved itself to be a vicious, blood-thirsty lot when it held power prior to 9/11. There is no evidence that it has changed and there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that it has not. Thus, it's quite plausible to believe that the Taliban is vulnerable to a large-scale tribal rebellion like the Sunni uprising in Iraq."
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