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

Monday, March 3, 2008

Time Magazine, the Washington Post and others on Uruzgan

I'm apparently not working hard enough. Recently, both the Time and the Washington Post have published articles on Uruzgan, and I haven't yet mentioned those here. Shame on me. So now I'll just point to the more interesting pieces of information in these articles, to highlight some things for my Uruzgan Series. And add some Uruzgan-watcher punditry to the mix.
Australian special forces are doing their job in Uruzgan, reports Rory Callinan for Time.

"The previous Taliban boss of Uruzgan, Qari Faizullah Mohammed, was sitting under an almond tree at Tora Chena, about 8 km from Tarin Kowt, when "somehow the Australians managed to target his seat under the tree and dropped a bomb on it," says elder Obeidullah. "They killed 33 Taliban that day." After tracking Taliban leader Mullah Pi Mohammed into the mountains near Deh Roshan, Australian troops killed him and most of his fighters. Local police say the Australians also killed another senior Taliban member, Mullah Sadullah, near Tarin Kowt."

The Mullah "Π" Mohammed mentioned in the text is rather Pir Mohammed, I suppose, but that's just a minor detail. It is remarkable to hear the story of how Qari Faizullah Mohammed was killed sitting under that tree. He was marked by essentially a sniper lying in wait and a bomb was dropped on him. I wonder what feelings an insurgent gets when thinking of the possibility of dying like that. I guess it may not be that different from thinking of IEDs when you're travelling with a convoy somewhere.
This reminds me of the battle of Tarin Kowt in November, 2001 when a small team of U.S. special forces stopped a large column of Taliban vehicles approaching Tarin Kowt. The Taliban militia unit was coming from Kandahar to crush the rebellion that broke out in Tarin Kowt, led by Hamid Karzai and his local allies. And what resulted was one of those "battles" of 2001 where the Taliban learned about the consequences of air power. That made them adapt their tactics and strategy: in other words, that is what made them insurgents. At first, even Karzai's local friends wouldn't know the significance of air power. SF Team Captain Jason Amerine says of them:

"none of them had worked with aircraft before. They'd certainly never worked with us, because of our lack of time to train them. They didn't know what we were actually about to bring down on the Taliban. So to them, we were crazy. I mean, here's this huge convoy and only about 40 of us, at that point, trying to defend on this big piece of rock. They wanted to get back to the town where there were more people."

And then he remarks the effect on the Taliban who were initially keen to roll back the advance of pro-coalition forces: "They'd never tried that again in numbers like that."
Getting back to the air strikes called in by SFs, now even against lone Taliban commanders sitting under the tree, unlike back in 2001, one has to note that all is still not necessarily going smoothly. The Time article starts with mention of a raid in which civilians were likely killed in a house where the current Uruzgani Talib commander, the Taliban-designated "governor" of the province apparently, Mullah Baz Mohammed was expected for dinner. With all the debate going on about the role of air power in a counterinsurgency campaign, it may be interesting to note that the above mentioned air strike hit its target without causing civilian casualties apparently, while the SF raid on the house, also mentioned above, did cause civilian casualties. This might be relevant to properly assess in what way more soldeirs could help to avoid civilian casualties. And the answer is, not necessarily by heroically sacrificing themselves to minimise risk to civilians in raids like the one mentioned above. The availability of troops to potentially be sacrificed was never so much a "tight bottleneck" as the availability of public opinion supportive of the Afghanistan mission. More soldiers can help rather by providing a deterring enough permanent presence in places where the Taliban can only infiltrate if such a presence is lacking.
Like, parts of Deh Rawod district for example. A Dutch reporter, Bette Dam was reported to have said this about the events necessitating the recent ISAF Operation Pathan Ghar in that area:

"What I've heard from Deh Rawod is that it's not just Talibs who have come into the region recently but it's mainly foreign fighters. These foreigners are not welcomed by the local population. I've heard from Camp Holland that it was also a kind of 'reality check' for the Afghans to see how bad things can get if you allow foreign fighters like the Chechens in. It looks like the Dutch have the support of the local population; now they are trying to drive these fighters out."

A reality check? At first I had my doubts about this narrative. But then Molly Moore, reporting for the Washington Post, reinforced this version, that something akin to this might have indeed happened.

"Taliban fighters began arriving in the heart of Deh Rawood -- a triangle-shaped district about seven miles long and seven miles wide -- late last summer. They came one by one, or in groups of twos and threes. They rented mud houses, befriended neighbors with gifts of cellphones and motorcycles and appealed to villagers on the grounds that the Taliban was fighting for the cause of Islam.
By autumn, for reasons even some villagers didn't understand, the Taliban turned on them, driving them out of their houses and ripping up the new NATO-built bridges."

"Taliban fighters were evicting local police from three of Deh Rawood's most strategic checkpoints. They bribed officers to abandon one post, kidnapped the son of a policeman at a second checkpoint and attacked the third, sending officers fleeing."

They terrorised the district's population with execution-stlye murders:
"In mid-December, fighters yanked a 60-year-old woman and her 7-year-old grandson off a bus in Deh Rawood. They interrogated the pair and, after finding a U.S. dollar bill in the boy's pocket, accused the two of spying and executed them in front of the other passengers and bystanders, according to accounts by Afghan human rights groups, news services and Dutch officers."
To me, the whole trouble in Deh Rawod seems to have started already back in July last year, with a bloody suicide bombing in Deh Rawod, the town proper. And yet a Dutch officer is telling the Washingon Post that resistance was unexpectedly strong when ISAF made the decisive move to push isurgents out from the greater part of the district. Joshua Foust rightly finds that surprising. It is surprising to hear that Lt. Col. Wilfred Rietdijk, who took command of reconstruction operations around Deh Rawod in September, found it surprising that suddenly his field officers were reporting thousands of villagers fleeing in that area. Intelligence reports indicated that the area was free of Taliban? And the Americans also told him that? Yes, this is all surprising indeed. But that's what Lt. Col. Rietdijk says:

" Rietdijk's troops halted most of their reconstruction work and concentrated on providing food, blankets and other humanitarian aid to the hundreds of refugees who had descended on impoverished friends and relatives south of the Tarin River.
"The Americans told us there were no Taliban on the east bank," Hogeveen said. "Everyone told us it was safe -- no Taliban." "

In January there came a firefight around Deh Rawod, in which Dutch soldiers killed two of their own, wounded another Dutch soldier so that his legs were amputated, and they also killed two Afghan soldiers. One of the worst friendly fire, blue-on-blue, shit-happens sort of incidents so far. All this added together with the intelligence failure, if there seriously was one, seems a little too much. You don't need to tell me: especially from an armschair perspective. Given that, it's no surprise that what happened is affecting Dutch domestic politics now, with defence minister Eimert van Middelkoop drawing some direct fire.
It's a long hard road. There's no escaping that. Time mentions something, that I've already heard from Uruzgani members of the Afghan parliament. That just about indicates how long, how hard that road still is, that is ahead.

"In Gizab, about 100 km northeast of Tarin Kowt, the Taliban have established Sharia law and made the town a way-station for opium smugglers. ISAF patrols have not ventured into the town for a couple of years."

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