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War and Politics in Afghanistan

October 19, 2009

by Steve Coll

Over the summer, the Afghan Taliban’s military committee distributed “A Book of Rules,” in Pashto, to its fighters. The book’s eleven chapters seem to draw from the population-centric principles of F.M. 3-24, the U.S. Army’s much publicized counter-insurgency field manual, released in 2006. Henceforth, the Taliban guide declares, suicide bombers must take “the utmost steps . . . to avoid civilian human loss.” Commanders should generally insure the “safety and security of the civilian’s life and property.” Also, lest anxious Afghan parents get the wrong idea, Taliban guerrillas should avoid hanging around with beardless young boys and should particularly refrain from “keeping them in camps.”

The manual might be risible if the Taliban’s coercive insurgency were not so effective. Afghanistan’s self-absorbed President, Hamid Karzai, might even consider leafing through it; if he could account for his citizenry’s appetite for justice and security half as adaptively as his enemies do, Barack Obama would not be struggling so hard to locate the “good war” he pledged to win during his campaign for the White House. more

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