In the Warlord’s Shadow

In the Warlord’s Shadow

Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight against the Taliban

Daniel R Green

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2017, 304 pages

Book Review published on: December 8, 2017

The Taliban was temporarily overthrown in the 2001 American-backed invasion of Afghanistan shortly after al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While never completely defeated, the Taliban staged a comeback in 2006 due to an insurgency campaign based on a political strategy that tapped into Pashtunwali traditions, took advantage of Coalition and Afghan government mistakes, and weaknesses of the Afghan state in the villages. Daniel Green—a defense Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a military veteran, and author of Fallujah Redux: The Anbar Awakening and the Struggle with Al-Qaeda and The Valley’s Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban—presents a timely study in appraising village stability operations in southeastern Afghanistan in In the Warlord’s Shadows: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight against the Taliban.

Green opens in describing the Taliban resurgence in 2006 that seized control of large parts of Afghanistan, calling into question the effectiveness of the “warlord” strategy, as well as Coalition and special operations forces (SOF) counterterrorism approaches. The insurgency was larger, more disciplined, and increasingly operating as a conventional military force as it overran district centers and directly attacking Coalition forward operating bases. The Taliban also improved its political approach designed to win the support of the population.

He describes the evolution of Coalition and Afghan officials in their attempt to provide local security to the Afghan populace. He attributes the decision of Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of Combined Forces Command–Afghanistan, to demobilize approximately eleven thousand Afghan Militia Force members as contributing to the deterioration of security throughout southern Afghanistan. Around 2009–2010, the SOF leaders sought to incorporate lessons learned into a new approach later renamed the Village Stability Operations/Afghan Local Police (VSO/ALP) initiative. This approach was a synchronized delivery of population security, local governance, and micro-development of rural populations through active-community engagement. The SOF would embed directly in Afghan villages that wanted help and displayed a willingness to resist Taliban intimidation. This new approach would focus on the sources of instability while continuing security efforts in Afghan villages.

Green captures the flexibility of Special Operations Task Force–South East (SOTF-SE) as it embraced the VSO/ALP approach in addressing the drivers of instability in Afghan villages as well as the insurgency’s political and military strategy in Uruzgan Province. He does an exceptional job in framing the challenges faced by SOTF-SE in Uruzgan that included tribal and religious issues, corruption, perceived indifference of the government in Kabul, and competition by Taliban forces in seeking to “win the hearts and minds” of the local populace.

Green describes how SOTF-SE was successful in transforming a former Taliban stronghold into a model of stability. He attributes success to SOF teams interacting with local communities, villages taking larger responsibility for their own security, and district governments addressing the grievances of local villages. However, success often came at a cost; several influential Afghan leaders were assassinated by the Taliban and rival factions seeking power or revenge in the province.

The strength of In the Warlord’s Shadow are the numerous maps, images, and appendices that provide key lessons from SOTF-SE’s deployment, characteristics of successful village stability operations, and a village stability survey. Green reminds us that counterinsurgency operations remain a population-centric strategy. To be successful, counterinsurgency efforts must address the causes of instability and provide security for the populace. Community participation and investment in its security is key for permanency and sustainability.

In the Warlord’s Shadow tells the compelling story of SOTF-SE and its successful counterinsurgency efforts to provide stability in Uruzgan Province. It is a must read for policy makers and those desiring a better understanding of counterinsurgency warfare in Afghanistan.

Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas