Thursday, March 6, 2008

Successful Counterinsurgency Begins With the Family Farm

[Photo: Poppies in Afghanistan, Livestock in Iraq]

Did you know that one of the few areas where we had any success at all in Vietnam came from the policy of land reform--that is, we helped local farmers gain ownership over the plots of land that they had farmed for generations?

Sadly, we see nothing but obstacles ahead for Iraq and Afghanistan:

A provincial reconstruction team surveyed a dairy farm in a community south of Baghdad to determine its technical and financial needs.

Floyd Wood with the U.S. Department of Agriculture accompanied an area PRT to talk with local farm managers and workers to see what the farm needed to reach its full production goals.

Wood and the PRT team determined the irrigation system couldn't support the farm's full capacity following a meeting with local veterinarians and feed specialists.

The farm was designed to sustain about 8,000 cattle, but irrigation problems depleted that to around 1,000 dairy cows, the Multi-National Forces-Iraq reported.

Wood said the farm needed to have 50,000 gallons of water a week shipped in to supply the cows with drinking water, general maintenance and to irrigate the 3,500 acres of farmland.

Wood said the farm was once one of the largest distributors of milk to south-central Iraq and Baghdad, but noted now about 25 cows a month are slaughtered due to malnutrition.

The lack of milk supply means the Baghdad community has to import more products from Kuwait and Jordan, driving prices up and having a ripple effect on the local economy.

And Afghanistan:

In 2004, Afghanistan produced 87% of the world's heroin, according to UN data. Just three years later, that same group will report in September that the number is now 95%.
Between 2005 and 2006, Afghanistan increased its opium yield by 49%. In 2005, the yield was 4,100 metric tons. In 2006, it was 6,100 metric tons.

Today, that number is getting worse and worse.

The work of USAID in both Afghanistan and Iraq has been very difficult, but they are able to talk about some tentative accomplishments since the start of the war five years ago. USAID is one of the best things going for us--it is the ultimate "hearts and minds" program. This gives you some background on why this is important in Iraq:

Agriculture is Iraq's largest employer, the second largest contributor to GDP, and an effective engine for promoting stability through private sector development, poverty reduction, and food security. The revival of a dynamic, market-driven agricultural sector will strengthen private business, increase income and employment opportunities, and help meet the food requirements of the Iraqi people. From 2003 through the fall of 2006, USAID's Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI) restored veterinary clinics, introduced improved cereal grain varieties, repaired agricultural equipment, and trained farmers and ministry staff. USAID recently initiated a new agriculture program, Inma. The new program will extend the production improvements made by ARDI by working at the provincial level to support the development of agribusinesses and agricultural markets, improving farmer livelihoods. Inma will Complement USAID's other economic growth programs.

And Afghanistan:

USAID is funding the construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure critical for further economic development and national integration. The primary focus is roads, including a major portion of the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat Highway and approximately 1,000 km of provincial, district and rural roads. USAID is also investing in the construction and rehabilitation of power plants, transmission lines, dams, irrigation and flood control systems, industrial parks, bridges, universities, schools, and clinics.

The Alternative Livelihoods Program (ALP) provides Afghans with opportunities to participate in the licit economy in key poppy growing areas. In meeting immediate needs to provide economic opportunity, ALP supports labor-intensive cash-for-work projects to build or rehabilitate productive infrastructure, and funds income generation and training efforts for vulnerable households as part of Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics strategy.

Some history on why USAID is an effective means of combating terrorist insurgencies:

Mike Korin spent nearly seven years in Vietnam, from 1967 to 1973, working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture on loan to USAID. He spent two years in the city of Tam Ky in Quang Tin Province, where he shared an office with USAID civilian doctors and construction experts, U.S. military civic affairs specialists and a Vietnamese professional and support staff.

Korin worked there on a wide range of development activities, including rice production, and fisheries, forestry and irrigation systems development. "My work was with Vietnamese government officials," he said in an interview, "representing different agencies and providing USAID resources to help fund those activities."

Korin said the experience was, in most respects, a positive one. "It was exciting. We felt a sense of accomplishment," he said. "But there was also a certain degree of frustration because there was a lot of fighting going on in the province, including attacks on the provincial capital." The main problem in Korin's area was the large number of refugees. "It made things difficult," he said. "People were constantly being routed out of their villages and their villages were being burned down either by the bad guys or the good guys. People were put into refugee camps. It was very difficult for the people."

Korin was based in Saigon during his last four years in Vietnam. He was among nearly 200 USAID agricultural experts in the country at the time. His Saigon office was made up of about two dozen American USAID agriculture professionals involved in land-reform programs. Korin traveled throughout the country working on the Montagnard land reform and land-to-the-tiller programs, which paid landlords to give land to peasant farmers.

