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Changing sides or changing fences?

July 24, 2012

 By Tim Foxley

Summary: More reports of small scale defections of Afghan security forces – possibly/probably to the Taliban.  Defection perhaps slowly emerging as an issue in the propaganda war.  Not yet a big story and what there is is being distorted and exaggerated, but still one to watch.

Farah province

I am not entirely sure that nine people constitutes a “mass”, in fact I’m pretty certain it doesn’t:

Afghan policemen in mass defection

A police commander and eight of his men have joined the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Farah Province in the largest defection in more than a year.

The commander, named only as Mirwais, and his men have not reported in since Sunday from their remote outpost in Bala Buluk district near the village of Shewan, an area known to be a stronghold of the insurgency.

“Its not clear yet if they are joining the Taliban or if they are going somewhere else, but most likely they are joining the Taliban,” said Governor Mohammad Akram Khpalwak.

Mr Khpalwak told The Daily Telegraph that nine police had defected and that they had taken a Ford Ranger utility vehicle and “all of the weapons they have.”

 The Taliban appear to claim this, amongst other inflated triumphs, as a defection of 40:

8 local police surrender in Khakrez

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi

Tuesday, 05 Ramadan 1433

Tuesday, 24 July 2012 18:33

KANDAHAR, Jul. 24 – 8 local police and residents of Chinar area of Khakrez district (Daru Khan, Nanai Agha, Haji Muhammad, Ya’qoob, Ma’ruf, Malim Zaada, Sayed Muhammad and Mateen) surrendered themselves to Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate on Monday, according to officials from Kandahar.

This incident took place as 40 other local police and their commander Mirwaise also surrendered to Mujahideen in Bala Baluk district of Farah province on the same day and 120 local police surrendered 5 days prior to that in Herat province’s Chist district.

Clearly this is not yet a big deal and the ANSF is certainly not going to fracture while ISAF is still in and around and pumping in resources.  But it seems to be slowly developing in the propaganda war, something that can be damaging to perceptions of ANSF capability.  The way in which people change sides (factors such as speed, numbers and type of people) can still be important (watch this in Syria) and may become an issue in the months (years?) to come, particularly if uncertainty over the outcome post-2014 grows or power vacuums are seen to emerge in parts of the country.  We should certainly keep track of this potentially developing dynamic – and think what the impact would be if a district or even provincial governor effectively came out in favour of the Taliban.  See also my earlier piece, here.  Of additional interest is the comment made by the Farah province governor.  He noted:

 Its not clear yet if they are joining the Taliban or if they are going somewhere else

Fighters (insurgents, militias or ANSF) may not necessarily be going between government and insurgents – they may be going to a local militia group, forming a group themselves, faking the whole thing to sell off equipment (to insurgents) or heading towards a fence to sit on while awaiting further developments.  Either way, many reasons to monitor this…

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