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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Going kinetic in the Baluchi valley: Update

Some important updates regarding the offensive going on in the Baluchi valley, a crucial section of the larger Chora valley connecting Tarin Kowt and Chora. The Dutch daily Volkskrant has a wonderful map for an overview of the situation (I didn't find it at Volkskrant, but I came across it at the good old UW):
Some explanatory remarks: Taliban supply routes are indicated by the black arrows. The little yellow boxes show places where these routes shall be blocked. Back in June, in the battle for Chora, there was some debate about what role Australian troops may have played in the fighting. It then turned out that they mounted a blocking operation to seal off Mirabad from the Baluchi valley. On this map, you can now see quite clearly what that could have meant. (To add something interesting: back in March Hans de Vreij, from Radio Netherlands, referred to the area north of Tarin Kowt as "known as the 'West Bank'," something indicated on the above map as well.)
This Dutch defence ministry post says that before Operation Spin Ghar got underway on October 25, in the mourning, Uruzgan's new governor, Assadullah Hamdam (see photo below) informed senior tribal leaders of the operation coming. (So surely it wasn't a big secret that Arnon Grunberg let slip.)
Pic: Assadullah Hamdam still back in Kabul (© Commonwealth of Australia 2005)
If you wonder, that's not some Dutch approach-related specialty. E.g. Canadians did the same around Panjwai and Zhari districts in Kandahar when they re-took those areas recently from insurgents. They intentionally looked to make it known that action will be taken, for a deterrent effect. The "killing of a hillful," an expression that entered my vocabulary in the wake of the fighting around Chora back in June, when it was used by some, and when that sort of thing was largely inevitable, is not necessarily an aim in COIN, as it can potentially include both civilians and insurgents who could be persuaded to stop fighting - so this is all understandable. Resistance of course may still be met in these cases if hardcore fighters choose to make a stand in the form of some ambushes. As a sign of that one should mention that an Australian soldier was killed in action in the Baluchi valley* in the previous days (Australia's second such loss in Afghanistan).
A good sign regarding whether clearing the Baluchi valley of insurgents makes sense is that this time there may be sufficient Afghan forces to assist in the operations and, importantly, to later on help maintain power projected in the area, unlike back in 2006 when the valley was similarly cleared but then slipped out of control again. So 650 ANA soldiers, from the ANA's new 4th Brigade, have arrived in Tarin Kowt (they'll be based beside the Dutch Camp Holland). I'm sure the well-timed arrival of their sizable convoy must have made an impression on people. So they, along with Task Force Uruzgan, will keep a kind of presence in the area but that will be mostly focused on blocking those key paths included in the Taliban's so-called MSR (Main Supply Route) leading across Uruzgan in the direction of Helmand and Kandahar. No checkpoints in the valley to be manned there 24/7, but perhaps more frequent patrols to come could reinforce control to some degree. That is what Volkskrant reports about the operation's purposes.
If this would work, that could mean more security for Chora as well, which, as I have made the point earlier on, should be regarded as an ink blot. And having there an ink blot is something that makes sense only if it's not critically vulnerable.
Added info: here's a good summary of the Canadian-led Operation Keeping Goodwill in the area of Zhari. For a comparative perspective: there plans are different for the aftermath, and fortified positions will be built for the Afghan police that it can hopefully better defend.
* I got a useful remark, and so I should indicate that news of the Australian soldier's (Sgt Locke's) death said he was killed "in Chora valley," and not in the Baluchi valley specifically. I just assumed that Chora valley wasn't a very accurate indication of the actual scene of the skirmish in which the sergeant died, and so I thought of the focus area of the operation intuitively. But in fact Operation Spin Ghar's aims are defined officially as pacifiying the area around Tarin Kowt in general, so that's not sure at all.
Update to the latter remarks: this article says Sgt Locke was shot in the chest near the village of Baluchi. That's either in or near the Baluchi valley.

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