Afghan National Army Special Forces in June 2013. Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan photo

To Recruit Afghan Troops and Police, the Taliban Turns Pro

But it might not overcome bad blood

The Taliban is depending more heavily on recruiting former Afghan police and soldiers into its ranks—while corrupting disillusioned officials. Worse for the U.S. and its allies, the Taliban’s strategy is becoming more professionalized.

The main reason for all of this is to bolster the Taliban’s muscle. But it also reflects a strategic shift. Just a few years ago the Taliban emphasized killing members of the security forces outright instead of offering amnesty.

According to Jami Forbes and Brian Dudley, two Army analysts who specialize in Afghanistan, the shift has becoming an increasing feature of the Taliban’s public statements. Neither of Forbes and Dudley’s views detailed in a recent article for CTC Sentinel, West Point’s counter-terrorism journal, reflect that of the Army.

The authors note the Taliban’s recruitment efforts are controlled by a wing called the Recruitment and Amnesty Commission. Formed in 2012, the commission has been increasingly referenced in Taliban propaganda as a means to “highlight the Taliban’s increasing strength and organizational depth.”

This followed the 2010 publication of a layeha, or code of conduct, which established rules for handling defecting soldiers and officials.

For one, officials deemed to have “snatched … money or properties while they were working with the infidels” have to pay an equivalent sum back to the Taliban. The code also established a vetting process in which the new fighters “will have to obtain approval of the provincial commander” before joining up.

The Taliban’s vetting process also serves to help prevent petty criminals from enlisting, according to a report by Thomas Johnson and Matthew DuPee of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. This has been a persistent problem for the Taliban—which tries to fashion itself as a popular movement—since 2003 when it began casting a wider net for potential fighters.

Afghan National Army special forces with village elders in Kandahar province, Afghanistan in November 2013. Combined Joint Special Operations-Afghanistan photo

The commission meanwhile serves as a form of public relations with the goal of creating an “overall narrative that portrays the Taliban’s power as steadily increasing while the government’s power weakens.”

But the Taliban has to convince its own commanders that bringing in defecting soldiers is really a good idea instead of a hazard. New members could very well be spies posing as disillusioned recruits. Physically going out and recruiting soldiers and officials is dangerous, requiring Taliban agents to potentially expose themselves to capture or attack.

The increasing formality of the Taliban’s strategy comes as a security agreement which would keep U.S. forces in the country has been approved by an Afghan grand council but held in limbo by Afghan Pres. Hamid Karzai.

That agreement would keep 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan—backed by armed drones—past 2014. But keeping troops in the country has risks of its own. “Any cultural or religious misbehavior by U.S. soldiers could have disastrous consequences for the security pact and the U.S. presence,” one senior Afghan official told The Daily Beast.

It’s also unclear how effective the Taliban actually are at flipping troops, CTC Sentinel notes. Yet in May, the British Ministry of Defense estimated about one-third of the Afghan National Security Forces quit every year and have to be replaced.

Foreign military funding cuts is expected to drop the size of the ANSF by 122,000 members after 2014 to 230,000, and Afghan troops are suffering casualties that “approach rates that we took in Vietnam,” Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said.

Though the Taliban will still have to overcome a lot of bad blood. “On an emotional level, Taliban commanders may be personally reluctant to welcome former enemies into their ranks,” Forbes and Dudley write.

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