In recent weeks Taliban fighters have been handing over their weapons in record numbers in Afghanistan. This spike in the defection rate, perhaps motivated by Osama bin Laden's death, has opened an important window of opportunity for U.S. and NATO forces fighting there. But so far the West has not been able to capitalize on this surge in Taliban defections effectively. In fact, in some cases, those interested in abandoning the insurgency and joining the government's side are even being turned away.
The failure to prioritize and generously fund defection and reintegration programs in Afghanistan poses a threat to the achievement of U.S. strategic objectives there. Historically, such programs have proven to be powerful tools for draining the power of insurgent movements, and they often prove shockingly cost-effective when compared with more-conventional military means of eliminating enemies, in addition to reducing casualities. But right now, reintegration programs -- which encompass amnesty offers, safe refuge and ultimately job-training and employment assistance -- are underfunded, disorganized and unable to absorb all the willing participants.
Amnesty and reward programs designed to induce defections have been carried out with remarkable success in many of this century's most intractable insurgencies. The British amnesty program was decisive in ending the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s, and in 1955, in cooperation with the government of the recently independent Philippines, the United States quelled the Hukbalahap insurrection largely due to the success of an amnesty and land-offer program known as EDCOR (Economic Development Corps).