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

Friday, June 8, 2007

The F-15 over Tarin Khowt and other issues related to the Dutch strategy in Uruzgan

MStFB Update on the Uruzgan Series
"... the non-confrontational approach used by the Dutch troops and their involvement in fixing up and expanding the hospital (in Tarin Khowt - P.M.) has failed to set them apart from soldiers from other NATO countries". A sentence quoted from Radio Netherlands' press review and its summary of a Trouw article from June 1. It's sentences like this that make me blog on the Dutch ink blot strategy again and again. It's just so easy, really, to provide sarcastic transcripts of ones like this. For example: 1) so the Taliban are not getting the point that they should attack others... 2) so the Dutch guys are seen as belonging to the 'bad guys'... Well, I don't think these arguments should really be used, that is not healthy thinking if we want to take NATO seriously in the future. The WSI Brussels Blog has come up with a post recently, titled 'Team NATO: Divided We Stand', likening the Afghanistan ISAF venture to a failed team-building exercise for a reason.
The Dutch have first grudgingly but also appreciably, and of course under much U.S. pressure, moved into Uruzgan, one of the provinces that are scarcely sought after by NATO member countries looking for a new assignment. But then they started following a very soft version of the so-called 'ink blot strategy' in their handling of the area. They remained stuck in provincial centres under their control, have even given up some territory, and first they said they are waiting to see how bad the Taliban's 2007 spring offensive is going to be, and now that it hasn't come, they are supposedly waiting for their official summer review on whether they should stay beyond mid-2008. (The review may even come in September only, so they might now be waiting at least till September, which is just a couple of months away from the relative winter lull in operations, so...) It's clear they want out of Uruzgan. So does public opinion there, and so does the political leadership. There was a spectacular series of leaks on the issue of Uruzgan, for those paying attention to the subject (I have covered it, too). It turned out that Dutch aid money may be going to Talib-controlled areas in contradiction with the logic of the ink blot approach (that of spending money in secure areas only); it then turned out that Dutch military equipment may in effect be rotting and can hardly remain servicable in Uruzgan beyond mid-2008, especially since there is clearly political reluctance to spend on fixing these issues; and there was even a leak that Dutch 'handsaws and batteries' handed out to locals may have been used in Talib-made IEDs. Since the Dutch military or the Dutch security services were the sources of most of these pieces of information, either officially, or informally and probably, they likely wanted to make the point that 'if you insist on our staying in Uruzgan, please have a clear picture about how much use it could be to you', or sort of.
I can cite another piece of info here, that I haven't yet mentioned in my series on Uruzgan yet, from Radio Netherlands. In January RN quoted Frank van Kappen, an advisor to then-defence minister Henk Kamp. Here's a quote at length from Vanessa Mock's article:
Quote: Instead of being holed up in remote, high-security military compounds all the time, the Dutch have also opted to build Pashtun-style houses with mud walls, where they receive tribal leaders with tea and dried fruit. And while having a talk over a cup of tea might not sound like the toughest military approach, Frank van Kappen says it definitely pays off:
"If the Taliban wants to talk and drink tea with you, do it and talk to them. And try to convince the majority of the Taliban who are NOT hardcore Taliban that there is a future, another future than joining the Taliban and running around in the mountains."
So, despite all this, it turns out that the strategy hasn't achieved its purposes, with even the locals criticising the Dutch for... heavy-handedness. Sorry for the (teasing) play on words, but the Dutch approach to PRTs as PR-at-ease is definitely not working when an Afghan working in the Tarin Khowt hospital, recently upgraded by the Dutch, asks questions, in reference to the Dutch approach, such as: "First I'm going to kill you, then I'm going to help you: What's the point in that?", and to that another adds: "They give us bombs with one hand, and distribute medicines and money with the other".
Well, the reporter may or may not (based on the Radio Netherlands summary) be trying to make the point that with NATO bombing, the Dutch are trying in vain. But the problem is obviously more complex than that. It's not only that the Dutch are part of NATO, and that they are signed up to a NATO strategy. It's also that the if-you-can't-fight-a-problem-then-regulate-it philosophy may not work if the problem may still decide to fight you. Then you yourself will end up fighting, too. Here's a quote from CENTAF's May 23 airpower summary (I love citing those, they are very informative). "Another F-15E dropped a GBU-12 on an insurgent compound in Tarin Kowt". Has a U.S. F-15 sneaked in to drop a bomb on the provincial centre of Uruzgan with unsuspecting Dutch and Australian soldiers nearby? I'd be really surprised to hear that, you know.


Anonymous said...

The Dutch Ministry of Defense posts an update each week on what has been going on in Uruzgan. Since the end of April Dutch troops have been send to Chora and have been in frequent contact with Taliban over there. They have abandoned the passive ink blot strategy for a few months now. And changed to what the battlegroup commander over there calls amoebe model (who makes that stuff up?) which basicly comes down to having your troops patrol at irregular intervals in different areas to harass and bait the taliban to come and fight. Especially in the Baluchi valley and Chora district where alot of taliban is active. Instead of following the PRT to areas where it's save and patrol there, the PRT follows the battlegroup after they have cleared an area of taliban.

Dutch air support is never mentioned in air power summaries but there is alot of it in the region. Apaches and F-16s support coalition forces daily.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment. I decided to include my remarks in reply to it in a new post that you can find here: http://statefailure.blogspot.com/2007/06/from-curacao-to-uruzgan-not-good-move.html.