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

Saturday, August 4, 2007

4GW and its indirect civilian casualties

MStFB Uruzgan Series update
On Wednesday, July 25, the Australian military reported that one of its patrols has fired on a vehicle in Tarin Kowt, killing its driver, after they warned him in vain to stop (The Age, July 25). Just a week later, on Wednesday, August 1, the Dutch military announced that a similar incident has taken place involving its soldiers. A Dutch convoy was heading towards Camp Holland outside Tarin Kowt, from the FOB Poentjak, when some vehicles approached from the opposite direction, and although the first one stopped at warning signals by the convoy, a minivan's driver behind it decided he would not do so. As he may have been trying to get past the vehicle that stopped, Dutch soldiers predictably fired on him, killing him (Expatica, August 2). It's no coincidence these two incidents came so close after a June 15 VBIED suicide bombing in Tarin Kowt, and a July 10 suicide bombing in Deh Rawod (those two attacks each killed a Dutch soldier, as well as scores of civilians). Soldiers in Uruzgan are understandably 'trigger-nervous' (for want of a better word). One tends to be, when one may have only seconds to shoot at a vehicle before the last chance to do anything in life goes past. In a way, if the two drivers who were shot are found to have been harmless in reality, that will make them further, indirect victims of the June 15 and July 10 bombings. (Perhaps I shouldn't be concerned with that issue in this post here, but all this is actually a telling lesson to all such people who tend to think U.S. soldiers are of some reckless alien race that is much more prone to cause civilian casualties in, say, checkpoint shootings. Time to see that the more one's targeted, the more easily one tends to pull the trigger.)
These incidents, unfortunately, are bound to produce angry reactions by the locals. Unconnected to this, it is reported that the Tarin Kowt bazaar was shut in protest about operations (merely some house searches and the setting up of checkpoints, I have to assume) in Tarin Kowt's city centre by Dutch and Australian forces (News Blaze). It's a bit of a no-no for an observer to say, but I will risk saying that the locals might be a little bit off the mark here. Take the town of Sangin in Helmand province for example: British forces fought the Taliban across the main street there, and that left only ruins of Sangin's bazaar area (IWPR, June 19). The much-much softer Dutch approach may be criticised from several points of view, but for the people of Tarin Kowt at least, it is just so much better than what's going on elsewhere in the south of Afghanistan. They weren't protected from the June 15 bombing (there's no perfect protection against such attacks, of course), but even in that case actually some locals themselves contributed to what happened, given how some of the materials for the VBIED used on the occasion were most likely procured at the town bazaar.
Of course there aren't many opportunities to make a living, even in Tarin Kowt, so vendors sell whatever is looked after, nevertheless there has to be more understanding to how difficult it is for a military to be fighting fourth generation warfare against a guerrilla adversary. If there isn't, that's of course not the end of the story, but it definitely doesn't bode well for success in a counterinsurgency.
Update: I have to mention that an incident avoided my attention, and so there were altogether three similar shootings within a one-week period in Uruzgan by patrols of the international forces in the province. "On Thursday (July 26 - P.M.), Australian troops again opened fire when another vehicle failed to stop when ordered. A five-year-old girl was wounded in the hand and a two-year-old boy suffered minor wounds to the head and body. Their injuries were not life threatening..." (The Age, July 29). This many shootings, while each of them is unfortunate of course, may actually make the local people more conscious of the problem, and that may hopefully help in avoiding at least some incidents of this kind in the future (so that the real car bombers may be the ones actually fired on).
Update (August 7): On Sunday, August 5, there was yet another incident of the kind discussed in this post above, this time near Deh Rawod. A Dutch patrol fired on a vehicle after it didn't stop even after warning shots were fired. The driver was killed, while near miraculously (for a situation like this) a passanger with the driver at the time remained unharmed (Uruzgan Weblog, August 6, here and here).

1 comment:

Bob said...

Incidents like these show how hard the job of today's soldiers is. Do we let that driver go on and risk a bombing or do we stop him by using lethal force. Things used to be simple, I'm blue and I have to kill or capture anyone in red. Today the enemy looks and acts the same as every other man or woman on the streets untill the moment they strike.

The ROE are pretty clear in this case, visual warning, warning shot and only then shoot to kill. But the incidents the past few weeks week and 6 similar incidents involving Dutch troops in Iraq show that things go wrong.