“This [draft Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program] document makes horribly uncomfortable reading because, however much you desperately want to believe in the theory, the practice is likely to be very different…the voices, language, and desires of the international community are stamped all over this.” — Stockholm International Peace Research Institute[1]

“To make sense of any metrics related to military action—indeed, to guide the very process of gathering data in the first place- war fighters need to know what they need to know. Metrics are only as good as the rationale behind their collection…” — Ethan Kapstein[2]

Over the past decade, Coalition forces have embarked on several iterations of attempting to disarm and reintegrate Afghan fighters through a cornucopia of incentives, expenditures, and often short-sighted efforts under the auspices of various programs.  Although the original Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program disarmed approximately 63,400 combatants from 2003-2006 and collected 36,500 light weapons and 12,000 heavy weapons, the DDR framework was unsuccessful in targeting other armed groups within Afghanistan.[3]  It’s subsequent replacement, titled the ‘Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups’ (DIAG) program, started in 2005 and presently represents the Coalition’s dominant program effort in post-conflict and counterinsurgency environments. Since July 2005, the Afghan DIAG program continued the previous disarmament and reintegration work with a more flexible framework and scope to identify, disband, and reintegrate the formidable and destabilizing residual armed groups in Afghanistan. As of the time of writing, DIAG has disbanded a total of 759 illegally armed groups with 54,138 weapons collected on top of the original DDR disarmament accomplishment.[4] With all of the weapons seized and illegal groups disbanded, has any clear progress occurred with securing the Afghan population from violence, organized crime, and effective reintegration of an estimated 94,000 irregular fighters and militia forces?[5] With neither of these two programs able to achieve strategic security goals in Afghanistan, the DIAG may be replaced by another program with yet another strategy on disarmament.

Although mired by funding and Afghan political infighting, the draft plan “Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program” (APRP) is the latest and third reintegration concept that essentially uses international funds and grassroots political fence-mending to attempt to buy the compliance of any willing armed groups, but in this case without disarming them.[6] Apparently, nearly a decade of disarming Afghan militants without reintegrating them may now be replaced by an Afghan-led strategy to reintegrate them without disarming them. APRP’s bumper sticker might as well be, “pay not to play.” Is this latest evolution of reintegration efforts is just another short-sighted effort to put hostile weapons out of commission, and do any of these efforts understand and target the deeper systemic problems that perpetuate Afghan violence?

The DIAG is supposed to be integrated into the APRP according to the draft program document, however DIAG disarmament efforts continue as of July 2011 to be a Coalition-run program. Regardless of what name they call it, the past decade of conflict in Afghanistan has struggled to convince thousands of Afghans to put away their weapons and recognize the Afghan national government. Do Coalition and Afghan partnered forces possess the right processes, metrics, and understanding of Afghan patterns of violence and corruption to accomplish desired strategic goals? Or are western military organizations unable to critically think about how they approach and make sense of ill-structured problems such as Afghanistan’s perpetual instability?

Weapons: the Bright Shiny Object for Coalition Forces

The DIAG program, also known as the ‘Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Program (ANBP) reflects a weapons-centric logic in regards to program metrics.[7]  The majority of reports, presentations, and open-source material available on the Afghan DIAG program feature significant analysis and statistics on identifying and disarming illegally armed groups.[8] Potentially, Coalition Forces along with their Afghan partners might be succumbing to planning logic that works within the limitations of linear causality.  Linear causality logic sometimes presents the most direct route to understanding, but sometimes it generates highly faulty and convoluted conclusions that organizations might gravitate towards if the end result reinforces a preferred narrative.  A ‘preferred narrative’ means that the logic supports the organizational goals while often disregarding or downplaying anything that conflicts with one’s vision of making sense of the world. A memorable scene from the British comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail provides a stellar example of faulty linear causality with logic and preferred narratives:

Sir Bedemir:” There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.”

Crowd: “Are there?  What are they?”

Sir Bedemir:” Tell me, what do you do with witches?”

Crowd: “Burn, burn them up!”

Sir Bedemir: “And what do you burn apart from witches?”

Villager #2:  “Wood!”

Sir Bedemir: “So, why do witches burn?”

Villager #3: “B–… ’cause they’re made of wood…?”

Sir Bedemir: “So, how do we tell whether she is made of wood?”

Sir Bedemir: [after further discourse]: “Does wood sink in water?”

Villager #2:  “It floats!  It floats!”

