Through and With
Reintegration in Northern Afghanistan
Reintegration is a core element to achieving conflict termination in Afghanistan. During the nascent stages of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, or APRP, I recognized the great strategic potential reintegration held to shape the battlefield in Afghanistan, especially in Regional Command North. What we did early on that other regional commands either could not or chose not to do was to fully resource and empower our reintegration cell to implement swiftly through and with the northern governors.
The north command’s emphasis on APRP was unprecedented, and still is, making clear the impact of our partnering with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanista, of GIRoA,: From summer 2010 to summer 2011, more than 25 percent of the estimated insurgents in the north abandoned the insurgent cause to embrace the GIRoA, through a constructive peace process, greatly reducing the insurgents’ numbers and their will to continue fighting.
In the north, we recognized that lethal operations, especially the kill-capture missions performed by partnered Afghan and United States Special Forces, were going to make a significant impact on the enemy, but those missions would better serve a secondary role in our counterinsurgency strategy. Therefore, we paired reintegration with lethal targeting as a mechanism for bringing insurgents back to the GIRoA. Successful reintegration activities in the north not only tapped into the insurgent network but also empowered the governors to out-administer the insurgents, thereby reducing the need to out-fight them.
— Brigadier General Sean P. Mulholland, Deputy commander of Regional Command North, Afghanistan
As the U.S. and NATO continue to plan the draw down of forces in Afghanistan, debate over the importance of and the means for achieving successful reintegration of former insurgents becomes more prevalent. This article discusses recent progress made by partnering with Afghan leaders to support reintegration in Afghanistan’s Regional Command North, or RC-North.
Reintegration is the operational- and tactical-level effort to bring rank-and-file members of the insurgency and low- to mid-level commanders back into peaceful Afghan society. Reconciliation is a tandem political-strategic process targeting senior insurgent commanders to broker deals to terminate their armed resistance against the GIRoA. Reintegration and reconciliation are accepted as better alternatives to armed conflict after the promise of insurgent victory has been destroyed.
Brief history. Previous Afghan reintegration programs, such as Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups, or DIAG, and Takhim-e-Sol, failed because of poor transparency, inadequate accountability, broken promises and top-down, centralized decision-making. Seeking to reinvigorate reintegration, President Hamad Karzai announced his commitment to peace during his November 2009 inauguration speech. A few months later, he explained Afghanistan’s reintegration end state at the White House: “Afghanistan is seeking peace, because through military means alone, we are not going to get our objectives of bringing stability and peace to Afghanistan and the defeat of terrorism.”1 By the end of 2010, the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, or APRP, was formally launched by the GIRoA and backed by more than $200 million pledged by donor nations to a new reintegration trust fund called the Reintegration Financing Mechanism, or RFM.
Program objective and end state. The goal of the APRP is to encourage fighters who previously sided with armed opposition groups to renounce violence against the government and join a constructive process of reintegration back into society. The APRP will address grievances that cause insurgents to fight and will broker agreements with insurgents to achieve peace and stability.
Dynamics in northern Afghanistan
RC North setting. RC-N is the largest of six regional commands in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, or ISAF. RC-N is headquartered in Balkh Province’s capital city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Encompassing 62,600 square miles2 — an area the size of Wisconsin — RC-N includes the nine provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz, Baghlan, Balkh, Samangan, Jawzjan, Sar-e Pul and Faryab (Figure 1-Map). RC-N borders China and the central Asian republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, and smaller PRT advisory offices led by non-U.S. forces are distributed throughout the provinces, tasked to partner with provincial governors to improve governance, development and security. Overall, security in the north is better than in the southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan, largely because of its lower numbers of insurgents. Insurgent groups in the north are divided among Taliban, Haqqani Network, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and United Tajik Opposition. While various remote and isolated pockets are under insurgent influence, strategically significant insurgent strongholds have not been established that would allow the insurgents to establish regional control.
Ethnic and insurgent dynamics. More than 6,750,0003 Afghans, more than one quarter of the national population, live in the largely rural communities of RC-N.
The minor Pashtun presence in the north caused many to assume that the north would be less tolerant of the insurgency, yet recent observations show the insurgency drawing across several ethnic lines.4 Ethnically mixed insurgent groups, especially within the Taliban,5 are becoming increasingly common. Interviewed reintegrants are Hazara, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Turkmens and Uzbeks. Most insurgents are locals, with a few interspersed groups of foreigners.
