Vice President Biden opened up yet another can of worms which sparked uproar among many Americans when he stated that the Taliban was not an enemy to the United States. Unfortunately, with more than ten years of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, it is obvious that the vast majority of Americans remain undereducated in understanding the Taliban. Needless to say, for once, I don’t necessarily disagree with the statement claiming the Taliban is not an enemy to the United States.
The United States has become a nation of labels. Everyone has a label placed on them. Labeling terms are loosely thrown at individuals carelessly. In Afghanistan, virtually anyone who fought against the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been labeled as the Taliban—such label is absolutely wrong.
Throughout my years serving in Afghanistan, I have actually met many so called "Taliban." Some were actual militants fighting against the Afghan government, some fought specifically against the United States, some fought on the side of the coalition, some didn’t fight at all rather served in security positions for government and non-government organizations, and others simply had nothing to do with picking up arms.
How could this be? How could Afghans actually align themselves in so many different capacities working either for or against the coalition yet all be labeled as Taliban? It’s actually not as complicated as one may believe.
The word Taliban stems from the Arabic word “Talib” meaning “student.” When I operated in Afghanistan, some persons considered me to be an actual Talib considering the magnitude of research and intelligence which I collected on the local populace. The data collected served as an educational phenomenon later used to assist in “teaching” U.S. decision makers about the tactical battle space. It was critical that I first become the student and allow the Afghans to be the teachers.
Of course, an actual Taliban militant group exists. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the TTP) often referred to as the Pakistan Taliban is the only Taliban militant group in existence. Other militant opposition groups which evolved from the Russian-Afghan war exist such as Hezb Islami Gullbidine (HIG), Hezb Islami Khalis (HIK), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), and a dozen or so more throughout Afghanistan but that does not mean they are actual Taliban even though many align themselves with the Pakistan Taliban.
There is another militant movement in Afghanistan that exists which many Americans fail to acknowledge or accept—the locally disgruntled villagers. Afghanistan is a tribal nation. With tribal nations comes a magnitude of issues to include clan wars.
Unfortunately, many Afghan tribal elements simply wish the United States would stay clear of their domains. We foolishly oftentimes label such persons as Taliban when in fact these persons often hate the Taliban as much as you or I.
These tribes have weapons like the majority of Afghans. They use these weapons against ISAF as a means to keep “occupiers” out of their area. More often than not, when ISAF and the tribes engage in what are commonly referred to as “TIC’s” (Troops in Contact), reports are generated labeling enemy as Taliban when such label is not necessarily accurate.
A lazy American culture has promoted a need to label everyone. We have failed in understanding those different than us and simply believe labeling those different will better position ourselves in understanding. Such thought is a mistake. Under-educated labeling causes more confusion and commotion then good.
We have enemies throughout the world. In Afghanistan, our enemy may or may not be the Taliban. Then again, when we discuss the Taliban, are we simply generalizing an entire society of people vastly different than us or are we calling the spade a spade?
Central Asia and the Middle East are often referred to as "the lands of rumor." Rumors promote false senses of reality. People become socially conditioned to believe that which is not necessarily truth. Has the United States become another nation built upon rumor? When it comes to understanding Afghanistan, the people, and the Taliban, I believe the answer is yes.
Kerry Patton, a combat service disabled veteran, is a senior analyst for WIKISTRAT. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security and interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. He is the author of Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies and the children's book American Patriotism. You can follow him on Facebook.