Usawc research paper engaging afghanistan-the mullah connection


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United States Army

Topic approved by

Colonel (Retired) Walter Wood

The views expressed in this academic research paper are those of the

author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the

U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or any of its agencies.

U.S. Army War College



AUTHOR: Chaplain (Colonel) Kenneth L. Sampson

TITLE: Engaging Afghanistan—The Mullah Connection
FORMAT: DDE Research Project
DATE: 2 May 2006 PAGES: 43 CLASSIFICATION: Unclassified

This work argues that engaging Afghanistan’s indigenous religious leadership—mullahs and Islamic scholars—is critical to winning the battle of ideas within local populations of the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) theater. Additionally this paper contends that United States Government assets are at a unique, timely convergence of diplomatic and defense history. The Department of State, with its newly formed Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, is best suited, over the long haul, to form the dynamic partnerships required to fully engage Afghanistan’s religious leadership.


ABSTRACT………………………………………………………………………………… ii


CONCLUSION……………………………………………………………………. 15
RECOMMENDATIONS………………………………………………………….. 16
BIBLIOGRAPHY…………………………………………………………………………. 23
ENDNOTES……………………….……………………………………………………… 34

Engaging Afghanistan—The Mullah Connection
“Insofar as there has been a sense of unity in [Afghanistan], it is Islam...which has superimposed itself on the ethnic diversity and provided the main focus of loyalty...[M]uch influence is exercised by imams or mullahs, who may not only have ritual, juridical, medical and educational roles at village and tribal level, but may also exercise an inspirational leadership...This influence is all the greater in a society which is largely illiterate, traditional by instinct and mostly ignorant of modern ways of life.”

─ Martin Ewans, Afghanistan (2002)

In the protracted war on terrorism, the United States encounters a battle of ideas—a battle that will “ultimately be won by enabling moderate Muslim leadership to prevail” against violent extremists.1 Mullahs—local Afghanistan religious leaders who oversee an estimated 150,000 mosques throughout the country—make a significant impact on the perceptions of local Afghan citizens.2 This is especially so considering the high illiteracy rate (about 80 percent) brought on, in part, by nearly 20 years of war.3

During the past 4 years, many ad-hoc, haphazard attempts have been made to engage these spiritual leaders, often meeting with limited success. This article argues that engaging Afghanistan’s indigenous religious leadership—mullahs and Islamic scholars—is key to winning the battle of ideas within local populations of the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) theater.4 Secondly, this study posits that a proactive, interagency approach, designed to forge dynamic partnerships that engage religious leaders at both the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, is best coordinated, integrated, and led by the Department of State’s Afghanistan focused Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).

Context—The Afghanistan Background

Discussion of Afghanistan’s geographical/cultural makeup focuses first on the impact of terrain and decades long war, then Islam’s influence with the masses, and lastly, the unique dimensions of Afghan mullah leadership.

The impact of a centralized government on much of Afghanistan is limited due to the nation’s mountainous topography and steep terrain. Some 23,000 locally governed villages, many which lack modern communication means, contribute to the isolation experienced by much of the population.5 When combined with the ravages of war—experienced for over two decades—the sense of national detachment can be especially disheartening.6 Strategic Studies Advisor to the Canadian Defense Academy, Dr. Sean M. Maloney, describes the residue of Afghanistan’s war in terms of ecological, ideological and spiritual damage, where “infrastructure has deteriorated, and there is virtually no industry...Essentially, Afghanistan is at the same Year Zero that Cambodia was at when the Khmer Rouge were finished implementing their murderous program.”7

Yet, the Islamic faith has been a stabilizing, unifying force and influence amidst all the conflicting changes of regimes and war. Writes coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School, Ralph Magnus and scholar Eden Naby, the singular “factor that gave the resistance the will and passion to strive against the Soviet Army was their Islamic faith.”8

