You might as well throw the money out of a helicopter

I wonder if this guy is on LinkedIn; I’d love to see his resume:

The April disappearance of Gumurod Halimov, the American-trained head of Tajikistan’s elite security force, sent shudders through Dushanbe, the capital of Afghanistan’s impoverished northern neighbor. His May reappearance in an ISIS video shocked not just Tajikistan, but all of Central Asia. It was also a wakeup call for Washington. Halimov’s venomous propaganda videos, in which he cites his counterterrorism training with U.S. special operators and Blackwater in the United States, underscore the danger of providing unrestricted U.S. security assistance to failing states.

It’s impossible to know when Halimov decided to join ISIS and whether he kept working for the Tajik government while he was also working for the jihadis, or why he decided to join ISIS in the first place, though he blames the Tajik government’s decision to restrict public religious expression. One thing we know for sure is that this guy has taken US training and is now using it on behalf of the group we’ve declared public enemy #1.

As Paul Stronski writes in that Carnegie piece I linked at the top, this is a perfect example of why throwing US money and resources at counter-terrorism efforts in states that are poorly governed is a losing bet. Whatever Halimov’s reasons for going over to ISIS, the fact that he was able to get away with it is a direct reflection on the Tajik government and security sector. It doesn’t appear that Dushanbe plans any major investigation into what went wrong, either; governments tend not to want to investigate their own failings, and authoritarian governments, with no internal checks and balances and no rule of law guiding their political leadership, don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. But this isn’t just about authoritarian regimes. ISIS is using American military hardware in Iraq now because that country’s government wasn’t able to build a strong, cohesive military in the decade between Saddam’s ouster and ISIS’s Mosul offensive. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in US weapons that have been lost in Afghanistan and now belong to the Taliban, partly because the US military apparently can’t keep track of its stuff but also partly because that country’s government has been an utter catastrophe virtually since the day the Taliban were run out of Kabul. Ditto in Yemen. And, ah, Libya, Syria, and Somalia as well.

All these places have two things in common: America is eager to provide them with training and equipment for counter-terrorism purposes, and their internal governance is either non-existent or highly dysfunctional. So far the US has refused to make fixing the latter a condition for receiving the former, either out of fear that OMG WE HAVE TO COUNTER TERROR IMMEDIATELY OR BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN or because the US tends not to put a lot of thought into governance, either here or overseas. I’m thinking it’s a little from column A and a little from column B. But somebody, somehow, is going to have to get the message that dumping resources on countries that aren’t stable enough to accept them is not only wasteful, it can be downright counter-productive. You really would be better off taking the money and dropping it on Tajik/Afghan/Iraqi/etc. civilians from a helicopter; at least that way it might do some good.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Thank you!

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