Sunday, December 21, 2008

And The Winner Is... Substance

I differed with Andrew Exum of Abu Mukuwama in my review of Nir Rosen's article in Rolling Stone detailing his "embed" with the Taliban, which turned out to be, I thought, totally lacking in substance. It was more a tale of how his life was in danger as he was shuttled about by "Taliban" underlings. He in no way delved into the subjects that Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi journalist who is published in The Guardian this week, plumbed thoroughly. Ghaith Abdul Ahad blows Rosen clean out of the water and shows Rolling Stone up for the pop outlet that it is, rather than a serious source of information.

Ghaith Abdul Ahad has produced an excellent look at some insurgents who have their act together. They know what they are doing. Read the article for a quick course in Insurgency 101. Qomendan Hemmet is the real deal. Qomendan is a spelling of a word in Dari that sounds to me like "Commandan" and means, "Commander" or "Commandant" depending on the usage. It is a title, not a name. Often Afghans in government service will refer to a commander as "Qomendan Sahib" as a way of being respectful of a commander. The Talib Qomendan explains the simplicity of the message that he is carrying and illustrates the difficulties facing the coalition in his area, which is in Wardak Province. Wardak borders Kabul Province to the west and southwest, and has been an area that has become more and more a focus of violence since 2007.

It doesn't matter what the location, though. Hemmet explains to Ghaith Abdul Ahad in relative detail how his insurgency is working and what his aims are. Is he cocky? Sure. You could say that he is cocksure of himself; or of his enemy's inability to block him in the achievement of his goals, which are simple and clear.

"The Americans have installed hundreds of Afghan policemen, they patrol the street all the time, but they can't control it." ~ Qomendan Hemmet

This is the message of the Taliban; it is simple, it is clear, and it is easier to give as an impression than it is to thoroughly disprove as a fact. That, my friends, is IO that is consistent with operations, goals, and capabilities. They mean what they say, they say what they mean, and they do what they say.

There is more consistency with a directly focused insurgency.

Mullah Muhamadi, one of Hemmet's men, arrived later wearing a long leather jacket and a turban bigger than all the others. "This is not just a guerrilla war, and it's not an organised war with fronts," he said. "It's both." He went on to explain the importance the Taliban attached to creating a strong administration in the areas it held: "When we control a province we need to provide service to the people. ~ Ghaith Abdul Ahad, The Guardian

This is echoed by another Talib in Ghazni. Sounds like these guys have read Galula, and whether or not they know it, they are students of Mao. Establish a shadow government and prove their legitimacy by providing service to the people. Outgovern the government. A discussion of whether and how they are achieving this goal is another subject, but there are definitely gaps in the government's legitimacy large enough for shadow organizations, like courts, to provide such services to the people.

"The main two problems we deal with in the Taliban courts are bandits and land disputes," Abdul Halim went on. "When we solve these problems we win the hearts of the people." ~ Maulawi Abdul Halim, quoted by Gaith Abdul Ahad, The Guardian

There was nothing nearly so illuminating in Rosen's piece. We are jaded with "hearts and minds," but the Taliban are living it. Those of us who have seen the shortcomings of the government of the IRoA at ground level know what the weak points are; the failures to govern effectively that have left the door open to the hated Taliban. Between these failures and the failures on the part of NATO and ISAF to effectively mentor the fledgling government to overcome these shortfalls and our failure to live up to our promises as far as reconstruction is concerned leave Afghans willing to consider alternate governance. But the Taliban?

Even the Taliban realize that they have a PR problem, and they address it.

"We went from the jihad to the government and now we are in the jihad again. We have learned from the mistakes we committed. Lots of our leaders have experience in the jihad and in the government. The leaders are the same leaders but the fighters are new and they don't want to be like those who ruled and committed mistakes." ~ Abdul Halim, quoted by Ghaith Abdul Ahad, The Guardian

These guys are not idiots. They know an opportunity to present their case when they see it. Sure, Ghaith Abdul Ahad and The Guardian provided them an outlet. I'm not slamming them for that at all. On the contrary, all of the stuff that I and others have been saying about insurgents, insurgency, counterinsurgency and the state of things in Afghanistan are being confirmed here from the other side. Yes, the Taliban got to paint their picture, but this article is valuable in shedding some light on the fact that these guys are no slackers, nor are they mysterious unbeatable Taliban. They are still Taliban.

These Taliban are also telling us how to beat them. It's all there; and it sounds a lot like what veterans of the campaign have been saying. No deep imponderables... except how to master ourselves.

Nir Rosen's bit in Rolling Stone had all the depth of a small soap dish. In fact, his inability to correctly identify the NATO member country whose armored vehicles roared past his position on Highway 1 was only one indication of the overall weakness of his portrayal of the situation and the insurgents. It was a story of personal intrigue, not an article of substance about the insurgents or insurgency. Ghaith Abdul Ahad did an actual work of journalism, and the difference between two articles that are so similar in intent is a world in breadth.

Two similarly themed articles; one in a newspaper, one in a flashy pop magazine, and the winner is the one with substance.

Rolling Stone really stepped on it. They should have hired Ghaith Abdul Ahad.


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/22/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. Strange how letters formed into words will have such a lasting effect on those who read them. But I'm pretty fond of those I've had the pleasure to read. See, I realize the importance of the written words... and even the unwritten ones.
    Especially coming from a man whose moniker is "Wordsmith". Which I've been told originated from Burt, not Big M O.
    Reckon your words have substance, too, I don't think you could ever be accused of writing "drivel". Just sayin...

  3. So true. I hope someone mentions this to Obama, since he wants to put more of our precious men into harms way. With General Petraeus overseeing things now, I feel more comfortable, but I just can't shake that doubt I have about Obama. Let us pray.


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