On March 1, 2012, MAJ John Rose, United States Army and Institute of World Politics Class of 2009, returned to IWP to speak about his experiences in Afghanistan, and how his IWP education helped him in his different positions in Farah province.
MAJ Rose wished to clarify that his talk was based primarily on his personal experience and position, and cautioned against drawing a universal rule from his experience.
He started his talk by giving an overview of the western Farah province in Afghanistan, which shares a border with Iran. He described the major lines of communication into and out of the province, which were routes for what the locals called “commerce” and what Westerners might describes as “smuggling.” He described several of the key players, including the local influential families, the Afghan Army, the National Security Force, and the Taliban’s local shadow government.
Realizing that understanding the local cultural norms would be important, he asked IWP’s Dr. Chodakiewicz for some help before his deployment. MAJ Rose received a “long reading list” to help him understand the local culture. He described a few of the cultural features of Afghanistan which he thought were important to know. The first was politeness, or a tendency to avoid disagreement or conflict. The second was the prevalence of poetry. MAJ Rose described how he tried to learn some poetry from his translators to help get his point across, and contrasted it with the American attitude of “What’s the bottom line?” The third cultural norm was hospitality. MAJ Rose knew that as long as traveled with his Afghan counterpart, he would be shown hospitality in the area, and have some level of protection. Finally, he discussed the issue of honor, and particularly how the village is a continuation of the family’s social honor. This idea was tied into the concept of “pashtunwali,” where the protection and honor of the village was paramount.
MAJ Rose then discussed some of the challenges inherent in counterinsurgency (COIN). He briefly summarized the “clear, hold, build” tenets of the US Army’s counterinsurgency strategy. He then focused on some of the drivers of instability in Afghanistan, including poverty, unemployment, honor, and the lack of ability to gain means. He used the example of the policy of removing and destroying poppy fields as something that could drive an insurgency as it forced those farmers into poverty. Discussing issues of governance, Rose said that there was only some district level representation from the Kabul government. The Taliban, on the other hand, were much more accessible when it came to handling local issues like water disputes. Rose then discussed the issue of security force assistance, talking about how it was very important that the Army assist the police. Ideally, the police would be a local force, still aligned with the central government, and would be able to stop outside forces from co-opting the people. In reality, however, it was a major problem that many policemen tended to be more oriented to their family and tribe then to the central government.
MAJ Rose then turned his attention squarely on his own deployment and his experiences in Farah. He served first as a staff officer and then as a commander of one Troop which had two platoons (one infantry, one cavalry). He stressed the importance in working alongside his Afghan counterpart in the local Quick Reaction Force. He praised the Afghan commander as “valiant,” describing how he saw him leading from the front in an engagement. Rose understood that the Afghan army was very personality-driven, and that he could gain their respect and trust mainly by doing. With this understanding, he was able to build joint-task force scenarios with the Afghans on how to respond to potential suicide bombings. He also better understood how to deal with the local elders and powerful families, framing his appeals in terms of the cost ISAF members had paid to be in Afghanistan.
Towards the end of his talk, Rose credited IWP with giving him the mental exercise to make connections between different theories and put them into practice.
MAJ Rose has served in several other positions in addition to his tour in Afghanistan; prior to coming to IWP as a student, he had served in Bosnia and Iraq. He has received two Bronze Stars and several Army Achievement Medals. He has five kids. He is currently studying Strategic Intelligence in the School of Science and Technology Intelligence at the National Intelligence University. When he attended IWP, he was one of the first Army sponsored students to complete the M.A. program under an agreement through Advanced Civilian Schooling (ACS).