Geographically, the insurgency is strongest in northern Baghlan, southern and northern Kunduz, northern Takhar, southwestern Faryab, southern Jawzjan and northwestern Sar-e Pul provinces. Insurgents easily capitalize on the security vacuum separating the vulnerable rural population from the small presence of government and Afghan National Security Forces, or ANSF, in the north. Insurgents locally undermine security through key-leader assassinations, roadside bombings and attacks against vulnerable rural communities or compounds.
Battles over key terrain between insurgent groups are often motivated by a desire to expand territorial control and reap the benefits of access to major transportation routes, key water sources, fertile farming areas and logistical centers. Of considerable value are revenue from informal taxation and extortion, easier smuggling access and influence over NATO supply routes.
Insurgent numbers. To bracket numbers of prospects for the reintegration program, the RC-N Reintegration Cell developed estimates of insurgents in each province during operational meetings with provincial and district governors, national-security directors (intelligence), chiefs of police and other provincial and district sources. In late summer 2010, during the program’s inception, RC-N estimated that there were between 4,500 and 6,000 members of the insurgency in the north, and that, of these, most were facilitators or members of the auxiliary or underground who support the guerrilla activities of approximately 1,500 to 2,000 insurgent fighters. Though those were only estimates, the calculus for each province remained relatively consistent and served as the foundation for operational planning with governors. The RC-N reintegration calculus was roughly consistent with estimates suggested by other independent parties.6,7,8
RC-North understood that reintegration required the targeting of the entire insurgent network, including the support elements and facilitators. Targeting only gun-carrying fighters would leave behind viable human infrastructure and a support network that would quickly be able to empower new guerrilla recruits and continue the insurgency.
How reintegration works in the north
RC-North’s support strategy. Kabul-level GIRoA issued orders related to the APRP’s implementation and strategic framework,9 defining the operating space for governors to build reintegration programs. RC-N’s overarching strategy was twofold: to partner with provincial governors to assist them in destroying the insurgent promise of victory (in the minds of the members of the population as well as of the insurgents), and to provide insurgents a better alternative through resourced reintegration deals negotiated and brokered by Afghan provincial and district leaders.
Resourcing. A significant challenge facing provincial and district leaders immediately after APRP was launched was the absence of APRP resourcing by Kabul-level GIRoA. Immature financial policies prevented the flow of money from the RFM, leaving provincial governors unable to respond to reintegration opportunities.
The GIRoA asked the ISAF to assist provincial and district leaders until the problem could be resolved. The U.S. Department of Defense allocated $50 million as part of a new fund called the DoD Afghan Reintegration Program, or ARP, and encouraged the use of DoD funds from the Commanders Emergency Response Program, or CERP.
RC-N lines of effort. The APRP outlines three stages of reintegration: outreach and grievance resolution, demobilization and consolidation of peace, shown as a flow arrow in Figure 2. Implementation support from RC-N, depicted on the right as four lines of effort, were designed to help set the conditions for governors through lethal operations, exploitation of information operations, governance and development. Each province implemented reintegration slightly differently. While each line of effort is shown sequentially, the actual order may vary, and some lines of effort may not be involved in precipitating a particular reintegration event.
Afghan examples. To ensure that Afghan ownership was maintained, RC-N sought to maintain program momentum without taking over the program and without moving at a faster pace than the GIRoA could sustain. In an attempt to keep the provincial governors informed of what “right” could look like. RC-N shared digital and hard-copy program documents from Kabul and examples of processes, programs or programs of instruction being used in neighboring provinces, thus reinforcing good leadership and the propagation of Afghan solutions.
Afghan reintegration centers. RC-N assisted provincial governors in establishing local centers for managing the APRP. The first Afghan reintegration centers, or ARCs, were established in the north, and, depending on the number reintegration prospects, there were as many as two ARCs per province. Governors selected buildings to accommodate peace-council meetings and administrative functions, reintegration shuras, demobilization training, women’s annexes and some types of vocational training.
The ARC provided short-term living accommodations for reintegrants during their demobilization and vocational training when necessary. Depending on local conditions, separate buildings were sometimes established for the adult vocational-training center or the women’s center.
Lethal and IO targeting. Success in RC-North demonstrated that persistent pressure from lethal operations and kill-capture missions that targeted insurgent leaders were highly effective in undermining insurgent confidence and establishing a strategic advantage. Interviews with candidates for reintegration revealed that missions to remove insurgent leaders significantly pressured successive leaders and their subordinate fighters to consider reintegration for fear of being next on the target list.
Military Information Support fliers and radio messages following raids exploited those fears and advertised the benefits of siding with the GIRoA through reintegration. Governors and peace councils resourced to deliver on reintegration deals brokered with former insurgents demonstrated to mid- and high-level commanders that reintegration was a viable alternative to continued alignment with the insurgency.
As mid-level insurgent leaders were removed through targeting and reintegration, one sign of damage to the insurgency from RC-North’s twofold approach was that replacements for insurgent leaders were increasingly younger and less experienced. A number of insurgent leaders also left their provincial bases to reside outside Afghanistan’s borders.
Outreach and grievance resolution
The first stage of APRP is outreach and grievance resolution. Kabul envisioned that this stage would be orchestrated bureaucratically by nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs; provincial and district leaders; and APRP officials from Kabul. The reality in the field differed from their vision.
Informal outreach. In the field, Afghans establish informal means of communication and negotiation quietly through trusted networks well before any involvement of the Kabul government or APRP agents. They accomplish informal outreach through traditional Afghan methods, both in relaying APRP information to the population and in passing information or queries to district and provincial GIRoA leaders from insurgents interested in reintegration or in resolving grievances.
The primary means of informal outreach is by cell phone or face-to-face transmission of program news, details about successful outcomes, information about reintegration eligibility, treatment or benefits reintegrants can expect procedures for beginning reintegration.
Informal grievance resolution. Conversations regarding insurgent grievances are negotiated informally, as well as “leaked,” well prior to the reintegration event. Negotiations occur through Afghan networking, often by cell phone, initially using intermediary contacts and trusted government interlocutors. Trusted interlocutors have tribal or ethnic ties, as well as relationships with local elders and trusted officials of the district or provincial government who can negotiate with authority as decision-makers or who have ties to the decision-makers. Government officials frequently include, or are tied to, district or provincial governors; chiefs of the National Directorate of Security, or NDS; chiefs of police; members of the Afghan National Army, or ANA; and members of district or provincial APRP peace councils.
Terms of an agreement are discussed and finalized among contacts and government interlocutors before the insurgent comes forward publicly. Nobody comes in from the insurgency“cold”: Before coming into a reintegration shura or event, insurgents first determine what the outcome of their reintegration will be. Once an agreement has been reached, it is publicly announced that a commander and various numbers of his insurgent group are reintegrating.
Insurgent motives. During discussions with provincial and district leaders, insurgents have revealed their motivations for fighting and reintegrating. Some cite as reasons for fighting the mere presence of foreign “invaders,” land and water disputes and financial opportunity. Others cite grievances against Kabul, provincial or district governors, or corrupt local leaders or members of the police. Reasons for reintegration include fear of targeting, weariness with the insurgent cause, desire to join local defense forces working for ANSF, and interest in options advertised by the reintegration program as a better alternative to the insurgency.
Still, in other cases, whole communities that formerly sided with the insurgency have come forward after rejecting the draconian rule of insurgent groups. An already weary community in one province was galvanized to reintegrate after a pregnant woman in distress died on the road because insurgents refused to let her pass through a roadblock during a skirmish. The people of the community sided with the GIRoA, turning against the insurgency and opening a strategically important area that was previously denied to GIRoA.
Formal outreach. RC-N supported formal outreach and exploitation of information operations to help governors promote broad awareness of the APRP. Television spots, radio announcements and news reports of the peace process and reintegration events were broadcast across the provinces and in target areas with known insurgent populations to maximize the IO effect. APRP billboards with messages of peace were established at key locations. Reintegration flyers were produced and distributed by ANSF as “friendly night-letters.” Standardized and governor-customized leaflets were produced with a governor’s message and a GIRoA or ANSF “hot-line” that could be called for information or networking.
The second APRP stage, demobilization, manages an individual’s transition from insurgent to reintegrants. As originally designed in the APRP, RC-N demobilization incorporated registration and biometrics, forgiveness and community acceptance, the reintegration shura with a peace and loyalty pledge, the provision of local security and demobilization training for subsequent reintegration to Afghan society.
Registration and biometrics. APRP registration required completing personal-data forms and biometrics collection to confirm an individual’s identity and review and vet his past actions.
Candidates were required to complete several pages of personal data capturing information on their family background, role in the insurgency, motives for fighting and reintegrating and weapons registration. They were legally allowed to register and retain a small firearm, but larger weapons were generally turned in. Candidates complete the data package by signing (or marking) a formal statement of their intention to reintegrate with the GIRoA.
