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

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Of PRTs and micro-hydroelectric power

MStFB Uruzgan Series update
Recently I got hold of the December 2006 issue of the journal Small Wars and Insurgencies... Why the colour of the characters? Because the cover's colour is in fact this pink. What one finds in there is much less pink, though, meaning it's quite serious stuff all the way. This particular issue of the journal was focused on CIMIC (Civil-Military Cooperation) and many articles looked to deal with experiences from Afghanistan primarily.
I may return to discussing some other articles, but the one from which I'd highlight some points today is "Are PRTs Supposed to Compete with Terrorists?". It was written by Myriame Bollen, Eric Linssen and Sebastiaan Rietjens. All three authors are members of the Netherlands Defence Academy's staff. At the time of writing their article they understandably couldn't have discussed experiences from Uruzgan that much, yet. But the previous Afghan province where the Netherlands ran a PRT (Baghlan) is equally interesting to me, given that that PRT is now run by my country, Hungary.
So, those points I wanted to mention:
1) Some of the PRTs in the north at the beginning of ISAF's country-wide expansion process ran into difficulties stemming from the lack of experience (always to be expected of course), including a time-consuming blunder with a Dutch-produced reader that was written for Afghan regular and highway police trainees of the NL PRT, half of whom turned out to be illiterate. So "the reader was adjusted." I won't add a smiley for the wording here. It would be so un-academic... :-)
2) Quote (page 444): "military respondents stated that force protection was one of the main drivers of the activities of the PRTs. As such, activities to increase the safety of forces' troops were often favoured over improving grass roots security for the Afghan population." I should stress that the authors are talking about PRTs in general. And they mention the German PRT in particular, later adding that there was some sort of "six-mile rule" in the case of the Dutch NL PRT in Baghlan province, too, which, if I interpret it correctly is to refer to the focus on carrying out projects in the direct vicinity of the troops' main base, effectively as an element of force protection.
3) Regarding the lack of inter-agency coordination and the similar lack of regard for local stakeholders' feedback, especially at the start. As an example of this the authors mention that the Aga Khan Foundation had constructed some 300 micro-hydroelectric power plants for villages all over Afghanistan, in rural areas, and then, within a year of their completion, some half of them weren't functioning properly. Yet the NL PRT carried out similar projects, in hope of providing streetlighting in villages to improve public security, and they ran into similar problems, unaware of the Aga Khan Foundation's similar experiences.
4) Lack of information-sharing. The authors claim there were separate databases within NL PRT for a CIMIC unit, a psy-ops unit, and for the intelligence unit. That is not even a lack of interagency coordination, if true, rather "intra-agency," apparently.
Why is all this worth discussing here? I'm sure the Dutch PRT in Uruzgan is operating with volumes more of experience taken into account. So why? The most obvious answer is: any learning from past mistakes may be beneficial to everyone, so it's worth noting such things, not just for historians.
Another specific reason of mine is that I'm about to read my fellow Hungarian researcher Péter Wagner's latest article* on the Hungarian PRT, and so I'll be interested to contrast that with what I read in this issue of Small Wars and Insurgencies, to see just how pink we're doing.
From another article I know we are building micro-hydroelectric power plants, too (each supposedly generating enough power for about a hundred families). So one obvious question is whether that's pink or not in terms of experience incalculated.
Pic (2003-2005 © Honvédelmi Minisztérium): Micro-hydroelectric power plant(ing), Baghlan
P.S. I would have loved to learn why these power plants so inevitably break down or "perform badly," but unfortunately Bollen, Linssen and Rietjens don't get down to specifying that. So let's keep our fingers crossed that the Hungarian-built plants somehow defy that whatever which I don't know.
* In Hungarian.
Update (October 12): I had the chance to talk to officers from the Hungarian PRT-2, and I was told mini power plants are not being built in Baghlan any more. They were problematic because of the nagging maintenance issues, as well as their potential to generate conflict among different groups over access to electricity in the case of underperformance.

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