An important factor contributing to the unique makeup of Islam in Afghanistan is the tolerant, mystical influence of Sufism that pervades much of Afghan Muslim practice. Prayer and contemplation, leading to direct communion and mystical absorption into God, is a dimension of Sufi Muslim faith that many mullahs and villagers adopt.9 Popular belief often incorporates a Sufi-impacted mixture of “superstition, spiritism, saint worship, mysticism and organized religion” with pre-Islamic folk beliefs and tribal codes.10

Mullahs (Muslim clerics, “Imams” being their more formal term) give sermons on Fridays, lead in prayers, officiate during life-cycle events (birth, marriage, death...) and often settle disputes.11 They may be accorded respect based upon their piety or possession of barakat (mystical blessing or charisma).12 A degree of good-natured playfulness and humor may be the lot of some mullahs, as is evidenced by the tales of Mullah Nasruddin, a comedy figure akin to Hank Mortimer’s “Beetle Bailey.”13

Afghanistan’s mullahs are a resilient group however. Many are survivors of decades of conflict. Some have endured, by means of calibrated and sinuous practice, through Soviet, Taliban, and current Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regimes. Their sympathies range from a moderating Sufi mysticism to embracing violent Islamic extremists.

Madrasas (religious schools) may be led by mullahs or more formally educated scholars (ulama) who specialize in theology and religious law.14 Prior to the Soviet invasion, the umma (community of believers) was most often described as a tolerant, broad-minded amalgamation of Muslim faithful.

Mosa Maroofi, in The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, sees the Taliban not as an upstart movement in Afghanistan, rather an “inseparable part of the social fabric” since the establishment of Afghan Muslim religion.15 In addition to being caretakers of schools, mosques and shrines, the Taliban distinguished themselves as mujahedin (holy warriors) whenever they felt the cause of Islam (as interpreted by their own ulama) was at stake.

Context—United States Government Structures

The prime ways the U.S. Government is affecting Afghanistan mullah engagement include the Joint Force Commander’s “hearts and minds” responsibilities, the tendency of U.S. Governmental agencies to underestimate the influence of religious conviction on operations, initiatives taken by chaplains and Civil Military Operation Centers (CMOCs) with local religious leaders, and lastly the State Department’s transformational diplomacy initiatives.

The Joint Force Commander is a critical U.S. Government and interagency asset. Creating a cooperative working environment between many participants (international and regional organizations, nongovernmental organizations, U.S. Government and other foreign government agencies, and private voluntary organizations) who may produce unintentional areas of friction is a Joint Force Commander duty.16

The cooperative working environment—extending to the hearts and minds of the local population—is comprehensive.17 Encouraging “ownership,” whereby a country develops its own needs and priorities, is critical to reconstruction and development phases of operations. Andrew Natsios, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development writes, “it is essential to mobilize the Afghan people behind the government’s policy.”18

A third underlying factor affecting U.S. Government interactions in reconstruction and stabilization operations is the government’s tendency to underestimate religion’s role in the restoration process. This disposition may be due to American separation of church and state (religion and politics), or an anti-religious bias within the social science and international relations disciplines. Additionally, religion in American domestic politics appears to have an increasingly polarizing effect. Since religion may have a less moderating appeal, some government authorities are inclined to dismiss religion’s impact entirely.19

A fourth consideration is the engagement, primarily at the local level, that has occurred between Afghanistan mullahs and U.S. Government personnel. These efforts are limited in scope compared to the potential impact. The Embassy of the United States, Kabul, Afghanistan, sponsors an International Visitor Program that facilitates travel by Afghan religious scholars to the United States. Provincial Reconstruction Team commanders schedule periodic opportunities for dialogue through conferences and interaction with local mullahs. Additionally, within the past 39 months, U.S. Army and Canadian Armed Forces Chaplains have held a number of meetings, ranging from prayer breakfasts and luncheons to providing Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds for mullah led projects.20

Lastly, the context of the U.S. Department of State affects the discussion. Just as the Department of Defense is undergoing great change, so is the State Department. A directive within the 16 March 2006 National Security Strategy addresses the continuing need to “reorient the Department of State towards transformational diplomacy.”21 Part of transformation could be more involvement with mullahs.

