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

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Who were the insurgents? Fighting the epistemological insurgency

I`m at a conference right now, so I`ll not be able to post that much, or come up with very prolific posts. Instead, for a break, given that I`m away from home, and away from my everyday routine, I`ll just point to a video about the surge in Iraq. Normally I make a point out of not writing about Iraq (and that, as you may suspect, is not to say Iraq is not important in its own way), so for a change here is something about Iraq that by the way has relevance for the counterinsurgency waged in Afghanistan as well. Watch this video at Guardian`s site (be warned, several scenes are hard to stomach). You`ll see troops shooting dead a person whom they suspect to be an insurgent scout driving a car around the place where they are patrolling. The victim doesn`t stop when called on to do so, but instead appears to try to speed away. Might be just scared of a lot of soldiers with a lot of guns. Might really be a spotter.
Apart from the bloody tragedy one may see in every such incident, it is also very thought-provoking regarding the very nature of fighting against an insurgency.
Militaries involved in such a fight are using a process of retrospective verification, too, to be able to determine how many enemy combatants they really killed. But it`s `textbook` incidents like this one in the video that show they can only hope to arrive at a more or less exact estimate, which in many ways will always be just a guesstimate. Soldiers fighting a battle with insurgents will talk of mortar observation posts or sniper positions destroyed. But that language is falsely reassuring. It`s usually somebody`s house they are talking about, which may or may not have been the one used in the above mentioned function by insurgents. Like the British FISH doctrine`s name for close quarter urban combat might tell you just that (`Fighting in Somebody`s House`).
It would seem to be a logical conclusion to arrive at to say under such circumstances that one has to avoid fighting as much as possible, but unfortunately that isn`t really right. Soldiers can`t endlessly let themselves be exposed to enemy fire or risk ending up exposed to enemy fire. And one understands they find it hard to let an insurgent spotter get away. If it is really an insurgent spotter, I mean...
And so the point is that there isn`t an error-proof method for establishing that sort of thing in all cases. That`s what I`m calling in the title of this post the epistemological insurgency.

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