forget it, jake. it’s the middle east.

the western world doesn’t understand middle easterners (or any of the peoples who live in the greater arabized region) — we really don’t. the headlines about iraq from this past week illustrate this — in technicolor:

iraq - sectarianism

sectarianism. yeah, right. as if the issues between the peoples in iraq are theological ones. (just like they were/are in northern ireland…amirite?! or in burma these days.) and then there’re these sorts of headlines:

iraq - isis

yeah. ’cause isis is badder than the baddest guys in the middle east, al qaeda. and that’s the only way we westerners can understand the world — it’s the good guys vs. the bad guys. white hats vs. black hats. the freedom fighters vs. the hussein/gaddafi/assad regimes.

here’s the war nerd on what’s really going on in iraq right now:

“The War Nerd: Here’s everything you need to know about ‘too extreme for Al Qaeda’ I.S.I.S.”

“Syria should have been ISIS’s greatest moment, but things didn’t work out for it there. Not because it was ‘extreme,’ but because it tried too hard to dominate the market against savvy local competition….

The local/universal tension is deep in Islam, which borrowed Christianity’s universalizing mandate. In theory, a Chechen who knows the Quran is as entitled to tell a Syrian what to do as anyone else. In practice, he’s a jerk, and if he tells you to do things a different way than your family has done them for generations, you don’t care how many verses he can quote at you. You’re pissed off.

“ISIS’s Syrian forces were full of loudmouthed young Islamic pedants, all heavily armed, and all eager to tell the locals how to live. It didn’t go over very well. It wasn’t about ‘extremism’ as much as ‘localism.’ ISIS was eventually forced out of Aleppo in favor of Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic Front — both every bit as extreme as ISIS, but with more local recruits who didn’t rub everybody the wrong way quite as much. Zawahiri chimed in from his hiding place in Pakistan to scold ISIS, saying in typically florid jihadi lingo something that amounted to ‘You’re gonna screw us up in Syria just like you and Zarqawi did in Iraq!’ His verdict was that ISIS should move east to Iraq, and Jabhat al Nusra should be Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria.

“Abu Bakr did not take kindly to this sort of provincialism. When you’ve been fighting for ten years, and seen pretty much everybody you care about killed, often in fairly gruesome ways, you don’t really want to hear a lot of noise about how local sensibilities must be respected, and corporate HQ back in the mountains of Pakistan must be obeyed.

“ISIS replied with a program of assassinations directed at dissenting jihadis, starting in January 2014. When they killed al-Suri (‘The Syrian’), Zawahiri’s envoy sent to settle the dispute, in February 2014, it was flat-out war between ISIS and every other faction in Syria. More than 2,000 casualties later, that feud is still simmering.”

what comes first and foremost to the peoples of the middle east is what is local. sure some people rally for their particular sects or movements, but first comes the extended family, clan, and tribe. half the time, local militias just say they’re al qaeda or isis or some other faction when what they’re actually doing is using alliances with those larger groups to further local goals. remember this about how it works in afghanistan?:

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….

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….

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….

“Nor that there was no inconsistency between being pro-government and pro-Taliban on any given day for a militia commander.

“highly local, personal, and non-ideological.” it’s not any different in iraq, i assure you. we don’t know what’s going on there. we really don’t. it’s all waaaay more complicated than anything you’ll see reported in the news outlets. and it’s not black and white in the way that we westerners like to see things.

one would’ve thought that at least our military forces would’ve had some clue about the importance of clans in the middle east — that’s why they’ve got anthropologists on the force, right? nope, as martin in his book (quoted above) revealed about our involvement in afghanistan — and as mark weiner explained in The Rule of the Clan about the u.s. military in iraq [kindle locations 542-550]:

“When we fail to understand the clan heritage of a great many of our enemies, their motivation for taking up arms against us in the first place will remain obscure.

“We also find ourselves in a far weaker position when we engage them in battle. In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for instance, winning the support of Iraq’s scores of individual tribes was vital to the success of the war effort — each tribe that supported al-Qaeda in Iraq or the larger insurgency substantially diminished the likelihood of a coalition victory. The Albu Fahd, Albu Mahal, and Albu Issa were particularly significant to coalition efforts in al-Anbar province, which includes the city of Fallujah, site of one of the bloodiest battles in the war. Given the complexity of Iraqi tribal alliances, one might have expected that American knowledge of the tribes and their individual social and political characteristics would have been encyclopedic. Instead, one of the earliest Department of Defense efforts to come to grips with the strategic value of Iraqi tribes was completed a full three years after the war began.

as the internet would say: *facepalm!* =/

what they should’ve all read, of course, was steve sailer’s “Cousin Marriage Conundrum”!

previously: “pshe-pshe” and misunderstanding afghanistan

(note: comments do not require an email. what is the MATTER with you people?)

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“pshe-pshe” and misunder- standing afghanistan

here’s a really interesting looking new book!:

An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict

“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:

“Britain didn’t understand the enemy in Helmand”

“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….”

from another article on sky news:

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.

previously: consanguineous marriage in afghanistan and kandahar vs. levittown

(note: comments do not require an email. helmand.)