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

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Uruzgan - Return, but first of all farewell

MStFB Update
I'll return to the Uruzgan series to first of all say farewell to the Uruzgan weblog, which I sadly heard is about to be shutting down. It has been an extremely valuable source of information on Uruzgan, but now its webmaster will have other duties to attend to. So hereby I'm officially saying goodbye to this great site. (It will remain on-line till May 21, for those who might still want to download content from it.)
I'm getting back to the Uruzgan series today for other reasons as well, though. I've come across a very interesting article, a bit late, actually, that holds much significance with regards to the topic of the Dutch approach in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. Some might go for the harsh wording saying this piece of information may help to fine-tune our verdict on the issue. Fine-tuning can, however, be continued endlessly, so it's not really practical perhaps to talk about verdicts at all.
This blogpost quoted here from March is full of condemnation about Dutch and European participation in reconstruction efforts in Uruzgan.
Here follow some excerpts - some generally damning remarks, and then the claim that the Dutch military, despite promises, hasn't done much in the area of Oshay (sometimes spelled Ushay), in the northwestern Shahidi Hassas District of Uruzgan Province, so that US special forces had to use their own funds for the upgrading of a clinic there, for turning it into a regional medical centre.
"Uruzgan Province has been assigned to the European Community as the source of funding for reconstruction projects. Additionally, the Dutch have been given the responsibility for developing and implementing the majority of the reconstruction effort in the province through their Provincial Reconstruction Team headquartered in Terin Kowt. In spite of this arrangement, all of the reconstruction success in Oshay was funded by US dollars. The EU and the Dutch have been failing to keep their promise of funding, bringing the US to dispatch a US State Department representative to tour the village of Oshay with the Dutch representatives in order to identify the needs, and try and resolve the issue of their contractual default."
"Shortly after the tour (of the clinic the author is writing of in much of the article), the two Dutch Army officers sat down at a table in the dining facility on the fire base, directing their focus to a map that they had laid out before them. On the map were areas shaded in different colors, with a portion of the village of Oshay shaded in blue. As they talked between themselves in their native tongue, a US Special Operations Civil Affairs team member by the name of Stew sat down across from them. "What is this area in blue?" The two officers looked up, one of them responded, "These are the areas that we have surveyed and identified for additional projects." Stew narrowed his stair, "What survey?" The Dutch officer went on to describe the surveys that their commander had reported doing over the past few months. Stew responded firmly, "There has not been a Dutch team here at this fire base or in the village of Oshay since last September"."
"... the Dutch began to establish a presence in Uruzgan Province, with the anticipation of taking over military operations for all bases in Uruzgan by the end of January 2007. However, the restrictions placed on the Dutch by the Dutch government have not only restricted their visits to the outer fire bases but have kept them from becoming fully engaged in operations in areas with a high threat of enemy contact."
"The Dutch are under a great deal of pressure to fulfill their commitments. In this case, it appears that the photographs that the Dutch commander had gathered during his visit in September were then subsequently released over a period of several months to provide visual "evidence" of ongoing work that the Dutch were doing in the outer reaches of Uruzgan Province and the village of Oshay. Yet, as (a US Special Operations Civil Affairs team member by the name of) Stew had pointed out, there had not been any Dutch presence at the fire base for months. The two Dutch officers sitting at the table appeared shocked, having little to say in response. A few days later the Dutch team left, returning to Terin Kowt."
"The Dutch team pressured the US team to establish contracts with locals to complete the medical clinic remodel per the proposed budget and design set forth by the Dutch. However, no money's were forthcoming from the Dutch. The US team refused to comply with the Dutch request, insisting that the Dutch provide funds first so as not to leave the US with outstanding debts they could not pay. In the end, the Dutch failed to produce any funds, leaving the completion of the clinic to the US Special Operations Team, their resources and their own personal labor. As Stew stated, "Had we set up the contracts that the Dutch wanted us to, and allowed the work to begin,we not have had the funds that we were promised, and the United States would have ended up being the "bad guys" with the locals, not the Dutch. We could have undermined all of the relationships we have worked hard up here to build". Near the end of February, the clinic was finally opened. Lacking the promised Dutch funding, the US Special Operations Civil Affairs team took matters into their own hands. Using a limited amount of funds that were available to them through US channels, as well as their own labor and labor donated by the locals, the majority of the clinic was completed."
Well, intuitively I have to say that most of the criticism may indeed be well-founded, as much as I can judge from 'over here'. I can, however, point to at least one instance after September, 2006, when Dutch soldiers did go to Oshay with a team of PRT officials (as well as Afghan provincial officials). They have gone there by chopper, and there was a shura of tribal elders held to receive them. The author of the Year in Afghanistan blog has this account of the event (January 21, 2007 - the visit took place about a week prior to that):
"I've been back in Tirin Kot for a bit more than a week now. Almost immediately when I returned I was able to be part of a delegation who went to the town of Oshay in the northwest district of Shaheedi Hassas in Uruzgan. This is part of a series of trips where the Provincial Reconstruction Team assists officials from the provincial government to visit other parts of the province and hold "shuras": gatherings of village elders for speeches and discussions. It was the first shura I attended, and it was surprisingly short -- just a bit over 2 hours. Most of that time the provincial officials gave speeches to the local elders, encouraging them to cooperate on development and security issues. There was a little bit of time when local people got up to speak about the needs for certain projects and the problems with security. It is quite stage-managed, but I get the idea that a lot of more serious consultation goes on outside of the formal gathering."
He also includes some pictures, and beside that the chopper the team was travelling on likely belonged to the Dutch, you can also clearly see a Dutch soldier on board on one of the photos (this one). So the truth is a bit more complex. There have been visits in and planning on Oshay, but apparently really not much of the latter was turned into reality.
The thing I'm not getting is why Dutch minister Bert Koenders talked in Washington then of the need to carry out e.g. medical projects even 'under the radar' (outside the PRT's official areas of operation), once according to the post above even in Oshay, in the vicinity of Forward Operating Base Cobra, they didn't follow through on their plans. If they didn't want to risk sending troops out there, why didn't they at least stuff the American team there with money, to make this look better? Just $150,000 US for the buildings and basic equipment, plus about $50,000 US for supplies to start with, and no security spending needed (with the Americans there) - why would they not do that? Perhaps I'm just naive, but to me Koenders seemed (and still seems) to be a serious person. So if any of my Dutch readers might have some extra info I'm not aware of, I'd be happy to receive a comment on this.

No comments: