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THE CULTURE AND CONFLICT REVIEW Click for an RSS Feed for the Latest Articles

Issue: Vol 5, #3 - Fall 2011

The Culture & Conflict Review is an online peer-review journal produced by the Program for Culture & Conflict Studies, bringing you analysis of current events, policy, operations, and human terrain in South and Central Asia as well as other regions of the world. Premised on the belief that the United States must understand the culture and human terrain of other nations and peoples, we offer commentary and analysis on issues of current interest to policy makers, military commanders, academics, and the general public. We are particularly interested in issues addressing culture, anthropology, regional and identity politics, and the contemporary role of U.S. forces in areas of conflict. New issues of The Culture & Conflict Review are published on a quarterly basis.

Welcome to The Culture & Conflict Review

Welcome to the Fall 2011 edition of The Culture and Conflict Review.

On this tenth anniversary of the start of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), we pause to reflect on the dramatic events of 9/11 and the many strategic challenges of the Long War, and to honor our service members for their dedication and perseverance.

In our first feature article section, "The War in Afghanistan, Ten Years On," we take a close look at the war in Afghanistan as it has unfolded, and explore important lessons learned, challenges that continue to confront us, and insights on our strategic options as the planned 2014 NATO withdrawal approaches. We are very proud to present several top-notch articles by CCS students Trevor Lanham; Daniel Schierling; Omar J. Wheatley; and a new student thesis by Jeremy W. Holton. In addition, we are also very pleased to present articles by CCS founder and director, professor Thomas H. Johnson; CCS senior analyst Matthew C. DuPee; and NPS professor James A. Russell.

In our second article section, "Insights for the Long War," we present several articles examining various lessons from, and potential solutions to, the War on Terror, with articles by: Jonathan K. Shaffner and David A. Anderson; Tridivesh Singh Maini; and Barry S. Zellen; as well as extracts from the recent NPS report, Gangs and Guerrillas: Ideas from Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism; and from both the sixth and seventh editions of AQAP's Inspire magazine, the former celebrating the martyrdom of Osama bin Laden and the latter celebrating 9/11 as a "marking point in history" and "the greatest special operation of all time." We also present the late Anwar al-Awlaki's 2009 "44 Ways to Support Jihad" as part of an essay on his recent martyrdom.

We also share with you our latest "In the News" section with links to news articles and media interviews featuring CCS expert analysts and its founder; and in our fourth section, "Book Reviews: Mapping the Literary Terrain," we are pleased to present several reviews from CDR Youssef Aboul-Enein, MSC, USN, including reviews of: Seyyed Hossein Nasr's Islam in the Modern World; John Hughes' Islamic Extremism and the War of Ideas: Lessons from Indonesia; and Chris Heffelfinger's Radical Islam in America: Salafism’s Journey from Arabia to the West. We also present excerpts from Richard Bonney, Tridivesh Singh Maini, Tahir Malik, eds., Warriors after War: Indian and Pakistani Retired Military Leaders Reflect on Relations between the Two Countries, Past, Present and Future; and Barry Zellen's newly published four-volume treatise on realism, The Realist Tradition in International Relations: Foundations of Western Order.

As always, we welcome any and all comments and feedback, as well as submissions for consideration in future editions of our journal.

We'll see you next edition!

