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

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Views of Uruzgan from the Netherlands and from Tora Bora

MStFB Update
Uruzgan is the scene of some serious fighting nowadays. No, this doesn't come as merely part of the increased frequency of contact that the Dutch amoeba strategy (the modified version of the earlier ink blot strategy) supposedly goes together with. The latter can't have meant that much of an increased activity by the Dutch-led Task Force Uruzgan in the first place, given the constraints they are operating under (with e.g. the Dutch military told that the costs of these operations will likely be covered by scrapping part of its tank and artillery units and so on). What is taking place is more like a Talib offensive.
Last Friday (June 15) a suicide bombing killed a Dutch soldier, and wounded three in provincial centre Tarin Kowt. A car packed with explosives came out of a side street to hit the leading vehicle in a Dutch convoy. Detailed account here. (The title saying it's a Dutch peacekeeper who was killed is of course mistaken - this is not a peace-keeping mission. The article is also saying Tarin Kowt has been relatively quiet recently - well, I do know of at least one occasion on May 23, when an F-15 was called in to strike a target within town, as I pointed to this before. So it depends on how you interpret 'recently'.)
Then on Monday, as intense fighting has been ongoing since days by then in and around Chora valley (see Wikimapia's map), in the vicinity of towns like Chora and Kala Kala, another Dutch soldier died, most likely in an accident while firing a mortar shell in a combat situation. See how 'luck ran out' for the Dutch here.
The aerial reinforcements are of course coming. Air strikes may cause insurgents casualties and keep them from running over Dutch and Afghan army, and Afghan police, positions. So why are they doing what they are doing? Radio Netherlands mentions Chora valley (also known as the 'Baluchi valley' btw) as a key supply route for the Taliban. Well, it is, and that might be an explanation. Although re-supplying insurgents fighting in Kandahar, or Helmand, is also possible more to the south, still there is the possibility that it might have been the Dutch amoeba (one of those surprise patrols) getting in the way of Talib supplies. But there are other, arguably more likely possibilities as well. Insurgents have in the past shown sensitivity to domestic debates affecting ISAF and other missions. E.g. the bombing over the week-end of a bus carrying Afghan policemen, killing about 35 of them, most likely didn't coincide with the start of the EU police mission to Afghanistan by chance.
So insurgents do know of the background of the Dutch mission, and they might very much be aware of the summer review of the Uruzgan mission coming. And the Dutch public may potentially be reacting to casualties in quite counter-productive ways, rewarding and encouraging insurgents, who might so decide to continue combat even in a rain of air strikes. Radio Netherlands' June 19 press review says Dutch paper AD has included on its front page an appeal by the widow of the Dutch soldier who died on Monday, in the accident. She said: "They must end the mission to Uruzgan and that's all I want to say".
I should mention that AD's editorial has, in spite of this, called on the Dutch public to stay behind the soldiers... "until the end of the mission in 2008". So, for AD's editor, the summer review's result is as good as granted already. Well, it pretty much is, even for me. But the Dutch public will have to consider the importance of its own reactions, and how they affect insurgents' strategy. The results of the summer review shouldn't be hastened.
To finish off this post today, here's a somewhat, but only somewhat, unconnected quote from reportage by Tom Coghlan of The Telegraph from Nangarhar province, where insurgents are again looking to expand their presence around the familiar Tora Bora mountains.
"They have reoccupied the old base," said Haji Zalmai, the district governor of Khogiani, which borders the Spin Ghar mountains at Tora Bora. "We feel the effect directly here. They want to extend this front and to establish their control in these two or three districts on this side of the border in the way that they did in parts of Uruzgan, Helmand and Kandahar."
One sign of what transpires about what's happening in Uruzgan, to an Afghan official about 400 km from there.
Update: I should add a few remarks to clearly define my hypothesis underlying my understanding of the current situation. Back in April I asked the question, is it in Talibs' interests to cause the Dutch significant casualties, once they (insurgents) enjoy the relative comfort of having a more passive ISAF force in Uruzgan, knowing they could see someone else with a more aggressive strategy coming in as replacement? What changes those calculations for now are the following factors: 1) the imminent review of the Dutch presence in Uruzgan; 2) that it became clear over the past months that the Netherlands will leave in 2008 anyway (because of the costs of military operations and the state of Dutch expeditionary forces); 3) Dutch public opinion seems as easy to influence by a few casualties as any other; 4) so the coming Dutch decision to depart may even by spun as an insurgent success in the end; 5) and that so it might be even more of a question actually who exactly would come in as replacement for the Dutch, given some big NATO countries' spectacular reluctance to work together with their allies in the south. Potentially the reason for the Talib offensive in these premises there. But one will have to see if insurgents keep up the current tempo of operations (both conventional and non-conventional) in Uruzgan in the upcoming days and weeks (make no mistake, it is costly to them), and also if the Dutch public will really react as it is expected to.

No comments: