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

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Australian side of the COIN

MStFB Uruzgan Series news update - Reporting on the Australian RTF's operations
In an earlier post on this site, "The ink blot, the blanket, and the domestic perspective", readers may find an analysis of the specific characteristics of the Uruzgan mission, and what challenges arise out of those for military action, for development activities, and for managing domestic politics with delivering some kind of story of success to audiences back home. In a nutshell, current troop numbers don't allow for the kind of 'kinetic' action that could extend the blanket of ISAF presence into the extreme mountainous terrain, even temporarily, while development activities are difficult to keep supplied and can only take place with the geographical restriction of how far sustainable 'ink blot areas' reach - that in turn makes it difficult to deliver a success story, as said above. So critics of the Uruzgan mission in the Netherlands are currently complaining about there being not enough humanitarian and development aid delivered, while there is in their view 'too much' fighting. To back that up they refer to Dutch development spending amounting to only a tiny fraction of the costs of military activities. They are of course wrong in several ways.
1) As pointed out on this site in the past, development spending by the Dutch PRT in Uruzgan is actually higher than what one sees in some stable, northern provinces of Afghanistan by other PRTs.
2) There is a conceptual misunderstanding on the part of critics. ISAF's venture in southern Afghanistan was started to extend development/reconstruction/construction activities to the South, in place of a much more counterterrorism/counterinsurgency-focused foreign military presence there (exactly because counterinsurgency can't succeed without this), doing that the only way in which it was possible: in the security of added military presence, and even then carried out almost exclusively by the additional military forces coming in. Fighting was never something the possibility of which could have been excluded.
3) Critics are ignoring "the Australian side of the COIN": the Australian Reconstruction Task Force's very significant activities should also be considered, along with Dutch development spending, when the costs of military operations are taken into account.
Coming up here is some reflection on the third point raised here, discussing Australia's role in Uruzgan. The expression "the Australian side of the COIN" (COIN refers to "counterinsurgency" here) is paraphrasal of the lead title of Lieutenant Colonel Mick Ryan's study, "The Other Side of the COIN," which makes for excellent reading for a start (available in pdf).
A key excerpt (Ryan, 2007: 127):
"Like other counterinsurgency campaigns, the outcome of the war in Afghanistan will be decided by the degree to which the counterinsurgent gains the support of the people. This demands a continuous balancing act between kinetic actions (the employment of lethal force undertaken by the combat arms) and non-kinetic actions (undertaken by Provincial Reconstruction Teams and the Reconstruction Task Force). The RTF trod a difficult path between the kinetic and non-kinetic elements of the military contribution to counterinsurgency operations, seeking to present the Afghan population with a softer side to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). (...) In many areas such as southern Afghanistan, the tenuous security situation prevents a vast majority of aid groups and other agencies from establishing a presence. However, there remains a dire need for nation-building and reconstruction in addition to security operations. This must be provided by highly capable organisations with the integral mobility and protection to allow the conduct of reconstruction with minimal physical interference from the insurgent. Only military organisations—and military engineers in particular—possess the ability to undertake reconstruction activities while concurrently providing a robust level of self-protection."
Here then is Ryan's conceptual model of the way the Australian Reconstruction Task Force operates, and the sort of projects it looks to carry out (as indicated on the image, too, the scheme is taken from Ryan, 2007: 131):
That matrix is quite informative, and Ryan's study provides insight regarding all four categories of projects distinguished by it. E.g. building a causeway or a police checkpoint fits in the top-down/physical category:
Picture: Australian soldier standing guard near a causeway under construction, July 17, 2007 (© Commonwealth of Australia)
Building a wall to serve as protection from floods, at the request of villagers, may be an example of bottom-up/physical projects:
Picture: Flood protection wall being built in a village, February 26, 2007 (© Commonwealth of Australia)
Providing training to those interested in a carpentry or a plumber course is bottom-up/intellectual (capacity-building):
Picture: Work going on at the plumber course at RTF's Trade Training School, August 15, 2007 (© Commonwealth of Australia)
Training ANA army engineers and then having them work along with the RTF is top-down/intellectual (while it is beneficial for the ANA's institutional legitimacy, too):
Picture: An Australian RTF and an Afghan ANA engineer working together at the Talani School, May 18, 2007 (© Commonwealth of Australia)
The most complicated category, conceptually as well as in practice, appears to be the bottom-up/physical segment. In practice, projects fitting into this category take a lot of negotiation with local leaders, which conceptually might also qualify as a bit of a top-down approach, on the local level. Also, because quick impact is in many cases essential to winning trust in outlying villages, the so-called "backyard blitzes" are necessary in Uruzgan, too, just as elsewhere, in other provinces of Afghanistan. The latter projects are self-evidently based rather on pre-supposed needs of communities.
Ryan's excellent study also points out how 'human mapping' and intelligence are crucial in driving the RTF's work by allowing for good assessments of the anticipated impact of planned projects. As to the execution of those projects, a vital role is played by the RTF's Security Task Group who have, as pointed out just today by the Australian Department of Defence in a press release, so far accomplished their mission of shielding the RTF from being attacked directly while work was underway, in the face of several attempts by insurgents to do so.
Picture: An RTF Security Task Group soldier takes up position in a firefight with insurgents, August 26, 2007 (© Commonwealth of Australia)
A list of RTF's most important projects, accomplished or underway, is, by the way, available here, at the Australian Department of Defence website.

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