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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The prospects for the people of the Baluchi valley

It's good to see others also point out what I emphasised a couple of days ago about developments in the Baluchi valley.
From Volkskrant's excellent coverage of events it turns out there was a seminar this week at The Hague where experts gathered to discuss how Operation Spin Ghar is going, and they agreed on the importance of not leaving the population in the valley to its fate. It certainly wouldn't be nice to the people there, some of whom might be punished for any sign of cooperation with ISAF - the experts are right to say therefore that leaving them behind would undermine confidence in ISAF. It's just not wise in COIN to enter and then leave areas - such an operation might be fundamentally counterproductive. If contact is sought with the locals, as in this case it was, partly to make the house searches for weapons caches better sell, then especially, I would add. (One could ironically add that this don't enter if you just want to leave part is true on the macro level about Afghanistan as well.)
But knowing what's beneficial and what isn't, it doesn't mean it's easy to do what's deemed beneficial. Dutch forces still consider their numbers to be too low for a more permanent presence in the area. Instead they looked primarily to reinforce police checkpoints around Chora this time, beyond the northeastern end of the Baluchi Pass. And at the southwestern end, in an area where the valley becomes wider (and more difficult to seal off) than it is in the depths of the Pass, construction of an ANA patrol base is planned. ANA soldiers won't be lacking, it seems, as to the about 650 Afghan soldiers who arrived to Uruzgan in October, some 400 more are arriving still.
More Afghan presence, with more patrols, might secure the area better, but there are indications that this might still be challenged very much by the Taliban, who seem to have returned to the area south of the mouth of the Baluchi Pass faster than many expected (even while they always expected it). Anyway, what we might be looking at, from ISAF's point of view, is something like an attempt to manage a transition of the Baluchi valley from a disruption zone into a zone of influence with more intrusive control - it's definitely an ambitious task.
Meanwhile, I'll include here a very rudimentary scheme of mine of Operation Spin Ghar's series of moves, as they were reconstructed by the Dutch NOS (thx 2 Bob 4 a useful link re: this).
So the point is that the Dutch companies moved in sweeping the area towards the southern end of the Baluchi Pass from three main directions (from the direction of Kakarak, FOB Poentjak and Surkh-Murghab, largely) where they met up with the Gurkhas who came through the Pass from up north. Although I'm pretty sure there's attention lacking here regarding what OEF troops (e.g. Americans) did in the area - especially since I have seen photos which showed Dutch soldiers operating together with American and ANA troops in some areas.
By the way, in another video from NOS one can listen to the locals telling a reporter that the Taliban in the valley actually haven't slept in their houses, but outside, in their defensive positions, which might be an indication of the Taliban feeling the need to respect the locals' autonomy at least this much in the particular village showed there.
This might be all the more reason to question how much it has to do with the population as opposed to the geography and the strategic importance (for the Taliban) of the area that the Baluchi Pass is a hotbed of insurgent activity. But of course those who have collected a lot of primary data are the ones who will know the real answer to this.

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