I. Feature Articles: The War in Afghanistan, Ten Years On

CCS Student Insights

Since the Taliban’s internal dynamics, organizational structure and strategic objectives are all controlled, defined, and imbued by its leader, a convincing argument can be made that the Taliban is a reflection of its leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. Thus, given that the Taliban would likely continue to fight on in some capacity were Mullah Omar to die from natural causes or be ‘martyred,’ it follows that the Taliban as an armed group cannot fully be understood or engaged effectively without assessing Mullah Omar as their leader. Ultimately, this exercise has many predictive implications, among them providing insight not only into how to negotiate with Mullah Omar or with the Taliban in his absence, but also in terms of policy decisions causing or contingency plans reacting to a Taliban without Mullah Omar and his likely successor. While the paucity and reliability of information about him demands that the we speculate, make certain assumptions or draw their own conclusions from time to time, the author believes it is still possible to deliver a valuable assessment of Mullah Omar as a leader. [...]
The struggle to define an appropriate mission for the military’s presence in Afghanistan is perhaps best illustrated in Bob Woodward’s latest book, Obama’s Wars. The narrative contained within the book demonstrates that at the highest political and military levels, there exists strong disagreement concerning America’s interests in Afghanistan and the best course of action to secure those interests. Interestingly, the debate has hinged almost exclusively on the number of troops to be committed to the conflict, within the framework of the proposed counterterrorism (CT) and counterinsurgency (COIN) missions.  While acknowledging the significant challenges presented by a double-dealing Pakistan and corrupt Karzai government, there were no serious plans to address these concerns. These omissions underscore the inflated role that the military has taken in a war plagued with innumerable political spoilers.  [...]
Opium production in Afghanistan remains one of the single most important challenges to establishing a stable and secure government for the citizens of Afghanistan. Progress has been made in the past years as the United States and its allies have made a concerted effort to aid Afghanistan in their counter-narcotics mission. However, despite the fact that 20 of 34 provinces remained “poppy free”, there are indications that economic hardship and rising prices may drive up the opium production levels. The counter-narcotics policies of the United States and Afghanistan include the use of varying strategies which consist of a mix of carrot-and-stick approaches where opium growers and traffickers are either punished for their involvement or in some cases, provided financial incentives not to participate in the trade. More alternatives are needed to ensure that the positive trend away from drug production to licit and more viable crops is sustainable.  Otherwise, Afghanistan may slide back into the economic and social ruin of opium. [...]
Little scholarship exists regarding the ways members of conflict societies think about the economic decisions they face, and what information they value as relevant to those decisions. The literature of the emerging field of behavior economics suggest that in uncertain environments, considerable weight may be given to identity and culture factors to make decisions that will affect personal safety, income prospects and self-fulfillment. In this thesis, the nature of the decision process in rural Pashtun society will be studied, drawing from sources that study Pashtun ethnography, as well as behavioral economics, to draw conclusions about the way people in conflict societies frame the decisions they make. Studying the Pashtun case in Afghanistan will allow generalizations and patterns to be recognized that can be used in future conflicts to craft operational and communications strategies that have the most chance of counterinsurgency success. [...]

