Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan Is Not Vietnam

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan Is Not Vietnam

Article excerpt

If President Obama learns from Britain's mistakes in 1943 with Albania and meets Afghan warriors on their terms, the United States can end the war and win the peace in Afghanistan, honorably.

Contrary to recent popular comparisons, Afghanistan is not Vietnam.

But it is a lot like Albania.

About 70 years ago, Albania - a small, mountainous country in the

Balkans, was still populated by numerous "fanatical" warrior

tribesmen. During World War II, Germany occupied this land. Given the

strategic importance of the Balkans, the Allies, led by the British,

sent in covert operatives to try to organize an indigenous Albanian

resistance.

These Allied operatives were unable to think like tribal warriors

and that is why they failed. If President Obama learns from

Britain's mistakes and meets Afghan warriors on their terms, the

United States can end the war and win the peace in Afghanistan,

honorably.

Albanian tribal culture was, and still is, founded on kinship.

Loyalty was rendered, first and foremost, to family and tribe.

In 1943, the nation of Albania was scarcely 30 years old and

tribesmen felt little or no loyalty to the state, which they believed

was corrupt. On top of that, Albanian tribal culture was a feuding

culture. Some tribes were friendly while others were sworn enemies.

This created an ever-shifting, almost incomprehensible network of

tribal coalitions and factions, much akin to that in Afghanistan. As

one Allied officer noted, "To spend hours trying to make an

Albanian see the British point of view is a waste of time; the only

possible method is to persuade him that some project desired by you

is desirable from his point of view as well."

In the end, the Albanians were not persuaded. The costs were high:

At least 14 Allied operatives and untold numbers of Albanians died

and tons of equipment were lost. By 1945, the Germans had departed,

leaving Albania in the hands of a ruthless Communist dictator, Enver

Hoxha.

It doesn't have to end similarly in Afghanistan.

What was true for Albanian tribesmen in 1943 is true for Afghan

tribesmen in 2010; they will act first in their own self- interest and

that of their family and tribe. Their primary loyalty is not to a

government or ideology. It appears that Mr. Obama and his military

commanders understand that. But the lessons of the Allied failure in

Albania go deeper.

The first lesson: Traditional Albanians depend on a centuries- old

system of customary law called the Code of Leke, which is based on

the concept of honor - ndera. The Afghan equivalent is nang. An

Albanian warrior would rather die than dishonor himself and his

family, and Afghan warriors are no different.

This made things very difficult for British operatives, who could

not convince Albanians to act dishonorably - to betray family or

friends who worked for the Germans, for example - and no amount of

money or shame could sway them. …

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