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

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Protest post

No wondering about why the Taliban have twice mounted mysteriously large assaults on forward operating bases (one of them was at FOB Anaconda by the way, in Uruzgan, the other in Sangin, Helmand), losing a lot of men in the process, in the last two days. Over at MilitaryPhotos.net some have been speculating that this might have something to do with syringes. Well, I don't know. There's a Pakistani offensive (something) going on over on the other side of the border, too. And the Taliban might have decided to try to demonstrate something not far away from the autumn planting season, for farmers' attention, poppy-wise*. Whatever. What happened, that's so 2006, and that's certainly interesting. But no in-depth analysis here on anything.
Just sg more like an opinion post in protest over relatively fresh news from Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL Newsline, August 6, 11:143), that I learned of via Bonnie Boyd's blog, telling us that the U.S. is set to decrease aid to Afghanistan for 2008. The U.S. is still going to be a large donor (the largest) then, of course, and the $4.7 billion in store for next year sounds like no small amount of money, if you're absolutely not willing to consider what it would have to be spent on, as well as not willing to consider partly for what purposes it's going to be wasted.
"Even when we drop back in 2008 to $4.7 billion, we're still 50 percent higher (than in 2006 - P.M.)" said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher. The $10.1 billion for this year was just extraordinary funding to jump-start things, it is revealed. In case you wonder, yes, Iraq, and not Afghanistan is the oil-producing country, and yes, Afghanistan is the bigger and the more populous of the two. And by now it has jump-started. Or it will have jump-started by the end of the year, I mean. Hooray. Been there, done that - on the cheap.
Which reminds me (of a lot of things, including this). Carl Robichaud over at Afghanistan Watch has posted a couple of days ago (on August 2) some comments he gave to a South Korean journalist who asked for basically nothing short of a strategic briefing from him. You can read Carl Robichaud's answers here to the fundamental questions he got a whole list of. They are really worth reading, the answers I mean, but while I urge you to click on the link, I will quote here my favourite part, the one I would most like to recommend to people, including decision-makers:
"The OECD has estimated that fully half of all development assistance has been spent in four of the most dangerous provinces in the south. It is extremely difficult and expensive to do development work in this environment. A decision was made to concentrate development work in these contentious areas in order to “win hearts and minds,” but it’s not clear that this approach is working. On the other hand, there are many stable regions in Afghanistan that are languishing from a lack of attention. So a wiser approach, especially in light of these recent kidnappings, is to pick some of the low-hanging fruit that is currently rotting on the vine."
I can't think of putting this any more nicely than that, especially the last sentence. In the south the most important thing is to have troops at the ready when the Taliban et al. try things like a frontal assault on an FOB, as well as to go hunting for insurgents, put pressure on them etc. (Oh, yes, and a little more soldiers would do, so that it's not 24/7-air-power-at-your-service doing this at the expense of relatively high collateral damage most of the time.) Reconstruction, aid, these should be concentrated more in the "north", meant here by me as those really more stable areas, just like Carl Robichaud is suggesting. That's the place for putting an 'ink blot strategy' into practice, I think.
But I have serious doubts in light of the news above that the key players are meaning to match desirable objectives with the sufficient means. As I have come to summarise this for myself, in a discussion elsewhere, this doesn't look like angling for some big success in Afghanistan, and that itself is already astonishing.
OK, before I finish, just read this other article, too, over at the Uruzgan Weblog. The Canadian author, Paul Wells must have put a lot of research into it, so it is quite informative, and does give a fresh perspective on what many, including me, have been pondering since a while now. Exactly what's going to happen if the Dutch and the Canadians are leaving in 2009? Or, as it is possible in the case of the Dutch, even earlier? What about Afghanistan then? And what about NATO? This article starts from that question, so it's worth the attention even if it cannot offer that much in the way of definitive answers, understandably.
* I wrote this somewhat emotional post of mine rather quickly yesterday, and today I had to correct it, because amazingly I had originally written autumn poppy harvest above at the point where I should have written poppy planting; now it's alright. Perhaps I should note here for the amusement of everyone: the last time I did something like this was back in the spring, when I once wrote 'forced poppy cultivation' instead of... I don't even continue, you can imagine. And this strange behavior of mine doesn't have anything to do with poppy, I swear.

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