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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ink blot theory and a bit of ink blot history

Of the two things promised in the title here's first of all a little ink blot theory.
Pic: My modest recreation of Kilcullen's similar but much fancier-looking scheme from page 62 of his presentation.
This is one of the things I want to highlight from David Kilcullen's excellent presentation on COIN that I mentioned the other day. I thought this might be interesting given the ink blot approach is something the Netherlands is also trying to follow in Uruzgan, under the circumstances (meant in every possible sense) that have to be dealt with.
So Kilcullen's version says that first you locate a Reconstruction Zone (RZ) there where the locals support you the most. You protect it 24/7, at all costs. And if you have to do something including the potential use of lethal force there, "something kinetic," then you discuss that with the PRT first, for clearance, which means that the key advisors of the PRT, i.e. the political, the development, and (where there is one, as in Uruzgan) the tribal advisor, can have their say on the how, the when, and potentially the if, I guess. The Security and Influence Zone is where the RZ has to be protected from infiltration. An area to be constantly monitored (Kilcullen even uses the term "intrusive control"), and where you constantly remind the local community leaders of what's going on in the RZ to give them an incentive to decisively commit to cooperate. If the situation is permissive enough, then the RZ can be expanded into these areas. Finally, there is the Disruption Zone. Here you carry out operations to keep insurgents off balance, to keep them moving. You gather as much intelligence as possible, and act when there's something "actionable," using mostly special forces. (Back in the spring when I'd still only just begun to study Uruzgani matters, I formulated that latter conclusion to myself in another way, saying something like "beside maintaining islands of development, one cannot tolerate the unperturbed existence of insurgency islands.")
Mentioning the past, here's an interesting attempt at something like a revision of the history of what's going on in Uruzgan: at one point this article mentions "analysts" who say that it was the spring poppy eradication attempt in Uruzgan that changed things dramatically for the worse there:
" Although it is a volatile area and a centre of Taliban support, the Dutch forces had forged close links with community leaders, cutting down the fighting, until a botched poppy eradication program by a US private security firm a few months ago, analysts say.
"Uruzgan was going OK until they went in with tractors and started ripping the poppy fields up," said the Kabul-based security analyst. "The Dutch had a good relationship with the people down there, the local leaders, but when they rip up your crop, what do you do? You grab your gun. They didn't even do that much damage to the crops in the end." "
Well, this seems to me to be stretching it more than a little (even while I myself clearly disapproved of this eradication attempt at the time). As it is pointed out in the article itself, that poppy eradication didn't get very far at all. The Dutch themselves had the chance to designate the areas where the eradication team went, and even so that team ran into resistance. So could those supposedly stable, good ties have been broken by that botched eradication attempt? I don't really think so. I don't have aggregate data in front of me on the changing intensity of the fighting, the number of incidents etc., but June 15 seems like a more decisive turning point in retrospect (VBIED in Tarin Kowt + Talib offensive in the area of Chora).
Instead, what one currently often hears being voiced is that Helmand may be a source of insurgents moving to Uruzgan (across the recently unstable Deh Rawod district), which might potentially be attributed to a push effect of British military achievements in Helmand. Nevertheless Uruzgan is anything but a safe haven for the Taliban nowadays, unlike back in the times mentioned by that article above, when a more passive Dutch policy in effect, to a degree, worked that way. (With interesting exceptions, such as when operations in Helmand back in March drew insurgents, who were willing to join the fight in the neighbouring province, out of Uruzgan.) I read somewhere in the previous days a Dutch blogpost somewhere (can't find it right now), that said Australians in the (provincial) border area between Helmand and Uruzgan have fought some firefight with incoming insurgents who then moved on towards Tarin Kowt district to cause some trouble there. I'm not sure if the two incidents are the same but a U.S. airpower summary in recent days mentioned that on one occasion the U.S. Air Force provided close air support for nineteen consecutive hours to troops involved in contact "in the vicinity of Uruzgan." (The latter term is a bit annoying. Together with frequent reader Bob I have made the point back at the end of August/the beginning of September that Tarin Kowt district shouldn't be mentioned simply as Tarin Kowt in these airpower summaries, because then people might think it's the city that is bombed - this vicinity of Uruzgan thing is again something a little too vague perhaps...)
So it's a complex picture and this blaming of the poppy eradicators seems way too simple an explanation for the situation in Uruzgan... Which is not too different from the overall situation in the south, by the way. Via Afghanistanica (where it was passed on from the Afghanistan Conflict Monitor) here's the new UN security review (pdf), and this is the picture the UN presents about the "Pashtun-dominated" Southern Zone:
(Regarding those question marks to the left of Nimroz... yeah, I'm also interested!)
Bringing in Afghanistanica, I should mention C's criticism of Rory Stewart, too. Stewart recently advocated things like retreating to urban safe spots so that people from rural areas can flee there if the going (the getting starved, the getting intimidated, the getting bombarded etc.) gets too tough to take for them, as well as overall disengagement from the south. Respecting Stewart for his past deeds of utter coolness (like e.g. walking from Herat to Kabul in solo most of the time), I have to note he is talking about the south of Afghanistan nowadays as an expert of Maysan rather than anything else (if you wonder, Maysan is in southern Iraq, so it's a little different). And one of the big problems with what he said is the failure to note that the current situation of there being only urban safe spots of the kind he is talking about as needed is exactly what's wrong and why more international as well as local troops would be needed. Cut back to Kilcullen: to expand the ink blots.
To finish off, here are some news affecting the situation in Uruzgan at the present; read them here and here. The first is about the Australian elections that are now set to come on November 24; the second is news of mullah Naqib's death (via Registan). The latter may have important (and dangerous) consequences for the Canadians in Kandahar, which is something I expect the Canadians to have some contingency plan for - especially given that mullah Naqib died as a result of a heart attack which had partly to do with an IED attack he survived with wounds a couple of months ago, and which thus can't have come entirely unexpected. That contingency plan should include taking mullah Naqib's tribal successor seriously, as Sarah Chayes suggests in a comment (no.3) to the above cited post at Registan. (See an earlier post of mine on mullah Naqib here.)

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