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

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chora revised, and Chora repeated in Kandahar

Chora revised
For a while now I knew of the report on the June fighting in Chora district by UNAMA (UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) and AIHRC (Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission), and in fact I've even read it as someone was kind enough to pass it to me. Now that it's made available at Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep I shall link to it (pdf), and highlight a few interesting things from it.
First here's a map, from page 4 of the report - the major locations of fighting marked by me around Chora.And then those promised details:
  • Page 1: "In Chora many villagers were prepared to fight against the Taliban and were hindered in this primarily by a serious failure of support from the Afghan government." On page 13 it is then added: "It is important to understand such local potential to challenge the Taliban exists." And on page 15: "The Chora case impressively demonstrates that there exists a real sentiment amongst local populations to support counterinsurgency efforts." That right there is a UN report indirectly suggesting something very near that bottom-up empowerment is to be endorsed. That's the Iraq solution, some analysts would say, but in fact in Afghanistan this was always part of the strategic picture. The U.S. came into Afghanistan in 2001 with relatively few boots on the ground, and preferred the light footprint approach to begin with. So a reliance on local forces in every corner of Afghanistan was always coded into the situation. From the example of Haji Bashar's Kandahar-based smuggler-trader militia to the case of the Chutu river crossing militia in Uruzgan such forces were/are leaned on for support. Up till today, because ISAF obviously can't provide anything near blanket coverage with present troop numbers. But even so some Afghans would probably readily suggest that more empowerment of the tribes would help against the Taliban, as one of the factors that allows the Taliban to at times openly disrespect requests by tribal elders is their ability to outgun those tribal leaders and their following. Still, this is not a simple issue of course. Bottom-up empowerment may be a part of COIN, but it's highly questionable if it can be a part of state-building (some would say it's contrary to it).
  • Page 2: If I ever, inevitably, manage to get some details wrong here and there posting on the complex issues I have a preference for discussing, let me point as a disclaimer to this sentence in the UN report. "Chora district is around one hour South of Tirin Kot by road." See? They can get it wrong, too. And they even got to travel to Uruzgan, unlike me.
  • Page 3: The June battle for Chora wasn't the first one. Already back in April the same thing happened on a smaller scale. "On 26 April 2007 Taliban fighters captured one check post and killed all the Afghan National Police (ANP) officers working there. On 29 April, an ISAF Task Force went to Chora together with ANA and re-took the check post in Kala Kala. Consequently two to three ISAF platoons were introduced into Chora (approx. 65 soldiers)." I'm citing this at lenght because it's important to take into account for the reason that this defeats some oft-circulated and rather naive theories of events in Uruzgan. The first such theory is from the otherwise sympathetic Senlis Council, whose agenda is clearly served by such a theory, that a relatively minor April 29 incident involving a Dyncorp/AEF eradication team destabilised the security situation in Uruzgan. I don't approve of poppy eradication in insurgency-hit areas, either, but unless I see some serious evidence and the logical establishment of a cause-effect relationship between that above-mentioned incident and the general situation "in Uruzgan" (or rather just on the peripheries of the Dutch ink blots, actually) I don't think the Senlis Council has a point there. The other theory to mention then is the one promoted by simple media narratives, that Dutch soldiers "learned" again to fight, in the wake of the Korean War, in June, around Chora. To refute that one could go back further in time than April, 2007, but let's stay with the issue of Chora for now - that's sufficient for an example. In general, I don't think well-trained soldiers made of homo sapiens react very differently to fighting depending on what country they belong to. Their country might set a policy and a mandate for them, however, that they have to respect. Of that, one can be critical, but even then one should be careful not to make black and white judgements, and be ready to perceive changes when they come. Ok, I'll stop the preaching.
  • Page 3 still: Afghan Standby Police forces refused to go to the area of Chora.
  • Page 6: according to one of the testimonies, given by a Wolesi Jirga member from Chora district, Abdul Khaleq, and Uruzgan Provincial Council chairman Maulavi Hamidulla, there was prior information that Taliban from several provinces were planning an attack on Chora, and the information was passed on to the Afghan Ministry of Interior and ISAF.
  • Page 7: elder Neyamutulla (? - his name is written in two different ways in the report) from Qala-i-Ragh says there artillery fire from ISAF hit their positions, too, while they were fighting the Taliban.
  • Page 8: Sarab commander Tora Abdullah says the Taliban tortured and/or killed a lot of people in Sarab, including some of his relatives.
  • Page 9: Footnote 7 on Page 9 lists the "prominent Taliban allegedly killed during the fighting." According to this they are Mulla Abdul Matalif, Mulla Ismail, Mulla Isreal, Mulla Sakhi, Mulla Abdull, Langari Mulla Shaista, Mulla Saet Mohammad, Qari Faiz Mohammed. Dutch Colonel van Griensven is said to have named Mullah Mutalideen at one point (page 5).
To finish with some sort of conclusion of my own, I'd say that the major problem is that Chora wasn't sufficiently secured in the wake of the April incident at the Kala Kala checkpoint. It was left vulnerable, and in this one has to see the low level of ISAF troop numbers as a factor. As far as a local capacity to defend these places is concerned, well, is it realistic to expect local policemen and local militia to fight off a large, coordinated assault with mortars and rockets etc. on their own? Armies are needed to fight wars. Viewed in that light, it is not so surprising if some of the Afghan Standby Police indeed refused to go to the area. So ISAF and the ANA had the major role to play here anyway (with a future preference in similar cases for the ANA if and when it is built up sufficiently for the task).
Chora repeated in Kandahar
Repeated, but not in every aspect I mean. After mullah Naqib's death the Taliban was expected to try to take over Arghandab district in Kandahar province and test Kandahar city's northern approaches, expecting that mullah Naqib's tribal militia might be weakened by the loss of their leader and the ongoing selection of his successor. So I expected Canadian soldiers to have a contingency plan or at least a vision of how to react, and so things are underway by now. The Taliban attacked, and now the Canadians have launched a major operation to counter that. I fully share Sarah Chayes' or Joshua Foust's dismay over the Taliban taking over mullah Naqib's house in Arghandab, dancing on the roof there, but then given that they so much wanted to dance on the roof there, one always knew they were coming. A rare gift in a conflict characterised normally by insurgent-favouring, asymmetrical "offence preference mode," which stems from a lack of knowledge on the part of the defender about when and where an attack would come.

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