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

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Australian approach in Uruzgan

MStFB Uruzgan Series update
Recently a series of very informative articles appeared in Australian newspapers on the Australian approach and strategy in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. Looking at what Australian forces are doing there is pretty relevant indeed, given how they have significant potential to hit the Taliban in Uruzgan, since they have a lot of special forces there, as well as the will, albeit no limitless opportunity in light of current arrangements with the Dutch military, to have those operate according to more permissive rules of engagement (it's a Special Operations Task Group the Australians have in Uruzgan, to back up the Australian Reconstruction Task Force, as well as the Dutch-led Task Force Uruzgan in general).
For a little context on this: as a result of a spring switch of strategy that can't have meant that much of a change in practice, because of several constraints, actually, the Dutch battlegroup got the green light to carry out operations even independently of the Dutch-led PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team), to carry out patrols along surprise routes, with the aim of harassing insurgents who were arguably enjoying some relative calm in Uruzgan, compared to what their situation was (and is) in Helmand and Kandahar, where British and Canadian forces are operating more intensively. The Aussie special ops, returning this guerrilla season following their winter (Aussie summer) rest in boosted numbers, however, are the ones who arguably brought the real potential to carry out disruption operations of the kind that were suggested by the Dutch connected to their switch to a so-called amoeba strategy (which I think was always meant not to replace but to complement in a way their earlier much criticised ink blot strategy).
Well, that's the first of two things I'd like to note here on the basis of the articles I'm about to excerpt here. I didn't exactly hold my breath in excitement over the somewhat artificial drama over whether Australian special ops did or did not fight around Chora in June, since whatever the truth is regarding that question, they are certainly there in Uruzgan to fight. And the following excerpts are clear confirmation of that. I'm indirectly quoting here the commander of Australian special forces, Major-General Mike Hindmarsh, on the Australian strategy. (Sources: The Age, July 19; Sydney Morning Herald, July 20.)
"It's to go to their (the Taliban's - P.M.) areas that they traditionally have regarded as their sanctuaries, their safe-havens, where they have felt safe, where they can regenerate, recuperate and prepare for future operations in places such as Kandahar or Tarin Khowt... to take the battle to them and make them uncomfortable in the areas where ordinarily they have been very comfortable... This is what disruption is all about and we do that for long periods of time. We get out there and spend a long time in their areas, which is not something they are used to.... "
The last sentence by Major-General Hindmarsh quoted in The Age is: "If they (Australian special forces - P.M.) are going to put their lives in harm's way, we want to do it for a meaningful purpose and they feel they are." That has actually been the standard Australian line most of the time, and it has been used before even with direct reference to the standard Dutch line, which anybody interested about the issue must have heard by now; the "we are not here to fight the Taliban, but to make them irrelevant" line. The SMH for its part finishes with the conclusion: "Oruzgan is considered a Taliban stronghold, and at present, the Australians will not undertake projects beyond a 20-kilometre radius around Tarin Kowt. In time, it is hoped the area of operations can be extended considerably." 40 kilometres is actually a slightly more optimistic estimate of the Tarin Kowt ink blot's actual diameter than some others I've heard before. (For those interested to hear the more colourfully descriptive parts of the major-general's statement, he calls the Taliban a "nasty piece of work", as well as "rat cunning".)
A very intresting, in-depth analysis of the Australian military's foreign involvements was recently written then by Greg Sheridan for The Australian, which is really in the order of compulsory reading I think (The Australian, August 4). Here's the Afghanistan-specific part, along with the second important thing I wanted to take note of in this post today.
"The US-led coalition has only two real alternatives in Afghanistan. One is to stay for at least five years, probably twice that duration, with a sizeable commitment of aid and military muscle, to establish a moderately democratic and stable Afghanistan that is not permissive for terrorists.
Option two is to treat Afghanistan much more cynically, to install a friendly dictator, hope he survives and, in the meantime, retain the right to attack and destroy terrorist bases as and when they arise. This approach is not as fanciful as it may seem at first blush. With Pakistan's help it may be possible to drive a wedge between the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.
The likelier option is to stay and fight. In some ways Afghanistan is the reverse of Iraq. The coalition has done well in suppressing al-Qa'ida and the Taliban, and restoring some security, but it has done very poorly in restoring government services and prosperity to the people. The coalition is not affecting the level of opium growing in Afghanistan and indeed cannot even work out its attitude to the opium industry there. When the coalition tries to eradicate the crop, it drives farmers into the arms of the Taliban as they have no alternative livelihood.
The Dutch are the main force in Oruzgan, with fewer than 2000 troops. At the moment, the Howard Government has no intention of replacing them with Australian troops. But if our combat group were out of Iraq, if we thought we could do the job with somewhat fewer soldiers than the Dutch, if the Americans were truly pressed in Afghanistan even while they bled in Iraq, perhaps if it was a Rudd government determined to bolster its Afghanistan commitment in the wake of an Iraq withdrawal, there might be an implacable kind of logic to a larger Australian role in Afghanistan. "
It's especially the latter paragraph of course, that I was reading with much interest. I have come to similar conclusions before, speculating that the Aussies might be the ones eventually taking the lead in Uruzgan. And the scenario, and its timeline, outlined by Greg Sheridan fits the just-one-more-year (from mid-2008 to mid-2009) escape route currently pondered to my best knowledge by the multi-party Dutch cabinet running the gauntlet of internal debate, mixed public opinion reactions, and dilemmas of how to finance the costs of the Uruzgan mission.
Update no.1: news just in via the Uruzgan Weblog here and here, on an incident whereby two Australian special forces soldiers were wounded (one of them more seriously, and he has been evacuated to Germany apparently). Thought I should mention that.
Update no.2: I got an e-mail from UW's webmaster, pointing out that I was rather floppy and ambiguous in my references above to the order of battle in Uruzgan. I shall say thanks for the detailed description of the Uruzgan/Southern Afghanistan ORBAT as well as the elements of the Dutch involvement in general, which I will insert here for everyone's information:
"1) The (2nd) Australian Reconstruction Task Force is an integral part of Task Force Uruzgan and falls under Dutch command (Colonel Nico Geerts, to be precise).
2) ) The Australian Special Operations Task Group is NOT a part of Task Force Uruzgan. It falls under direct command of ISAF's Regional Command (South) at Kandahar Airfield.
3) The Dutch Provincial Reconstruction Team is only a very small (60 men/women) part of Task Force Uruzgan. The bigger part is made up of a Battle Group (ca. 500 strong) and supporting/enabling units (intelligence, logistics, medics, clerks etc). Seperately, there is a Dutch Air Task Force (ATF) with F-16's, Apache's and Chinooks.
4) Also seperately, there is a Dutch Special Forces Task Group ('Viper'), consisting of an estimated 150 members of the 'Korps Commandotroepen' (army commando's) and 20-30 Royal Netherlands Marine Corps commando's. They also fall under the command of Col. Geerts and ISAF. In addition there have been reports that they work closely together with members of US Special Forces Operational Detachment - Alfa's (ODA's) who in turn operate from different locations (FOB Ripley in Tarin Kowt; FOB Cobra (Ushay/Owshay, Shahidi Hassas district, NW) and FOB Anaconda (Khas Uruzgan district, NE)."

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