General: Afghan Reintegration Program Will Take Time
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2011 Permanently removing insurgents from the fight and reintegrating them into their Afghan communities is a gradual process that will take time, the International Security Assistance Force officer directing coalition support to that Afghan-led effort said today.
British Royal Marine Maj. Gen. David Hook, director of ISAF’s Force Reintegration cell, briefed Pentagon reporters today by video link from Kabul, Afghanistan.
The Afghan Peace and Reintegration program has so far helped 2,970 former insurgents rejoin Afghan society, Hook noted, and is working with another 1,200 fighters who represent “reintegration opportunities.”
While the program is nationwide and directed by the central government in Kabul, he added, it is implemented at the district and provincial level throughout Afghanistan. Most reintegrated former fighters, he said, have come from the nation’s northern and western provinces, but numbers in the southern and eastern areas are increasing slowly.
“A cornerstone of this local approach is the resolution of grievances that led people to fight in the first place,” Hook said. “If you accept the premise that 80 percent of the men fighting in the south are fighting for nonideological reasons -- and our analysis of why they have stopped fighting supports this -- it becomes clear that if you can address their grievances, you can draw them back into society. You then make the other 20 percent less relevant.”
The program aims to build trust and confidence among people who have been fighting the government and each other for many years, the general said, in a process that “engages political, social and religious leaders at every level so that Afghans can build peace, if necessary, village by village.”
The requirement that former insurgents apologize to their villages essentially forms a compact between those fighters and their fellow Afghans, Hook said, adding he attributes the program’s low recidivism rate -- five of nearly 3,000 reintegrees -- to that bond.
“He has asked for forgiveness from his community, and his community has forgiven him, and it locks them together in this contract,” Hook said.
Hook told reporters he wanted to dispel myths that have grown up around the reintegration program. Insurgents aren’t paid to stop fighting, he said, though they receive a three-month transitional allowance if they take part in disengagement training.
And, insurgents are not immune to prosecution, Hook added, noting they can expect no compromise on human rights violations, particularly the rights of women.
Hook called reintegration an essential component in ISAF’s counterinsurgency campaign. In a letter to troops upon taking command of ISAF forces in July, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen talked about the importance of reintegration and about “maintaining unrelenting pressure on the insurgency,” he said. “Ultimately, this pressure gives the insurgent a choice: to be killed, to be captured or to reintegrate.”
Four factors are converging to increase the program’s momentum, Hook said. The past year’s troop surge has decreased the insurgency’s capability, he said, and international and Afghan support for reintegration is increasing. Third, the program itself is expanding and improving outreach capability, he added, and many insurgent fighters -- facing another winter, when their leaders typically relocate -- are tired.
“I'm not saying the process is perfect; there are still issues to be addressed. But the Afghans are delivering and fixing issues as they arise,” Hook said.
“You have a gathering national momentum towards peace,” he added. “Ultimately, I believe … [there is] a favorable set of circumstances that will enable this program to progress. The challenge is taking all of those pieces and using them to leverage the program, and this is where Afghan leadership is essential. With strong leadership over the winter, this program will gain greater momentum.”