Because the vast majority of reintegration candidates are illiterate, numerous translators and interpreters must be available during the enrollment process to counsel candidates and write down their responses to the surveys. Kabul fly-away teams deliver small numbers of trained staff to facilitate the reintegration process, but they are unable to deploy often enough or in large enough numbers to provide a viable solution. When enrollment events involve large numbers of candidates, the process can be slow and tiresome. Provinces will benefit from sharing their trained and literate reintegration staff to support larger reintegration events.
The personal-data surveys are reviewed at the local and national level. Provincial leaders, as well as intelligence and security staffs, must assess the package, agree that the men are credible reintegration candidates, and provide an endorsed list of the reintegration candidates names to Kabul-level GIRoA and the ISAF. Kabul-level GIRoA is supposed to check names against intelligence databases for completeness and to arbitrate issues, as needed. ISAF uses the lists to temporarily place targeting restrictions on credible reintegration candidates who are coordinating with the GIRoA to join the peace process.
Reintegration shura and pledge. Reintegration candidates take part in a reintegration shura attended by district or provincial GIRoA leaders, religious leaders, peace councils, the participating village or district elders, and the insurgent leaders and their men. In RC-N, the reintegration shura is generally viewed as a formality that publicly acknowledges decisions and agreements negotiated during outreach and grievance-resolution.
During the shura, the former insurgents offer public admission of wrongful deeds and ask that their victims, community and government grant forgiveness. Elders and governors usually make public admonishments for wrongful deeds, casting shame on insurgent actions and mullahs or religious leaders remind people that such actions are not Islamic, stressing that only forgiveness will bring peace. Finally, community members usually agree to forgiveness, and local GIRoA leaders (provincial, district and sometimes municipal) echo that forgiveness, thereby also granting GIRoA amnesty. The governor pronounces the former insurgents reintegrated, and welcomes them back into Afghan society as brothers. Money from the RFM is then approved by Kabul for the governors to support reintegrants and their communities.
It is significant that forgiveness, afwa, and amnesty from past deeds are not given lightly and are highlighted by the GIRoA as the primary incentive for reintegration. While many shuras were a formality (most insurgents would not agree to come without first determining whether they would be granted amnesty), there have been times when decisions required prolonged debate by the shura, while the candidate awaited his fate.
In one province, for example, the elders, governor and peace council debated whether they could forgive an insurgent for targeting and killing the adolescent son of a local NDS director. They ultimately granted forgiveness after a speech by the governor reminding the shura, “There can be no justice for what has happened over the past 30 years — but it is time to forgive to build peace.”
Demobilization training. The APRP requires reintegrants to receive training in demobilization, or disengagement, in order to transition them toward nonviolent lawful practices and prepare their minds for the transition to a lawful and peaceful society.
In the north, reintegration accelerated before Kabul was able to provide guidance regarding the scope of demobilization training. Recognizing that as a required step, RC-N helped governors to design and resource their own demobilization training classes, based on early discussions of what Kabul considered to be important topics. The result was a month-long, generic program of demobilization training that provinces could tailor to local conditions and requirements.
Some governors shaped demobilization training as a means of immediately tying reintegrants to the local government — which is key to reintegration. Instead of hiring outside NGOs and contractors to provide the instruction, as suggested by Kabul, they had classes taught by local religious scholars, ANSF mullahs and local GIRoA governmental employees (teachers, police, lawyers, judges, doctors, etc.). As those instructors were already receiving Afghan government salaries, their work for APRP was provided at no cost to coalition sponsors or to the APRP program, underscoring the sincerity of the governors in seeking to make reintegration successful.
Governors quickly took ownership of the demobilization training. The original APRP design included provision of a GIRoA stipend for reintegrants to purchase food and other necessities for themselves and their families, but Kabul was initially unprepared to pay it. Using U.S. DoD ARP funds, RC-North matched the stipend model outlined in the APRP, providing the stipends to the governors, who then delivered them to the reintegrants in training.
Kabul agreed that those attending province-designed training would be given credit for completing demobilization training and indicated that it might actually adopt the demobilization training developed by the provincial governors in the north.
One important advantage of starting the demobilization training right away is that contracts for the third phase of APRP, vocational training and community-development projects, take considerable time to launch. Demobilization training is faster to launch and easier to fund, and the sequencing provides the lead-time needed to prepare for Phase-3 activities.
