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

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Aerial state-building in Afghanistan

MStFB State-Building Commentary
I'll just make one point here that one may easily arrive at screening through CENTAF (U.S. Central Command Air Forces) airpower summaries, with special regards to the parts on Afghanistan. I'll just include excerpts here first, to excite readers a little bit - what on Earth is MStFB writing of here? Of course the title already includes a hint.
From the May 2 summary:
"A French air force M2000 Mirage provided a show of force for a coalition convoy near Qalat. The pilots then provided overwatch for the convoy and reconnaissance of suspicious activity in the area."
From the May 8 summary:
"Near Malek Din, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles performed a show of force for coalition forces searching for a suspected rocket-propelled grenade attacker.
(...) In total, 50 close-air-support missions were flown in support of ISAF and Afghan security forces, reconstruction activities and route patrols."
From the May 9 summary:
"In Afghanistan, an Air Force B-1B Lancer conducted a show of force, firing multiple flares, to deter Taliban movement around a forward operating base near Gereshk."
From the May 10 summary:
"Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles provided shows of force to deter enemy activity around a coalition convoy near Sangin."
To give away more of the idea, here's a remark from May 10 from the Iraq section, too: "Other F-16s provided successful shows of force supporting ground forces in Balad hit by an improvised explosive device and receiving small-arms fire. The enemy fire stopped after the F-16s flew by".
The above excerpts include crucial information on the technology of Western counterinsurgency. Casualties have to be kept down, because domestic democratic polities' support for these sort of military missions hinges on it. Ground troops' safety is a priority that may override concerns even about civilian casualties, and - temporarily at least - concerns about the high cost of maintaining the intensity of support operations that is required for maximum troop safety. On the so-called '360-degree battlefield', where no piece of land can be reckoned as 100 percent under control, a persistent presence over the battlefield is what is required for that. In order for that to be sustained, tankers have to be constantly kept in the air in and around the theatre of operations, to keep support aircraft supplied with fuel 24/7. (This piece here, titled 'Tankers key to show-of-force operations', points this out, for instance.)
The result is a dependency on air power, which is seemingly not problematic for the coalition countries operating in Afghanistan. It would be difficult to come up with arguments why ground troops shouldn't be protected by any means possible. Still, if one thinks of the primary tasks of state-building, the chance of unwanted results of this dependency may seem clearer. An autonomous capability of the provision of security on the part of the entity under reconstruction is part of the desired outcome in state-building. If we look at how the task of counterinsurgency is currently taken care of, we can regard international security forces and their efforts, plus the Afghan security forces and their efforts, as one organic whole, as part of a single structure. To reach the desired outcome, one has to decrease the foreign element in this structure, preserving the viability of the indigenous element at the same time. Even with the supposedly higher casualties the indigenous element of this structure may take, it is tempting to ask: where will the Afghan A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15E Strike Eagles, Tornadoes, Apaches or B-1 bombers be, when they'll be needed? Where will be the Afghan tankers to fly missions 24/7 to keep that awesome Afghan air force up in the air so it can provide security?
Western states are world record holders when it comes to exercising Westphalian sovereignty against known threats: they rule their airspace as much as they rule their land territory. It's apparently this standard that Afghanistan should be able to live up to once all the internationals are gone. Well... without the same aircraft?
In their state-building ventures, Western states show a lop-sided reliance on their latter strength. That means that much of the integral state security structure I was talking about is literally up in the air (of course in Afghanistan's case that's clearly a part of the foreign element within it). We may call this aerial state-building, like I did in the title of this post. With alternative wording we may also say that in areas where they face insurgency, state-building forces act as expeditionary troops that highly rely on an aerial rear-base of operations. Areas of their presence need to be almost constantly demarcated by show-of-force operations, as no-go areas for insurgents.
The theoretical concern is of course that results of such aerial state-building can vanish into thin air, once the aerial rear-base is gone. Vietnam is arguably a case in point.

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