What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The attacks on Afghan Shiites

From the New York Times' take on the coordinated - Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif - attacks on Shiites, coming during Ashura and very clearly sending a message connected to the Bonn II conference:
"Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (...) has no previous known operations in Afghanistan, however, so no one seriously thought Lashkar-e-Jhangvi could carry out a coordinated series of three nearly simultaneous bombings in three Afghan cities without substantial support from somewhere."
This is partly wrong. To my best knowledge, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as well as its mother organisation, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, were represented in the ranks of Pakistanis fighting alongside the Taliban, before 2001, in their battles against remaining opposition forces in northern Afghanistan, for example in the battle for Taloqan.

Having said that, they went there on organised tours, so this is not to doubt the NYT's speculation about the help provided to L-e-J's militants.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The politics of coalition burden-sharing: The Steve Irwin way of doing COIN

There is a new report out from the Australian Land Warfare Studies Centre by Col. Peter Connolly, on counterinsurgency in Uruzgan province. (To make this clear before somebody misunderstands me, the title of Colonel Connolly's study is much more modest and unassuming than the one I gave to this post out of my own free choice.)

The colonel has great experience in COIN operations, from past deployments to Somalia in 1993, and East Timor in 2000 -- experience already from before Afghanistan, where he was then Commanding Officer of the Australian MRTF (Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force) Two in 2009. In his study, Connolly credibly claims similarly long-running experience for the Australian Defence Forces in general. In one telling reflection, on pages 50-51:
"The Americans at JMRC (Joint Mission Readiness Centre – Hohenfels, Germany) commented on how good our (Australian and New Zealand) soldiers were at switching from a hearts and minds focus to killing the enemy, and then switching back just as quickly to caring for the people. They asked how we had trained them to be like that, and I concluded it was our culture rather than any specific training."
Now, this may have been the well-known institutionalised bilateral patting on the back intended to encourage an ally. A matter of military-to-military diplomacy. But looking back at Australia's experience over the years along with others in southern Afghanistan who equally tried to make the most of their stay there, the ADF do indeed seem to have something in them that was missing from some of the so-called "allied caveat and stand aside forces." Maybe this is not down to Australian national culture as such, rather to a healthy organisational culture or set of norms (along with the political will from above to let this work). But it certainly is there in their case and not so much there in others' cases.

They were keen on doing dismounted patrols in dispersed operations, to try and dominate valley-floor "green zone" areas. They would rent qalas for section or platoon-level operations like this, with soldiers buying their food from locals. They would counter Taliban nightletters with nightletters of their own - in Colonel Connolly's words, quoting from page 50:
"The delivery of ‘night letters’ to population centres was occasionally employed to develop the perception amongst the population that the ANA and ISAF ‘owned the night’. These letters would counter insurgent propaganda and spread messages concerning local government initiatives and progress. This technique required immediate follow-up the next morning to reinforce the themes delivered through the night letters and assess any changes to atmospherics."
The bottomline is that they were willing to take calculated risks to a greater extent than has been the case with so many other contributors to ISAF's operations. This is what I refer to as the Steve Irwin way. Dispersed operations in areas like Uruzgan's green zones do carry much such calculated risk, and can be realistically compared to working with a stingray's barb in the vicinity.

And that is why we, with my colleague Nik Hynek, in our book on coalition burden-sharing, were determined to look at not only quantitative measures of individual countries' contributions. We assumed that their guiding role conception in ISAF, that is, whether they see themselves as, say, "strivers," or mere "servants" rather, will affect the quality of their contribution even in a dynamic sense - strivers are those countries that not only contribute significantly in qualitative terms, but adapt to the changing circumstances -- which are constantly evolving on various levels of analysis.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The politics of coalition burden-sharing: "Stand aside" forces

Note the term "Allied caveat and stand aside" above. This slide may be quite telling, regarding the importance, in a negative sense, of caveats (informal, i.e. not openly declared, but officially/mutually registered restrictions on the use of different countries' armed forces in coalition operations) in affecting NATO's reputation in the future. It is an old theme of those complaining about the problems of burden-sharing in places like Afghanistan, within coalitions like ISAF. And it has come up recently once again, in a Canadian lessons-learned report which I posted on here a few days ago.

The above slide is from one of Anthony Cordesman's presentations, and in fact it figures in several of these compilations of his at CSIS. Whether or not the term comes from Anthony Cordesman himself, or from a military source on which Cordesman and his team may have relied in their work, if you do a quick Google search, you may realise that most of even the non-CSIS links that pop up with occurrences of the term "stand aside forces" contain reference to his presentations.

