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

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Afghan police in Nawa, and parkour

Afghan policemen do and will play a crucial role in winning in Afghanistan, if a win is coming indeed. But this is true in several ways, not just one. It is often said - e.g. it was stated by Andrew Krepinevich, Jr. in Foreign Affairs back in 2005 - that the insurgency/counterinsurgency fight has three different centres of gravity in the case of what some would call an extrastate conflict (when you have a state's armed forces waging COIN on the territory of another state). Those are the conflict terrain's population, the intervening country's population and the forces fighting the COIN campaign (in which group the ANP itself is also included in the Afghan case).
Well, the ANP's image is probably something that matters a lot with regards to what the intervening country's population thinks. And the ANP's image is bad. They are corrupt, it is often said. They can't be trusted. Many get in specifically to get a cut of the opium/heroin trade going through in their area. Some even pay, or use connections (and pay back later), to be able to serve in such an area where manning a checkpoint can be especially lucrative. And so on.
Less often mentioned is the fact that in many places policemen don't have what to eat. This is what an American officer had to say about the local ANP unit near FOB Tillman:
" “Their morale fluctuates with their food situation,” said Captain Roland Beason, a US adviser at Tillman. “If their morale is only a three or four, all you’ve got to do is buy them a goat and it’s a ten.” Yet to date the ANA’s logistics chain often leaves its men short of goats. "
It seems to me that the media is reinforcing a perception that pouring resources into an institution like the ANP is a waste, given how it will never function normally. It's not going to, in their culture, some suggest, at times explicitly, at times implicitly. But this may be a self-fulfilling view of the situation. A situation perceived to be real that will be real as a consequence. That's what I'm thinking of after I've just finished reading C.J.Chivers' article in today's New York Times on an ANP outpost in Ghazni province, in Nawa district. The description of the conditions makes serving there look like one of the worst jobs on Earth. Taliban flowing across the district in great numbers, punishing people, deemed collaborators by them, in ugly ways, while at the same time the police job is often not even paying, as chances are pay doesn't come. And the ammunition, with the state it arrives in, is hardly reliable. So you know what to expect in case you're besieged. Commander Shair Mohammad has just finished his 18-month tour there, and C.J. Chivers' article focuses on him. Read it.
You won't yet know why but this reminds me of a totally unconnected article I read in the Sunday Age - excerpt coming up:
" FREERUNNING, the youth craze that involves daredevil leaps from buildings and acrobatic stunts from lamp-posts, has emerged as the British Royal Marines' latest weapon of urban warfare.
A squad of professional freerunners going by the names EZ, Livewire, Sticky and Spidey has begun training marine commandos in gravity-defying moves such as the "kong vault", "running cat" and "crane" in an effort to improve troops' street-to-street fighting ability. "
This below, then, is the picture of the police outpost the NYT article is about (photo by Tyler Hicks, NYT):
How about doing some parkour over there? For a little MOUT practice?
I know this question doesn't really make sense. This is just a cheap way by me to underscore what I've been saying throughout this post. That place on the photo just doesn't look good.
To allow you to more vividly visualise my none too sophisticated message, here's a link to one of the more popular parkour videos around from You Tube. Just bother to think back to Afghanistan while watching. It's not so difficult in fact, as there may be less of a contrast than one would initially think. Doing 18 months in Nawa may be just as crazy as jumping off roofs. And chances are you don't get paid for either of those. Although you may get some publicity if you get on You Tube or in the New York Times.

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