Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration? Where does it stand? (Post Osama Bin Laden) DoD Roundtable
Afghanistan will “bite you in the leg if you make assumptions”! Major General Jones at DoD Bloggers Roundtable
The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration program is an Afghan led process that has seen 500 fighters leave the anti-government forces (mostly Taliban) just in the last 60 days! According to British Major General Phil Jones the “numbers are rocketing up”! General Jones is in his fourth tour in Afghanistan and is the Director of the Force Reintegration Cell for the International Security Assistance Force. He spoke to the DoD Bloggers Roundtable this morning (or evening in Afghanistan).
With the Reintegration in place for 10 months following the lead of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council established last September, we may be turning the corner. Maybe? With reintegration offered, continued pressure from Afghan government forces and NATO, the village or tribal leaders are walking in with groups of fighters to end their participation in the war. From 5 to 200 at a time they are starting to put down their weapons. While NATO still estimates the Taliban forces at 20-25,000 (full and part time) fighters the calm winter, lots of pressure from Afghan elders and military operations many are seeing their best choice as peace. The general felt that the fight was still on but with the process in place to reduce participation he had a lot of hope!
He did caution us that Afghanistan will “bite you in the leg if you make assumptions”! Jones said they would need 12-15,000 fighters to quit before it would be a strategic change and they have seen a total of 1,700 so far.
How does General Jones see the results of NATO’s efforts and the Peace and Reintegration program of the Afghans? He said the conversation is changing and security gains have given folks a sense of confidence and allows them to quit the fight. They are hearing about the program from village leaders and radio programs and after they walk in the Afghans do a basic level of vetting which he described as pretty rudimentary. I asked if they are permitted to join the Afghan National Security Forces (AFNS) which includes police and military. He said “no” but once assimilated they could apply like other citizens. At that point they go through a much more intense screening and vetting program (See Roundtable comments from Lt Gen Caldwell about infiltrators in the ANSF killing NATO forces).
The Afghans have established a database of those that lay down their weapons and NATO has access but no strategic leaders have walked in yet. The database includes biometric information (eye scans, fingerprints) and interviews. Some fighters are going home quietly as well. None of the reintegrated folks have been placed in contact with NATO forces.
The impact of Osama bin Laden’s death has not been seen yet. He said there was agreement amongst everyone (Afghan and NATO) that it was a good step for ending the war but that Al Qaeda had little presence in Afghanistan and that stories of foreign fighters were overblown. Asked if he had seen any retaliation or intimidation of those who had quit the fight and how did the Afghans respond; he described it as a "bold, brave decision" for many of those in the outlying villages. A serious process Afghans have added some protection for a few including safe houses but most are simply protected by the ANSF (which could be good news that they feel secure enough to rely on them).
Peace and stability in a country not known for either is not going to be easy! Maybe the small steps will eventually translate into bigger ones with strategic changes in the conflict! We have seen too many losses to walk away and too many to keep going beyond 2014. The Peace and Reintegration process may be just what the Afghans needed!
Thank you General Jones and DoDLive! This was a very informative Roundtable and you can read a transcript or listen to an audio at DoDLive.
Photo Credit: Maj. Gen. Phil Jones, director of the Force Reintegration Cell for the International Security Assistance Force