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

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Talib insurgency shows signs of geographic expansion

MStFB News Commentary

A brief overview today of the situation in Afghanistan. I checked around to see where major combat is going on, and on the basis of news I've come across it seems to me that Talibs are actually quite a force to be reckoned with at the moment.
British Royal Marines have been battling Talib fighters in the area of the Kajaki dam for months now. They've been regularly meeting stiff resistance there which they can blast aside when they encounter it, but can't erase for good. 'We come in constant contact with them, but we have firepower they can't match', is what one British Marine said in comment about the previous months' fighting. 'I have seen a bit of action. I took part in the Iraq war, and I have been back there. I have also spent a lot of time in Northern Ireland. But this is the scariest place I have been to. I have never had so many bullets whizzing past at such a rate. And this is constant. One of our busiest days was at Christmas - for some reason they opened up and just kept going', said another. Yet another had this on his mind: 'They have been well trained in military fashion - I don't really want to speculate by which country. We have watched them carry out patrols, and it is pretty professional'. So, to add up the picture: elite British troops wielding FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles and being able to call in Tornado strikes, should the need arise (it often does), talk appreciatively of an opponent they couldn't defeat for months.
The stakes of the previous months was: establishing a 6 km wide exclusion zone around the important Kajaki dam that is set to undergo major reparation by US construction company Lewis Berger. With this mission accomplished, the currently sporadic power supply could be stabilised and service expanded to reach 2 million Afghans instead of the current 380,000. That could double the amount of arable land in the south. Rebuilding roads for market access and securing sufficient irrigation for small Afghan farms that produce most of the country's poppy harvest (with the opium fields accounting for only about 1% of total arable land in Afghanistan according to some estimates) is thought to be a major part of the to-do-list in the opium war.
However, if British Royal Marines struggled so much making only slow progress in securing an exclusion zone around the Kajaki dam, one wonders how ISAF forces will do in securing power lines later on. Power lines, at any point along their entire length, can be interrupted with a single, carefully released machine gun round. And I haven't discussed yet that an extensive road network providing Afghan farmers with the chance to market their harvest should also be developed and maintained in the heavily infiltrated area along Helmand River, nearby which one finds the very problematic town of Musa Qala and similar hotspots of Talib activity.
In March this year ISAF has launched the currently on-going Operation Achilles, with 4,500 NATO and 1,000 Afghan soldiers involved, to accomplish the coalition's goals in the Kajaki district and further south along the Helmand River, thus backing up the British Royal Marines, obviously with the goal of establishing a much larger exclusion zone now, one supposes. We'll see how that offensive goes.
Meanwhile, as to the bigger picture, it's not a good sign that we're getting quite regular reports now of Talib activity in Farah Province. An up till now relatively calm place in Afghanistan's West, the 'Mild West', one could say. In February, insurgents briefly occupied the district of Bakwa there. Today they killed 7 Afghans in an ambush on a convoy of American firm Ronco Consulting Corp., active in demining in the country. They were traveling to Herat from Kandahar when the incident happened, inside Farah Province.
The incident shows the potential of Talib forces to stretch ISAF by launching attacks in a larger area now. We'll see if this geographic expansion of insurgent activity is to last.

1 comment:

Péter Wagner said...

In general I would point out that ever since last summer NATO has been moving into territory that hardly any Western soldier's been to since 2001, and so Talibs there were nearly completely left alone. So I don't agree with the general view, that Talibs have all of a sudden grown stronger, and that that's why we might bee seeing all the fighting now. They have grown somewhat stronger, but that's as a result of the calm they enjoyed up till now. Instead of 600 soldiers (there were this many American soldiers in Uruzgan, Helmand and Kandahar partaking in OEF), we now have 6,000 there. They are starting to patrol territory and carry out development - they will inevitably run into Talibs. Some of those 'Talibs' by the way are not really Talibs as such, rather traditional warlords who sympathise with Talibs as long as they don't get a better offer. However, the steadfastness the Talibs are showing is surprising. Here's this news report from last year, a detailed account of the siege of Sangin: http://news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=1088802006. Usually favouring other tactics, Talibs only show such steadfastness when they have to fight in their own backyard.