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REVIEW: American Spartan by Ann Scott Tyson

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen']

American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant by Ann Scott Tyson 

When I first posted that I had received a review copy of American Spartan from Callieit stirred a vigorous debate in the comments section and also a flurry of email offline to me from various parties. Joseph Collins reviewed American Spartan for War on the Rocks , Don Vandergriff posted his review at LESC blog , Blackfive had theirs here,and there was an incisive one in the MSM by former Assistant Secretary of Defense and author Bing West, all of which stirred opinions in the various online forums to which I belong. Then there was the ABC Nightline special which featured Tyson and Gant as well as an appearance by former CIA Director, CENTCOM, Iraq and Afghanistan commander General David Petraeus:

Major Gant was also a topic here at ZP years ago when he released his widely read and sometimes fiercely debated paper “One Tribe at a Time“, at Steven Pressfield’s site, which launched all of the events chronicled by Tyson in American Spartan.  To be candid, at the time and still today, I remain sympathetic to strategies that enlist “loyalist paramilitaries” to combat insurgencies and other adversarial irregular forces. It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered. With that background in mind, on to the book.

First, as a matter of literature and style, Ann Scott Tyson is a gifted writer who can weave a compelling story with dramatic flair. American Spartan is a page turner from start to finish. Having all the ingredients of a Hollywood action movie or bestselling novel, American Spartan would appeal to a wide audience, not simply readers with military experience or a wonkish interests in foreign and defense policy. Moreover, Tyson is well served by her long experience as a war correspondent. She gets the gritty texture of the theater of  scenes and little details of Army outpost life right in a way that other civilian writers sitting at a remove, recycling war stories could not. American Spartan is compared to Sebastian Junger’s War for good reason. If you like a good story and that is reason enough for you to read a book, buy American Spartan; it will not fail to engage and entertain.

Secondly, we need to be frank regarding Tyson’s objectivity. It is clear-cut; she has none. American Spartan is not a work of journalism or a biography of Jim Gant, it is Tyson’s memoir and apologia. She was not an observer or an anthropologist among the Mohmand. Nor is she merely partisan scribe on Gant’s behalf. Tyson is a full-fledged participant in events – even battles -in her own right.  Tyson pleads her own cause as well as Gant’s in American Spartan. This is an ancient rhetorical tradition that goes back to Xenophon and Julius Caesar and it is often a noble one, but to the reader, with this kind of genre, caveat emptor.

The substance of the book, Gant’s implementation of his “One Tribe at Time” strategy among the Pashtuns and his rise and fall with the hierarchy of the US Army is more complicated and begs for deeper examination. Readers with knowledge of Afghanistan, the Army, American policy or some combination of the three will find nearly as much to read between the lines of American Spartan as they will in the text itself. It is fascinating, really, and the moral implications are deeply disturbing.

To summarize, American Spartan lays out a tragic paradox. My impression is that the tribal engagement strategy Gant championed would never have been permitted to succeed, even had he been a Boy Scout in his personal conduct; and secondly, even if tribal engagement had been fully resourced and enthusiastically supported, Gant himself would have self-destructed regardless.  A Greek tragedy in a khet partug.

Gant has frequently been compared to the legendary Lawrence of Arabia and the fictional Colonel Kurtz.   Interestingly, both of those figures died early and untimely deaths, having long outlived their usefulness for their respective armies. Major Gant is, fortunately, very much alive today which may be the only good outcome associated with his fall from grace.  Given his predisposition for assuming heroic risks, taking battle to the enemy, chance hazards of war and Gant’s own struggle with PTSD, alcoholism and pills chronicled by Tyson, the bitter vendetta of Gant’s immediate superiors ironically may have kept him from also becoming Afghanistan’s John Paul Vann or Bernard Fall.  Gant is not a Colonel Kurtz. That charge would be a slander; nor is he really T.E. Lawrence either, though that is a much better comparison. Gant had more bite to Lawrence’s bark and that was at least part of the equation in Gant’s success.  The al-Saud and al-Rashid tribes and Turkish pashas did not fear Lawrence the same way Taliban commanders and rival Pashtun subtribes personally feared Jim Gant, whom one of his fiercest anthropologist critics called “very scary”.  It was not only tea and beards, nor could it be.

