As American commanders wage their counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, an increasingly important weapon in their arsenal is money. Military planners are now intent on setting aside discretionary funds to potentially buy off "reconcilables," or militants who are fighting against US and NATO troops more for financial than ideological reasons.
Gen. David Petraeus, the chief of US Central Command, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on December 9, 2009, that the "reintegration of reconcilables [is] a core objective of any sound counter-insurgency effort."
The money to lure militant insurgents over to the Afghan government side would come from the Commanders' Emergency Response Fund, a spokesman for the Department of Defense said.
"The Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act includes authority for the Department of Defense to use a portion of its Commanders' Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds to support a new, Afghan-led reintegration program in Afghanistan," Lt. Col. Mark Wright told EurasiaNet on January 11.
"These funds will be executed in coordination with the Government of Afghanistan, and with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, once such a program is developed in more detail," Wright added.
According to Section 1222 of the National Defense Authorization Act, "The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Government of Afghanistan and with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, may utilize such funds as necessary from amounts available for the Commanders' Emergency Response Program for fiscal year 2010 to support the reintegration into Afghan society of those individuals who have renounced violence against the Government of Afghanistan."
CERP funds in the past have been used for a wide variety of purposes, including condolence payments to the families of civilian casualties, development grants to businesses and funding for militias fighting on behalf of the Afghan government.
Under the tentative vision for the reintegration scheme, low to mid-level militants who lay down their arms would be offered either a lump sum payment or jobs with salaries of around $240 per month. The Taliban is believed to pay fighters about $300 per month. No specific dollar amount for the reintegration scheme has been specified. Bu the total CERP budget for 2010 is $1.3 billion.
The reintegration program, in theory, would cover foreign militants operating in Afghanistan, including fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). In recent months, the presence of foreign militants has grown in some areas of Afghanistan, especially in northern provinces such as Kunduz, which borders Tajikistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Central Asian political experts suggest that foreign militants would be less likely to be lured away by CERP funds.
"The IMU has developed a reputation, as far as anybody knows, of being a very serious jihadist group. They are increasingly active and essentially an affiliate of al Qaeda," said Paul Quinn-Judge, Central Asia project director for the International Crisis Group. "They [IMU militants] are not country kids in Afghanistan who are earning some money on the side by occasionally attacking US or Allied troops."
"They are not the sort of people you would expect to take hand-outs or buy-outs from the Department of Defense," Quinn-Judge added.
Mars Sariev, a Bishkek-based political scientist, suggested a limited number of IMU militants might be tempted. "About 3,000 members of the IMU are ethnic Uzbeks," Sariev estimated. "Most people who join this kind of organization are poor and they join up because they want to make a social protest of sorts. If they get money for it, if they have an opportunity to do something else, the number of IMU members might fall."
Sariev added that Afghanistan's northern neighbors would be pleased to see the reintegration scheme bear fruit. "I think the Central Asian countries and Russia would be only happy and breathe a sigh of relief if the scheme was successful," he said.
Quinn-Judge said any reintegration initiative that extended to IMU militants would not be blocked by Uzbekistan. However, officials in Tashkent likely have restrained expectations for the reintegration scheme, he suggested. "At the moment the Uzbeks and United States are getting on extremely well, [and] anything like this would be coordinated. But I would speculate the Uzbek security services are telling their American counterparts they don't stand a chance," he said.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs