“People [in Afghanistan] would come up to me and tell me their life stories. People in uniform,” said Dr. Corey Lofdahl, Senior Scientist, Charles River Analytics, at the beginning of a lecture at The Institute of World Politics. People did not have anybody with whom to share their stories; nobody was worrying about their fate. This experience led Dr. Lofdahl decided to develop this lecture.
During the last 30 years, Dr. Lofdahl noted, the inhabitants of Afghanistan have not had an easy life. The first ten years were spent fighting the Soviets, who invaded the country and tried to install a communist government. During the next ten years, it was a civil war that ended with the country under control of the Taliban. After the Taliban aided and abetted the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. invaded, which has led to another ten years of conflict fighting the Taliban and standing up the internationally sponsored legitimate Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIROA). As a consequence of these tragic events, natives have very interesting stories that can help one to understand the peculiarities of life in Afghanistan and to help the poor, oppressed people to stand against the oppressive Taliban regime.
Village Stability Operations have been serving the purpose of incorporating the input of locals.There are several significant problems currently facing VSO and Afghan Local Police (ALP) operations, said Dr. Lofdahl. First, there is no tradition of communication and cooperation between the central Afghan government and the country’s outlying regions, so Operational Detachments Alpha (ODAs) must initiate and establish working relationships between central and local government officials that more developed countries take for granted. Second, after thirty years of war, many of the traditional Afghan leaders have been killed or have gone into hiding, so the ODAs must locate legitimate local leaders with whom to work.
Dr. Lofdahl noted that ODAs performing VSO and ALP missions have the opposite problem of SEALs performing counter-terror missions: whereas SEALs need to find bad guys to engage, ODAs need to find good guys to build up. Working with these people is not easy, and gaining their trust is required to engage in the daily life of their village. “There are basically three different types of districts: easy, medium and hard. …In easy districts, they really like Americans and central government,” remarked Dr Lofdahl. “In hard ones, controlled by the Taliban, our men never got traction with the population. Medium ones are the most interesting. There had been some progress made, but there had also been some problems.” Such districts required either additional study to determine what had happened or additional attention to ensure that previous gains were not lost. Dr. Lofdahl recommended that it is likely better to focus initial efforts on medium to good districts and then push from these established areas into more challenging districts.
In conclusion, Dr. Lofdahl explained that the hardest task, because of the brutality of the Taliban, is to convince the natives that cooperation with representatives of the U.S. will bring them tangible benefits.