Sir Bedemir: [after more discussion]: “What also floats in water?”

King Arthur: “A duck.”

Sir Bedemir: “Exactly!  So, logically…”[9]

Linear causality might steer an organization towards strategic planning that effectively solves a complex problem, or it might lead to reasoning that witches will weigh the same as a duck because ducks float on water. The underlying narrative appears to be one of blaming the village’s problems on select women and eliminating them in a misguided effort to destroy evil. Returning back to modern Afghanistan, if a deteriorating security scenario features armed illegal groups as a significant rival actor within the combat environment; linear-causality logic targets the most tangible and often superficial elements of a complex system with the expectation (in this case) that removing weapons reduces local insurgent violence.[10] In order to reduce more violence, one must seize or register more weapons. Essentially, any Afghan that weighs the same as a duck risks being burned as a witch… Hence, military organizations quickly become overly fixated upon weapon statistics and percentages of disarmed groups.

While such operations might provide short-term goal accomplishment where PowerPoint slides demonstrate ‘100% of monthly objectives met’, they are likely treating a symptom of the insurgency instead of the deeper problem. Swapping out disarmament and reintegration strategies every couple of years is indicative of an organization treating the symptoms instead of root causes. They may also end up burning witches where there are none, yet the very act of doing so reinforces the organization’s preferred narrative on interpreting reality. Look at this slide, it shows how many witches we burned this month—110% above schedule!

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

If illegally armed groups of Afghans are a symptom of a larger, more elusive problem, do the weapon-centric metrics still quantify ‘success’ of the disarmament and reintegration programs over the last decade? To determine whether the logic underpinning DDR/DIAG in Afghanistan from 2002-2011 supports the notion that disarming illegally armed groups and seizing weapons reduces violence, a variety of sources require more than the current analysis.[11] Analysis coupled with anecdotal events may fall victim to an institution’s preferred narrative on a given topic such as disarmament and reintegration in a counterinsurgency environment; our organizations risk creating self-promoting echo chambers where metrics and cherry-picked statistics reinforce the previously planned strategic glide-path towards organizational goals. In other words, if metrics that triumph high numbers of weapons seized and illegal groups demobilized are not associated with quantifiable metrics that show some reduction in violence or improvement in security in the region, are we explaining reality or promoting a desired narrative? By ‘narrative,’ this article defines one as the general way humans consume and relay information- we prefer stories with a beginning, middle, and end.[12] So, what is the narrative for DIAG’s strategy and Afghanistan?

Current disarmament and reintegration metrics promote the number of weapons seized and/or illegally armed groups demobilized by region in Afghanistan for 2010. While the 2010 United Nations Development Programme (Afghanistan) provides significant analysis of statistics for the number of weapons collected from various regions in 2010, as well as the number of illegally armed groups disbanded per region, it does not continue the same level of analysis and quantifiable data on whether disarmed groups reintegrate, or whether the disarmament efforts reduce violence in relation to weapons confiscated.[13] While the United Nations DIAG report cannot make leaps of logic with anecdotal or isolated metrics collected in Afghanistan, the overarching purpose for the disarmaments and reintegration report makes the linear reasoning that removing illegal weapons reduces insurgent violence and improves security. Although not referenced in any open-source Coalition reports on Afghanistan disarmament and reintegration efforts, the Asia Foundation’s A Survey of the Afghan People: Afghanistan in 2010 report provides an interesting counter-metric on Coalition disarmament logic. This article remains cautious when drawing from different statistics and metrics to avoid any anecdotal or erroneous logics, yet based on available data cited below there exists two competing narratives on how security efforts including DIAG proceeded in 2010.[14]

The DIAG annual project report for 2010 provides metrics on weapons collected from various regions in Afghanistan. The top three regions were Central (3,759 weapons), South (1149 weapons), and West (1043 weapons).[15] Furthermore, the top three regions where illegally armed groups were disbanded were the East (25 groups), South East (16 groups), and the Central Highlands (11 groups). While this article makes no direct connection between weapon seizures and violence reductions, the central emphasis that DIAG places on these metrics becomes problematic when other related metrics are integrated with DIAG’s linear logic. Do other metrics demonstrate improved security in these regions; if not, why?  While weapon seizure serves a purpose within the overall strategic aim to improve security, it may be a symptom to a larger problem largely unaddressed by DIAG and overlooked in disarmament and reintegration doctrine.[16]