Counter-Terrorism: Don't Piss Off the Locals

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October 30, 2006: A key element in dealing with irregular (or guerilla) warfare, is to make sure that most of the local people are on your side. Those who neglect this rule, whether insurgents or counter-insurgents, will lose. This rule can be found in any handbook on how to fight guerrilla wars, such as the Marine Corps's famed Small Wars Manual. But it is most often honored in the breach. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, US and Coalition forces have certainly committed a number of serious blunders that have alienated some locals. But so too have our opponents.

In Iraq, al Qaeda's heavy-handed efforts to get the Sunni tribes of Anbar province to submit to its leadership in the struggle against the government has backfired. The tribes were perfectly willing to resist the government, but resent outside interference, especially when it comes with a lot of strings attached. Among these was a much stricter version of Islam than the already conservative tribes were used to. So al Qaeda decided to force cooperation, by fighting tribal militias, and even bumping off tribal leaders. The primary result of this was that the tribes have more or less made peace with the government and formed a pro-government coalition among the largely Sunni tribes in Anbar.

One of the most important leaders of this movement is 41-year old Abd al Sattar Ftekhan, a leader of the Rishawi tribe. Although himself connected to smuggling and criminal activity, he has become the principal advisor to the Government and Coalition security forces in the province. Abd al Sattar's father was killed by agents of al Qaeda.

A similar situation is developing in Afghanistan. The Taliban's Spring/Summer offensive was largely defeated in the field, with heavy casualties. But it did permit the Taliban to take control of some areas, particularly those inhabited by sympathetic Pushtun tribes. Taliban efforts to strengthen its control over the tribes, however, backfired. In addition to torching schools, especially schools for girls, some Taliban commanders began killing local leaders who weren't totally enthusiastic about the new order. This led to fighting between Taliban and tribesmen. It has also led to orders from very senior Taliban leaders, including perhaps Mullah Omar, to "respect" the Afghan people. In one case a prominent regional Taliban commander has been flatly told to stop beheading people, or face serious consequences. At least one Taliban leader was "disciplined" to death. Over the Winter, it's expected there will be many heated discussions among Taliban leaders in Pakistan, over how rough to play in 2007.

 


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