Mature State Department officials could credibly engage mullahs as such State Department officials need not be ordained clergy. Rather, as David R. Smock, Director of the United States Institute of Peace, Religion and Peacemaking Initiative recommends, “peacemaking can be particularly effective when some key persons hold both secular and religious authority.”22 Mr. Smock goes on to discuss the interfaith work by the late President Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia, who was a devout Methodist recognized for his religious commitment and political authority.23 Likewise, the author’s association for over four months with Dr. John Finney, Department of State’s Political Advisor, Combined Joint Task Force 180, Afghanistan, and dedicated Roman Catholic Christian, attests to the great value of this combination of secular/religious authority when engaging local religious leadership.

Argument—Mullahs as Communication Channels and Power Brokers

Historical precedence demonstrates the value of engaging Muslim religious leaders. During the 1899-1902 conflict in the Philippines, American Soldier and officer leadership engaged local Philippine citizens and religious leaders in dialogue. Writes Army War College interdisciplinary Strategic Studies Institute team leader, Dr. Conrad Crane, “Troops had to be aware of the cultures they were in, and not try to force American values....Even John J. Pershing could spend hours talking to local imams about religion.”24 An early edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) underscores the significant power of Afghanistan mullahs as social leaders who held great influence over the local populace.25

The scholarly anthropological community appreciates the importance of mullah leadership. Writes Arabic scholar and Middle East specialist Peter Marsden, “Islam has represented an important unifying element in the ethnic mosaic of Afghanistan...and has been as much a determining factor in historical developments in Afghanistan as ethnicity. Historically, charismatic mullahs or ulema would take on a leadership role, bringing tribal elements together to confront a common enemy...”26 Norwegian Anthropologist Asta Olesen, in his detailed monograph entitled Islam and Politics in Afghanistan, writes, “religious dignitaries in Afghanistan have managed to utilize their spiritual authority in times of crisis to identify existing local grievance with the cause of Islam and under this ideological banner unite disparate groups in temporary alliances for a common cause...”27

Esteemed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) active in Afghanistan realize the decisive impact of religious leaders. The spokesman for the Kabul based UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) writes that the “best channel to reach Afghans is Mosques and mullahs.”28 Likewise, Dr. Shah Mahmood, finance director for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), an NGO that educated over 30,000 Afghan girls, even during Taliban rule, states, “interaction with Afghan religious [scholars] and Mullahs is very important….Unfortunately, in Afghanistan particularly after the fall of Taliban, [a] majority of politician[s] and military people have ignored the importance of Mullahs in Afghan society.”29

Insurgent strategic guidance articulates the necessity to enlist Muslim religious leadership in communicating with the common people. Writes al Qa’ida’s visionary leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri to Iraq based Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the “strongest weapon which the mujahedeen enjoy—after the help and granting success by God—is popular support from the Muslim masses in Iraq, and the surrounding Muslim countries....The ulema among the general public...[are] the symbol of Islam and its emblem...we must find a means to include [the active mujahedeen ulema] and to benefit from their energy.”30

Current U.S. Armed Forces leadership—from Combined Joint Task Force to Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) level—underscores the necessity to engage Afghan mullahs. During fall, 2003, while serving as Coalition Joint Task Force 180 (CJTF 180) Chaplain, the CJTF 180 Commander, Major General (Promotable) John R. Vines verbally directed the author and the Bagram based Area Support Group Commander to begin a series of engagements (prayer breakfasts and luncheons) with local mullah leadership. This request arose, in part, because command wanted to maximize positive Coalition influence within Bagram’s surrounding civilian Afghan communities.