CCS Analyst Insights

The 10-year anniversary of the arrival of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in October 2001 has focused international attention on the prospects for stability in the country following the scheduled withdrawal of US and NATO forces by 2014. This timetable invites comparisons with the Soviet occupation (1979-1989) and subsequent withdrawal from Afghanistan, after which the country entered a prolonged political crisis and civil conflict. While there are major differences between the US and Soviet experiences, and the post-withdrawal prospects of both, there is a high risk that, as in 1989, the withdrawal of foreign forces could see an upsurge in insurgent attacks and a steady deterioration towards major civil conflict. The United States has endured a commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan longer than the Soviet experience but, with increasingly little time to act, it is pursuing several contentious strategies that bear the hallmarks of floundering Soviet approaches attempted 20 years earlier. [...]
On June 26, at a gathering in Kabul marking World Counter Narcotics Day, the mood was somber. Gone was the positive spin of last year's event, when Afghanistan's minister of counternarcotics, Zarar Ahmad Moqbil, proudly announced that poppy cultivation had been reduced by up to 50 percent and that 23 out of 34 provinces were then free from poppy cultivation. Sadly, the significant decrease in opium production last year has since been attributed to a convergence of environmental and climatic variables that devastated the crops late in the season, not to effective counternarcotics measures. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of illicit opiates and cannabis resin, known as hashish. [...
I was embedded with the 4/25 in January 2010, part of the preliminary data-gathering phase of my ongoing research project on innovation in war, to assess the degree of tactical adaptation and organizational innovation in the brigade over the course of its deployment, part of a project that first looked at the COIN effort in Iraq in 2005-06 when the tide of battle was turned, during which U.S. forces showed tremendous tactical innovation in the field during wartime, often innovating COIN solutions months in advance of their formal integration into doctrine. I found the 4/25 command structure to be an imaginative and creative mechanism that recognizes the need for organizational complexity to deliver varied organizational capacities to effect the environment, and that it was steadily improving its synchronization and coordination across the lines of operation. While unclear whether this process can continue to evolve and improve as a new unit arrives, with its own ideas of how operate in the battle space, such is the conundrum of all military organizations in war, which learn and improve over time only to see their organizational knowledge and wisdom go away when they leave the theater. [...]
II. Lessons for the Long War
From military governors charged with reconstructing the south after the United States Civil War, the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after World War II, to the present day operations in Afghanistan, tactical commanders on modern battlefields end up working as jacks-of-all-trades. Current army core concepts recognize the need to balance offensive, defensive and stability/reconstruction operations in foreign theaters and consider operations in each context during planning and execution. But U.S. military doctrine, while recognizing the importance of promoting economic activity, does not provide tactical commanders with a method to build understanding beyond that of broad considerations, leaving it largely to the commander’s intuition or influence of other governmental or non-governmental agencies whose presence at the tactical level is often non-existent, or very limited. The purpose of this paper is to present an approach to help fill this gap. [...]
Can counterinsurgency strategies be used to fight urban gangs? This was discussed by the Mayor of Salinas, the Provost of the Naval Postgraduate School and Representative Sam Farr, and it became apparent that there were many similarities between insurgent behavior and gang behavior – similarities that would make a more rigorous analysis worthwhile. The faculty of the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School, experts in counterinsurgency operations, were enlisted to address these similarities and to share their theories, models, and ideas from their own disciplines of political science, sociology, anthropology, international relations, and more. This collection of short papers is the result. [...]
The author seeks to explore the potential role of Punjabi identity in narrowing the divide and acting as a bridge between India and Pakistan. Punjabis on both sides share a common cultural identity, which is referred to as ‘Punjabiyat’. While the spoken language of all Punjabis is Punjabi, folk tales like Heer Ranjha and Sahiba Mirza are considered the sub-continental equivalent of Romeo and Juliet bond all Punjabis. In addition to cultural commonalities, heroes too are common and actually still remain. Members of the strategic community need to pay more serious attention to the fact that the common Punjabi identity could be a useful way of countering the rising wave of fundamentalism in Pakistani Punjab. [...]
In early 2011, all across the Middle East, Arab states found themselves in a tectonic collision with powerful internal forces as the region convulsed as the long repressed power of the individual was unlocked in unison on a vast and historic scale. The complex eddies in this struggle have been fascinating to observe – nowhere more so than in Libya; side-by-side with secular democratic activists stood militant jihadists fresh from fighting the Americans in Iraq, now under the protection of NATO air cover as they marched on Tripoli. There was even hint of an emergent grand alliance, not unlike that assembled by President George H.W. Bush to eject Iraq from Kuwait in 1990-91, or that more spirited and ambitious alliance cobbled together a decade earlier by President Ronald Reagan against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan. It took toppling the very dictatorships that Bin Laden’s jihad long sought to topple for the “suspicion and discord” between the West and Muslim world, as described by President Obama in his Cairo speech, to begin to heal, and for a new relationship to take form – pointing a way forward to a post-jihad era, and an end to the War on Terror. [...]
Selections from the sixth edition of Inspire are presented, the first edition to follow the death of AQ leader Osama bin Laden. The cover asks, "How did the mujahidin react to the martyrdom of Shaykh Usama? What does it mean for the future?" Its main story, by Samir Khan ("Sadness, Contentment & Aspiration" on page 47), provides an answer, arguing that "with the martyrdom of Shaykh Usama, the al Qaeda organization will only strengthen." As Yahya Ibrahim writes in his Letter from the Editor, "We apologize for the delay in the publication of the magazine. Things have been quite hectic over here. The country is falling apart and our brothers are busy picking up the pieces." He writes that "while we lament the loss of a great leader, we also congratulate our Muslim nation for the martyrdom of Shaykh Usama" who "waited for this moment for over thirty years ... It was only befitting for such a life to end with martyrdom." [...]
As editor Yahya Ibrahim writes in his introductory letter to the Fall 2011 edition of Inspire: "We dedicate this special supplement to the great events of the Expeditions of Washington DC and New York, as Shaykh Usama would call it, or simply 9/11. As America mourns and we celebrate this glorious event, we look into what 9/11 means ten years on. We have all been touched one way or another by the attacks. They are a marking point in history. There was a world before 9/11 and another one, drastically different, post 9/11." [...]
Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric and senior AQAP operative who was both a leading editorial voice and active contributor to Inspire magazine, was killed on September 30th in a U.S. drone strike in northern Yemen. He was a U.S. citizen, the first to be directly targeted for assassination by the United States since the War on Terror began. al-Awlaki was spiritual advisor to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar in addition to several other jihadists who took aim at America -- including Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hasan, the would-be underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized on October 1, "His sermons were cited as an inspiration by attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. He said that 'jihad against America is binding upon myself, just as it is binding on every other able Muslim.' Now a Hellfire missile fired from an American drone somewhere over Yemen has brought Awlaki's career of incitement to an abrupt close." [...]
III. In the News
Broadcast Media Appearances by CCS Founder and Director, Thomas H. Johnson:
The Deputy Speaker of the Afghan Parliament, Khalid Pashtoon, wants international troops like New Zealand's SAS to be more involved in the country's security operations, rather than just playing a mentoring role. The politicking over the role of foreign troops in Afghanistan comes as US General David Petraeus begins handing over command of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Featuring CCS founder and director, Thomas H. Johnson. [...]
Ahmed Wali Karzai was assassinated in Kandahar by a longtime associate, who was then killed by guards. Judy Woodruff discusses the killing of the Afghan president's half-brother and what it means for Afghan security with CCS founder and director Thomas Johnson and the Philadelphia Inquirer's Trudy Rubin. [...]
The Voice of Russia's guest is Professor Thomas Johnson, the Director of the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies at the Naval Postgraduate Institute in Monterey, California, and the topic is the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that was announced by President Obama. [...]
Print Media Appearances by CCS Founder and Director, Thomas H. Johnson:
Tom Johnson, professor of national security affairs at a military university in Monterey, California, believes the under-representation of Pashtuns is far worse than reported as some non-Pashtuns simply lie about their ethnicity. For their part, Afghan officers complain about their equipment, particularly the hand-me-down Humvees that the Americans gave up driving years ago. Instead they want tanks, heavy weapons, and artillery and fighter planes – all things ruled out for now. Johnson thinks the ANA stands almost no chance of holding on to gains by the time the US quits. He pointed to the fact that an April report by the US defence department admitted that in the entire country just one ANA unit was capable of operating independently. "My students who have served in Afghanistan tell me that there is no way they would ever trust the ANA to guard their rear flanks – that for me is the bottom line," he said. [...]
Brig.-Gen. Vance hoped to expand this "model village" approach program across the district and then into Pan-jwaii. He enlisted the help of an American military professor and counterinsurgency expert named Thomas Johnson. This was an interesting choice; Prof. Johnson was already a fierce critic of the U.S. military's approach to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. He notoriously compared the war against the Taliban to another counterinsurgency, one waged a generation earlier in Vietnam, and he dismissed a large British and American-led operation in the province of Helmand as "essentially a giant public affairs exercise, designed to shore up dwindling domestic support for the war by creating an illusion of progress." He was no fan of the country's president, Hamid Karzai. Prof. Johnson would characterize President Karzai's August 2009 re-election as "rigged" and "a disgrace." [...]
A surprising number of military experts seem sure that COIN is failing; that it is not even a real strategy; and that guys like John Nagl, who are perhaps a little too smart for their own good, have been snowing us all along. The newly vocal doubters include some of those who helped develop counterinsurgency in the first place. They run the spectrum from those who think COIN is pretty much a crock to those who still believe in the idea but doubt Washington’s ability to implement it. ... Some critics are using this period of doctrinal doubt to attack the very idea of counterinsurgency as a profound self-deception—military fool’s gold, in effect. Increasingly, these critics include NATO allies. Tom Johnson, a former adviser to the Canadian NATO command in Kabul, says he has come to believe that COIN “is a lot of smoke and mirrors.” In truth, he says, “the United States and NATO only control the land they’re standing on at any particular time.” Even that advantage often disappears at night, when the Taliban return, and it will almost entirely disappear by 2014, Johnson believes. Worse, by supporting a corrupt government and pretending to protect the population, the U.S. may be creating more enemies than it would if it simply withdrew. [...]
There has been much anticipation concerning President Obama's drawdown plan for Afghan "surge troops." Some have even suggested that President Obama's announcement on the drawdown or "withdrawal" of surge troops would set the military course for the rest of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. The American public has been told that long, serious, and intensive "policy discussions" have taken place that informed the president's decisions. And while I do not doubt the seriousness of the discussions, I do have serious questions concerning the eventual course of direction and its implications. In reality it turns out that the "drawdown" or reduction in forces is not a reduction at all. The drawdown, in a very real way, turns out to be more procedural than substantive; in fact, over the short term it is no drawdown at all. [...
IV. Book Reviews: Mapping the Literary Terrain
Seyyed Hossein Nasr has done much to introduce western readers to the complexities within Islam.  He has published dozens of books, and has been active in interfaith dialogues.  Nasr’s writings demonstrate to western audiences the shallowness and pseudo-intellectualism of violent Islamist and Islamist ideologies that attempt to impose a version of Islam upon other Muslims.  His latest book is an attempt to examine contentious issues debated among 1.5 billion Muslims, such as the position of secularism within the Islamic world, education, complexities of male and female relationships, and much more. [...]
There is much confusion and extreme sides to the debate about countering what I term militant or violent Islamist ideology.  Both extremes are useless, from an analytic standpoint and offer no viable policy options to advance America’s strategic advantage.  One unhelpful extreme is “all Islam is evil,” the other is “all Islam is peace.”  Each does not confront the reality of violent Islamists utilizing the ancient scriptural tactic of justifying a worldview or behavior by taking fragments of scripture.  Each does not delve into the nuances between violent Islamist modernist narrative, Islamist political theories, and the wider world of 1.5 billion Muslims who identify Islam as their religion of choice.  That is why John Hughes' slim volume is a refreshing read.  The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, former Assistant Director of the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs makes a compelling case to reinstate or create a new agency focused on strategic level public communications.  He uses his decades of experience to offer ideas on how America should posture itself in the debate over ideas.  The Spring Revolutions in the Middle East were brought about by a youth yearning for representation and a fair democratic process, they were not stimulated by the ideas of al-Qaida, which leaves its leadership scrambling for a new narrative in this fluid world of Facebook and Twitter.  [...]
Chris Heffelfinger is an FBI Fellow who provides instruction on radical Islamist movements for the FBI and the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  His book, Radical Islam in America: Salafism’s Journey from Arabia to the West (Washington D.C.: Potomac Books, 2011) opens with the radicalization of John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban." It is the story of a troubled teenager whose parents are divorcing and who is in search of an identity, structure, and a purpose. The author delves into how he discovers Islam, and the trajectory that leads him to the Salafi form of Islam, and from there, the Violent Islamist manifestations of Salafism. What is highlighted in the book is that Lindh would encounter a kaleidoscope of Islamic expression in Yemen that did not fit the fantasy form of Islam he encountered in the United States. This brings to focus the reality that Violent Islamist recruiters fear diverse interpretations of Islam that could dissuade a recruit from partaking in violent acts on behalf of their agenda and interpretation of what Islam is. [...]

