Friday, October 16, 2009

More Afghan Bribery

This supports the idea of using bribery to buy off the Taliban's foot soldiers:

A Taleban commander and two senior Afghan officials confirmed yesterday that Italian forces paid protection money to prevent attacks on their troops.

After furious denials in Rome of a Times report that the Italian authorities had paid the bribes, the Afghans gave further details of the practice. Mohammed Ishmayel, a Taleban commander, said that a deal was struck last year so that Italian forces in the Salobi area, east of Kabul, were not attacked by local insurgents.

The payment of protection money was revealed after the death of ten French soldiers in August 2008 at the hands of large Taleban force in Sarobi. French forces had taken over the district from Italian troops, but were unaware of secret Italian payments to local commanders to stop attacks on their forces and consequently misjudged local threat levels.

Note the attacks only happened after the bribes stopped being paid, it was the Italian failure to tell the French of the arrangement that caused the failure, not the bribery itself.

Not that the Italian method of paying off a local chief is ideal, it would be better to pay the individual gunmen because there is a very strong possibility in Afghanistan that the money won't reach the people who need buying off.

This also shows the dangers of being allies of Italy. In Mark Bowden's "Black Hawk Down" (which the film was based on), he refers to suspicions by the Americans that the Italian forces in the country were cooperating with the local warlords in exchange for a quiet life, even to the extent of tipping them off before US raids.


James Higham said...

Dangers of being allies of Italy - indeed. Having lived over there, I wouldn't rely on them for a millisecond.

Dave H said...

I remember at the time, Aidid was described as a ‘fox’ after his peculiar knack of disappearing just before the Americans arrived to catch him.

In It's a Mad World my Masters, John Simpson recounted his interview with Marshal Aidid's son, Hussein, who took over in Somalia shortly after his father’s murder.

Simpson quickly noticed that Hussein spoke excellent English and had a professional military bearing. When asked about this, he explained how as a young man he moved to America and enlisted in the army, graduating from Westpoint and eventually rising to the rank of captain.

At this point a thought occurred to Simpson. He asked whether Hussein had any personal involvement with the US mission in Somalia. Hussein answered that because his file indicated that he was fluent in the local language, he had been specially selected for the mission.

Simpson then asked whether he was ever part of a unit which were sent to arrest his father. He replied that he had actually commanded one of them.

Did he ever contact his father and warn him when they were coming? Hussein politely declined to answer.

Simpson ended the story with a comment along the lines of:

“Presumably the Americans thought the fact they both had the same surname was just a coincidence.”

TDK said...

It was once calculated that with the money the Americans spent on Vietnam they could have given everyone Vietnamese a Cadillac. I don't vouch for the truth of this: it's one of those received wisdoms that is popular on the left. The thinking was that if America had spent as much on aid as on war then they would have eliminated poverty and won.

I thought then it sounded like Danegeld to me.

Paying individual fighters is an interesting idea, but quite different to what the Italians appear to be doing. They might buy a breathing space but the cost of displacing the activity is strengthening the enemy. Rather foolish.

"Dave H" - good comment.

Ross said...

Dave- I didn't know that about Aidid. That's the problem operating in a country where you have to rely on the locals I guess. In Vietnam there were supposedly Viet Cong sympathisers working for the Americans as translators.

TDK- The line between Danegeld and not-Danegeld is whether they are paying protection money or paying them for services rendered.

TDK said...

TDK- The line between Danegeld and not-Danegeld is whether they are paying protection money or paying them for services rendered.


Danegeld is paying to not be attacked. This the Italians did. It is not about protection or services.

The idea of paying individual fighters to not fight has merit. It detaches them from the enemy, assuming that their reason to fight is at root non-ideological. The enemy is thereby weakened and makes them far easier to contain (or defeat).

Giving money directly to the enemy is very different. It does not weaken the enemy but merely displaces their activity in either source or time. The cost is that in return they are strengthened by extra resources. The lesson of Danegeld is that demands do not become less over time. All you achieve is the progressive strengthening of your enemies in return for a temporary respite.

Incidentally, that might be tactically valid if you use the respite sensibly. I see no evidence of that. Rather I see this as a piece with the release of Giuliana Sgrena - the Italians opt for short term solutions.

TDK said...

displaces their activity in either source or time.

that should be "space or time".

Ross said...

TDK, I wasn't clear, but when I said "The line between Danegeld and not-Danegeld is whether they are paying protection money or paying them for services rendered." I wasn't saying that the Italians were on the right side of that line.