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September 29, 2006

The Sanctuary Delusion


by William S. Lind

At America's behest, Pakistan sent its army into the tribal territories along its northwest frontier. Predictably, its army got beaten. The Pakistani government has now signed a truce with the tribes in North Waziristan, a wise move given that government's fragility. (On Sunday, when the power went out all over Pakistan, everyone assumed there had been a coup.)

Washington and its gentlemanly Afghan puppet, Mr. Karzai, are howling that this will give the Taliban a sanctuary, which is true. Every military force, including those of the Fourth Generation, needs some sort of secure rear area where its fighters can relax, its wounded can receive treatment, and its new recruits can be trained. Such sanctuaries are vital for the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and all the rest.

Unfortunately, this need for sanctuaries is leading the "silver bullet" crowd, those who seek some magical single answer to the Fourth Generation threat, off on another detour to nowhere. They say that if we only put enough pressure on states such as Pakistan not to permit sanctuaries, and overthrow state governments that openly provide sanctuary such as Syria's, then the Fourth Generation will disappear. Sorry, but it won't.

The error is that, as usual, the silver bulleteers are thinking in terms of states. They argue not only that Fourth Generation entities need sanctuaries, which is true, but that those sanctuaries have to be in states, which is not true. On the contrary, stateless regions provide the best sanctuary Fourth Generation forces can hope to find.

The best example is the stateless region of Mesopotamia, formerly the state of Iraq (minus Kurdistan). Despite the presence of 140,000 American troops, 20,000 mercenaries, and the dwindling remains of the coalition of the shilling, Mesopotamia is now a happy hunting ground for more 4GW entities than Osama can count. In that stateless void, they have rich recruiting grounds, the best training available anywhere, ample funds, plenty of weapons, and enough quiet places where tired or wounded mujahedeen can get their R&R. The former Iraq has become a Fourth Generation theme park. Six Hundred Flags, perhaps? Or maybe Bushworld.

Much of Afghanistan is rapidly going the same route. Far from needing friendly states for sanctuary, most 4GW forces can find it locally, often right under the occupiers' noses. While Pakistan's northwest territories do give the Taliban welcome sanctuary, I'd bet at least one goat that most Afghan Taliban find their sanctuary in Afghanistan, among their families, friends, and fellow tribesmen. If some hapless NATO troops stumble into their village while they're on R&R, they can just smile and wave. Why travel for what you have at home?

The sanctuary delusion has two unfortunate consequences. First, like all silver bullet answers to 4GW, it leads us astray from the slow, painful, and difficult task of understanding the Fourth Generation in all its evolving complexity. Second, as with Pakistan, it leads the American government to push friendly governments in weak states over the edge. By demanding they deny sanctuary on their territory to "terrorists" who have strong popular support, Washington exacerbates their crises of legitimacy. Washington then acts surprised and dumbfounded when those governments fall, as it discreetly folds away the pocket knife that cut their high wire. If their fall creates another stateless region, the Fourth Generation gets another ideal sanctuary.

As is so often the case in 4GW, the fact that Fourth Generation forces need sanctuaries means neither that they must obtain them from states nor that they can be targeted. Our troops in Afghanistan don't call their Taliban opponents "ghosts" for nothing.


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  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

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