Gant was the best qualified SF officer to go on the mission he was assigned, to win over Pashtun tribal support against the Taliban, but was in no condition to do so in the aftermath of his firefight-heavy deployment in Iraq.  Gant went to Afghanistan anyway, despite jealous Kabul based colonel-bureaucrats warning him and and his mission off as unwanted.  This is a brutal and seldom fully appreciated aspect of our recent wars. In Vietnam, two combat tours was considered heavy-duty and three or more tours could have you marked as a “combat bum”. Today three combat tours are not unusual and I have met men with five and seven. This burden is distributed with great inequality among uniformed personnel and even more so among society at large. To this burden is added an incredible degree of micromanagement of fighting units by the chain of command, particularly in Afghanistan. In this respect at least, Gant proved the exception to the rule: he defiantly operated largely free of oversight or constraint.

The behavior of the US Army hierarchy toward Jim Gant and his mission as chronicled by Tyson in American Spartan could only be characterized as schizophrenic. Gant enjoyed tremendously intimidating “top cover” support for most of his time in Afghanistan – Admiral Eric Olson, head of SOCOM, General David Petraeus, head of CENTCOM (later ISAF commander), General Stanley McChrystal, ISAF commander, Lt. General John Mulholland (who would later cashier Gant), head of Army Special Operations Command, Brigadier General Michael Repass, the commander of Army Special Forces, several key members of Congress and the powerful Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. As a result, Gant enjoyed tremendous autonomy in his operations in Mohmand territory, both with the tribe and how and where he chose to engage the Taliban. There was a distinct lack of curiosity, a studied looking away of Gant jettisoning counterproductive ROE, refusing micromanagement by radio during firefights or even what could only be called the batshit crazy decision  to have Tyson live with him as his camp “wife” in Malik Noor Afzhal’s village. That Tyson was useful to Gant in dealing with Mohmand families and winning the trust of the tribe is true but her presence was also a mad risk and so flagrant a violation of the rules that Gant was essentially daring a termination of his mission and likely his career. Despite her presence being well known – the Taliban openly spoke of Tyson’s presence on their radio –  these things were ignored because Gant was producing the political results he promised the top brass without losing a man to the enemy.

Not that this success made Gant popular with his immediate superiors or staff officers at ISAF headquarters. By contrast they termed him “an alcoholic, womanizing, mentally unstable, maverick”.  But smarting from being publicly overruled on tribal strategy by General Petraeus, having failed at sidelining Gant into a desk job and then thwarted in an attempt to divert Gant to a different district, Gant’s nominal superiors in Afghanistan were too afraid to try to openly derail his  high profile operation a fourth time. So they retreated to a campaign of petty bureaucratic harassment and non-support of Gant’s mission.  Needing an experienced SF team of AfPak hands, his superiors assigned Gant soldiers from conventional units, transfers from noncombatant positions, green recruits straight from boot camp and those who had washed out elsewhere. They issued lengthy, niggling,punitive, regulations prescribing the precise grooming and length of beards worn in the field and the placement of patches. They slowrolled supplies and later squeezed money and ammunition and eventually succeeded in removing Gant from the Army, partly on Mickey Mouse violations but mainly because of  his cohabitation with Tyson. In short, the Army bureaucracy demonstrated with Gant’s mission all of the utter lack of urgency regarding the war, blind obstinacy, misplaced priorities, selective ethics, politicized incompetence and manipulative self-regard that has helped the US maintain its  glide path to defeat in Afghanistan.

Gant, however, made their task easy once his superiors felt safe to pull that trigger.

In between Gant’s arrival and his departure from Afghanistan, Gant demonstrated that he was a remarkably talented SF officer, gifted at recruiting and training indigenous forces and adept in harmonizing tribal politics to a convergence of interests with ISAF security goals.  Gant expanded his earlier rapport with “Sitting Bull” Malik Noor Afzhal, integrating his unit with Noor’s Mohmand villagers and himself with the tribe, eventually becoming a malik himself and virtual son of NoorAfzhal.  Gant’s methods, leadership based on personal example and building trust cemented by careful adherence to local conceptions and customs of honor, paid dividends. Taliban influence in the area receded and neighboring district subtribes, once determinedly hostile, began to waver and send feelers to Gant. However, these methods required working with tribes from a posture of respect, adjusting to the ways of Afghans rather than trying to adjust the tribesmen to the ways of America, living with them, eating their food, listening to their advice. If Gant resembles T.E. Lawrence in anything, it is here; with the Mohmand, Gant walked their walk and the Mohmand responded.

