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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Developments in the Baluchi valley

Make sure not to miss the conclusion (for now) of a long series of updates I've written on the issue of the November 6 Baghlan bombing (you know, after all I did spend some time on that).
But there are other areas of Afghanistan that are very much worth covering, and so I'll devote some attention to Uruzgan again now, for a brief post here, in an update to earlier backgrounder pieces of mine on the ongoing operation to clear the Baluchi valley, north of Tarin Kowt, of insurgents and to eliminate weapons caches there (Operation Spin Ghar, undertaken by about 1500 troops, Australian, Canadian, Dutch, American, British and Afghan; launched on October 25).
So here's a video from BBC showing Gurkhas in action in the Baluchi valley (or Baluchi Pass alternatively) - it's available on BBC's You Tube user page. Embedding not possible, which is too bad.
You could get the impression that Gurkhas are doing everything in the Baluchi valley, on the basis of the vid, but in fact other countries participating in Operation Spin Ghar have also suffered casualties since it began. Something I haven't mentioned on this blog yet: a Dutch soldier was killed about 5 km from Forward Operating Base Poentjak recently (FOB Poentjak is not far from the mouth of the Baluchi Pass; Xinhua misspells it but it's Poentjak for sure).
The longer version of the footage that I saw on TV (unfortunately that's not uploaded, at least as yet, to You Tube) is very interesting in this respect, because in one instance the reporter explicitly mentions one of the Dutch national caveats - national caveats are those restrictions that countries set for the use of their armed forces joining coalition operations with ISAF. While some of these national caveats are rational limitations, they tend to make coalition operations less efficient anyway, plus some of them are about minimising risk in more of a dubious manner, i.e. just making risk-sharing uneven. So these caveats are treated rather shyly, kept in secret, the great book listing all of them locked away in Belgium. The one caveat mentioned here, if the BBC has this correct, is that Dutch helicopters (specifically Chinooks?) are not allowed to operate during the night.
Another remarkable sentence in the video is a claim that the given operation of the Gurkhas shown there was originally planned with the use of helicopters calculated in, but the above mentioned Dutch caveat crossed out that calculation. Sounds a bit strange, I have to say. An operation planned without knowledge of national caveats affecting the use of a given asset? Or were some people just loudly wishing away something they didn't like having to take into account, in a conversation with a reporter?
Another interesting aspect of the footage is that you can see some local people from the Baluchi valley and gain some insight regarding their needs. I considered that good to see because it is important to understand that there is a part of the population to be won over, as opposed to just be rendered into submission to the coalition's ultimate political goals. There isn't just an enemy sought after out there. And audiences in troop-contributing countries should bear in mind that winning over a population is only possible if a re-infiltration of areas like the Baluchi valley is prevented.
There is a man who says he is afraid of the troops, because he doesn't quite know what to expect from them. So what he would need to see is that foreigners are not just men with guns really, that they care and that they make promises they intend to keep. Another says he as a teacher was beaten by the Taliban - he clearly needs protection. A third man, a father, holds his little child in his arms; the child was in need of medical attention as she scratched her face too much, and had an infected wound on her face.
As to the Taliban, they melted away before the operation. They went to the mountains, and, faced with a sizable enough force element on the eve of Operation Spin Ghar, they didn't bother to fight from their otherwise well-prepared defensive system of trenches and bunkers.
To finish off then, I should also note, for a comprehensive update to my Uruzgan Series, that the Netherlands look to be set now to extend their mission in Uruzgan for eighteen months, with somewhat diminished troop numbers. This seems to be what now even many Labour MPs are ready to subscribe to.


Bob said...

The NOS (Dutch public broadcasting agency) has two short clips on operation spin gahr, first one shows how the op was planned. And the second shows a firefight that took place near a (former) taliban stronghold at a village in the mouth of the valley. The second vid also shows a very lucky ANA soldier.

1. http://cgi.nos.nl/cgi/player/?mpurl=http%3A%2F%2Fdownload%2Eomroep%2Enl%2Fnos%2Fav%2F07%2F11%2F16%2Furuzgan%2Eflv&body=Verslaggever%20Peter%20ter%20Velde%20maakte%20op%20basis%20van%20gesprekken%20met%20militairen%20een%20reconstructie%20van%20de%20slag%20om%20de%20Baluchivallei%20in%20Uruzgan%2E%20De%20gebruikte%20beelden%20zijn%20gemaakt%20door%20de%20Nederlandse%20Charlie-compagnie%2E&titel=Reconstructie%20slag%20om%20Baluchivallei&from=nosjournaal&referer=http://www.nos.nl/nosjournaal/artikelen/2007/11/16/index_av.html
2. http://cgi.nos.nl/cgi/player/?mpurl=http%3A%2F%2Fdownload%2Eomroep%2Enl%2Fnos%2Fav%2F07%2F11%2F16%2Fbaluchi%2Eflv&body=In%20de%20eerste%20fase%20van%20operatie%20Spin%20Ghar%20hebben%20Nederlandse%2C%20Britse%2C%20Australische%20en%20Afghaanse%20militairen%20de%20Baluchivallei%20schoongeveegd%2E%20Maar%20in%20het%20zuiden%20is%20de%20Taliban%20weer%20terug%2E%20De%20Baluchi-vallei%20ligt%20ten%20noorden%20van%20de%20stad%20Tarin%20Kowt%2E%20Cameraman%20Eric%20Feijten%20en%20verslaggever%20Peter%20ter%20Velde%20gaan%20al%20een%20week%20met%20de%20patrouilles%20mee%2E%20Zij%20registreerden%20de%20terugkeer%20van%20de%20Taliban%2C%20%E9n%20het%205%20uur%20durende%20vuurgevecht%20van%20woensdag%2E&titel=Ooggetuigenverslag%20gevechten%20Uruzgan&from=nosjournaal&referer=http://www.nos.nl/nosjournaal/artikelen/2007/11/16/index_av.html

Interesting information on that caveat, I've never heard of that restriction and it's definately not the case for the Apaches and F-16s or the Cougars (at the start they couldn't fly during the day because of the high temperatures) that were sent there. It's weird because the ministry of defence regularly post notices on their website on dates and times on which pilots practice night flying for operations abroad (current one being Uruzgan). Because we're such a small country you can't fly at night without disturbing some people hence they inform the public.

Péter MARTON said...

Thanks, Bob, really interesting videos! And that ANA soldier was really one lucky fellow!
Regarding the caveat, I of course have to emphasise that I'm just passing on what I heard from the BBC. But in fact I have some reservations, too, to easily believe this. You mentioned those night practice flights and how they might disturb people's sleep. Exactly for that reason I found it a bit odd that the Gurkhas would have been supposed to get to their target by helicopter when in the report it was also claimed that they were supposed to get to their target in complete silence, for an effective ambush. I think there might be a contradiction, but of course I'm just making guesses from a distance here.