The triumph of tribe over nation-state


Anyone who’s lived or worked in a tribal environment understands what’s going on in Afghanistan right now.  To old Africa hands like Lawdog and myself, it’s “deja vu all over again“, to coin a phrase.

Daniel Greenberg puts it nicely in perspective.

The Afghan army, like its Iraqi counterpart, was a wholly artificial western institution. When faced with a tribal crisis, its members revert to their first duty, which is going to the defense of their tribe.

The Afghan army didn’t “surrender”. 

Its Pashtun members surrendered to the Taliban who are fellow Pashtuns. Hazaras fled to Iran and took our equipment with them for the benefit of Hezbollah, the Houthis, and any other Shiite terrorists. The Uzbeks fled to Uzbekistan. 

There’s no Afghanistan. It’s a collection of tribes whose members are loyal to their own. 

The only group invested in Afghanistan, aside from the State Department, are the Pashtuns.  

But the Taliban are a much more effective Pashtun bid for taking over the country than the pathetic shambles of a free and democratic Afghanistan. 

And for those tribes and subtribes who want to resist the Taliban, they’ll do so because they oppose that particular tribe by siding with their tribe and the warlords leading the fight. They won’t do so while wearing army uniforms or toting around a lot of our equipment which we thought was absolutely vital to a modern armed force, which the locals aren’t culturally compatible with, but is not especially useful for raiding tactics, which the locals are quite good at.

The Afghan army didn’t surrender. Much of it never existed. The parts that did exist rejoined their tribes and are waiting for the next move which will come as the Taliban overextends itself and gets too deep in bed with the Chinese. 

Our inability to understand this was the problem all along.

We insisted on building up an imaginary military for an imaginary nation. The whole farce collapsed the moment we decamped because there was no longer anything holding it together.

The people we wrongly call the Afghans reverted to who they had been all along before we demanded that they adopt the same political trappings in which we dress our political system. 

Our system works well enough for us, or at least, as Churchill put it, less badly than any other system.

But the Afghans are not Americans. They’re not in it for democracy or human rights. What they want is to gain power through their tribe, their subtribe, their family, and their chosen bosses. 

That’s what the war was about for 75% of them. It’s what the endless war will be about going forward.

Afghanistan is in a perpetual state of tribal warfare. We never understood that and to the extent that we did, we tried to apply solutions that the locals didn’t want and weren’t especially interested in.

Now that we’re gone, the forever war will continue without our overlay of myths and illusions.

There’s more at the link.

However, those tribes are now going to be extraordinarily well armed with the latest Western technology – so much so that they’ll be able to supply terrorist movements like Al Qaeda or ISIS with as much as they want, courtesy of the US taxpayer.  We left literally tens of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, ammunition, vehicles, aircraft and electronics in Afghanistan, including thermal imaging night sights, anti-tank man-portable missiles, “smart” bombs and missiles, and the like.  The Taliban certainly won’t need them for internal use – so guess where they’re going to end up?  Uh-huh.  Payback’s a bitch.

My “spider sense” for internal terrorism in the USA just got ratcheted up several notches.  It’ll be child’s play for terrorists to smuggle such weapons across our almost unguarded southern border . . . and then hell’s coming to breakfast.



  1. " It'll be child's play for terrorists to smuggle such weapons across our almost unguarded southern border . . . and then hell's coming to breakfast."
    Exactly what I've been thinking.

  2. The terrorist in Nice used a truck, not a truck bomb. Omar Mateen didn't need night sights, missles, or electronics. Smuggling is the last thing they need to do. If they want to really be effective they just need to get a tenure track job at a college or elected to congress.

  3. I worked in Nigeria. It's family, village, tribe. Nothing else matters. There is no "Nigeria". It was an artificial construct of the British, which is why English is the only unifying language.

    I concur about the weapons. MANPADs will almost certainly be slipping across our borders, and soon. Watch that the use of those will be blamed on domestic terrorists, perhaps even intentionally by the foreigners. For what better way to destroy your enemy than have him tear himself apart from within?