Until Gant’s downfall at the hands of a malcontented subordinate, vengeful superiors and his own personal foibles, he was doing exactly what special forces were created to do – connecting the tactical to the strategic by enabling indigenous troops to become real force multipliers. This is also inevitably a political act in the local context. As villagers become armed and trained they become empowered to defend their own interests.  That changes the power calculus not only against the Taliban insurgents, but also against wealthy bigwigs, criminal gangs, corrupt provincial authorities and the central government itself. That threat was why Karzai had so little tolerance and even less enthusiasm for “arm the tribes” American schemes and why a national expansion of Gant’s “One tribe at a time” template was unlikely to happen. It was politically impossible in Afghanistan, as Gant himself conceded to General Petraeus. Arguably, it may have also irked the chain of command to have some “cowboy” Major free-lancing thousands of tribal fighters from his qalat in rural Afghanistan, accountable to no one, while they sat at desks in converted shipping containers  designing power point briefs and attending to paperwork. Hence their accusations that Gant had “gone native” and had become a Colonel Kurtz-like mad warlord of Chowkay. Gant was subsequently broken in rank, his special forces tab was revoked and was retired as a captain.

The story of Major Jim Gant, placed into historical context, should give us pause for several reasons:

First, is the repeated difficulty of the American military in the modern era to effectively fight counterinsurgency wars.

One element in our failure may be the historic intolerance of a swollen military bureaucracy for the inherently political demands of unconventional and counterinsurgency missions that require greater flexibility and autonomy of judgement on the part of NCO’s, junior and field grade officers than standard procedures and regulations normally permit. Repeatedly, COIN wars tend to yield up “mavericks” like Gant whose successes in the field are conducted by methods at odds from the expectations of micromanagers running headquarters. Or whose local successes result in an overselling of possibilities at the policy level to scale these efforts up to an unsustainable degree. It may also be that the sizable expansion of special forces and special operations forces in size since 9/11 have also resulted in an importation of greater bureaucracy into the way that even these relatively nimble, elite units conduct their missions. I’m not certain, but when it takes the concerted intervention of a constellation of  three and four star generals, including theater and combatant commanders to force something as simple as the deployment of one single SF officer and a small unit to work with tribesmen, something is seriously wrong.

Secondly, the shifting of costs in our recent wars has become troublesome at a moral level.

Seldom in American history have so few bore so much on behalf of so many who did so little in wartime. Major Gant’s flaws and mistakes are his own but it is difficult to argue that a tempo of overdeployment to “hard combat” that is burning out and breaking down the SF/SOF community was likely to improve his or anyone’s performance as a soldier and commander. The AVF was not designed to fight a decade of war without calling up all of the reserves and/or returning to conscription but that is how we have prosecuted our wars, including temporary gimmicks like stop-loss orders and lowered recruitment standards to patch over the manpower deficit. As a result, the cost of doing the real work of fighting fell on far too few with the unsurprising rise in PTSD, broken marriages and suicide among veterans while absolutely nothing has been asked of society at large. Nor have we done right by those who have helped us. By that I do not mean the corrupt and incompetent Karzai and Maliki regimes, but of the ordinary Iraqis and Afghans who stuck out their necks to fight with Americans against the enemy as interpreters, allied units or tribal irregulars. As a seventy year historical pattern, the USG and military bureaucracy always abandons our real friends to the enemy, denying them visas, money or even ammunition even while continuing to lavish aid dollars on treacherous thieves like Hamid Karzai.  When we leave and the day of reckoning comes for those who helped us, we look away and accept no responsibility.

American Spartan is not a book, it is a mirror held up to America’s war effort at the granular level.

Strongly recommended.

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War on the Rocks: A New Nixon Doctrine – Strategy for a Polycentric World

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I have a new piece up at the excellent War on the Rocks site that is oriented towards both history and contemporary policy Some Excerpts:

A New Nixon Doctrine: Strategy for a Polycentric World

….Asia was only the starting point; the Nixon doctrine continued to evolve in subsequent years into a paradigm for the administration to globally leverage American power, one that, as Chad Pillai explained in his recent War on the Rocks article, still remains very relevant today. Avoiding future Vietnams remained the first priority when President Nixon elaborated on the Nixon Doctrine to the American public in a televised address about the war the following October, but the Nixon Doctrine was rooted in Nixon’s assumptions about larger, fundamental, geopolitical shifts underway that he had begun to explore in print and private talks before running for president. In a secret speech at Bohemian Grove in 1967 that greatly bolstered his presidential prospects, Nixon warned America’s political and business elite that the postwar world as they knew it was irrevocably coming to an end [....]

….China was a strategic lodestone for Richard Nixon’s vision of a reordered world under American leadership, which culminated in Nixon’s historic visit to Peking and toasts with Mao ZeDong and Zhou En-lai. In the aftermath of this diplomatic triumph, a town hall meeting on national security policy was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute that featured the Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird squaring off with future Nobel-laureate, strategist and administration critic Thomas Schelling over the Nixon Doctrine and the meaning of “polycentrism” in American foreign policy. Laird was concerned with enunciating the implications of the Nixon doctrine as an operative principle for American foreign policy, taking advantage of the glow of a major success for the administration. Schelling, by contrast, was eager to turn the discussion away from China to the unresolved problem of the Vietnam war, even when he elucidated on the Nixon doctrine’s strategic importance. [....]

….What lessons can we draw from the rise of the Nixon Doctrine?

First, as in Nixon’s time, America is again painfully extricating itself from badly managed wars that neither the public nor the leaders in two administrations who are responsible for our defeat are keen to admit were lost. Nixon accepted defeat strategically, but continued to try to conceal it politically (“Vietnamization,” “Peace with Honor,” etc). What happened in Indochina in 1975 with the fall of Saigon is being repeated in Iraq right now, after a fashion. It will also be repeated in Afghanistan, and there it might be worse than present-day Iraq. [....]

Read the article in its entirety here.

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Ramadan, the military and the Bible: misplaced juxtapositions, paradoxes, nuances

Monday, July 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the paradoxes, double standards, accommodations and hypocrisies -- whatever you call them, however you see them -- that arise when religions overlap -- or bump up against one another ]
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That’s a juxtaposition of title and photo, straight out of my morning mail from Vision to America News a few days back.

As you know, juxtaposition is a particular favorite of mine, the rhetorical flourish I most enjoy — but it can manifestly be abused. Do you suppose the personnel in the photo were under orders to perform the characteristic Muslim five-times-daily prayers known as salat? Were they led, perhaps, by an officer or senior NCO? Isn’t that what this juxtaposition suggests?

Or is the photo simply a photo of Muslim members of the armed forces at prayer, in accordance with their beliefs?

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Pamela Geller uses the same photo with the title you see here:

Her text, below, begins:

Our troops must adhere to the sharia during the Islamic month of Ramadan in Bahrain and other Muslim countries. Subjected to dawah (proselytizing) by an Islamic cultural adviser at the Naval Support Activity, soldiers are forced to sit through lessons on Islam. No eating, drinking, alcohol, smoking during the month of Ramadan.

This is what the Obama administration and the US military are obsessed with as armies of jihad tear through the Middle East.

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By way of contrast, back in 2009 Army dot Mil datelined Fort Jackson, SC, FORT JACKSON, S.C., September 24, carried the same photo under the headline Soldiers celebrate end of Ramadan

with the caption:

Muslim Soldiers bow down in prayer during the celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr Sunday at the Joe E. Mann Center. Eid-Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims worldwide.

and text that begins:

About 100 Muslim Soldiers gathered at the Joe E. Mann Center Sunday to celebrate Eid-Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

“It’s a great honor and privilege to do this,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, who presided over the ceremonial part of the celebration. “We want (the Soldiers) to be empowered through the spiritual foundation that Islam provides. Eid-Al-Fitr is a culmination of the fasting during the month of Ramadan. As a result of that, we do the celebration traditionally for three days, but the biggest (part) is this particular day.”

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And the truth shall set you free.

