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

Friday, June 29, 2007

Strategic Afghanistan Update No.2

MStFB update No.2 for the day
In the previous post I have joined UNODC in putting Helmand into the limelight. So, continuing with that focus, here follow some excerpts from articles from recent days that may shed light on notable aspects of the British-led ISAF operations there.
First, from an IWPR article, on Operation Lastay Kulang which was aimed at the Upper Sangin Valley (original article dated June 21).
" At ten in the evening on Thursday [June 14], NATO took its soldiers away by helicopter," said Mahmadullah, a resident of Kajaki. "Then the Taleban came back. They took over those areas that NATO and the Afghan government captured two weeks ago... "
" Nazar Mohammad, also from Kajaki, confirmed this version of events. "When I woke up early on Friday morning, I went to the mosque," he told IWPR. "On my way there, I saw a lot of Taleban walking around, and I asked why they were there. All the people said, 'The British have left, and now the Taleban are back.' " "
" ... locals say that as soon as the last foreign boots leave the ground, the Taleban, deterred only by NATO's overwhelming air advantage and heavier armour, swarm back. "
And then some more excerpting, this time from the Asia Times (June 26).
" "We're a light, mobile, fast-reacting force," said the veteran of counterinsurgency campaigns from Iraq to Northern Ireland, noting that only one of his men has been lost this year. "Get in, get out, and call in the air power to light the ground up if necessary." But insurgents have adopted a similar approach to keep North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces on edge. After the bloody aftertaste of head-on confrontations across the southern provinces over the past year, they are increasingly shifting toward remote-detonated bombs, suicide attacks and other hit-and-run tactics in areas where they have regrouped. "
A bit more than a week ago, over at Registan, we had a discussion of how current counterinsurgency tactics affected by considerations of domestic public opinion back in the participating countries have as a result many unwanted civilian casualties, and how low troop numbers make it difficult for ISAF to keep territory under control. Two issues may hinder efforts to the latter end: one is the bombing it requires and the damage that produces, and the other is that a so-called 'blanket coverage' (critically nearly a hundred percent coverage) of the area concerned is not possible.
It's the latter point from which I'd like to continue now a train of thought on the ISAF mission. Over at Registan I made the point that before ISAF's Stage 3 expansion in the summer of 2006 there were far less foreign soldiers in Afghanistan's south, and therefore, not logically, but because of that, the media payed far less attention to who controlled what there.
As to nowadays, I would still argue that it's not really worth the attention when one side or the other claims to 'control' a given territory, this time of course for different (this time logical) reasons. The value of any such claim of control has to be deflated because: 1) ISAF lacks the potential for blanket coverage; 2) the Taliban lack the potential to hold on to territory if seriously challenged. And, regarding the latter factor, the Taliban cannot hesitate that much. When they notice being hunted, they have to move out fast, for ISAF soldiers can't only walk to a given battle arena. They can be airlifted or airdropped there, mount blocking operations to cut off guerrillas' escape routes, and potentially swarm their opponents even working with a lack of an overwhelming numerical strength. On the other hand, moving on foot, the Taliban can sneak into areas in large numbers to cause surprises here and there, as they did around Chora, in Uruzgan, in mid-June. So it's really a cat and mouse game with the roles at times unsurely distributed.
Now, I'd like to use the opportunity in this post to differentiate myself from some European politicians (you know, like e.g. Italy's defence minister Arturo Parisi, or, say, German defence minister Franz Josef Jung), who, just like me, tend to come up with criticism regarding too much reliance on airpower... well, to be exact, they differentiate themselves from me by the sort of political role they are playing. Their countries currently don't help military operations in the insurgency-hit areas in any major way, so they are basically saying to their allies from the sidelines that 'you should get more of your soldiers killed, using less air strikes to clear areas, to thus save civilians, while we will most sincerely wish for you to succeed without any help from us'. And I would also like to counter such journalists' conclusions who would argue for pulling out troops on the basis of what's happening, instead of arguing for sending there more. That is none of my agenda when I'm talking about my concern about civilian victims of this conflict. With more ISAF troops in the south, more settlements could be firmly kept from being overrun by insurgents, and so a greater proportion of operations could be pushed into less densely inhabited areas where air strikes lead to less collateral damage.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

I think you captured this quite nicely.