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A Tribal Strategy for Afghanistan

Introduction

In the hunt for a new strategy in Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders are studying the feasibility of recruiting Afghan tribesmen (LAT) to target Taliban and al-Qaeda elements. Taking a page from the so-called "Sunni Awakening" in Iraq, which turned Sunni tribesmen against militants first in Anbar Province and then beyond, the strategic about-face in Afghanistan would seek to extend power from Kabul to the country's myriad tribal militias. Gen. David Petraeus, the former top commander in Iraq who now heads U.S. Central Command, has talked openly of this ground-up approach, telling the New York Times that "in certain areas local reconciliation initiatives hold some potential." But other military leaders and regional analysts warn that while reliance on Afghan tribes could prove effective in some regions, the strategy is also fraught with pitfalls that have the potential to further destabilize the country. "There's always concerns that it has to be done correctly," Gen. David D. McKiernan, the current commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in October 2008, "or you get back into the problems of armed militias, of support to warlords, of corrupt practices."

A New Strategy?

Gen. Petraeus has ordereda formal review (WashPost) of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan that will focus on at least two themes: possible government reconciliation with the Taliban; and cooperation with neighboring countries, including Pakistan and Iran. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Budapest in October 2008, said he favored some form of reconciliation in Afghanistan, though he acknowledged not knowing "how it would evolve." A week later, during a speech at the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, Gates was unequivocal in his support of bringing...

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