In our book, which I heralded at this blog in September (published back in the summer, by Routledge, in London and New York), with my colleague Nik Hynek we refer to this phenomenon slightly differently, and identify four basic role conceptions that countries may have depending on whether alliance dependence or threat balancing (or both or none of those) is/are driving their involvement in Afghanistan. Those who are alliance-dependent primarily, or not even that, will be either "servants" or "onlookers," respectively, in our categorisation. And largely it is of course these two categories of countries from which you will find Cordesman's "allied caveat and stand aside forces" deployed.

Regardless of by what terms we refer to this phenomenon, it will inevitably form an important part of security debates in the future.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The politics of coalition burden-sharing: Canadian lessons learned

Over at Travels with Shiloh, there is a recent entry on my and Nik Hynek's book's chapter on Canada, which was written by Ben Zyla. A good apropos to bring up that there is a new report out on Canada's lessons learned from their operations in Kandahar - FYI.

Full reference:
David J. Bercuson - J.L. Granatstein (2011): Lessons learned? What Canada should learn from Afghanistan. Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute, October 2011. (Hyperlink)
The report focuses a lot on Canada's complaints about the informal caveats put in place by alliance partners in Afghanistan. A turn of fate after in Bosnia, Canadian battalions were sometimes referred to as "Can'tbats" because of their respective restrictions (imposed on them by decision-makers in Ottawa). Afghanistan started out similarly, but evolved fast into a largely unrestricted engagement by Canadian troops, by the time of the Canadian PRT's and Battle Group's move into Kandahar province. Press reports on Granatstein's and Bercuson's study seem to focus on this aspect mostly, claiming that "The refusal (by allies) to help Canada in Kandahar cost lives."

The report itself is more cautiously worded, and does not look to simplify causal relationships to this extent. Although who could deny, of course, that if Canada would have had to do less, and the burdens in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan would have been more evenly shared, less Canadian soldiers would have died? Moreover, the study also refers to how in terms of MEDEVAC Canadian Forces were regulary let down, and could only count on US support in this respect with real consistency.

I would stop by yet another point here, and it is the study's discussion of the reasons for Canada's decision to go into Kandahar, and not somewhere else. Based on what I know, I can agree with the authors' conclusion that it reflected a genuine desire to be there and be important at the same time. An important exception to the Realist paradigm's "Threat balancing vs. Alliance dependence" framework of interpretation for countries' participation in coalition operations, which would not leave room for normative considerations playing a role (i.e. for a logic of appropriateness as opposed to one of consequences) - something we indicate in advance in our book's opening chapter, even while putting forward the above mentioned framework as a baseline theory of coalition contributions.

Accordingly, a Canadian DFAIT (i.e. foreign ministry) official is quoted on page 21 as saying, concerning this, that the reason for the extent of Canada's involvement was:
"We didn’t do it because someone in NATO wanted us to do it, or because the Americans made us do it… We did it because Afghanistan was a serious issue, we were a serious country… and we were determined to behave accordingly. Which is why we dismissed options like sitting on a mountain top in the middle of nowhere."
Telling enough.

I also found remarkable, after my previous post on the Netherlands (and how the G20 as a forum mattered in their case), how the G8 was an important issue here in Canada's case. Of course the G8 is generally an important foreign policy influence multiplier for Canada, but here it was explicitly connected by some Canadian officials themselves to the Afghanistan mission. PM Paul Martin's communications director, Scott Reid is quoted (p.21) as having said:
"There was a feeling that this was the price of being a G-8 country."

Monday, September 26, 2011

The politics of coalition burden-sharing: The Netherlands and "the Afghanistan card"

With my colleague, Nik Hynek, we have a review of our book over at Travels with Shiloh. Consequently, I will now be moving on from just advertising our book in a never-disappearing blogpost to occasionally offering related commentary on new developments and to drawing attention to commentary on related subjects by others.

Today's post follows the latter script. First of all I will point to this study, from College of Europe's EU Diplomacy Papers series:

Bart van Liebergen (2011): American War, European Struggle? Analyzing the Influence of Domestic Politics on the ISAF Contributions of EU Member States. College of Europe EU Diplomacy Papers, 2011/3.