Likewise, Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) leadership appreciates the value of engaging local religious leaders. After a conference attended by more than 70 mullahs in Khost, near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, PRT commander Major Carl Hollister described the impact of mullahs: “They have more influence than the police, they have more influence than the provincial ministers...and they have more influence than the governor does with the individual villagers.”31 Also, CJTF 180 Political Advisor Dr. John Finney underscores the importance of mullah engagements from a Soldier force protection view. Information gained and relationships established during mullah engagements “saved the lives of our Soldiers because they were culturally aware. This is care for our troops developing their sensitivity to the religion and cultural environment in which they function.”32 Additionally, the numerous professional and personal accounts of U.S. Army chaplain interactions with mullahs demonstrate command interest with these local religious leaders.33

The stabilizing influence of religious scholars underscores their importance on the operational and tactical levels. Atawol Rahman Salim, First Deputy in the Islamic Affairs Ministry, who appointed many new imams to Kabul’s mosques after the Taliban fall, stated, “What [mullahs] tell the people can have more power to defeat terrorism than the bullets of the army...That is why only the right man must be the imam.” Imam Alham Ziari of Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan mosque, in speaking of sermons denouncing insurgents, claimed, “The words had a strong effect on people….They were on target like a B-52. Perhaps even more effective than that.”34 Also, the manifesto issued from a seminar attended by 120 religious scholars in Kandahar Province 18-19 May 2005 (immediately after a Newsweek account of Qu’ran desecration at the Guantanamo Confinement Facility) declared, “We urge all the people of Afghanistan, in particular the scholars, not to be influenced by false rumors, which lead to destabilization and insecurity in the country...we...encourage unity and solidarity among the people.”35

Argument—The Department of State Role

This section suggests that because of recent Presidential directive, Department of State guidance, Armed Forces Doctrine, National Security Strategy, Quarterly Defense Review, and the tenor of the times, the State Department should be the lead agency in developing and executing a cohesive, integrated, interagency program for engaging Afghanistan’s mullah religious leaders.

The 7 December 2005 Presidential directive charges the Secretary of State to “coordinate and lead” integrated United States’ efforts relating to the “conduct of stabilization and reconstruction activities.”36 The Secretary of State coordinates efforts with the Secretary of Defense “to ensure harmonization with any planned or ongoing U.S. military operations across the spectrum of conflict.”37 It appears clear from this new instruction that the President is giving the State Department more distinct, greater responsibility in stability and reconstruction work. In former days, an embassy had a “capitol focused” mission, conducting relations with host government agencies and leaving to others work with less familiar nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and outside the capitol interests.38 Now, Presidential directive outlines a more comprehensive mission.

Current Department of State guidance dictates a readiness to engage the “local stakeholder” (such as an indigenous religious leader) dimensions of stability and reconstruction efforts. The U.S. Department of State Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) takes the lead for “an interagency effort to develop a model for civilian teams that can deploy together or, when needed, embed with the military and establish a decentralized presence to undertake stabilization activities.”39 The Fact Sheet for the Office of Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization includes a “Post Conflict Reconstruction Essential Tasks Matrix.” Listed are essential tasks that specifically target the religious community and leadership. These tasks include: “Identify role religious leaders play in reducing or promoting conflict….Design community programs to support reconciliation based on religious and traditional practices....Ensure participation of diverse religious elements….Rebuild places of worship and sacred sites.”40

Armed Forces Joint Doctrine, in articulating the necessity of diplomatic efforts (with State Department led diplomacy being a key instrument in the “toolbox”), supports the Department of State mission to inaugurate and integrate effective partners in the mullah engagement program. Giving the “lead to local actors” (religious leaders) transforms conflict from an “internationally imposed stability to a peace that is sustainable by local actors with the international community providing continued support at a greatly reduced cost.”41 The necessity for connectivity between “major players at the interagency table,” nongovernmental and private voluntary organizations, currently “ad hoc, with no specific statutory linkage,” creates a mandate for State Department leadership through the newly formed Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction.42

The National Security Strategy articulates and the Quadrennial Defense Review recommends an increased reconstruction role for the Department of State. To be able to “empower the very people the terrorists most want to exploit: the faithful followers of empower peaceful Muslims to practice and interpret their faith” is a National Security Strategy goal that links up with the Department of State’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).43 Expanding the “expeditionary capacity of [Department of Defense] partners” including “substantially increased resources for the Department of State’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stability...,” as outlined in the 6 February 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, supports S/CRS abilities to build partnership capacities, taking the “indirect approach, building up and working with others...headed by the State Department.”44

