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

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Uruzgan Series meets the Poppy Series

MStFB Uruzgan Series/Poppy Series update
For those of you, who are just as thrilled as I am to follow what's happening in one particular Afghan province specifically, to be able to view that province as a bit of a microcosm regarding all that's happening in Afghanistan, there is some new and compulsory reading out there: Jon Lee Anderson has written a lengthy (hooray, really!) piece, full of details, on an episode of poppy eradication efforts in Uruzgan for the July 9 issue of the New Yorker. I'm including in this post four excerpts, just to draw attention to some parts of it specifically, and not to spare you the time you might spend reading through the article altogether.
1) Like I said...
Like I said before, there should be no forced poppy eradication either in insurgency-hit areas, or where there aren't sufficient road connections for a village so that the people there could have market access for their agricultural produce, meaning access in a physical sense. Well, Uruzgan is insurgency-hit enough to thus qualify to be part of my No Eradication Zone.
Eradication does go ahead there, too, however, and so now you can read about the reaction of the locals here, in this first excerpt from Anderson's article:
" When we were ready to move on, the farmer said, as if to be polite, “Thank you—but I can’t really thank you, because you haven’t destroyed just my poppies but my wheat, too.” He pointed to where A.T.V.s had driven through a wheat patch. Wankel apologized, then commented that it was only one small section. “But you have also damaged my watermelons,” the farmer insisted, pointing to another part of the field. “Now I will have nothing left.” Wankel turned away. As we walked on, the farmer called out, “Are you destroying all the poppies or just my field?” About a dozen men and boys gathered on a low dirt wall next to another field and watched the proceedings impassively. A young girl wiped away tears with her scarf and yelled angrily at a policeman. Nearby, several Americans were resting in the shade of some mulberry trees, talking to each other. One of the local men, who wore a black turban, said to them, “We’re poor—we’re not with the Taliban or anything. You’ve made a big mistake. Now we’ll grow more against you.” He added, “I have to feed my children.” "
2) Second day at the office - 'PMFs' from different sides of a law battle it out
On the second day of eradication, undertaken jointly by the Afghan Eradication Force (AEF), U.S.-based security contractor DynCorp, and the Afghan National Police, the eradicators came under fire from the village that the fields they were about to visit belonged to. They have taken one Afghan man prisoner during the fight, and, after a couple of days that this man spent in captivity, this is what came to be revealed, based on what he said, about the background of the ambush.
" By this time, news had circulated that Khalil’s prisoner, who had been tied up and kept in a tent for four or five days and interrogated at the U.S. Special Forces base, had talked. Allegedly, the day before the attack, men from another village had brought in weapons and a group of fifteen to twenty Taliban fighters, and had told the village men to evacuate women and children. (The A.E.F. men estimated that there were forty to fifty attackers in all.) "
So this looks like a textbook case of villagers asking for protection for their poppy fields from the Taliban. Ironically, the latter in such instances are acting a bit like a non-state military firm - thus, in this particular role, resembling Private Military Firm (PMF) DynCorp a little, even while fighting on the other side in the counter-narcotics war of course.
3) The factor of tribal relations
In the New Yorker article, the DynCorp team reveals that the aim of their operations is to make their results work as a deterrent (and not to cover all poppy fields), affecting farmers' calculations as to what to plant for the next season. Question to be posed then: Can that deterrent function right if certain tribes are threatened by the prospect of eradication, while others aren't? I would say no. Two excerpts coming up this time, both of those seeming to confirm the above conclusion.
The first:
" One of the senior members of the A.E.F. told me that it appeared that the fields in the target area belonged primarily to the Alkozai tribe, leaving those of the Populzai—Karzai’s tribe—relatively untouched. “So the Dutch, wittingly or unwittingly, appear to be favoring the Populzai,” he said. “By targeting the Alkozai, it was almost mandated that they would retaliate.” "
The target area was designated with the supervision of the Dutch forces located in nearby provincial centre Tarin Kowt. It was a very small area, so, as it is pointed out in the article, the AEF's area of operation was too restricted for comfort of an otherwise always preferred lack of predictability. But before one might start criticising the Dutch, it must really be an annoying problem for them when a bunch of people, some of whom (DynCorp guys) apparently see working together with the AEF as 'redneck heaven', turn up basically just to make some local people very angry, all in the name of doing good. As I have already pointed out in an earlier post of mine, while I'm actually quite critical of the Dutch ink blot strategy in general, I see such eradication operations as effectively the sabotaging of the Dutch strategy in Uruzgan. In other words, with such things happening, one can actually only less legitimately say that the ink blot strategy has its flaws, given how the Dutch are actually not allowed to execute that strategy to a full extent. So I don't think at all that the Dutch are wrong to consider the politics of choosing certain fields over the others. After all, if they could have things their way, there would be no need for such a choice at all.
Same goes for the Afghan police. Read this second promised excerpt:
" Munib (the provincial governor in Uruzgan - P.M.) and the elders did not show up the next day. Qassem and his local policemen appeared, however, with a village councillor. They led the eradication force to the same side of the road where we had been the day before. Doug Wankel was furious. After the policemen had spent half an hour whacking one small field with their sticks, he told them to stop. He said again that he wished to eradicate poppies in the fields toward the river. The councillor told Wankel that he would not accompany the men if they went on that side of the road, nor could he guarantee their safety. Wankel insisted. He ordered Major Khalil and the DynCorp men to set up a good security perimeter. Qassem and his men stayed behind. Wankel and Trammell and a group of men, guns drawn, walked down into the fields below, a checkerboard of green wheat and luxuriant poppies. After a few minutes, Marouf received a call from Qassem on his field radio saying that he and his men were pulling out. Alarm spread among the Americans and the Afghan policemen who were with us. “Someone powerful obviously controls this area,” Wankel told Trammell. “The local authorities’ leaving has sent out the message that we’re unsafe and can be attacked. We should go.” "
The police force, which has already lost a few men in battle, fighting alongside DynCorp and the AEF previously to this, understandably wasn't too keen on the occasion on going on another provocative mission. If you read the article you'll see that the DynCorp team was rather furious about that, putting that fury into some harsh words as well. (You'll find some even harsher words from one of them, about Dutch forces, at another point in the article.)
Conclusion: I see my earlier position, that there should be no poppy eradication in insurgency-hit areas, reaffirmed by Anderson's article.
It does turn out, however, that despite all that I've read about the UK's looking to ignore poppy fields in Helmand, the AEF/DynCorp team had their go at that province as well. Actually, there they were somewhat more efficient, covering about 'seventy-five hundred acres', whereas they only managed to cover 'less than two hundred acres' in Uruzgan.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Sadly it's that redneck mentality and disrespect for other cultures that is costing Americans hundreds of lives. After four years in Iraq they still don't seem to get it.

Interesting story though.