Rubicon Rescue - Mission Haiti - Part 8
Who are we fighting anyways?

Disputes on MAJ Gant's Tribal Approach

I had meant to say something about the Human Terrain System's apparent dispute with MAJ Gant's One Tribe at a Time approach to the Afghan conflict.  The HTS paper is reasonable, for example in its assertions that Afghan "tribes" are much more atomized than Iraqi ones, and will be much more difficult to leverage to create strategic effects.  I haven't been to Afghanistan, so I can't opine as to whether or not they are correct about that; but I have worked with HTTs and HTAT-B in Iraq, and have been impressed on occasion with their work.  Their reachback scholarship is not bad.

On the other hand, MAJ Gant's actually been to Afghanistan and tried to do the thing he discusses; and as useful as I often found HTTs to be, I'm not sure that they yet rise to the level of expertise in these matters of, say, Special Forces with on-the-ground experience.  That doesn't mean they're wrong and he's right; but I'd think we'd take our working assumption that he probably has a point, given his practical experience with the mission.  HTS' concerns may point to complications, but even an atomized tribal structure still exists within an honor society, and there are ways to work honor societies even if you have to do it at a house-to-house and village-to-village level, rather than a tribe-to-tribe or region-to-region level. 

To the degree that HTS is right, in other words, it's a harder mission than MAJ Gant expects or than we had in Iraq; but it works in broadly the same way, though the unit on the ground will have to refine its approach in terms of its experience.  The upside to go with that downside is this:  if there aren't large-scale tribes that can be used as leverage points, there also isn't much danger that another unit on the other side of the country may be trying to leverage the tribal system in the opposite direction!  You won't have to worry about having a tribe in your area pushed into hostility by something that another chain of command does well outside of your situational awareness:  the atomized tribal/honor structure means that you'll be speaking to everyone who matters for your area. 

In any event, as with much of military science, I expect this is something that will have to be worked out in the field.  You've got to be out there doing it to have a good idea of what is really going on, let alone how to adjust it to make it work where you are. That's not to denigrate the importance of scholarship or study.  It's just to note that they are subject to the same law as any other aspect of military planning:  "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

There are two more entries in the dispute at this time, and I'd like to bring them to your attention.  One is a Ph.D. candidate who has focused on the region and its languages.  He thinks MAJ Gant is off his rocker; but read what he has to say. (Hat tip to our friend COL Maxwell.)

The other is Professor Andrew Lubin, who is out there following up on MAJ Gant's ideas from the field.  He is with the Marines in Helmand Province, and has a report this week at the One Tribe At A Time webpage.

UPDATE:  I suppose I ought to mention the most radical claim of our Ph.D. candidate, to whit, that MAJ Gant's approach represents the war crime of ethnic cleansing.  Ethnic cleansing -- as separate from the individual murders or thefts, which are also potentially separate crimes -- is wrong because it denies a people the right to establish a home and live according to their particular culture. 

Yet there are always competing claims, and not every such clash is "ethnic cleansing," nor a war crime.  For example, if one were attempting to drive (say) Irishmen out of Boston by purchasing all the land and not selling it to anyone Irish, you would be committing a crime, but not a war crime; and if you did it in some countries, it would be perfectly legal.  That's an example of ethnic cleansing that is not a war crime, and may not even be a crime at all.

Alternatively, you have the case we see in the movie Shane, where two different "ways of life" are in conflict, and one must win out over the other.  Either the cattlemen who fought the Commanche will live there, or the Commanche will; and later, either the cattlemen who won the war against the Commanche will live there, or the homesteader whose fences make ranching an impossible occupation.  This is "ethnic cleansing" in every meaningful way -- two ways of life are in conflict, and one must be destroyed.  It is only that we don't normally think of "cattleman" as an ethnicity because they speak the same language as the homsteaders and have the same genetic background.

What we have in MAJ Gant's approach is a case where there are not two ways of life; the fight is between two groups of people with the same way of life.  Just as we ought to see that the Shane model is ethnic cleansing even though everyone speaks the same language, we ought to be able to see that this is not even if there were a difference in languages from one village to the other.  The two villages live the same way, whether or not they do it while speaking two different tongues.  They aren't trying to destroy a culture (which is just another word for "way of life").  They're competing for resources.

Competing for resources is not a war crime.  Aggression is a war crime -- that is, if you start a war for resources, you are committing a crime.  Once there is a state of conflict, and in these regions of Afghanistan I think we would have to say there has essentially always been such a state of conflict, there is no further offense in competing for the resources. 

To say otherwise would essentially ban us from seeking allies in counterinsurgency missions, since any given faction will be in competition with some other faction.  If we have to be evenhanded among them, what's the point of being our ally?  Our enemies will not be evenhanded between friend and enemy.  If we are, then working with us has no benefits, but whatever costs our enemies can apply; while working with the enemy has no costs and whatever benefits they can apply. 

You might say that it is wrong to unhouse people in any case, or to stand by while people are unhoused, but that is a very different claim from the idea that this represents "ethnic cleansing."  Allowing allies to occupy critical terrain is, also, a very well-established feature of war:  whether it's bridges or fords, or sea- or air- ports, it is normal to ensure that they are controlled by yourselves or an ally.  I'm not sure how much this differs, but perhaps one of our military lawyers might wish to speak to it in the comments.