The inspiration for this book arose from the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus route on 7 April 2005, the first direct link between the two parts of divided Kashmir since 1947. The original impetus for change in the region arose not from politicians but from ex-military figures in Pakistan and India who had made a direct approach to the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD), an independent, not-for-profit organization in the United States headed by former US Ambassador John W. McDonald. Most of the twenty-six retired military figures from India and Pakistan interviewed in this book accept that with both countries possessing nuclear weapons since 1998, choosing war to resolve outstanding disputes is no longer a sensible or realistic option. They differ greatly, however, in their analysis of the opportunities and pathways towards a sustainable peace in South Asia, with the greatest divergence of views on the Kashmir dispute. [...]

There are those for whom CCS web commando and editor Barry Zellen’s The Realist Tradition in International Relations: Foundations of Western Order treatise is long-awaited. When I arrived at Berkeley as a PhD candidate two decades ago, IR luminaries Kenneth Waltz and Ernst Haas inquired about their wayward bright young star who had left the Bay Area for the cooler pastures of the Arctic in the early-1990s. Readers will quickly understand their interest: Zellen’s passion for international relations theory never waned, nor did his capacity for serious academic thought. In his multi-volume opus, Zellen offers unique insights into the entire concept of the nation-state. This is a massive journey, in its entirety not for the faint of heart! Yet there is something in here for everyone: One can gain from his history of the development of realist thought; or his explication of the essential tenets of realism; or simply his elucidation of constructive realism. Similarly, the four volumes can also stand on their own: One can focus on the historical rise of the state, or its contemporary challenges; though doing so will deny the reader of the full flavor of the important connections. [...]


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