The Best Defense

One of these tribes is not like the other: Differences between Iraq and Af’stan

A friend comments on some of the differences between Afghan tribes and those in Iraq:

Iraq Tribes:

  • Obviously Hierarchical
  • Easily Mappable
  • Ordered
  • Objective Hierarchy

Pashtun Tribes:

  • Not Obviously Hierarchical
  • Not Easily Mappable
  • Not Necessarily Ordered
  • Subjective Hierarchy

Tom again: His interpretation of what this means is that Petraeus got it wrong when he tried to apply Iraq to Afghanistan -- and that al Qaeda got it wrong when it tried to apply Afghanistan to Iraq:

One of the reasons that bin Laden and the other Arab Afghans were able to work their way into the local Pashtu networks is because there the hierarchical power is not transmitted by descent type of kinship arrangements. When these guys tried to export the model to Iraq, specifically in Anbar, but also in Sunni enclaves that were more tribal in other places, all they did was piss off the actual guys with authority -- the sheikhs. And because so much of tribal/familial and religious leadership is combined in Iraq, they managed to piss off two institutions at once: the tribal and the religious leadership at the same time. And there are almost no purely Sunni or Shi'a tribes in Iraq. So the anti-Shi'a message, combined with not understanding the societal dynamics, cost them. It wasn't the only reason that the tribal guys wanted to come in from the cold, but it was a contributing factor.


The Best Defense

A Marine officer: I’m leaving the Corps because it doesn’t much value ideas

By Anonymous

Best Defense department of junior officer retention

I'm an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. I deployed last year to Helmand Province on an embedded training team with the Afghan National Army. It was an incredible experience, and I'm proud of what we accomplished together, but now I'm in my last month of active duty and I'll be getting out as a first lieutenant. I decided to leave the Marines a few months ago. (I was career designated, which I say not to brag, but so you don't think I'm some disgruntled jarhead.)

I've been closely following the discussion that you kicked off with your book, your piece in The Atlantic, and on Best Defense. I want to weigh in on one point about which I feel strongly -- it is that firing certain generals will send a message to junior officers about the value of adaptability and critical thinking. I don't know that it will, but you are absolutely correct that such a message is necessary.

The conclusions you fear people may draw regarding Petraeus's departure -- "critical thinking and ideas are overrated" -- were particularly poignant. I know you're talking Army. Sadly, it applies to the Marine Corps, too. 

An example: As the wars draw to a close, the Marine Corps is preaching a return to its roots. This is all well and good. But it seems as if everyone is holding up the 1990s as an idyllic time in the Marine Corps's history, as if the past decade with all of its lessons and changes was an aberration. My fear is we will learn very little from it. 

In my battalion's after action report from the deployment, there are more than fifty topics discussed. Just three of them relate to partnering, the main effort in Helmand and our primary mission. The rest are tactical prescriptions with a few operational suggestions thrown in -- not the sort of analysis you want from a battalion staff.

If you've read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's new book, you know how General Larry Nicholson is portrayed. He isn't perfect, but he at least "gets it." My impression, having endured dozens of empty speeches from generals these past few years, is that men like him are few and far between. What concerns me much more, though, is that among my peers, the ones with ideas are the ones getting out, because they just don't feel the organization values them.

During the summer of 2011, the author served in Helmand Province as a Tolai Advisor to the Afghan National Army's 215th Corps. The views presented here are his own.