Lastly, the times are fitting to initiate mullah engagement with the State Department’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stability. To draw again from the work of Andrew Natsios,

“The first principle of ownership...a country must drive its own development needs and priorities....Nurturing country ownership is a laborious process that emerges with time and effort. It requires a strong agency ground presence in order to build credibility, trust and consensus in the local population....Ownership, capacity building, and sustainability...cannot be applied successfully over short periods of time. They require years of consistent effort and support or they will fail. There are no quick fixes in development.”45

The Department of State has the “clout and capability” to attract and sustain personnel resources “on the Afghanistan soil.” State’s Kabul Headquarters, one of the few structures built substantially enough to withstand the ravages of the ages, indicates the long-standing presence the United States Department of State intends within Afghanistan. Options available for enlisting credible, culturally sensitive personnel— retired State Department officials, an individual ready reserve pool, working reach back possibilities to the continental United States, locating dedicated professionals willing to dedicate themselves for up to five years serving a noble cause—are present within an expanded State Department structure. Additionally, an adequately funded Kabul based Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stability has flexibility and the positive benefit of not worrying about “exit strategy” or military force protection constraints.


Recent remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld assess the success of United States efforts in the ideological struggle that includes violent Islamic extremists. “If I were grading, I would say we probably deserve a “D” or a “D-minus” as a country as to how well we are doing in the battle of ideas taking place in the world today.”46 This article has reasoned that in Afghanistan today, mullahs are key players in winning the ideological encounter. Coalition forces, and U.S. government assets, can make significant gains in the ideological battle taking place by engaging Afghanistan’s religious leadership. Historical precedence, scholarly insight, “on the ground” nongovernmental organization (NGO) testimony, insurgent strategic guidance, Joint Forces Command leadership, and insights by indigenous Afghan religious leaders all attest to the importance of mullahs. These religious leaders are significant channels of communication and molders of thought for a largely illiterate and “infrastructure challenged” Afghan citizenry of nearly 30 million people.47

Additionally, this paper contends that U. S. Government assets are at a unique, timely convergence of diplomatic and defense history. The Department of State, with its newly formed Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, is best suited, over the long haul, to form the dynamic partnerships required to fully engage Afghanistan’s religious leadership. Presidential directive, Department of State guidance, Joint Forces Doctrine, National Security Strategy and Quadrennial Defense Review recommendation, and the pressures of the moment warrant a State Department led initiative to integrate interdependent forces and agencies to best impact strategic-level and “on-the-ground” serving mullah leaders within Afghanistan today.


1. Resource the Office of the Coordinator for Reconciliation and Stabilization— Afghanistan

The White House, Congress, and the Department of Defense have the leadership responsibility to issue guidance and directive applicable to an Afghanistan focused Office of the Coordinator for Reconciliation and Stabilization (S/CRS) with religious leader concentration.48

Funding should not be a significant issue. Once a robust Washington based S/CRS office is established, religious leader department stationed in Afghanistan, with “reach back to [the continental United States] to support expeditionary forces”49 could be in place for a modest $500,000 to $750,000. The new United States Embassy in Kabul could logistically support a three-to-four person team that divides time between Afghanistan and the United States.

For enlistment of the right personnel, application of creative options outlined by directive and strategy could match needs by position.50 Service of an older, retired State Department official or mature Afghanistan citizen living in the United States could be employed on a part-time basis. Such well-respected figures could credibly engage with the cabinet level Minister of Hajj, Endowment and Islamic Affairs Professor Nematollah Shahrani and newly appointed Chairman of the National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, Professor Sibghatullah al-Mojaddedi. The “chief of staff” could be a State Department member or Armed Forces Foreign Area Officer who possesses cultural sensitivity, commitment, and the ability to implement an interagency vision. One newly accessioned State Department professional and assistance of a religious support team (full or part time)51 could round out the department.

