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

Thursday, June 21, 2007

War in the ink blot

MStFB Update
Yesterday, having written of how Talib insurgents, as most insurgents around the globe nowadays, demonstrate, e.g. by the timing of their attacks, an understanding of the dynamics of the domestic politics affecting their counterparts' strategy, I had (the by now dead) Mollah Dadullah's interview shown on Al Jazeera in front of me, which I saw a couple of months ago on YouTube, in which he claimed they would 'double the number of countries abandoning America' in their upcoming 2007 campaign. Yes, that was at the time when they were still talking about a coming spring offensive, which, by all indications, turned into the currently seen, and, as yet, not particularly overwhelming summer offensive. But still, that was a very informative interview in a way. It showed the Taliban was preparing to target specifically ISAF's forces in the south, with Dadullah saying they will deploy mujahedeen squads in the 'sensitive places'. He likened insurgents' perspective to that of a man entering a village, and then likened Helmand, Kandahar, and Uruzgan, to the main entrance of that imaginary village.
So yesterday I concentrated mainly on the reaction by the Dutch public to news of the recent fighting in Uruzgan. However, given that civilian casualties are rising as a result not only of the Taliban's actions, but also because of air strikes helping ISAF and OEF troops, one should pay attention to that issue as well. There are a lot of civilian casualties from the recent fighting in Chora district. This is partly really the result of air strikes. For those of you who might doubt it, here's an excerpt from a report prepared for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (from Section III./21.).
"The limited number of troops and the continuing insurgency attacks have also resulted in an increased reliance on air power. In fact, the number of air attacks increased after NATO took over the operations in the south. As a consequence, the number of civilian casualties has considerably grown. The stronger emphasis on air power and the limited number of soldiers has also led to a disconnect between military intervention and the delivery of aid, which allows the Taliban to fill the void. NATO is now perceived more critically than before and winning the hearts and minds of the people has become more difficult. "
But then I wouldn't like to support lopsided views of this ongoing conflict, appearing in writings e.g. here, in this piece by prof Marc W. Herold, which compares whether precision munition dropped in air strikes or suicide car bombings by insurgents are more lethal in terms of collateral damage, or civilians killed. Predictably he comes to the conclusion that car bombs may be the poor man's precision weapon, and that it may cause less civilian casualties than aerial bombing. Now, without looking at the numbers he's coming up with, there's one significant problem with his approach. His basic question, the way it is formulated, effectively ignores how interconnected the choice of tactics by the fighting parties is. This actually provides explanation (note, please, that I'm not saying justification here) for civilian casualties attributable to any of these parties. ISAF and OEF forces use a lot of aerial bombing because insurgents, knowing the casualty-aversion of the countries they are fighting, deliberately mingle with the civilian population, hide in their houses, and draw air strikes on them. On the other hand, the Taliban et al. carry out car bombings and similar attacks, because they have no firepower to match that of ISAF and OEF forces, and of course they, too, would like to fight sustainably. So, what we are talking about is in fact the very nature of fourth generation warfare (4GW). Of course this, too, may lose hearts and minds back home in coalition countries, much as it does in Afghanistan.
So a lot of civilian casualties around Chora nowadays. That, unfortunately, holds special significance for the Dutch ink blot strategy there. I always maintained that it was a strategy elected more under constraints than out of seeing it as the ideal thing really, despite the rhetorics, and so, knowing of the relevant constraints, I'm not claiming that it would be wise for the Netherlands to change their strategy now (especially given that recently Dutch forces even made it as aggressive as they sustainably could, coming up with the amoeba concept to harass insurgents with patrols along surprise routes). Rather the point is that while in theory it may sound fine to designate ink blot areas as zones of development that you can defend by military forces, sealing the borders of such zones on zones of insurgency (it may even rhyme nicely with the Islamic concepts of dar al-islam and dar al-harb), in reality such zones of development can be infiltrated to carry out non-conventional attacks (e.g. suicide bombings), and, by a larger, concentrated offensive, all the havoc of the 'line-blurring' destruction typical of 4GW can be brought upon them. As it is arguably happening now around Chora.


Pim said...

I don't know if you know this, but Chora is not part of the dutch ink blot area. What happened is that a couple of months ago the residents of Chora asked for assistance, in effect to be taken into the ink blot. By deciding to defend Chora at all costs (almost all of the dutch available resources have been used) the dutch have de facto agreed to extend their ink blot to Chora. I think we should understand the ink blot not as a geographical continious area, but as a collection of "permissive" mostly urbanized zones.

On a side note, what to think of the fact that within a week after the first dutch casualty of an IED in Tarin Kowt the Dutch dismantle a bomb factory in Tarin Kowt and arrest 13 people? It doesn't show a lot of support from the local population for the Dutch if there is a bomb factory (with 13! workers presumably) in the town where their support is highest. On the other hand, how did they find out about the factory. Could it be that part of the population is against the guerillas (why are they called insurgents these days by the way?), especially after so many children (5-10) died in last weeks IED attack, and told the Dutch about the factory?

On a second side note: instead of polling the dutch population about whether the Dutch should keep their forces in Uruzgan after their mission ends in 2008 (the government will decide after the summer holidays) they should poll the population of the zones in Uruzgan that are considered permissive.

Péter said...

Hi there, Pim. Thanks for the comment. I reacted in a new post: http://statefailure.blogspot.com/2007/06/david-axe-in-uruzgan-dutch-holding-on.html