While the battle for Marjah plays out I want to go back and talk tribes with a post about one of the places in Afghanistan where the traditional tribal system is relevant – the border area with Pakistan in the southeastern provinces of Paktia and Khost. This area has been active all winter which is a departure from past years. This is not good news which makes reporting on yet another self inflicted wound by the US military more upsetting then usual.
Last month Chief Ajmal Khan Azizi returned to the Zazi valley. As I wrote about here his first attempt to return home had to be postponed after the local American army commander declared him an AOG (Armed Opposition Group) leader. The reason for this label is that Ajmal and his tribal police ran off the representatives of the Kabul government, sent to the valley a few years back, after those representatives tried to steal tribal lands and in one case, raped a male child.
The mission of ISAF includes the following:”supporting the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”. That sounds great on paper but is not always a good idea in practice. The representatives of the Kabul government have a spotty record. Some are good men who want to help establish a functioning state. Others are interested exclusively in lining their pockets and the pockets of their family with as much money as they can get; whether it be through bribes, pay for play schemes or outright theft. The initial political appointees to the Zazi Valley were sent packing back to Kabul shortly after they arrived. So now, in the eyes of the FOB bound military, the Zazi Valley tribal police and their leadership are considered AOG (just like the Taliban they are constantly fighting). Let me paste the correspondence between The Boss and the young commander of the closest Combat Outpost (COP) to the valley below so you can see for yourself:
Thank you for your message. Any development project in Jaji would be great, but I would like to ensure that it ties into the district development list/tribal development list, in order to ensure that the district leadership is not undermined.
Unfortunately, Ahjmal Khan Jaji is not a tribal leader at all. I do not want you to come into this environment thinking that to be a fact. Additionally, the security force of Amir Muhammad is an illegal force that is not endorsed by MOI.
The facts are that Azad Khan, the Jaji Sub Governor, has a great relationship with the tribes a focus for his district. The ANSF in this area (ANP and ABP) are a professional/legitimate force that does a tremendous job in keeping the best security for the people.
I’ve CC’d my higher HQ, as well as representation to Department of State and the PRT, to ensure that they are tied in to your work. Again, I would love to see development here, but I want you to have the facts and go through the proper channels before beginning work. Thank you for your time.
The Zazi Valley is in the southeastern corner of the Tora Bora Mountains; it was known as “The Gateway to Afghanistan” during the Soviet-Afghan war. The valley is key terrain which is currently under friendly control thanks to the efforts of Ajmal and his tribal police force. Steven Pressfield has an 11 part interview with Ajmal which you can find here. It’s interesting reading. Ajmal is a Canadian citizen, more fluent in the English language than I am and able to describe the enemy situation in his tribal area in clear, concise terms. He clearly is on our side in this conflict and wants, more than most anything else, some American grunts to move into his area to lend a hand.
The Boss sent a Ghost Team operative named Crazy Horse with the Chief to do the advance work for a USAID funded cash for work program targeting the Zazi Valley. The Horse is a South African who served in the British Army and is now a resident of Scotland. Like many British soldiers he goes to great lengths to protect his identity. Crazy Horse (his call sign from back in the day) asked that I not ID him by name so from now on he’s The Horse.
Prior to his arrival we had asked for a meeting with the US Army battle space owner at the big base in Gardez – that request was denied. But the army figured out that something unique was happening when they noticed large crowds gathering along the route into the Zazi Valley with their UAV surveillance platforms. Once Ajmal arrived at his family compound he stayed up most of the night with the senior members of the 11 tribe shura. The next three days were identical from dawn until well past dusk. He held multiple meetings with 30 to 40 elders from each tribal grouping which lasted around 50 minutes each. Ajmal displayed more stamina, leadership and drive than any one human should be expected to posses. These meetings are not something which you can just head fake your way through – they are deadly serious business concerning the future of the entire border region; and many of his followers are not exactly impressed by the American military or Kabul government. For them the alternative seems to be a better choice and at the moment it is the easier choice because nobody in the border region of Paktia Province is mistaking ISAF for the strongest tribe.
The visit concluded with an election of a new Chief for the Zazi tribal counsel. The tribal counsel includes Commander Aziz Ola’ from Jaji Midan, the Chamkani tribal elders, the Dinda Paton Tribal elders and the District sub governor who is from the area and not an appointee from Kabul. They elected a retired Sharia Judge from the Taliban days by the name of Kazi.
The border area of Loya Paktia which includes Paktia, Khost and Paktikia Provinces is one of the places in Afghanistan where the tribes have any relevance. The Zazi Valley is probably the one place in the entire country where a platoon of American troops could make a huge impact on the flow of men and material into Afghanistan. There are 35 Haqqani affiliated fighters there and four known Pakistani organizers which the Tribal Police would be more than happy to run off of if they received a little help. This could be a text book economy of force operation but it would take sending in a platoon (or an A team, or some other similar outfit) and leaving them there to provide actual security as opposed to leaving them locked inside a COP where they can talk about providing security via fancy story boards.
Yesterday I talked with a Washington attorney who had taken a leave of absence from his law firm to spend seven months in the Helmand Province as part of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. He had been an infantry officer while on active duty years ago but functioned as a civil affairs officer during his latest deployment. He told me that in 7 months he had spent a total of maybe 10 hours inside a vehicle and wore out two pairs of boots because they walked all day every day to all the villages around Nowzad. By the end of his deployment he and every Marine with him knew every village elder, every family, every child, and most of the goats and sheep who lived in the area. They knew them on sight, interacted with them daily and when a military aged male showed up in his AO who was not a resident they rounded him up immediately forcing the potential villain to explain why he was there, who could vouch for him as a legitimate visitor, where he had been and who he had been with. That is counterinsurgency and you cannot do it any other way then to be out with the people all day and all night and operating on foot. You cannot do COIN by patrolling in multiple MRAP convoys a few hours a day before heading back to the FOB for ice cream, pecan pie and a mandatory head count by the First Sergeant.
The battalion at the Gardez FOB called The Horse to ask if he knew why thousands of people had migrated towards “some compound in the Zazi Valley.” When he told them what was up they asked to meet with him and Ajmal when they headed back to Kabul. The meeting turned out to be a joke. A visibly upset major demanded to know why, if the Zazi Valley tribal police were on their side, had they not reported to the Americans the location of IED’s? Ajmal, by this time exhausted and barely able to talk, explained that they are not in the “sell IED’s to the Americans” business. Reporting an IED for the cash reward is a common money scam in those parts and increases the number of IED’s being made. The only IED’s the tribal police have seen were aimed at them and all those had gone off. He added that if they do gain knowledge of an IED cell on their lands they will bring both the IED’s and the heads of the IED makers to Gardez. The Americans remain skeptical, Ajmal remains frustrated, Crazy Horse who, like myself, has spent his adult life as an infantry officer remains heart sick and I remain pissed off. It is impossible to be optimistic about the future of Afghanistan unless the military USAID, State Department and all the other organizations with unlimited funding and influence get out of the FOB’s and join the Freerangers who live with the people.