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

Sunday, June 24, 2007

David Axe in Uruzgan, the Dutch holding on to Chora, and more news

MStFB Update
I wanted to write an update on Uruzgan again, only to then find that I received a comment from Pim, not for the first time by the way. I'm really grateful for it, because, again, it contains several very good points. Read it.
I'll write here my reaction so that I'll get along with this post, too (it will be easy because most of what I wanted to comment on, Pim also commented on). I have recently read in a Dutch defence ministry report about Chora that its belonging to protected areas hasn't really been a certainty, and that they only decided to defend it this week at the Afghan government's request. However, months before this, I have read e.g. this analysis by Hans de Vreij, dated March 22, at Radio Netherlands, in which de Vreij names Chora as one of the 'ink blots'. I think once Dutch forces have a presence somewhere firmly established (and Chora is not terribly far from Tarin Kowt to make maintaining that presence too impractical in theory), and with locals willingly accepting that as much as their consent can be judged, it's right to call it an ink blot. The latter concept is about nothing more than that if Dutch-led forces are able to maintain a presence somewhere to make the given area safe for development projects, then those projects should follow and go ahead there. Back in 2006 the plan was to expand gradually outwards from the direct vicinity of the main population centres of the province. That of course hasn't happened, and so it's striking to hear now that consideration was given even to abandoning an area, like the town of Chora.
Striking, but of course not incomprehensible. I have written about fourth generation warfare being detrimental to the strategic goals of the Dutch-led TF Uruzgan (in messing up the ink blots in effect). So the logic that then most of those affected could be better off if the place would simply be left to the Taliban (similarly to how British forces left behind Musa Qala in Helmand), is understandable. However. Besides the question being where to stop abandoning territory then, if locals wanted the Dutch to stay, willing to accept the consequences even, then it's not good to let them down. And it's not even sure that there'd be less civilian casualties in the end in that way. Air strikes on targets of opportunity or targets revealed by some intelligence asset can lead to many deaths in the town left behind (as it is the case with Musa Qala).
To make the picture as complex as it is, however, seeing how almost all of TF Uruzgan had to fight to fight off insurgents around Chora, and how even an armoured infantry unit had to make it over there all the way from Deh Rawod in the southwest of the province, holding on to Chora may in fact be difficult, and stretch TFU forces. But that, unfortunately, is potentially true for the rest of the ink blots as well, so that's no reason to leave behind Chora specifically.
So, about the idea of polling the ink blots' population then... I'd be surprised to hear if the Dutch military wouldn't be doing such polling in those areas. And if there are such results, it might make sense to share those with the public. I don't know. If there aren't such results, then I'm saying, together with Pim now, that there should be.
On the use of words, whether it's better to say 'insurgent' or 'guerrilla'. I'm following the mainstream in using the word 'insurgent' fairly consistently, but 'guerrilla' would also be fine. A couple of years ago, at my state exam for my Master's degree, I used the term 'guerrilla' to describe Iraqi insurgents, and one of the professors gave me a rather non-approving reaction for that. I guess that's because for some people the 'guerrilla' term carries some ideological connotation that my interpretation is free of. Anyway, one doesn't want to get into superficial debates, so I'll continue to say 'insurgents' with the hope that it can spare me such things.
Alright, one more thing. Correspondent David Axe was there in Uruzgan on June 15 and in the following days. So his reportage might make interesting read for those wishing to hear about the subject. See especially these pieces here, here, here and here. Pim speculated a little on the background of the June 15 suicide bombing - well, Axe says most materials for the IED were probably bought at the town bazaar. But that may have been an unintended blowback for the Afghan vendors, and I'd go with the suggestion that locals were probably upset by what eventually happened (scores of children killed), and so they must have aided TF Uruzgan with the IED factory discovered within town so shortly after the attack. As to generally how permissive the town is, well, I have recently come across in my coverage of Uruzgan of news of both poppy fields growing, and an air strike carried out, within the town, both being rather interesting pieces of information. Also, in David Axe's reportage you may hear how, in the wake of the June 15 suicide bombing the Aussie troops used a drone to survey the town from above while patrolling the streets (not an unusual thing for a military patrol to do, especially after a bombing, but that shows to what extent troops felt they could confide in local partners' ability to secure the area).
Some more things I'd remark on the basis of Axe's writings. Dutch soldiers apparently say they have found foreigners among Talib insurgents killed in the fighting in Chora. Axe aptly notes here that on June 15 the Tarin Kowt "bomb was a product of local materials, regional funding and foreign expertise". And he also notes how the June 15 bombing almost coincided with, was separated by only a couple of hours in fact from, the start of the Talib offensive around Chora. There had to be coordination behind this, just as I concluded in my earlier pieces on the string of events lately.

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