Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Taliban pays better

Why does the Taliban have no problem finding soldiers to fight for them in Afghanistan, while the Afghan Army is desperate for new recruits? Simple: The Taliban pays better. And this is unlikely to change, due to the rampant corruption that means that any money the Afghan government gets for things like increasing soldier pay is just as likely to disappear into the pockets of corrupt paymasters as it is to actually reach soldiers' pockets.

Of course, pay isn't the only thing soldiers fight for. They fight for king and country too. Unfortunately, that assumes that king and country exist. Karzai is widely considered to be a corrupt puppet of the United States and nobody fights for Karzai, he has no charisma, no following, nothing. And the majority of Afghans view themselves as members of an ethnic group or tribe, not as an Afghan fighting for Afghanistan. If there were outside invaders in Afghanistan they could view themselves as fighting for Afghanistan collectively against outside invaders, but the Taliban are a native-grown Afghan institution, not outside invaders. The only outside invaders are... err... us.

This all reminds me of some prior history. We had the same problem in South Vietnam. We gave the South Vietnamese government enough money to pay the troops, but the paymasters tended to embezzle the money into their Swiss bank accounts rather than paying the troops with it. There's many a restaurant here in the USA that was started with money that was intended to be paid to ARVN soldiers.

Anyhow, the eventual result in South Vietnam was that the troops basically said, "no pay, no play" and, lacking any allegiance to any nation (since there was no real South Vietnamese national identity, no leader had built a cult of nationhood there just as Afghans don't view themselves as Afghans but, rather, as members of an ethnic group or clan) saw no reason to fight hard. During the final offensive after their leadership mostly fled the country they by and large threw down their weapons and stripped off their uniforms and went home. Both NVA veterans and civilians who later escaped report that the streets of Saigon were littered with thrown-down weapons and uniforms as the NVA entered virtually unopposed. The NVA probably would have won even if those soldiers hadn't deserted, but it would have been a hollow victory with a severely-reduced force, rather than the triumphal procession that it turned into.

What that history says about our chances in Afghanistan... you connect the dots yourself, okay?

-- Badtux the History Penguin

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