2. Maximize the Interagency Vision.

The Operation Enduring Freedom theater, of which Afghanistan is a central arena, presents multiple, complex challenges. “Tardy or ineffective interagency processes” negatively affect outcomes. As outlined in a Rand study on partnership strengthening in humanitarian operations, “The departments and agencies of government...must all work together, often in unaccustomed ways.”52

This article has argued for the importance of religion within Afghan society. The many agencies working in Afghanistan, through an interagency approach, can open channels of communication with mullahs, where information and knowledge that addresses mullah concerns is shared.53 Implementation of this interagency vision, stemming from the Office of Coordination for Reconstruction and Stabilization, has the potential to forge dynamic partnerships. Department of State, Department of Defense (including Joint, Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Civil Military Operations Centers, Civil Affairs, Medical Task Forces), United States Agency for International Development, and the Department of Justice are all “on the ground” in Afghanistan. Transparent, horizontal networks could be further developed with host nation and coalition organizations, including International Stability Assistance Forces (ISAF), the Afghan National Army (ANA), the Afghan Minister of Defense, and the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs. The wisdom and credibility of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) operating for decades within Afghanistan could be tapped and shared across a broad spectrum of agencies.54

Transferring religious/culture data to the user—Soldiers, relief agencies, religious support teams, government and coalition partners—could use existing Internet exchanges. Reports from interaction that occurs with the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, periodic talking points on mullah concerns throughout regions of the Afghanistan Republic, a straightforward outline of religious community structure, needs, government policy and operational issues could be routine documents disseminated from the Office of Coordination for Reconstruction and Stabilization. Concerns raised by mullahs from the field, and solutions developed on a local level could readily be exchanged with Department of State partners.

The true beneficiaries of this interagency approach would be Soldiers, NGOs, and “grass roots” organizations on the local level. More effective “personal engagement, persuasion, and quiet influence” over the long haul, as mandated in the Defense Quadrennial Review, would be the outcome.55

3. Plan for engagement over the long haul.

Coalition planners would be well-advised to take into account the perspective of Mr. Mohammad Naseem, an Afghan-American entrepreneur of Kandahar’s new “The Coffee Shop.” “Life is a risk in this part of the world...I don’t want to do anything out of whack with local culture...You can’t rush things around here.”56 While United States Armed Forces often default to a “quick fix,” the long war on terrorism necessitates, “Victory can only be achieved through the patient accumulation of quiet successes...” over time.57 Personnel who staff the Kabul based Office of Coordination for Reconstruction and Stabilization could plan on a three-to-five year commitment. This commitment would be flexible as to location with travel back and forth between Washington and Kabul being a given. However, efforts cannot shape the future unless grounded in a long-term commitment, both strategically at U. S. Government level, and locally with the individual dedication of personnel.

4. Bolster Moderate Islamic Networks.

Combatant Commander General John Abizaid of U. S. Central Command articulated the need to encourage tolerant and mainstream Islam. “It is really moderation versus extremism....The good news is...most people in the region are moderate….The moderates need to be supported against the extremists during this period so that this ideology does not take off on us.”58

Bolstering moderate Islam within Afghanistan can take a variety of forms. First, interaction and exchange with Afghanistan’s Minister of Hajj and Islamic Affairs, Professor Nematollah Shahrani and councils of leading mullahs would continue discussion, education, and opportunity for raising strategic religious/cultural concerns.59 “Preventive dialogue” occasions could be continued with mullahs and religious scholars through forums at the local level, interchanges that occur when religious scholars or Armed Forces Chiefs of Chaplains visit theater, or in briefing formats with Combined Forces Command Afghanistan or Coalition Joint Task Force 76 leadership.60 Increasing efforts aimed at mosque and education reform—through indirect and low-profile means—are concrete steps to winning the battle of ideas within Afghanistan. Lastly, cooperating with and incorporating respected Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into civil/military outreaches support the cause of moderate Islam.61