Provision of security. Rural areas outside of the GIRoA control have the highest density of insurgents and thus also present the greatest potential for reintegration. A security-based problem emerges, as APRP enrolls large numbers of reintegrants from rural, unsecured areas beyond the reach of the ANSF and the coalition, where they are easy targets for insurgent attempts to murder their families or burn their homes in retaliation for their participation in APRP.
Entire communities are sometimes vulnerable, and insurgents have attacked and killed members of communities that have accepted reintegrants. Threats and attacks discourage reintegration and compel reintegrants and their extended families to leave remote villages to seek APRP assistance, GIRoA security and lodging at provincial or district capitals. Displacement of that high number of reintegrants and families is not supportable within the APRP parameters.
To compound the problem, contractors recycled from previous failed reintegration programs (e.g., the UNDP’s DIAG) who are now working for APRP continue to follow old policies of disarming reintegrants instead of simply registering legal weapons in accordance with APRP policy. Disarmament poses a significant risk to reintegrants’ lives, and the confusion causes them to distrust the GIRoA.
In one province, for example, after reintegrants had been killed by insurgents, the governor, frustrated by former DIAG employees from Kabul requesting that he disarm another new group of reintegration candidates, told the candidates to return home without reintegrating. He advised them to retain all their weapons — legal personal weapons as well as the larger, typically unauthorized weapons — in order to defend their village against the insurgents who had already issued threats against the community. The governor told RC-N that because the insurgents use the larger weapons to threaten villagers, he would not take comparable weapons away from the villagers and send them home to be slaughtered for supporting the GIRoA’s peace process.
The APRP originally envisioned that demobilization would also provide plans for protecting targeted reintegrants and communities in order to allow full implementation of APRP in rural areas. In RC-N, temporary accommodations are made for individuals and very small groups using safe houses of the NDS or ANP and other venues procured by governors, but those temporary solutions cannot sufficiently accommodate the increasing numbers of reintegrants. Existing local-security programs cannot expand to meet the increasing demand without large-scale decisions to expand funding and commit the required U.S. partnering manpower.
Expansion of local community security programs, such as the CFSOCC-A Afghan Local Police, or ALP, and the RC-N Community Based Security Solutions, or CBSS, is one option for addressing the problem. ALP and CBSS provide security at the district and rural-village level, where large numbers of former fighters reintegrate by hiring a local guard force of community members and reintegrants to protect the community, thereby allowing people to remain in their homes.
Consolidation of peace
The intent of the third and final APRP phase, consolidation of peace, is to provide skills training, employment options or development opportunities to insurgents and members of their community to facilitate the continued recovery from the after effects of war.
Original construct. As originally conceived, the APRP would establish national-scale works corps (e.g., Agricultural Corps, Construction Corps, etc.) to employ tens of thousands of people under programs centrally managed and funded through the GIRoA’s ministries. Unfortunately, those work corps do not exist, and plans for them will not bear fruit for many years, if ever. Development cannot take place nationally until security conditions permit large-scale investment. Further, corruption within the GIRoA must be dealt with.
Start-up support. Recognizing the challenges of delivering the GIRoA APRP model, RC-N engaged with governors to help them find ways to offer skills training and smaller, community-based development projects. To manage expectations and avoid the continued perception of broken promises, RC-N emphasized to governors that they must make clear to reintegrants that APRP does not promise jobs.
RC-N agreed to use CERP and ARP to provide skills-training start-up capital and program funding for the first six months. Training classes lasted two to six months, depending on the skill set. RC-N provided funding for a monthly stipend to reintegrants and community members while they were in vocational training.
Governors also agreed to contribute “in kind” and leverage existing resources during the first six months, including GIRoA-owned adult-training centers, and to use their budgets to pay for meals for pupils in the training classes. In those cases, RC-N provided supplies for the classes, stipends to pay instructors and pay for other costs related to vocational training.
Designing training programs. Needing to build toward Afghan ownership and sustainability, governors agreed that they would design training and community-recovery programs.
Governors and their peace committees selected vocational training and apprenticeship classes based on community requirements, potential employment opportunities and the aptitude and desires of the reintegrants. Sometimes skills training and literacy training were available for women, as well.
Two training models. Governors in RC-North developed two vocational-training models: the nongovernmental organization, or NGO, model; and the apprenticeship/adult-education model. Most NGOs in Afghanistan are for-profit organizations that command large fees, rather than philanthropic, not-for-profit organizations. Under the NGO training model, the province hires an organization to deliver a training package to a specified number of pupils over a given period of time. The advantage of the NGO model is that it is more efficient and makes it easier to contract with a training vendor. However, the money spent benefits the NGOs, not the community.
