Our friend Matt Armstrong ("Mountainrunner") has a solid piece on the importance of good works to the mission in Afghanistan. It's about what some of us might call good and evil, really, and letting each one have its honest wages.
It is time to stop accepting the propaganda of our enemies. This is about them not us. But exposing the Taliban and Al Qaeda for what they are – a threat to all societies, rapists of men and women, killers of children, drug users and traffickers, violent criminals, and religious hypocrites – is just part of the solution. Denying ideological and physical sanctuary to our enemy requires military and police operations as well as conscious yet subtle efforts to bolster the morale and hope of the people to foster the development of the physical and functional institutions of society. The people must believe that they, not the Taliban or Al Qaeda (or Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai), own and can shape their own future. This creates the incentive to construct schools, expand commerce, and build on their own culture of lawfulness.
We must understand and undermine the real mechanisms that empower the enemy and take “aggressive actions to win the important battle of perception,” as General Stanley McChrystal wrote in his August assessment. US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke called it an information war. “We are losing that war… We can’t succeed, however you define success, if we cede to people who present themselves as false messengers of a prophet, which is what they do. We need to combat it.” Besides the challenges on the ground, the Taliban’s global propaganda campaign clearly works: according to the CIA the Taliban pulled in $100 million this year in outside donations.
A successful strategy in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, requires assistance directed “against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos” to “permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist” without which “there can be no political stability and no assured peace.” Success is not derived on the dollars spent or the contracts let but how whether locals feel self-empowered, hopeful, and secure.
This is why we questioned COL Roper and BG Cardon closely on the ability of the interagency (and our allies) to follow-through on the "reconstruction" issue -- whether you call it aid or development or Civil Affairs or Civil Military Operations, it's the keystone to American COIN.
We can provide short-term security for the Afghans to try to build that rapport, but we can't build it for them. They have to do it. They're going to need a lot of help, and only some of it can be military help. They will need a lot of technical assistance, which our civil affairs and civil-military operations units can offer; but it can't be just the military. State's Provincial Reconstruction Teams are important, but it can't be just the State Department. We're also going to need a lot of money, a very great deal of money, for capital improvements like rail lines and new roads. Tying the rural Afghan regions to the prosperity that comes from trade is the long-term solution because it gives the people a stake in the peace that they can't afford not to defend.
Do the right thing. Our enemy does much that is wicked. Other than that, the main thing we have to do is develop allies who are good at telling the story. They will be more credible than we are, because they will have the credibility of a village leader, an elder known to the people. These are the people we should focus on helping, so that our efforts boost their own, and enhance the reach of their voice.