In this paper, Van Liebergen overviews the role of domestic politics in the British, German, French and Dutch cases. The last of these is one I have been paying much attention to myself here over the years, and so I will offer some commentary regarding interesting aspects of it below. But before delving into this, I very much recommend it to the readers to give a read to van Liebergen's study.

Regarding the Dutch case, I have some observations which challenge some of van Liebergen's observations, but very much, in my view, validate certain other, deeper insights of his. Let's take a closer look at this.

Van Liebergen points out an interesting instance of coalition politics on pages 22 and 26-27 in his paper. In his retelling, Dutch officials asked US officials in 2009 to put pressure on Dutch Labour Party leader, Finance Minister and Deputy PM, Wouter Bos, in order to get him to change his mind on the issue of extending the Dutch military's mission in Uruzgan beyond 2010. More specifically, they suggested to their American colleagues that they convince Bos by linking the issue to the Netherlands' invitation to the 2009 Pittsburgh Summit of the G20. For context, it may be useful to clarify that the Dutch government was a coalition government of left and right parties, with the Christian Democrats holding the position of Prime Minister (in the person of Jan Peter Balkenende) at the time. This coalition came to an end in early 2010 in large part because of the debate over operations in Uruzgan, and with the fall of the government that mission was then ended as well (in Uruzgan; otherwise the Netherlands still has an active role in Afghanistan).

In my view, the case van Liebergen refers to has been more complex, and this is one of the important points where I will deviate from van Liebergen's account. You may want to give a read to four "Wikileaked" cables on the basis of which I am arguing my version - here, here, here and here. From these I deduce the following narrative:
  • Dutch officials, including senior advisor to Dutch PM Balkenende, Karl van Oosterom, seem to have made the suggestion to US Embassy officers that Bos should be told at the G20 (not before it) that he can thank the invitation of the Netherlands to Dutch troops' presence in Uruzgan province. The US Embassy agreed with this view, and suggested that NSA General James Jones could pull aside Bos in Pittsburgh, to convey just this message, and that then perhaps Regional Envoy (the late) Richard Holbrooke could give a phone call to Dutch Development Minister Koenders (Bos' Labour Party colleague), to reiterate it. It seems that some Dutch officials, as well as the US Embassy sources concerned, were of the view that Bos "misunderstood" the reasons for the invitation of the Netherlands, attributing it simply to the country's economic importance.
  • As to this purported misunderstanding, one tends to strongly doubt it. Bos may have been well aware of the attempt at a "G20 invitation/Uruzgan extension" issue-linkage, but he may also have known that this would not be enforced with anything like tough love. Moreover, he may have genuinely believed that the Netherlands, by its economic and financial weight, may have deserved being invited anyway (just as it used to be invited to similar meetings before).
  • Furthermore, at the time, in light of the last one of the cables listed above, the Labour Party was under some pressure from its constituencies (labour unions and local governments) to deliver on promised benefits of Netherlands firms' participation in the production of the General Electric/Rolls Royce F-136 engine for the Joint Strike Fighter program - an engine whose project currently may be in the process of crashing, with the Pentagon and the White House throwing their weight decisively behind its rival, Pratt & Whitney's F-135. Since the project did not look much more promising at the time, back in 2009, Bos may well have used scoring some points on this, to alter his stance, in case he ever in fact considered that, and this may be a reason why Dutch sources were raising this issue with their US counterparts.
Of course I am not aware of all the details of the case, as someone reading Dutch sources on a daily basis would be, and in fact these details won't change the bottomline of van Liebergen's assessment of it. In his view, the US did not put much pressure on the Netherlands in the end, certainly not in the very direct way suggested by some Dutch officials themselves, and this may prove that "the Afghanistan card" may not have been so precious in the eyes of the US as some of its European partners tended to think, looking as they were to score points on it all the time in Washington. Van Liebergen goes on to argue that this eagerness to score may be a key part of the explanation concerning why European countries did not intend a big role for the EU in Afghanistan - because they were always looking to bilateralise their cooperation on Afghan matters with the US, to maximise the number of "individual points" scored for it.

I think this sounds quite sound for a proposition. My main argument against it would concern the US side of the equation. The United States may have decided not to put too much pressure on the Netherlands for several reasons, only one of which is that they may have considered the Dutch extension in Uruzgan not worthy of a try. One such reason may be that putting overt and aggressive pressure on any partner can alienate others - this is one of the major challenges for a "coalition shepherd," such as the US, when dealing with partners who define their key motivation in a coalition effort as "alliance dependence." Another such reason may be that it may have been seen as unfair to use strong pressure towards a partner that has already punched above its weight, especially compared to others - as the Netherlands did in fact. Having said that, I do think van Liebergen is correct in the sense that by Autumn 2009 the US may have considered the Dutch contribution in Uruzgan less irreplaceable than earlier on - even if a Dutch decision to leave at least some troops in Uruzgan could have served the quest for keeping a bigger Canadian footprint in Kandahar province (which at the time was slated to come to an end by 2010).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A new book: Multinational statebuilding in Afghanistan

A lot of work went into this one - and I'm proud to announce that this book (see below) has finally been published, with editing and contributions by Yours Truly - and with contributions from many other authors with whom it was an honour to work together and a pleasure to write it.

I'm sharing news of it in the hope that you may find it interesting.
Statebuilding in Afghanistan: Multinational contributions to reconstruction. Edited by Nik Hynek and Péter Marton. London: Routledge, 2011.

A few words about the concept:

This edited volume empirically maps and theorises NATO-ISAF’s contribution to peacebuilding and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The book provides a contextual framework of the NATO participation in Afghanistan; it offers an outline of the security situation in Afghanistan and discusses geopolitical, historical, and military factors related to it.

It argues that a general underlying factor shaping the dynamics of the Afghanistan mission is that although its stated goals may be similarly formulated across the ISAF coalition, there are a great number of differences in the nature of coalition members’ political calculations, and share of the burden, and that this induces a dynamic of alliance politics that state actors attempt to either mitigate, navigate, or exploit - depending on their interests and views. The book asks why there are differences in countries’ share of the burden; how they manifest in different approaches; and how the actual performance of different members of the coalition ought to be assessed. It argues that understanding this offers clues as to what does not work in current state-building efforts, beyond individual countries’ experiences and the more general critique of statebuilding philosophy and practice.

This book answers key questions through a series of case studies which together form a comparative study of national contributions to the multilateral mission in Afghanistan. In so doing, it provides a uniquely sensitive analysis that can help explain coalition contributions from various countries. It will be of great interest to students of Afghanistan, Asian politics, peacebuilding, statebuilding, war and conflict studies, IR and Security Studies generally.

The contents:

Nik Hynek - Péter Marton: Introduction: what makes coalitions s/tick?

Anthony King: Operation Herrick: the British campaign in Helmand

Timo Behr: Germany and Regional Command-North: ISAF's weakest link?

Sebastiaan Rietjens: Between expectations and reality: the Dutch engagement in Uruzgan

Joshua Foust: France in Kapisa: a combined approach to statebuilding

Benjamin Zyla: Canada and collective action in Afghanistan: theory meets practice

William Maley: PRT activity in Afghanistan: the Australian experience

Stephen Hoadley: The New Zealand PRT experience in Bamyan Province: assessing political legitimacy and operational achievements

Kristian Berg Harpviken: A peace nation in the war on terror: the Norwegian engagement in Afghanistan

Charly Salonius-Pasternak: Finland's ISAF experience: rewarding, challenging and on the edge of the politically feasible

Péter Marton - Péter Wagner: Hungary's involvement in Afghanistan: Proudly going through the motions?

Łukasz Kulesa - Beata Górka-Winter: From followers to leaders as "coalition servants": the Polish engagement in Afghanistan

Nik Hynek - Jan Eichler: Post-decisional and alliance-dependent: the Czech engagement in Logar

Petros Vamvakas: Turkey's ISAF mission: a maverick with strategic depth

Egdūnas Račius: Trials and tribulations of the Lithuanian participation in the NATO ISAF mission

The cover:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Footage from Pakistan

British tabloids picked up the story, not too surprisingly, nevertheless it relates to the focus of this blog. Filmed in Pakistan, the shortest mujahed. I hope this was not filmed before some kind of special martyrdom operation.

