Saturday, January 31, 2009

Part of the Solution

We are beginning to focus on making local Afghans capable of holding off Taliban threats:

A U.S.-funded program to train and arm community members in Afghanistan's most dangerous regions as a way to defend against the Taliban has begun, the country's interior minister said Saturday.

The U.S. will provide funds to arm the community force with the same weapons used by Afghan police — Kalashnikov rifles, said Interior Ministry Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

The program has already begun, but Atmar refused to say where, citing security concerns. Other officials have said the program will begin in Wardak, an increasingly dangerous province on the southwest side of Kabul.

"After training they will have the responsibility of protecting the people, providing security for the highways, schools, clinics and other government institutions," Atmar told a news conference.

This is good. Arming the locals and training them will help hold off intimidation by small numbers of Taliban.

But the problem remains that large Taliban bands will still be able to overwhelm armed locals in many circumstances. This is where NATO comes in. We need to be able to react quickly to help these local defense forces with trained troops and firepower.

And we need to work over the Taliban so they don't want to risk massing in forces capable of attacking local defense forces. If we atomize the enemy, the local defense forces will be better able to defeat weaker enemy attacks.

If we don't support these local defense forces and leave them out on their own, the program will fail. While we can't copy Iraq strategy to Afghanistan without adaptation, one thing we should learn from Iraq is that it isn't enough for jihadis to be hated by the local population. The local population must believe they can defeat the hated jihadis. And believe we'll be around long enough to win.

If the locals don't think they can defeat the jihadis, to preserve their lives they will forfeit their freedom to be left alone and simply go along with the Taliban demands.