Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

Bringing Back the ’80s: Passing out guns in Afghanistan

Thesis: Afghanistan has a lot of problems, but a lack of guns is not one of them.  America’s exit strategy, to the extent it exists, is to pass out more.  I don’t think that’s very smart.

Note: My original plan for this post was a much longer, link heavy essay, but Joshua Foust covered most of what I wanted to say and more at the Atlantic.

Afghanistan does not lack guns.  (When I lived in Afghanistan, I often thought that Kabul had to be one of only a small handful of national capitols were every police officer carries an AK-47.)    After the Soviet Union invaded in 1979, the United States undertook the largest covert operation in its history.  The operation mainly consisted of passing out guns to the mujahedeen resistance.  During the 1980s, the CIA passed out billions of dollars in weapons, ammunition, and billions more was funneled into the country from American allies like Saudi Arabia.  These guns just don’t disappear.  As documented by CJ Chivers, guns as old as 96 years still circulate in Afghanistan.  Undoubtedly, the weapons we provided the mujahedeen were used to kill thousands during the Afghan Civil war and subsequent Taliban take-over.  Now they are being used to kill American soldiers.

Our policy in 2011 is pretty similar to our policy in the 1980s.  We will spend about $11 billion in 2011 training and equipping the Afghan Army. It is one of the key pillars to the counterinsurgency strategy (even for those who don’t think we are doing counterinsurgency anymore, the ANA remains a key pillar).  This amounts to funneling thousands of guns into the country and teaching soldiers how to use them effectively.  I’m no Nostradamus, but I share Josh’s concern:

Thus, when we think about the coming years of transition in Afghanistan, we’re only getting part of the picture. ISAF has been successful at creating a military without a state — a praetorian state, if you want to be clever about it. But what does that really get you, beyond a military with nothing to serve but itself?

To answer Josh’s question:  An unaccountable military with no state or civilian masters to serve gets you a pretty good recipe for violence.  The cycle of violence in Afghanistan is 30+ years old now, and the most important pillar of our strategy is to create and strengthen an institution whose reason for being is violence.  Do we really think this will end well?

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Written by keithboyea

July 20, 2011 at 10:12 am

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