U.S. set to pay Taliban members to switch sides
There is a well-known saying in Afghanistan: “You can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.”
Some experts on the region believe a U.S. program to pay Taliban fighters to quit the organization is buying temporary loyalty.
President Obama on Wednesday signed a $680 billion defense appropriations bill, which will pay for military operations in the 2010 fiscal year. The bill includes a Taliban reintegration provision under the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which is now receiving $1.3 billion. CERP funding also is intended for humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects at commanders’ discretion.
The buyout idea, according to the Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to separate local Taliban from their leaders, replicating a program used to neutralize the insurgency against Americans in Iraq.
“Afghan leaders and our military say that local Taliban fighters are motivated largely by the need for a job or loyalty to the local leader who pays them and not by ideology or religious zeal,” Levin said in a Senate floor speech on September 11. “They believe an effort to attract these fighters to the government’s side could succeed, if they are offered security for themselves and their families, and if there is no penalty for previous activity against us.”
But Nicholas Schmidle, an expert on the Afghanistan-Pakistan region for the non-partisan New America Foundation, said that while the plan has a “reasonable chance for some success,” the old Afghan saying will eventually be borne out.
“So long as the Americans are keenly aware of this, you’re buying a very, very, very temporary allegiance,” he said. “If that’s the foundation for moving forward, it’s a shaky foundation.”
The bill comes as an uptick in violence claimed the lives of several American troops in Afghanistan over the past few months. In the most recent attack on Tuesday, eight soldiers were killed in what officials are calling a well-coordinated attack in southern Afghanistan involving improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire.
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