5. Buoy up Afghanistan led reconciliation efforts.

The Office of Coordination for Reconstruction and Stabilization can encourage Afghan led efforts to bring peace within the various factions of the country. Respected Professor Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, head of Afghanistan’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission, offers amnesty for insurgent rebels: “Those who are armed, they should lay down their weapons when they come, accept the Constitution and obey the government. We will accept them with an open heart.”62 Afghanistan analyst Sean Maloney advocates similar engagement: “Milosevic-style indictments will not work in Afghanistan, where almost everybody may be guilty of violating some Western-based law...A South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a better tool. Afghanistan needs reconciliation, not a reprise of Nuremberg.”63 Establishing an Afghanistan based United States Institute of Peace program, under the leadership of the Office for Coordination of Reconstruction and Stabilization, could foster long term cooperation and internal peace.64 Though bold and risky, supporting an indigenous Afghanistan led “Truth and Reconciliation” process could also make strategic gains within the Middle East and Central Asia worlds.

6. Continue to employ Armed Forces Religious Support Teams in the mullah engagement and reconciliation process.

Chaplaincy teams make invaluable contributions during face-to-face dimensions of mullah engagements.65 However, their overall involvement is best left to a supportive role. As Navy Chaplain George Adams writes in his detailed study, “Chaplains as Liaisons with Religious Leaders,” Chaplains “must clearly understand who they are...remain in their ‘lane’” and recognize “other crucial elements of successful liaison efforts to include fostering dialogue, developing relationships, demonstrating respect, avoiding arrogance, and tapping into the power of acts, gestures, and rituals.” To “establish communication, develop trust, resolve misunderstandings, and where possible, solve problems” are areas where Chaplaincy teams can be of best assistance.66

7. Continue to Implement Robust Cultural Awareness Training.

Armed Forces personnel undergo a variety of training experiences that focus on cultural awareness for the Operation Enduring Freedom theater. Often these experiences are “rushed affairs” with little opportunity for personal interaction and clarification.67 When viewed by some outsiders, our U. S. Armed Forces community could greatly improve in sensitivity to host nation cultures.68 With the continued threat of violent Islamic extremism, the challenge in part is to develop an appreciation for and trust in moderate Muslim schools of thought, while remaining alert and wary of insurgent violent extremists who advocate a terrorist driven Muslim worldview.

Continued cultural awareness training focuses first on commanders and senior Armed Forces leaders. Too often the temptation is to retreat to a rigid worldview that has offered success and sustaining power over a long career but which may inhibit dialogue and cooperation in the present. Writes Director of the Division of International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University, Abdul Aziz Said, “A retreat to a cultural not only a denial of the rich diversity of the modern cultural experience, but also a rejection of responsibility for future generations.”69 The controversy surrounding General William Boykin’s words concerning Americans, Christianity and the Muslim world indicate opportunity for values discussion and training in how leaders can walk the often difficult line of personal faith and public diplomacy regarding Islam and violent extremist faith.70

Religious support teams likewise benefit from continued training in the religious dimensions of Afghan culture. As Chaplain Adams postulates, chaplains “are not typically experts in world religions or cultures...understanding the complex religious and cultural history of a particular state or region is difficult and requires much more extensive preparation [than] browsing the Internet or reading a few books.”71 To credibly advise command on the indigenous religious makeup of an area of responsibility like Afghanistan is a time-consuming and delicate task that few chaplaincy teams can fulfill.

Lastly, individual Soldiers “on the ground” benefit from continued religious/culture training. As so adequately pointed out by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Cernicky, “[S]oldiers’ thoughts and conduct directly relate to the positive progress...of the operation...Troops leverage a nations’ strength in a powerful manner.”72 Frustrations of the moment negatively impact most Soldiers in a hostile combat theater.73 Yet, the person-to-person contact by culturally attuned Armed Forces personnel contributes greatly to successful long-term impact upon the Afghan civilian population.

Abdullah, A. “Statement of H.E. Dr. A. Abdullah Minister of Foreign Affairs of

Afghanistan at the 32nd Session of the General Conference of the UNESCO--Islamic

Transitional Administration.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, 2 October

2003. Available at

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