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

Friday, April 13, 2007

And now in defence of Dutch soldiers

MStFB news commentary
As I have pointed out in my first post on the Uruzgan issue, The New York Times article in the wake of which I started blogging a lot about the Dutch strategy in Uruzgan quoted Dutch soldiers who said they themselves would actually be ready to fight more.
With this post here I'd first of all like to make it clear that all the criticism I'm coming up with should in no way be interpreted as meaning Dutch soldiers are not good soldiers, or anything near that. They have a policy to follow, and my criticism is directed at that policy and its spill-over effects in a crucial part of Afghanistan, where ISAF is currently trying very hard to strengthen its grip. In fact, the criticism one can come up with against the Dutch approach wouldn't come up if the Netherlands wouldn't have decided to deploy their troops in the South of Afghanistan in the first place, something that many other European NATO countries, such as, for example, Germany, are currently not ready to do at all, except for sending a handful of speical op units into combat there.
I've also been talking about negative spill-over effects from Uruzgan province. Well, that shouldn't shade out the much-much larger negative spillover coming from Pakistani territories close to the Afghan border, the tribal areas in Waziristan for instance.
And the Dutch are fighting at times. Even with a restrained approach that would be inevitable, but F-16s dropping laser-guided munition and commandos doing 'hard knocks' somewhere in the countryside are just not going to be that restrained. Here's a video about a Dutch special op raid in Uruzgan.
"EggyNL", who uploaded it to YouTube, says the Dutch are building where they can, and fighting where they have to. An assessment differing a lot from the one an Afghan interpreter working for regular Dutch troops gave to the N.Y. Times of a force retreating at the first shot. Of course, if "EggyNL" is a special forces soldier, that might be an explanation for a very different way of seeing things, with the sort of operations they are carrying out. (In this operation, according to "EggyNL", 2 Afghan National Army Soldiers were killed, as well as about 20-25 insurgents.) Anyway, black and white judgements are never fortunate, so that's why I'm including this piece here.
As to the national caveats and special RoEs inhibiting ISAF in all sorts of ways, here's a quote from The Australian, shedding some light on how they affect action on the ground.
'Australia wanted to be part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, rather than the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Enduring Freedom would have allowed the Australians greater scope to hunt down and kill Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. But the NATO rules of engagement required the European troops to operate under more restrictive rules, with a focus on rebuilding and reconstruction efforts. Ultimately, the Australians and the Dutch compromised. The additional Australians will be part of the International Security Assistance Force but will interpret their rules of engagement in an Australian manner. Coalition military leaders believe that the resurgence of the Taliban, especially in southern Afghanistan, means the operation has no chance of success unless the operation has a hard and effective military action arm. The military ambition of the Australian forces is to make Oruzgan province a non-permissive environment for the Taliban, and this can only be done through a strategy of patrols and attacks designed to destroy or displace the local Taliban leadership.'
The Dutch Task Force Uruzgan weblog also quotes this article, which makes me suppose there might be agreement with some of the message between its lines there in the TFU ranks. On their site there is a longer text, however. It's either some version of the original article I didn't get to, or they inserted some comments, I don't know*, but I'll paste here some of the additional stuff, for it's pretty insightful:
'The Australians have a high respect for the Dutch. But the Dutch are in Afghanistan as part of ISAF, not as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. ISAF has a long list of Taliban personnel it is prepared to target. These are the so-called high-value targets. However, at times the restrictions on its rules of engagement are ridiculous. If ISAF coalition forces discover a house with two Taliban high-value targets, and four other Taliban fighters who are not on the list of ISAF approved targets, it cannot attack the house. This is not a scenario of protecting civilians but of protecting Taliban targets who are just not specifically on the list. The Australians were not interested in this kind of handicapped engagement. Sending soldiers into harm's way is a serious and profoundly consequential business. Canberra's view is you either send them in to do the business, or you're better off not sending them at all. However, in The Netherlands, as in most European countries, the troop deployments to Afghanistan are highly sensitive and contested issues'.
Yet some more: 'Because the Dutch are more numerous in Oruzgan than the Australians, that operation is under their leadership and they could not politically tolerate an Australian deployment, with them, under Operation Enduring Freedom. Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Air Marshal Angus Houston, therefore went to The Hague and engaged in a long, difficult negotiation with his Dutch equivalent, General Dick Berlijn. In the end, Canberra agreed to send its special forces group as part of ISAF but insisted they would remain under Australian national command and interpret their rules of engagement in an Australian way. They are partly reassured because the present head of the ISAF force is an American general who is extremely unlikely to complain about the Australians being too robust.'
And still some more, on the national caveats in general: 'One of the worst sorts of caveat is geographic, restricting their /European countries'/ forces to particular provinces. This led to one notorious situation where Canadians were in military trouble and called for air support. Nearby Europeans wouldn't give it because they could not leave their designated province. The Europeans have since updated their caveat regime so that they can now, at least in emergencies, move out of their province to render assistance to an ally in trouble'.
You know what? This is kind of suicidal for a blogger to say, but just go and read the entire text on TFU's page. Everything I've written about in the past days and some more.
*I've now been informed that the longer text is still that of the Australian article. When I downloaded it, however, I found only the assumably shorter version, that I quoted, up there.
Correction: I have to quote the Uruzgan weblog's webmaster here. 'The Uruzgan weblog is not a weblog of the Dutch Task Force Uruzgan, but an independent news digest'. I wrongly concluded the opposite from the blog's Dutch intro ("openbare informatie over Task Force Uruzgan, de Nederlands/Australische bijdrage aan de door de NAVO geleide 'International Security Assistance Force' (ISAF) in Afghanistan"). Sorry for the misinterpretation and any subsequent misrepresentation.
Please, take that into account when reading this post.

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