Coalition Works to Reintegrate Insurgents

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2011 — For insur­gents in Afghanistan who choose to lay down arms and align them­selves with the gov­ern­ment, the road to rein­te­gra­tion starts with the force rein­te­gra­tion cell for the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force.

“The Afghan peace and rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram is an Afghan civ­il peace process that’s been in action for about 10 months now,” Maj. Gen. Phil Jones of the British army, the rein­te­gra­tion cell’s direc­tor, explained dur­ing a “DOD Live” blog­gers round­table yes­ter­day. “The strat­e­gy pro­vides pro­gram­mat­ic sup­port for these armed groups and, of course their com­mu­ni­ties, who wish to rein­te­grate — in oth­er words, [who] wish to rejoin Afghanistan.”

Ene­my fight­ers who wish to rein­te­grate with Afghan soci­ety must renounce ter­ror­ism and pledge loy­al­ty to the Afghan gov­ern­ment, but it’s more than just a wave of the hand and a pledge to be good, Jones said. The pro­gram is about restruc­tur­ing their lives for the bet­ter, he explains, which means teach­ing for­mer insur­gents how to rede­fine them­selves not as agents of evil, but as forces for good.

“At its high­est lev­el, it’s run by the High Peace Coun­cil that works on nation­al and inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics, Jones said. “At its low­est end, in the dis­tricts and provinces, the peace process sup­ports fight­ers and their com­mu­ni­ties rejoin­ing the nation of Afghanistan with hon­or and with dig­ni­ty, pro­vid­ing they renounce vio­lence, sev­er ties with inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ist groups, and live under the con­sti­tu­tion,” he added.

The process is exten­sive, and includes a detailed account­ing of the for­mer insur­gents’ per­son­al infor­ma­tion. “All of them have been bio­met­ri­cal­ly reg­is­tered [with] pho­tographs, thumbprints, iris scans, that sort of thing,” Jones said. “They all get inter­viewed in detail to real­ly try to get … all the detail you need for these dis­tant areas, plus a whole load of oth­er infor­ma­tion that’s fed onto an Afghan data­base.” The pro­gram is quick­ly gain­ing speed, and so far, the num­bers have been rock­et­ing up, the gen­er­al said.

“About a week ago, we had about 1,300, [in the pro­gram] and now we’re up to about 1,700 for­mer fight­ers for­mal­ly rein­te­grat­ing, for­mal­ly join­ing the process, with hun­dreds more across Afghanistan just going home,” he said. “Those folks just decid­ed to leave the fight qui­et­ly, because they know they can under this emerg­ing peace process.” Afghanistan’s goal is not only to help the Afghan peo­ple estab­lish a sol­id lead­er­ship infra­struc­ture and foun­da­tion, the gen­er­al said, but also to build a greater and more uni­fied coun­try. That, he added, can start with peo­ple declar­ing alle­giance in the pur­suit of peace.

Jones recalled a meet­ing last week in north­west­ern Afghanistan’s impov­er­ished Badghis province. “We sat in Badghis with about 40 ex-insur­gent com­man­ders in a room togeth­er, dis­cussing the chal­lenges of peace, where­as six months ago we’d have been fight­ing,” he said. “It was one of those amaz­ing, pow­er­ful moments.” Jones acknowl­edged that a lot of work lies ahead.

“It’s an extra­or­di­nary peri­od to be out here, because there’s a lot that’s chang­ing. … The insur­gents, the Tal­iban lead­er­ship, they are not going to go out of this with­out a fight, but the con­ver­sa­tion is chang­ing,” he said. “There’s a sense that the secu­ri­ty gains are suf­fi­cient­ly sol­id for peo­ple to have con­fi­dence in a dif­fer­ent future. The secu­ri­ty gains have giv­en the peo­ple in the vil­lages the con­fi­dence to speak out against vio­lence.”

The goal is to con­tin­ue to turn small vic­to­ries into long-term solu­tions, Jones said, and the rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram is shed­ding new light on the prospect of peace, as long as the momen­tum con­tin­ues to build.

“It’s giv­en peo­ple suf­fi­cient hope to start to believe in things like the peace and rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram, even though it’s in the ear­ly stages,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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