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The fact is, though, that much as I think Vision to America and Ms Geller are playing dirty pool here, I do think we have a bit of a paradox going when we offer our troops in Dubai sensitivity training in Islamic traditions and ask them to be respectful of them…


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— even going so far as to ban and burn Bibles in Pashto and Dari sent to troops in Afghanistan, because they might be used by enthusiastic evangelicals to evangelize the locals:

Military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday.

The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said. Such religious outreach can endanger American troops and civilians in the devoutly Muslim nation, Wright said.

“The decision was made that it was a ‘force protection’ measure to throw them away, because, if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims,” Wright told CNN on Tuesday.

Hey, I have to say I sympathize with that argument —

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But I also sympathize with the Air Force kid who wanted to put a Gospel verse up on his personal whiteboard, and was ordered to take it down. As Onan Coca writing at Eagle Rising pointed out:

The truth of the matter is that no Christian would have complained had a Jewish or Muslim cadet placed a verse from their religious scriptures on their whiteboards.

I certainly hope that’s the case — Baruch haShem, and Allah knows best.

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The ISIS flood in my twitterstream today 2: big picture

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an attempt to "curate" the onrush of news, hitting the high points on a low, low morning ]
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I have tried to keep the tweets here limited to their own texts, with illustrations only where essential, and without “parent tweets” and other encumbrances. Even so, it’s a long read — my advice would be to take it fast, first, and then come back to click on articles and other details that look like they’re of particular interest.

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And I’m sure a lot has happened during the half-hour or more it has taken me to put even this small selection of relevant tweets together!

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Posts from my Coursera classes 2 — angles on the Taliban

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a follow-up post, includes the "brother against brother" issue & Afghan Taliban  ]
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Following up on my previous post in this series, I’ll begin with some comments specific to the Taliban that address the issue of dehumanization I raised there… and conclude with some comments on “brother against brother” in warfare in general and Afghanistan in particular.

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Since various people have mentioned the Taliban in this thread, and some have attributed the actions of al-Qaeda to them — even actions taken many thousands of miles away from Afghanistan and Pakistan — it may be helpful to recall that the Taliban is not al-Qaeda, and has from the beginning had its own bones to pick with them.

Two western journalists who have lived in Afghanistan for years, Alex Strick van Linschoten & Felix Kuehn, have made this very clear in interviews, articles and books like An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan:

Most importantly, in their paper for New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, Separating the Taliban from al-Qaeda: The Core of Success in Afghanistan, Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn report:

Afghans have not been involved in international terrorism, nor have the Afghan Taliban adopted the internationalist jihadi rhetoric of affiliates of al-Qaeda.

This 2011 article titled The Taliban is not Al Qaeda summarizes some of the more significant differences between the two groups:

Kuehn points out that the Taliban and Al Qaeda adhere to different strains of Islamic thought, the Taliban associated with Saudi-influenced, Wahhabi-style Hanafi beliefs, and Al Qaeda associated with the more radical, more rigid Hanbali school. The Taliban, of course, are Afghans, and Al Qaeda mostly Arab and almost entirely non-Afghan. Generationally, they are different, too, with most Al Qaeda leaders older than the young commanders of the Taliban, and whereas many Al Qaeda people are professionals and well educated, the Taliban are rural, unschooled, and grew up in places like Kandahar where newspapers were nonexistent and even radios were in the hands of only a privileged few.

The Taliban, in other words, are Afghans concerned mainly about Afghanistan, while al-Qaeda is a multi-national franchise operation, originating in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and focused largely on “the far enemy” — ie the United States.

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And how do the Taliban themselves feel about dehumanization? Do they recognize the effects of war in those terms?

One of the best ways to get a glimpse into their hearts and souls is via their poetry, which van Linschoten and Kuehn have painstakingly collected, translated and published in The Poetry of the Taliban — it was researching this book for my review in Christianity Today’s literary review, Books and Culture that led me to several of the quotes I’ve used above.

Here’s a Taliban poem from that collection which directly addresses dehumanization, but through “enemy eyes”…

We are not animals,
I say this with certainty.
But,
Humanity has been forgotten by us,
And I don’t know when it will come back.
May Allah give it to us,
and decorate us with this jewelry,
the jewelry of humanity,
For now it’s only in our imagination.

