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Our Afghan Allies

Posted By Grim • [May 22, 2012]

Via NBC, a report that some Afghan units are making agreements with the Taliban to jointly loot our convoys.

"We lost seven men in an ambush when I first arrived at the base," Wali, who commands 18 men, told The Times. "So I thought, why risk my life when there's another way?"

Joseph Heller would be so proud.

The thing is, this is a perfectly logical way to behave if you are operating in a region you expect the Taliban to control, say, next year (or this fall).  We all know that the American President is heading for the exits:  the American forces operating with you have already been given marching orders to leave you behind.  

Thus, soon you'll be dealing with the Taliban.  Unless you have the strength to beat them on your own, you'll either die fighting them or you'll come to some sort of working relationship with them.  You can start building such a working relationship with them now, while it is to their advantage to work with you instead of killing you, and while also saving the lives of your men and enjoying some easy profit from looted NATO convoys.  Or, you can go get yourselves killed to protect the supplies of men who are going to walk out and leave you behind in the next year or so.

This is a perfectly rational decision for them, and that's our fault.  You can't win a war by making it wiser for your allies to betray you.  

There are two ways to balance the load on this.  We could change our policy on how long we'll stay (either leaving sooner, so as to remove the incentive, or indefinitely later, so as to give them a reason to be faithful to the alliance).  The American population is dead-set against staying longer, as is the President. 

The other option is to raise the cost of betrayal sufficiently as to make it no longer a rational choice.  That option sounds tempting, until you realize that it's just another way to lose the war:  if you make yourself actually worse than the Taliban, you're just giving the locals another rational reason to support Taliban efforts.

For those reasons, leaving sooner is the only way to make this stop; the other choice is to leave on schedule, and endure the betrayals.  

That makes it all the sadder to read Laura Bush's piece today.  She has a good argument that abandoning the Afghan women would be a tragedy on a monumental scale.  It certainly will be.  Nevertheless, we appear to have eliminated our other options.


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