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

Friday, February 1, 2008

Badghis and PRT-based European analysis of Afghanistan

Towards the end of last year I wrote of a flare-up in fighting in and around Faryab province. Norwegian troops are based there, running the Maimana PRT. In the neighbouring Badghis province it's the Spanish who have a PRT of their own. Now, in my earlier post I've just linked to, I qouted a news report on the basis of which, I mean on the basis of the districts specifically mentioned there, one could draw an arc through Badghis province, reaching through Qadis, Bala Murghab, Ghormach (districts in Badghis) to Qaysar district in Faryab. Areas of Taliban presence which incidentally are either scarcely populated, or where you find some Pashtun presence. Which might give a hint regarding how the Taliban might have emerged in these areas. Not to mention that some drug-trafficking also has to go on in these areas, in the direction of e.g. the Turkmen border.
So I was glad to come across a Spanish author's analysis of what the Spanish are doing in Afghanistan, and specifically what they are up to in Badghis. I hoped to get important clues from Carlos Echeverría Jesús' piece (out from the Real Instituto Elcano).
Firstly, let me mention the parts that were most informative to me. And then, towards the end I'll point out what I don't like, making some generalisations about European preparedness for the analytical tasks required not just in COIN but even in the most pacific of peace operations.
But let's not rush forward to that. For starters:
"The Spanish contingent engaged in the mission in Afghanistan is formed by 690 soldiers, to whom a further 52 were added on 3 October 2007 for training and drilling the Afghan Army. They are distributed as follows: 430 troops at the Herat advanced support base, which includes a deployment of transport aircraft and from where the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in four provinces are protected; 190 military personnel at Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis province, where Spain leads the provincial PRT; 18 soldiers at the General Headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul; 52 air force soldiers at the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan; and the 52 recently deployed near Herat."
So, while the Spanish deployment to Afghanistan is certainly more significant than that of Hungary, in their PRT in fact they have less people than we do up in Baghlan province. Which doesn't make that much of a difference, actually. One ought not to confuse a PRT's role with that of guaranteeing security in a province, and so neither the Spanish PRT, nor the Hungarian one plays a decisive role in that respect. It's the Afghan security forces that have to.
Regarding how much trust some of the locals have in their future, this part here doesn't bode well:
"... many inhabitants of the Bala Murghab district, in the north of Badghis province, have been relocating to the city of Herat, around 170 kilometres to the south, where Spain has its advanced support base and from where it oversees the security of the PRT in four provinces. They are not moving to Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis –which is the town closest to their province– because they believe that fighting will extend to that locality too."
Regarding how much a Pashtun presence in an area seems like a reason for having more worries on a patrol than elsewhere:
"It is interesting to note how in February 2007, 228 armed incidents were recorded in the south of Afghanistan, 101 in the east, 21 in the west and 11 in the north. Records show that in the zone of Spanish presence most of these occurred in the Farah area, close to the ring road. This is also the most southerly part of the ISAF mission in which the Spanish forces are involved, which is, moreover, the only zone in the west of the country with a Pashtun majority. In the province of Farah, approximately 50 Taliban and 14 Afghan soldiers died during three days of combat from 30 October to 2 November 2007."
Jesús later on discusses the effect IEDs have had on the Spanish armed forces. They lost soldiers both in Afghanistan and in Lebanon (in June, 2007 in Lebanon) to IEDs, which led to the foundation of a counter-IED International Institute, the Centro Militar Internacional de Investigación de Artefactos Explosivos Improvisados. Interesting that these losses would lead to the foundation of such an international institute. Counter-IED work is going on in many places nowadays - ISAF has a coalition counter-IED working group in which even the Afghan and Pakistani parties are involved. For another example, Estonian acedemia/higher education has some ongoing counter-IED project going on in collaboration with the Estonian military, I seem to recollect from somewhere. But founding an international institute is something that seems more spectacular than substantially relevant, given the otherwise already existing frameworks for cooperation in this field. So, in turn, this might show how much casualty-sensitivity there is in Spain. I'll of course try to inform myself more about this, so that any injustice from my part doesn't go analytically unpunished.
Jesús writes:
"In the ambushes, explosive attacks are not combined with attacks on columns. (...) neither have there been assaults or attempted assaults on the bases of the multinational forces."