Monday, February 28, 2011

This blogpost is an information operation (sort of)

Yes, all in all, I believe that Joe Harlan is right. Information operations certainly cannot work
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
as Lt.Col. Holmes suggests in Michael "McChrystal-clearer" Hastings' article for the
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
Rolling Stone magazine. Information operations are not mechanical, undetected manipulations
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
that allow you to "plant ideas" in people's heads, as Leo di Caprio would, in Inception.
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
From a civilian-military interaction point of view, though, this kind of methodical attempt
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
at persuading visiting politicians to back the military's agenda and preferences
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
is certainly worth noting, Hastings is right in at least that. But who would honestly say that by keeping PSYOP specialists
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
away from assignments of this kind you would not get similar attemtps at trying
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
to convince Congresspeople and European ministers of this or that. With uncertainty
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
in any case as to whether such an attempt will be successful, of course.
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
As to me, I probably was not successful in planting my opinion about Hastings' article
Michael Hastings is looking for attention
in your head, dear reader, by inserting it in between the lines... Anyway, I have nothing to do with this post. The NATO Training Mission made me write it (irony alert).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The NYT on the PRTs

The NYT has an elegant way of blending fiction with non-fiction. Although this is not a compliment, by way of some wishful thinking perhaps, they do manage to seamlessly weave together the two in the following passages of their account... of what Hamed Karzai did not say at the Munich security conference.
Title: "Karzai Seeks End to NATO Reconstruction Teams"
"Mr. Karzai also repeated his call for allied governments to stop using private security companies, contending that they, along with the civilian-military reconstruction teams, are an impediment to the central government’s expanding its authority throughout the country.
Mr. Karzai was asked several times whether he really wanted the teams to be wound up so quickly. “Yes,” he said."
You can find here, at the conference website, video of what Karzai actually said. (Pick "Sonntag -Hamed Karzai" and "Sonntag - Discussion" from the menu below the video.)
He did talk about parallel structures for spending money, for governing in terms of setting priorities, for providing security et cetera as being contrary to state-building, yes. He did mention, again, the 2014 target date for the Afghan takeover of responsibility that was set consensually with all of the external stakeholders involved (let us leave aside the question of how realistic that target date is, for now). He did indicate that by this date, actually inevitably, if we take this date seriously, PRTs and private security would be a bit of a contradiction with the, by then, supposedly accomplished goal of having built a self-sustaining Afghan state.
What Karzai did not do was call for a "so quick" "wounding up" of "NATO reconstruction teams". Altering someone's message this much seems rather negligent.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Egypt intel failure debate

Guys, the expression you are looking for is... Heisenberg's law - or, rather, what is commonly known as such; or alternatively as "Heisenberg's uncertainty principle."
The U.S. intelligence community is on the defence after some U.S. Senators, with Dianne Feinstein at the lead, are turning on them for their supposed failure to predict Egypt's future.
At the Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman wrote this in reaction the other day:
"“The ingredients of upheaval were there for a long time,” says Paul Pillar, who was the intelligence community’s top Mideast analyst from 2000 to 2005, “but it was impossible to predict in advance what particular catalyzing events would set stuff off.”
Publicly available information, like rapidly expanding opposition Facebook pages, hinted that popular anger in Egypt was bubbling over. The CIA declined to tell Danger Room what specifically it told the Obama administration about the Egyptian protests before last week. But Stephanie O’Sullivan, a longtime CIA official nominated to be intel chief James Clapper’s deputy, told a Senate panel yesterday that the agency secret warned Obama last year that anger at Mubarak’s regime was growing.
Echoing Pillar, Sullivan told senators, “We didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be for that. And that [warning] happened at the end of the last year.” Back then, the agency concluded Mubarak was in an “untenable” situation."
And Andrew Exum observed:
"I served, though, on the Levant and Egypt team during the 2008-2009 CENTCOM Assessment Team. And looking back on that experience today, one of the things that has struck me is how long ago the U.S. government had identified the fall or death of Hosni Mubarak as a likely contingency to plan toward. Everyone knew this was going to happen eventually."
Of course, Senators politicising something like this would only be content with an intel report dated between 1 December 2010 and, say, 15 January 2011 saying "in Egypt, in next/this January, most likely on the 24th or the 25th of January, mass protests are expected that may eventually oust President Mubarak from power."
It is hard not to become involved in the same domestic politics that drives the process of the blame game. But a fairly scientific argument that may be safe to consider is Heisenberg's above mentioned principle. The more you observe something the more you may change it in the process. The level of observation required for an external agency to be able to foresee when mass protests may be organised, at least partly in secrecy and with much uncertainty, to subvert a regime in another country, would be so intrusive as to contradict with its own fundamental objective.
P.S. In this leaked memo, by the way, the US Ambassador in Cairo is writing, back in 2008, of a meeting with an April 6 activist who mentions things in preparation for the year 2011.