The apprenticeship/adult education model, on the other hand, hires local artisans and skilled tradesmen to train reintegrants through on-the-job training or in an informal classroom setting. The model provides money to the governor’s community and provides the added benefit of improving local capacity-building. Many governors want to use the apprenticeship model to keep skills and money in their province and reinforce the benefits of reintegration among the reintegrants and other citizens in the province.
Post-training plans. In Afghanistan, it is a challenge to sustain the impact of vocational training by providing links to employment opportunities. Stressing that training has the most impact when it is tied to a revenue-generating opportunity, RC-North encouraged governors to mandate that all new development or industrial projects in the province (e.g., demining, mineral exploration, etc.) must hire a given percentage (e.g., 20-25 percent) of local reintegrants trained in the province.
Status of reintegration in northern Afghanistan
Slightly more than a year after the APRP program launched and RC-N began assisting the governors in designing and resourcing their programs, 1,840 former insurgents joined the reintegration program in nine provinces and were accepted by the provincial governors, although as of September 2011, only 1,191 of them had completed the formal, Kabul-mandated APRP registration requirements.
Not counted in those numbers are an additional 163 additional insurgents with whom the governors acknowledged they were still negotiating in September. If successful, the negotiations would bring the total number of former northern insurgents participating in the APRP peace process to more than 2,000, or nearly equal to the total number of reintegrants in all the other five regional commands during the same period.
As of mid-June, the provincial governors had identified seven recidivists from the program in the north — all from the same province. Four were arrested for their involvement in an attack on a U.N. compound, and three were arrested for murders committed during their criminal activities in an Afghan community.
Formal, informal, semiformal. The Kabul APRP office distinguishes three types of reintegrants: formal, informal and semiformal. Formal reintegrants complete all the paperwork, biometrics and vetting processes needed to be fully recognized by APRP in Kabul. In RC-North, of the 1,840 reintegrants accepted by the governors following negotiations, only 1,191 of them are formal. Informal reintegrants are former insurgents who cease insurgent activity and return to their communities without coordinating with the Afghan government, choosing to remain anonymous and seeking no benefits from APRP. Because they remain anonymous, informal reintegrants are not counted by APRP.
Semiformal reintegrants are publically endorsed in the provinces but lack legitimacy (and therefore program support) with the Kabul-level GIRoA. They have brokered reintegration deals with provincial and district leaders and peace councils and have made public reintegration pledges but have been unable — for a variety of reasons — to complete all biometric or paperwork requirements. Kabul developed numerous bureaucratic steps for completing the reintegration process but did not resource most provinces to fulfill the requirements until almost a year after APRP launched.
For most of that year, more than 1,000 men in the north were semiformal reintegrants, having publically pledged to support the GIRoA and, in some cases, fought alongside the Afghan police and Afghan army to defend the province against insurgent attacks. Eventually, Kabul began responding to northern governors’ demands that the GIRoA resource the APRP administrative requirements. Northern governors slowly transitioned the large backlog of semiformal reintegrants to formal status, though many are still unregistered. Unfortunately, across Afghanistan, semiformal reintegrants still wait for many months, and in some regional commands, candidates are rumored to have given up and returned to the insurgency.
Although reintegration in the north is only a year old, the positive impact is already apparent, emphasizing that the promise reintegration holds as a key element of the security strategy. Early successes in the north built confidence in the program, leading to more success. Provincial police chiefs, NDS directors and senior ANSF leaders worked their networks and encouraged men to come forward. Increasing numbers of reintegrants in the north and evidence that promises were being kept encouraged other groups to join the process.
Out-administering the insurgency. Provincial and district leaders were able to broker deals and deliver on promises because of RC-North background resourcing. Governors and other provincial or district leaders demonstrated to the people that they were able to out-administer the insurgency. The insurgents responded by threatening and targeting those leaders. Throughout the year, insurgents routinely targeted government officials in Kunduz and other provinces who actively supported the peace process and delivered on promises.
Siding with GIRoA. Ideally, reintegration would be a post-conflict activity. Launching reintegration while Afghanistan is still in a state of active conflict has complicated the reintegration process. Many former insurgents are reintegrating in nonsecure areas, making the communities targets. Recognizing that, many reintegrants request to fight alongside the ANSF to secure their local areas.
Some reintegrants fight in GIRoA-led police and army operations against insurgents, and a good number of them have lost their lives on behalf of the GIRoA. While the end state of APRP is to transition reintegrants back to a peaceful society, in many places, peaceful and stable society does not exist.
