Jon Weinberg is a research intern at the New America Foundation/Middle East Task Force.
Last week, Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to the UN, and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) spoke at RAND’s “Afghanistan: Basic Questions–Strategy Choices” conference.
Both emphasized that key strategic choices must be considered before a decision on troops is made.
These points are well taken, but were hardly novel given that everyone and his or her uncle seems to have ideas for a “new” Afghanistan strategy these days.
On the other hand, it’s not every day that one hears a good idea for building/rebuilding the Afghan economy. Khalilzad and Levin both expressed their support for the “Sons of Afghanistan” program, which is part of the $680 billion defense bill that President Obama signed on Wednesday. The program is modeled on the “Sons of Iraq” program, which lures former and would-be mercenary insurgents – who arguably comprise the majority of all insurgents – over to fight against their former patrons.
The new defense bill allocates $1.3 billion to “reintegration” programs aimed at individuals “who have renounced violence against the government of Afghanistan.”
The success of the program is not guaranteed. Skeptics are quick to point out that Afghanistan is not Iraq and that the former’s economic woes far outweigh the latter’s. Perhaps that’s why the “Sons of Afghanistan” program has been on the table for a while without receiving more serious consideration.
Despite the many challenges of implementation, the logic behind attracting the other side’s mercenaries to one’s own side is actually quite sound. Moreover, the US government is far more capable of making regular payments than are fickle Afghan warlords and tribal leaders.
Based on this recent statement by Mullah Brader Akhund, the Taliban’s leadership seems either legitimately threatened by or completely dismissive of the program’s potential impact.
The Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are not mercenaries and employed gunmen like the armed men of the invaders and their surrogates. This war will come to an end when all invaders leave our country and an Islamic government based on the aspirations of our people is formed in the country.
But in a country with $12-billion GDP, a well-managed $1.3 billion program could make a significant difference.
— Jon Weinberg