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That pretty much wraps up the “dehumanization of the enemy” side of things for me, at least for now. Next up, the question of brother fighting against brother, and its implications in Afghanistan. What follows is also drawn from the thread on “Marines Urinating on Taliban” in the Princeton Paradoxes of War MOOC

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I’m going to bypass the “urinating on the dead” side of things for a moment, and offer a comment on the Afghan Taliban, specifically, and more generally the Afghan mujahideen (vs the Soviets) and  more generally still, the
issue of families that find themselves on both sides of a conflict. I’ll work in from the most general case, and wind up with the specifics of the contemporary Afghan Taliban.

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Not without reason, the American Civil War is sometimes termed a war of “brother against brother”.

There seem to have been many families where some members sided with the Confederacy and some with the Union forces. I am usually wary of believing Wikipedia without further research, but it appears that there were two instances in which a pair of brothers were each brigadier generals on opposite sides of the conflict: George Bibb Crittenden (Confederate) and Thomas Leonidas Crittenden (Union), and James Barbour Terrill (Confederate) and William Rufus Terrill (Union). The letters between James and Alexander Campbell are instructive on this point:

I was astonished to hear from the prisoners that you was colour Bearer of the Regmt that assalted the Battrey at this point the other day.  When I first heard it I looked over the field for you where I met one of the wounded of your Regt and he told me that he believed you was safe.  I was in the Brest work during the whole engagement doing my Best to Beat you but I hope that you and I will never again meet face to face Bitter enemies in the Battle field.  But if such should be the case You have but to discharge your deauty to Your caus for I can assure you I will strive to discharge my deauty to my country & my cause.

Interestingly enough, there’s an echo here of Matthew 10.21 in the Christian New Testament:

Brothers will turn against their own brothers and hand them over to be killed.

— although here it is the new religious view which causes families to split apart…

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But there’s another strategy which pits brother against brother, not because of ideological principle or geographic sympathies, but as a means of risk management…

Kalvyas (The Logic of Violence in Civil War, p 229) quotes Stone (Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642, p. 144):

Particularly risky (and less frequent) is the family strategy of purposefully sending offspring to serve in competing armies. During the English Revolution, “some contemporary cynics argued that these family divisions [between belligerents] were part of a carefully arranged insurance policy, so that whichever side won there would always be someone with influence among the victors to protect the family property from confiscation and dismemberment”

And this appears to be a regular feature of Afghan Pashtun culture. Here’s Vern Liebl writing in “Pushtuns, Tribalism, Leadership, Islam and Taliban: a Short View”, Small Wars & Insurgencies, vol 18 iss 3, Sept 2007:

This is a historical tendency among Pushtun tribes; most families/-tribes will play multiple axes, just in case. For example, during the Soviet occupation era, it was not unusual at all to send a son (either of the family or the khel) to join the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan Army, essentially serving the Communist
regime, another son or sons to join one or more of the various mujahedeen groups, another son to a madrasah in Pakistan, another son to the West to study and/or work, and a last son to stay and work to keep everybody else alive.

Jonathan Goodhand and Mark Sedra in “Bargains for Peace? Aid, Conditionalities and Reconstruction in Afghanistan” (Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’, Conflict Research Unit, August 2006) put this in terms of the conflict of (presumed) opposites:

Afghans on both side of the conflict consistently subverted the bi-polar logic of their external backers; alliances in the field were constantly shifting back and forth between the mujahedin and pro-government militias. At the micro level Afghans would have family members in both the government forces and the mujahedin as part of a political risk spreading strategy.

And the Australian David Kilcullen — a senior counter-insurgency advisor to US General Petraeus — puts it very simply:

A lot of families in Afghanistan have one son fighting with the government, and another son fighting with the Taliban. It’s a hedging strategy.

So — a given Taliban fighter may have a brother working beside ISAF team members in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Is he perhaps “Taliban” only as a risk-avoidance strategy, on behalf of his father, mother, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, cousins? Because that’s not the same as hating all Americans…

And that’s yet another of the paradoxes of this particular war, I’d suggest…

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Once again I’m offering these mini-essays here in their original form, which offers opinion backed by research sources, hoping that comments here will point me in new directions and allow me to reconsider and rewrite these materials as I move towards book form…

Thanks in advance!

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