Factors driving success in north
The reintegration program in the north has been successful for several reasons. A key success factor was the command emphasis of RC-North’s American deputy commander and German commander. The deputy commander requested nightly desk-side reintegration briefs, and the commander requested weekly ones. Both leveraged their positions of command power to reinforce their nations’ pledges to see reintegration succeed. By emphasizing reintegration during nearly every security briefing, key-leader engagement or staff meeting, both made their commitment to reintegration apparent to all subordinate commanders and members of the staff.
Building trust with leaders. Another key to success in RC-North was the establishment of strong relationships of trust with key Afghan decision-makers and leaders. RC-N established strong relationships with most governors, many district and municipal leaders and community leaders. Influential leaders in the Afghan National Police and NDS became allies and trusted supporters.
Members of RC-North met with those leaders at least weekly to plan, update and discuss issues related to APRP and security. Outside of meetings, they maintained close contact with leaders and their staff through frequent e-mail and phone contacts. RC-N became known as a reliable partner and asset. Because of the close relationships, leaders often sought RC-North’s support in solving problems not related to reintegration. In helping them, RC-N suggested and steered, always insisting on Afghan solutions to Afghan problems — an imperfect Afghan solution is infinitely more desirable than a less-imperfect foreign solution.
Position of strength. In general, Afghan leaders respect those who deal firmly from a position of strength but also with honesty and compassion. In dealing with leaders, RC-North made clear that their relationship as partners required both parties to maintain goodwill and to deliver. RC-N and partnered Afghan leaders were equally accountable to agreements.
But when some Afghan leaders failed to uphold their agreed-to responsibility for reasons of corruption or lack of will, RC-North made clear it was also prepared to walk away. When poor leaders continually broke agreements or took actions that undermined APRP credibility, RC-North ceased working with them and requested that Kabul address them through higher-level, political engagement. RC-North instead refocused its support on other leaders who honored their deals, thereby building success around “toxic regions” to apply indirect pressure on poor leaders.
Too often, Western civilian-aid workers and military staff desperately want Afghan programs to work, and they make themselves subservient to Afghan leaders by doing the work for them when there is a lack of Afghan involvement, will or commitment. Reintegration will not be durable if Afghan will is not behind the effort. Furthermore, the U.S. government’s position of strength is undermined when Americans let Afghans think that Americans care more about the success of reintegration and of Afghanistan than Afghans do.
Equally central to a position of strength is demonstrating that U.S. promises are kept; holding ourselves accountable allows RC-North to hold its partners accountable. RC-North worked hard to overcome an unfortunate history of unfulfilled agreements with one northern governor, and those efforts to re-establish trust paved the way for a strong reintegration program in that province. RC-North was careful never to commit to anything that could not be delivered — striving to under-promise and over-deliver in order to be known as a source that could always be trusted.
Permissive conditions. Undoubtedly, conditions in the north were more permissive for reintegration than in the south, southwest and east. Better security conditions in the north, vs. other RCs, contributed to earlier successful implementation of the APRP. While compelling reintegration opportunities existed in other RCs and a degree of success was possible, overall security conditions in those RCs may have precluded RC-wide implementation of the program.
Also notable is that the prevailing ethnic groups in the north set permissive conditions for reintegration. Often Tajiks, Uzbecks and Turkmens promoted education and progressive ideas, citing growth in Islamic countries such as Turkey as models. Reintegration was promoted by some of these more progressive leaders as a way to build stability between disenfranchised men and society. Their philosophy stood in contrast to the widespread, more feudal or myopic social philosophies held by dominant insurgent groups that confound progress in the south, southwest and east. RC-North remains convinced that reintegration has the potential to work in all RCs.
Future of reintegration
While conditions in RC-North supported early successes in reintegration, the problems encountered during implementation are harbingers of issues that will threaten APRP in other RCs. Excluding security challenges, the current significant threats to the durability of the APRP are primarily over-centralization of decision-making at the Kabul level and insufficient involvement of communities and districts, which thwarts a bottom-up approach.
Over-centralized decision-making. As originally planned, the APRP would assign decision-making power and resourcing to provincial and district leaders. Yet Kabul resists devolving power and decisions to provincial, district and community levels, even though it is clear that the government of Afghanistan lacks the ability to manage and deliver programs from Kabul. Kabul money — such as the RFM — is held indefinitely or not expeditiously released, causing significant program-stopping delays in stipends and support. Decisions made by provincial and district representatives of reintegration are reversed in Kabul, often without explanation, following long periods of bureaucratic silence. Unfortunately, history demonstrates that those same flaws caused past reintegration programs to fail in Afghanistan.
Insufficient involvement of communities and districts. Currently, communities and districts are largely under-represented in the reintegration process, especially with regard to decision-making. Originally, the APRP envisioned a bottom-up approach that would develop the connections between the reintegrating communities and the district and provincial leaders above them. Currently, there are no plans in Kabul for resourcing or empowering district leaders, peace committees or secretariats. Further more, Kabul has started reshaping policies to reduce the provincial role in APRP, rendering it to largely a symbolic and administrative capacity.
This paper highlights the interim successes of working with provincial, district and municipal leaders in Afghanistan’s RC-North to assist them in reintegrating insurgents. Because of the GIRoA attempts to run the program from Kabul, sufficient support and resourcing did not flow to the provinces or districts. RC-North partnered with northern Afghan leaders to resource them to support nearly 2,000 insurgents seeking to reintegrate and cease the struggle against the legitimate Afghan government. RC-North demonstrated that power, resourcing and support delivered through and with Afghan leaders was key to setting conditions for the early success of reintegration.
Despite differing assessments of the durability of the reintegration program in Afghanistan, successful nationwide reconciliation with Afghan insurgent leaders and the reintegration of low-level fighters will occur only when the Afghan government can negotiate from a position of strength, partnering with Afghan leaders to reinforce their success. However, if the GIRoA appears weak, corrupt or insincere in the eyes of the Afghan people and the insurgents and continues to thwart bottom-up solutions, the early success of reintegration will not continue.
Col. Christian M. Karsner is attending senior service college at the National Defense University. He was formerly chief of RC-North’s Reintegration and ALP Cell, serving during Operation Enduring Freedom. Prior to that assignment, he served at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School as chief of SF personnel proponency and as chief of the SF Doctrine Division. His other SF assignments include commander, 1st Battalion, 7th SF Group; S3, 1st SF Group; S3, 2nd Battalion, 1st SF Group; company commander, 2nd Battalion, 1st SF Group; staff officer, U.S. Army Special Operations Command; small-group instructor in the 1st Special Warfare Training Group; and detachment commander, assistant S3 and headquarters-service-company commander in the 1st Battalion, 1st SF Group. He also served in the 82nd Airborne Division as a scout platoon leader and as executive officer of the long-range surveillance detachment. Before receiving his commission through Officer Candidate School, Karsner served more than eight years as an SF NCO.
Dr. Sarah E. Kopczynski served two years in Afghanistan as a Department of Army civilian assigned to ISAF, assisting the Afghan government to develop and implement the APRP. She started as the director of development and was one of the founding members of the ISAF headquarters Force Reintegration Cell in 2009, later serving as the reintegration operational adviser at the ISAF joint command, concluding her tour in 2011 as the deputy chief of the RC-North Reintegration and ALP Cell. Prior to that, as an Army civilian, she was the lead program officer for the metrics-assessment framework, Measuring Progress in Conflict Environments Afghanistan Case Study; principal investigator for a NASA earth-systems-science research fellowship; and project manager for various U.S. Army basic and applied-research initiatives.
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2. NATO ISAF Regional Command North, 22 August 2011, http://www.isaf.nato.int/subordinate-commands/rc-north/index.php.
3. Special Defense Department briefing from Afghanistan with Maj. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz, commanding general Regional Command North; Brig. Gen. Sean Mulholland (USA), deputy commander, Regional Command North; DoD briefing room, The Pentagon, Arlington, Va., 21 September 2010, Federal News Service transcript posted via Lexis-Nexis.
4. Mark Checchia, “The Strengthening Northern Insurgency in Afghanistan,” CFC Civil-Military Fusion Center, Afghanistan thematic report (2011), 8.
5. Checchia, 8.
6. Antonio Giustozzi and Christoph Reuter, “The Insurgents of the Afghan North,” Afghanistan Analysts Network thematic report 04-2011 (2011), 61.
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8. Checchia, 8.
9. Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, National Security Council, D&R Commission, “Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, Program Document,” endorsed version presented at the 2010 Afghanistan Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, (final version 15 July 2010), 77.
10. General David H. Petraeus, “Opening Statement at the U.S. Senate ISAF Confirmation Hearing of General David H Petraeus for Appointment to Commander, International Security Assistance Force, and Commander, United Sates Forces Afghanistan,” Delivered 29 June 2010, 6.