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

Friday, April 4, 2008

Some inconclusive second-guessing from an armschair perspective

NATO has invited Croatia and Albania to join the alliance on Thursday, but not Macedonia. No Membership Action Plans started with the Ukraine and Georgia. And Russia did agree to provide a transit corridor to NATO, but only on land and only for transporting "nonlethal" supplies, and not troops for example. But here I won't write in more detail about the results of the NATO Summit in Bucharest. Instead I'll mention something I accidentally bumped into, while surfing around NATO's website for news of the Summit. I find it interesting, or a bit weird rather. Two quotes coming up from the source I've just linked to.
"Last night ISAF forces foiled a cowardly attempt by insurgents to kill civilians and soldiers by laying explosive devices on a heavily-used road. ISAF troops’ decisive response saved lives and eliminated an imminent threat."
Brigadier General Carlos Branco, an ISAF spokesperson said this.
Remember the point about Indiana Jones that I made the other day? I'm bringing it up again, because what I've quoted from the ISAF spokesperson is from the closing part of a news release by ISAF which starts somewhat at odds with the spokesperson's statement. You'll understand why I see a connection with the Indiana Jones clip. Read:
"An ISAF patrol spotted insurgents placing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on a road close to an ISAF base in central Panjwayi last night.
Being careful to assess the situation, ISAF forces confirmed the intent of the insurgents by conducting further reconnaissance. ISAF forces engaged the insurgents by calling in close air support, and a precision guided munition was dropped on the insurgents.
The subsequent damage assessment showed the precision strike killed three insurgents and wounded one.
There were no ISAF casualties."
I'm not really aware of all the definitional issues in military discourse. But to me the description doesn't seem to exactly fit the category of "Close Air Support," even while I do accept that the air strike could be regarded as a preventive strike against an imminent threat (as there is always the risk of an ambush around the IED site, there are obvious risks for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, too, and there's also the possibility of civilians being harmed by the IED before the EOD team gets to the IED site).
It's also notable that in this case (probably not that unique) a patrol, after visually identifying insurgents (or people hired by insurgents), didn't try to detain them or kill them itself, but just ordered a hit on them.
It was the Indiana Jones solution, based on ISAF's rather simplistic account of what happened. My armschair perspective notwithstanding, I fully understand it if the soldiers are not keen on possibly having a deadly shoot-out with an IED planting team, and are content to accomplish their task by using the operationally safest way to get rid of hostiles within their sight. But one could spare words like "cowardly" to describe insurgents who are basically trying to do the exact same thing. I'm making this point because it's important to understand insurgents' motives. Attitudes won't help with that.
Update (April 17): Of course I'm not the only one remarking ISAF's astonishingly poor performance in information management. Read Kip's post at Abu Muqawama's place right here. Excerpt:
" And the best ISAF can muster up in response to an Afghan Parliamentarian claiming that they re-supplied the Taliban in what seems to have been a real case of the Taliban being (accidentally) supplied by a helicopter is "wasn't our helicopter"? "
By the way, I haven't mentioned but the incident that I posted on above happened to lead to some protest from locals who said that the alleged IED planters were just farmers. Surely, the soldiers were close to enough to make a distinction between farmers and the cowardly insurgents described by the ISAF press release, weren't they?


Joshua Foust said...

It almost seems like you're surprised the military press release is trying to spin the incident to make them look like perfect saints and the Taliban look like heartless devils. It's not that much of a stretch, but I agree -- the tone is pretty grating.

Péter MARTON said...

Well, from my part this was a somewhat deliberately naive post. "Cowardly" for insurgents is very much an epitheton ornans in these ISAF press releases, so I can't really be surprised by it. What I reflected on was that it was used automatically in this case even.
Is that effective spinning? Hardly, and that's the point.