    1. There have been plenty of opportunities for MANPADs to come across the border in the last thirty years. Between Stingers left in A-Stan the first time around to the massive amounts of Russian and Chinese equipment floating around (AFOSI bought working examples of original Stingers and multiple modern Russian styles for a couple C bills apiece in the 2010's, and we all knew they got fleeced. If it isn't already here it's because they don't feel a need for it, which makes you wonder what they do have.

  4. "internal terrorism"

    You mean BLM, Antifa, Black Panther, NFAC, drug and human trafficking cartels, MS-13, …

    Then, Biden is trafficking the illegals all over the South and will be bringing new ones from Afghan land.

    It is not tribalism, it is the beliefs/culture/ethics of those tribes that at issue.

    These uSA are not to usurp Jesus Christ and tasked to bring the Millenium.

  5. And the tech will immediately, if it hasn't already, go to China/Russia… M-16s from Vietnam were later found in MANY countries' rebellions thanks to the Communists.

  6. I had an idea, some years back, about building in limitations on smart weapons to be supplied to unreliable allies. Power up the weapon system, and it looks for GPS. If it gets a good lock, and it's in the authorized area of use (and the time limit hasn't expired, etc.), it's good to go. Try to use it outside the authorized area, and it does not operate correctly, possibly for fatal values of "does not operate correctly."
    But, it looks like those in charge of such matters have no interest in keeping cool weaponry out of the hands of foreign enemies. Out of our hands, sure.
    … Heck, I was thinking about this sort of thing during the Falklands conflict, and referring back to the Foundation Trilogy. Hasn't anyone in the supply chain read Asimov?

  7. It's a shame there wasn't a way to recover what must be tons of 556 and 762 ammunition and get it to places like Texas, Nebraska, Ohio, Virginia, et al where it's probably going to be needed sooner rather than later.

  8. The reality of tribal relations in Afghanistan was a known known as Rumsfeld would say…

    'You can rent Afghanistan,' one commander said last week, 'but you can't buy it.' All last week, in large houses in the wealthy Peshawar suburb of Hyatabad or in sweaty, small rooms in the rubbish-strewn alleys of the refugee camps, Afghan commanders were talking to each other. From Dubai, from Rome, from Paris, from America, all the old leaders of Afghanistan's various militias had returned and were holding court. Abdul Haq, rotund and avuncular; Qazi Amin Wakol, sharp-eyed and bearded; the smooth, elegant, effortlessly superior Pir Ahmed Shah Gilani; the slim-handed francophone Haji Zarman – all greeted the men who came to see them, listened to their pledges of support and made offers and counter-offers.

    No one could agree on what scenario would be best suited to Afghanistan. No one had any real idea of how to form an inclusive and representational government. Their country, after all, has never had one.

    On two things they all agreed: first, that the American air strikes had made the task of winning wavering Taliban commanders over far harder by turning the hardline Islamic militia from villains into victims and, second, that a decision by the allies to use ground troops would mean the coalition's war was no longer against terrorism but against Afghanistan. Then there would be only one thing for the disparate factions of the country to do: fight the invader.

  9. 80% of the world is tribal where the national borders have no relationship with the actual identities of the people living in these areas. Even long established countries like Japan and France are tribal. It just that in these two cases, the borders do actually match up with the people living there. The rest of this 80% is not the case.

    Latin America (the rest of Americas outside U.S. and Canada) is a special case.

  10. Tribe is a subset of nation, but nation and state are not interchangeable. A state is a (supposed) monopoly on force and taxation of a geography. A nation is a group of genetically related tribes with a common culture (religion, beliefs, values) who treat each other with in-group preference. Pashtuns are a nation, not a state (yet). Stable nation-states are simply states where the nation has self-rule on their own soil rather than imposed rule from a foreign tribe.

  11. That is the most clear-eyed and succinct explanation regarding Afghanistan that I've seen in many years. It's too bad the U.S. political establishment has never allowed reality to interfere with their nonsensical plans.

  12. Hmmm.
    Seems that the transnational ruling class has this notion that they can break down national identities, divide people up into little identity-tribes, and then somehow unite the tribes into (or, rather, under) one world-State.
    Global Afghanistan, anyone?

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