Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Micro-Economics: How to Win the War in Afghanistan

Below is our weekly guest post from Andrew Lubin. The photo is of a butcher shop in a village outside of Jalalabad.

Afghanistan is the third poorest country in the world. The average salary is $1-$2 per day, and the nationwide literacy rate is approx 40% (although out in the countryside it’s closer to 90%). The Karzai government is basically broke, so it’s kept alive by donations from the international community.

The country’s biggest export is opium, whose export value is some $300 million annually. This money goes to the Taliban, however, as it and the drug lords (one of which is Karzai’s brother) control the opium business.

There are only three large cities. Most of the population lives in the countryside, where the Taliban and its allies are regaining control of the countryside. Since Afghanistan has twice the population and twice the landmass of Iraq, how do we “win” with the only 1/3 of the troops we currently have in Iraq?

It’s quite simple, actually, although most of our “big picture” military don’t really like it – except the Marine Corps, which excels at it.

While we need more Marines and soldiers to defeat the Taliban, we also need to win the confidence of the locals. When this happens, then the locals will tell us who the bad guys are, and both we and the locals will take them out. It worked in Ramadi; it’ll work here.

To win the confidence of the locals: First; you need to be in the villages with them. Not on a FOB close by, but in the village with the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the ANP (Afghan National Police).

Next: The locals need jobs, and they need jobs that are appropriate to a medieval economy. Take the following:

1 – Give a guy a couple of boxes of welding tips, an old welding torch and some hoses, and a couple of tanks of Argon and oxygen – and you’ve just put a welder in business. Now he can fix farm implements, do some basic iron work, and help mechanics. Total cost? Under $350.

2 – Get a couple of old sewing machines, some bolts of cloth, and a couple of women to start a clothing shop. Now you’ve started a tailor shop. Cost? Under $500.

3 – Without storage the farmers only grow as much food as they can eat or quickly sell. Import a cold storage unit, set up a co-op, make the tribal chief the boss, and have the villagers (all members of the co-op) store their crops. It’s food for them during the winter – as well as a source of revenue as they can now sell food all winter long. What a concept – food AND an annual cash-flow! Cost? Under $ 15,000 per cold storage unit.

You think the locals are going to side with the Taliban now? No way. When the locals have jobs, cash, and can afford things like school books and medicine for their children – and they get these from us, they’ll be looking to help us. Like in Ramadi when Sheikh Sattar realized working with the Marines was to his advantage – Ramadi “turned” before Bush and Petraus’s “surge troops” had even left the United States.

Give me $20 million and I’ll drag Afghanistan into the 19th Century. Then we’ll let the whiz kids in D.C. take over from there.

To hear more of Andrew Lubin's observations on winning the war in Afghanistan, you can listen to his interview on the BlogTalkRadio show Your Military Life that I co-host with Nancy Brown.

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