So while there were a number of successful and non-succesful IED attacks, complex ambushes have so far not taken place. No attempt by insurgents to set up a kill-zone at an attack site, which probably is indicative of their actual strength in a place like Badghis. Smaller, mobile teams trying to hit something they can with the means at their disposal, perhaps not even Taliban as such, just locals, not even necessarily Pashtun, paid to do the job.
Ok, that much was informative. But it would have been good to read more about the social context of the insurgency's presence in Badghis. That can't be omitted so much in a risk analysis, even if that is carried out specifically for your troops' sake.
Jesús puts the beginning of the insurgency's activities in Badghis to the spring and summer of 2006. In Antonio Giustozzi's book, Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop - The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan (WHAT? - is there anyone who doesn't yet have it?), on page 4 you see a map showing the spread of the Taliban's insurgency, and that map indicates insurgent presence in Badghis from 2003 onwards... And the answer to me seems to lie in the fact that Giustozzi uses more refined analysis, more diverse metrics. So I'd suppose that an analysis, like Jesús', pre-occupied with a risk analysis for one's own troops' sake might miss certain things. Which is kind of bad because that might be risky...
But one has to see some structural reasons behind this. European countries that have a PRT in an Afghan province, could take their own researchers to let them go out with Mission Teams of their PRTs and do research on the social context a lot more comprehensively than is being done nowadays, contributing to a significantly better understanding of Afghanistan overall. European countries could take a team of social scientists/researchers from different disciplines and security experts specialising in Afghanistan since a while, instead of what one sees sometimes, that they just take any general "security expert" who yesterday happened to brief people about Kosovo, and the day before that on Bosnia. But I don't see a really serious, consistent, institutionalised effort at that sort of collaboration.
And so it's partly to do with that, that what analysis is produced, what comes out at all, will be narrow-sightedly trying to tell what's good for the safety of the troops only, most of the time, without a really thorough understanding of what it would take to ensure that safety in much more indirect ways. (The Netherlands is so much an exception in this respect.)
If I'm not aware of something of the kind I'm just proposing, going on, I'd be happy to hear about it. It may be that some countries have excellent studies out there on the social context in their PRT's area of operations, and it's just not translated to English yet. (Lithuanians? Swedes? Norwegians? Germans? Ok, forget about this post supposedly being about Europe - New Zealanders are also encouraged to step forward and enlighten this blogger. With the advantage that in their case no translation would be needed for me of course.)
Anyways, I hope we'll hear more from Jesús on the Badghis PRT in the future. There would be more to say and to understand there, some of which he might have just needed to forego discussing, simply because of a lack of interest on the part of the majority of his target audience regarding what wasn't included in his analysis.
Meanwhile I'll be reading this paper from IFRI (in French, pdf), by Paul Haéri and Laurent Fromaget. And anything else I find from European sources I come across.
Update (February 2): I've received a comment in an e-mail mentioning a very important point, which implicitly was part of my reasoning about the partial superficiality of the Spanish decision to found an international counter-IED research institute - it should be said explicitly. The best defense against IEDs is not to be found in a nuanced study of their technology. Instead it's the human intel that can let you prevent casualties from an attack, or prevent an attack from taking place at all. So, in the comments section below this post there's mention made of the Human Terrain System - the HTS can be much more useful against IEDs in the long run than the most sophisticated jammers, MRAP-vehicles, or another counter-IED research institute.


Joshua Foust said...

"If I'm not aware of something of the kind I'm just proposing, going on, I'd be happy to hear about it. It may be that some countries have excellent studies out there on the social context in their PRT's area of operations, and it's just not translated to English yet."

What of the human terrain system? I heard they're all about trying to understand and contextualize the social contexts in which the PRTs and soldiers work.

Péter MARTON said...

That's the point. I'm talking here about PRT-based European analysis of Afghanistan. It's nice to see what the HTS is doing, but there's an opportunity missed with European-run PRTs in safer provinces. I'd be very interested to read about even areas where there's no Pashtun, let alone Taliban, presence. Just warlords, say.

PAUL said...

for a french point of view about a british-PRT see


brazil said...

Hi, mine is actually a question - I read an article from arjournals on "STATE FAILURE" abt 15pages...dont know if anyone has an idea on it and can give me more light into it...i need to form a critic on the written article, but dont really knw how to go about it...got ideas?? pls send comments to - tonsbie@msn.com

Péter MARTON said...


State failure is an abstract concept. Anybody may have a different idea of what it is. My ideas about it you can read on the right flank of this blog (a conceptualisation of state failure in a nutshell). Also check out the State Failure bibliography for additional sources.