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Defections – indicator of a conflict

July 7, 2012

By Tim Foxley

The volume, quality (ie foot soldiers or senior commanders) and frequency of defections on either side may be one way to help judge which way a conflict is to be resolving itself – as the Syrian regime looks likely to be finding out shortly.  In Afghanistan, both sides struggle to trumpet defections.  On the ISAF/Afghan government side they regularly note numbers of mujahideen that sign up to the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Programme.

KABUL, Afghanistan (May 25)Some 27 former members of the Taliban from the western provinces of Farah and Herat have surrendered their weapons and joined the reconciliation process.

Twenty anti-government elements from the Khaki Safeid district of Farah province surrendered their weapons to the Peace and Reconciliation Commission (PRC) of Herat on Saturday, 22 May.

The day after on Sunday, 23 May, seven others from the Pashtun Zargun district of Herat Province joined the mediation effort conducted by the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

These two recent events are a clear sign of the will of the provincial authorities to increase their reconciliation efforts with mid-level and low-level insurgents. However, the participants declared that reconciliation must be followed by reconstruction and security efforts in order to be sustainable.

Here, on the Taliban website they claim that government forces – usually police and/or local militias – have done similar.

13 policemen, 2 militias join Mujahideen in Balkh province

Zabihullah Mujahid
Thursday, 16 Sya’ban 1433

Thursday, 05 July 2012 20:10

BALKH, July 05 –Thirteen members of local police and two militias armed with assault rifles and heavy machine guns switched sides and joined Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate later on Wednesday in Alburz district of Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province, a Mujahideen official said on Thursday.

The group surrendered to Mujahideen was part of the security forces of puppet regime to maintain security measure. Besides, two days earlier as many as 70 local puppets joined Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate in Badghis district which was one of the exceptional in a series of  surrenders to have a bit of  moral-shattering effect  on the US invaders and their puppets.

The Taliban may simply be trying to match the sort of claims coming from ISAF.  However, in the far-flung provinces, I think it is very possible that armed groups with fluid allegiance may be shifting sides in accordance with their reading of the situation in their local area.  Local police and militias in particular I would suggest would find it a relatively straightforward process to reach a deal (perhaps even quite short-term) with local insurgents and vice versa.  Some of the claims from both sides may be true when made, only to have reversed themselves a few months later.  Difficult to say from this distance how accurate all these claims are, but it seems clear at present that both sides are only talking about small numbers.  I don’t think any significant numbers will emerge until beyond 2014 – and fighting and politics would have had to have taken a few directional shifts first.  We should certainly keep an eye on this potentially key indicator of progress.  I mention in a previous post that efforts to reconcile with Taliban fighters still unhelpfully seem keen to call it “surrender” when insurgents come over, which may be an important presentational flaw.  For the moment it is clear that both sides would love to see this working in their favour, but are primarily only able to use it as a propaganda issue, currently to little effect.


I shall try and write a little more about the APRP process in the future.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2012 3:48 am

    Tim, Timely post! I just saw an article recently in the Washington Post that talked about an ANP unit that “surrendered” to the Taliban. I think you’re right that in the areas farther from Kabul this may be more frequent event than what we’d like to believe. I’ve heard it said that Afghans have never lost a war–because they always switch to the winning side when it becomes obvious which way the wind will blow. In all reality I am sure there is a great deal of “hedging” that is going on in Afghanistan and it’s not surprising.
    Here is the question I think is interesting and would research if I had the time. I’d like to look at ANP defections to the Taliban and the total number of Taliban fighters brought in under the APRP programs over time and do a trend analysis with key events. The one I would really like to see plotted is the signing of the SPA. Did that drive more Taliban into the APRP? Did ANP desertion rates or surrenders to the Taliban go down?
    Great post.. Ty

    • July 9, 2012 8:47 am

      Ty, many thanks – my blog seems to be mainly half-thoughts that occur to me while I am doing something else, so I am glad that these sometimes crude ideas strike home somewhere. The other relevant idea I am also chewing over from different angles is that impending lack of a ground picture as professional intelligence collection personnel and platforms are wound down across the country. In other words, as we move forward to 2014 and beyond we will have a much less clear picture of what is really happening – the morale of ANSF and Taliban, for example, of which defection levels would be a most useful subset. We will be more reliant on Taliban statements, the media and what the Afghan govt wants (or is able) to tell us. I like the idea of timeline analysis against defection levels on both sides, but with the perhaps obvious cautions that the data from both sides is likely to be highly flawed, difficult to verify, but seemingly at a quite low level.

      Thanks again – lets keep in touch!



  1. “Defection” of a low-ranking government official to the Taliban | afghanhindsight

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