here’s a really interesting looking new book!:
“Mike Martin’s oral history of Helmand underscores the absolute imperative of understanding the highly local, personal, and non-ideological nature of internal conflict in much of the ‘third’ world.
“‘An Intimate War’ tells the story of the last thirty-four years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In the West, this period is often defined through different lenses — the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.
“This book — based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pashto — offers a very different view of Helmand from those in the media. It demonstrates how outsiders have most often misunderstood the ongoing struggle in Helmand and how, in doing so, they have exacerbated the conflict, perpetuated it and made it more violent — precisely the opposite of what was intended when their interventions were launched.”
from an article by martin in today’s telegraph:
“I would argue that our performance – in terms of achieving our objectives – has been very poor. In the case of Afghanistan, and specifically Helmand Province, where the majority of our forces have been based, we have failed to understand the Helmandis. We have also failed to understand their culture, their history and their motivations.
“Most importantly, we have singularly failed to understand the Helmandi conflict. And to paraphrase Clausewitz, the most important thing to do in war is understand what type of war you are fighting. Many non-Helmandis view the violence through the narrative adopted by the international community. According to the ‘insurgency narrative’ widely espoused by Western governments, a legitimate Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), which is recognised and supported by the international community, is violently opposed by a movement of insurgents, called the Taliban, who have sanctuary in Quetta, Pakistan.
“Thus, the Taliban are religiously inspired insurgents who are opposed to the democratic and women’s rights that the GIRoA embodies and promotes. But this ‘insurgency narrative’ does not fit with my experiences as an officer. I went to Helmand several times (in and out of uniform), with appropriate gaps between visits for study and reflection, and this analysis seemed further and further from the events that I was observing and participating in. In my view, the Taliban are not the main drivers of conflict; and earlier periods, including the Soviet, the civil war and the Taliban eras, have been similarly misconstrued.
“Today, much of the violence is mischaracterised as ‘Taliban’ insurgent violence, when in fact it is not linked to the Taliban or the GIRoA, but is driven by local dynamics between groups and individuals on the ground. The Helmandis describe the conflict as *pshe-pshe*. This literally translates as ‘leg-leg’, but refers to the different legs of a tribe or clan (the English term would be ‘branch’). So, metaphorically, the phrase *pshe-pshe* means group-on-group warfare. It is a (micro) civil war….
“Currently, our ideas are largely based upon Maoist descriptions of insurgency; they highlight the importance of ideologies and organisation to motivate insurgents. The Army definition of an insurgency is ‘an organised, violent subversion used to effect or prevent political control, as a challenge to established authority’; it was from this that the ‘insurgency narrative’ was drawn.
“But this is not what took place in Helmand. The US and Britain were imposing a view of the war that bore little resemblance to the local understanding. The clearest example was the British ignoring Helmandis’ historical hatred (and related feelings of revenge) for them because it did not fit their understanding of the official narratives of the war. At the risk of over-quoting from the great Prussian master, they were trying to turn the war into something that it was not.
“These examples underscore the importance, when intervening in an internal war, of understanding the local politics – its actors, groups, narratives, feuds and alliances….”
“He [martin] catalogues in microscopic detail how first US Special Forces and then British troops were constantly manipulated by their Afghan allies into fighting on their side as part of local feuds and criminal enterprises that were only very dimly related to the ideology of being pro-government or pro-Taliban.
“Indeed, according to Dr Martin’s research, the two were often labels adopted by factions and warlords in need of material support from either the Nato forces or the Taliban.
“Early allies of Nato, ahead of the British deployment, were warlords who stole vast tracts of lands from other clans and tribes and then used their alliance with US commandos as a military lever.
“‘The foreigners must like the *topak salaran* (warlords),’ Dr Martin quotes a local as saying.
“In 2008, while researching Desperate Glory, it was abundantly clear that British intelligence officers had only the sketchiest notion of who the ‘enemy’ in Helmand was.
“They did not appreciate the difference between long bloody engagements fought in the heart of the drug processing villages with the sudden evaporation of Taliban fighters in the face of large numbers of British troops.
“Nor that there was no inconsistency between being pro-government and pro-Taliban on any given day for a militia commander.
“Trucking contractors charged extra for ‘security’ and would then arrange for their convoys to be attacked.
“Drug barons, very often Afghan police, would contract Taliban militia to deliver their goods to market in government-held areas while Afghan troops were conducting anti-narcotics operations against their rivals.
“That is the way in Helmand – a rich agricultural landscape which has been riven by decades of conflict in which survival is the only form of victory.
“The buying of intelligence on alleged members of the Taliban by US forces meant a market developed in denunciations.
“Dr Martin wrote: ‘I repeatedly explored the issue of faulty intelligence driven by feuds and vendettas in 2011 and 2012.
“‘The attitude of those involved is perhaps best summed up by one of the more prominent militia commanders, who was still working with US Special Forces in 2012, when I asked him if there were still any feuds left over by the false targeting of the early days “All those sorts of problems are solved now”, he said, laughing, “they (the people we targeted) are all dead.”‘
“‘He said he could not work out why the United States was “so stupid”.’”
military intelligence, eh? =/
perhaps not surprisingly the british military has tried to stop the publication of martin’s book. he’s had to resign his commission in order to have it published.
(note: comments do not require an email. helmand.)