Seven years in a war zone is long enough to become an expert; contrast that with the youthful and inexperienced people who are going [yes, kudos to them in any event] and the people at places like the State Department who refuse to go at all.

The USAID involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is vital for rebuilding those countries (or bringing them out of poverty and neglect) and serves as a bastion of what is good about America. The fact that we send people and money to do mundane things like build schools, hospitals and roads and to teach people how to improve their farming methods is a basic tenet of American foreign policy.

At the height of the Vietnam War, one of the most effective methods of reducing the insurgency was to give people title to the land that they lived on:

...MACV advisors did work closely with 900,000 local GVN officials in a well-organized pacification program called CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development.) It stressed technical aid, local self government, and land distribution to peasant farmers. A majority of tenant farmers received title to their own land in one of the most successful transfer projects in any nation. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of peasants entered squalid refugee camps when CORDS moved them out of villages that could not be protected. In the Phoenix Program (part of CORDS with a strong CIA component) GVN police identified and arrested (and sometimes killed) the NLF secret police agents engaged in assassination.

Given the atrocious example of displacement of people in Iraq and the explosion of poppy growing in Afghanistan, how is it that the lessons learned in Vietnam failed to carry over?

AFGHANISTAN: Agricultural development in most of RC East proved necessary for long-term economic viability. United States Department of Agriculture officers provided development advice to the IRoA, the CTF, and, to a lesser extent, cooperatives and individual farmers. Although not present in most RC East PRTs, USUSDA officers worked on the staffs of three key posts (task force headquarters and the Ghazni and Jalalabad PRTs) for much of CTF Devil’s tenure. These officers breathed life into USAID’s alternative livelihood programs. They provided advice on which crops to substitute for the opium poppy and focused on implementing agricultural programs like micro-credit for farmers. They also helped devise high-impact but simple projects that enhanced the value of crops grown by desperately poor farmers. That said, the relatively limited USUSDA presence in RC East prevented the task force from making the most of its agricultural development programs. ["Combating a Modern Insurgency: Combined Task Force Devil in Afghanistan, Donahue & Frenzel, March-April 2008, Military Review]

IRAQ: Another example is the agricultural facet of the Iraqi economy. Our estimate was that the area around Baghdad, if resourced and irrigated, could easily feed all of Iraq. But the antiquated farming methods were only providing for 25 percent of the country’s needs, forcing imports of most foodstuffs. Although the $18.4 billion Iraqi supplemental did not provide for any agricultural improvements, we were able to import, through reprogrammed funding, over 2,000 tons of grain, fertilizer, and feed. Immunizations, coupled with rejuvenating the irrigation apparatus around Baghdad, created conditions for economic independence. [Winning the Peace The Requirement for Full-Spectrum Operations,Chiarelli & Michaelis, May-June 2005, Military Review]

From the Asia Times:

...But now Iraqi farmers struggle to get water to their crops. There is severe lack of electricity to run pumps and fuel to run generators.

"The water is there and the rivers have not dried up, but the problem lies in how to get it to our dying plantations," said Jabbar Ahmed, a farmer from Latifiya south of Baghdad. "It is a shame that we, our animals and our plants are thirsty in a country that has the two great rivers."

Iraq now imports most agricultural products because of lack of irrigation.

"I used to sell 50 tonnes of tomatoes every year, but now I go to the market to buy my daily needs," said Numan Majid, from the Abu Ghraib area just west of Baghdad. "I tried hard to cope with the situation, but in vain. One cannot grow crops in Iraq anymore with this water shortage."

So the proven tactic of agricultural reforms--and the assistance of people at USAID--could have a positive impact on what we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. It could help us reduce the number of people who take up arms against us AND improve their quality of life. And how do we approach it? We started off by short-changing them and focusing on their oil and on using critical resources to build the largest Embassy ever out of shit and cardboard that we can't even use.

When they write the books about Afghanistan and Iraq, and do the scholarly studies, the word "folly" comes to mind. And we could have avoided that folly if we had just remembered thousands of years of human history--farmers typically pacify and improve areas beset by violence. But here we have a perfect example of short-sightedness--it would go a long ways towards getting Iraq back on track if we could just keep a dairy farm operating. And we can't even do that. It would go a long ways towards helping people in Afghanistan grow food instead of poppies. And we haven't made a dent in that problem yet.

Is it too late to expect USAID to improve the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq? It probably is, and the symbol of that is a malnourished cow and a field of poppy plants. It's never too late to appreciate the wisdom of using a different approach from carpet bombing people from high altitudes and blowing up their homes, but five years into this war in Iraq and over six years since going into Afghanistan, it's hard to see much progress.

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