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

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Update on the June 15 Tarin Kowt suicide car bomb attack

Finally I managed to see at least some of the footage of the June 15 car bomb attack that killed a Dutch soldier along with a lot of bystanders, including five children. (See a pic from the footage from just before the attack below.)
It is a bit frustrating to see how different it looks from the English-language accounts I've been reading. Unfortunately I can't come up with a comprehensive account myself, since I wasn't privileged to see the entire footage, but it appears to me now that the Dutch convoy's vehicles were just turning to the right, on to a wider street from a smaller, perpendicular sidestreet, when the car bomber hit one of them, mid-turn. A vehicle in the convoy appears to have stopped for some reason just before the attack. One can see an Australian-made Dutch Bushmaster vehicle standing beside a tree towards the left side of the street it has already turned onto, while another smaller vehicle is waiting behind it, inching forward a little, while apparently turning. That's when the explosion seems to come.
I'm speculating now that in the unseen part of the footage the car bomber cannot have been seen, as some said he was, approaching the convoy from the front to then go off to a sidestreet from which he's supposed to have attacked, in those other accounts I've read. Most likely he was coming from the street that the Dutch convoy was originally traveling, from the other direction. And he might have waited for a vehicle to come by that seemed to be less protected by armour.
OK, I really don't want to pretend, based on Dogma-style and deliberately badly cut footage, that I have a clue as to what exactly happened, but a key question seems to be what the soldier on top of the Bushmaster vehicle was doing when the bombing came. He appears to be busy doing something with the tree branches. Might he be picking berries, as David Axe has been suggesting based on what someone (some unknown one) told him? Based on the footage the question may be justified, but only the question. Because there is no sure answer with footage of this quality. (Those who have seen it in better quality may know better of course.) Anyway, this is a pic I managed to get of the crucial moment. I tried messing with the settings to make details a bit more visible, but still it's nowhere near what one could make a judgement on.
The alternative explanation put forward is that the soldier on the Bushmaster was untangling the vehicle's antenna there. In case you wonder, yes, Bushmasters do have an antenna around and about there where he is doing something. Well, judge this for yourself if you can.
The footage I've seen is available here. To properly credit it, it is footage by Suzanne de Waal, Dutch reporter on the scene, working for RTL Nieuws (Netherlands).
Revision, potential alternative explanation: I'm even less sure now, having viewed the video a few more times. The explosion may not have hit those two vehicles at the corner on the picture above. It might have been to the other side (to the front and not to the back) of the jeep Suzanne de Waal was traveling in. I don't speak Dutch, so I don't know.
By the way David Axe doesn't speak Dutch, either, I have to assume.
So watch out, because this is what may have happened. David Axe may have checked out RTL's footage. And it is possibly based on the (potentially deceivingly) edited version that he concluded: "As the patrol departed, weaving single-file down a narrow street criss-crossed with blind alleys, one vehicle halted so that an occupant could pick berries from a low-hanging tree branch, causing the rest of the vehicles to pile up behind it with their flanks exposed to the alleys. That’s when the sucide bomber struck". If that what Axe wrote there is not the case, however, then it might have been RTL's edited footage that turned Axe's article more offensive to Dutch readers. And it may have started a whole wave of rather anti-American comments at several sites on the web.
Look at this second pic that shows the attack site. It may be another street corner, judging by that the background looks different (although de Waal's vehicle may have as well been driving up and down streets in unseen parts of the footage). In fact, the background looks like what they were driving towards, so that suggests the explosion hit a vehicle more to the front of the convoy (which also clarifies why it's not a YPR-765 that's seen on the picture above behind the Bushmaster).
I think this lengthy attempt by me to find out what actually happened, still in vain by the way, just shows how little one gets to know from pictures seen in the media.


Pim said...

Your revision is correct. In the first link on that page you linked to van der Waal comments that she was allowed to drive in an open MB, the second car in the convoy behind a YPR.

One a personal note on mr. Axe's critisism (actually, I believe he just quoted someone else, but apparently he agrees) on the dutch tactics: I believe the American tactic after an IED attack to start shooting in all directions and drive off at full speed, thereby increasing the chance on "collateral" damage is counter productive to winning the "hearts and minds".

Péter MARTON said...

Thanks for the comment, Pim. I just want to react to one thing, though, regarding U.S. tactics. Based on what I know, I think the basic response suggested by protocol is to get out of the kill zone as fast as possible, if possible (actually, that's better for the civilians around, too, because then the firing might end, and e.g. an ambulance can come to the scene to take away wounded civilians). If, however, the road is blocked, either an attempt has to be made to shove the blocking vehicle aside, or people in the less protected vehicles have to get out, and seek cover while others provide covering fire for them. As to firing in all directions, well, that's not entirely exactly put. Doctrine says one has to 'return fire'. I agree that, as we have often seen in practice, soldiers do execute that part of the doctrine in the way that you've just described (firing all over the place), but that's not how it really is supposed to be done.
I could actually defend what the Dutch patrol was doing on the basis of U.S. doctrine! 1) There was no small arms fire, so they didn't return non-existent fire. 2) They took some risk by not rushing to leave a potential kill zone, but... if you look at the new U.S. COIN (counterinsurgency) manual, there is a sentence in it, that essentially suggests that based on a reasonable assessment of the insurgency's situation one shall take risks sometimes (exactly to win over the local population more decisively). The Dutch assessment, even if it was the instinctive assessment of the convoy commander, that the Taliban wouldn't be in the position to mount a complex ambush on the convoy, and that so the suicide bombing would be the work of a lone attacker, proved to be correct on the occasion.

fm said...

David Axe's most cogent criticism was that the Dutch advertised (literally) in advance that they were going to attend a Women's Day function. Hardly worth the risk to anyone.

Péter MARTON said...

I don't know, that can be debated I think. I'm not exactly sure. If I would have to make an assessment, I'd probably say that Tarin Kowt is still relatively safe. A lot from the Taliban VIP ranks have some family members in town, so reckless suicide bombings like the one on June 15 are not that much to be expected, I would think (although I may be wrong, and perhaps it's perhaps regarded as nice for such family members, even, to become a martyr, at least by the people who organise these attacks). And so a women's day event may be worth the risk, or at least the fact that the Dutch convoy didn't race through town; that might have shown some dignity. OK, that's dignity that goes down the drain if there is firing all of a sudden, but luckily that was not to be the case this time.
Another factor, however, that actually tells me to think of even the contrary of all I've just said: just on that day, in Chora, there was an attack by about five hundred insurgents who had to be fought for five to six days thereafter. What if they would have decided to start that offensive of theirs with a complex ambush in Tarin Kowt?
So there are a lot of questions indeed.