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

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The last salvo related to improvements in RC-E (embeds report from both sides)

Not only to fire a last round, but writing with the intentional side-effect of once again directing attention to John D. McHugh's excellent writing, as well as to guide you to some more reading you shouldn't miss. For a warm-up, read this part of McHugh's diary telling you about the town of Writse, where both the ANA and the Pakistani Army go for some regular procurements, and which both countries happen to be laying claim to. Read of complications of the revealing kind, stemming from this.
Meanwhile, this is all the information a U.S. unit could get out of tribal elders in the village of Mangritay on April 21, 2008 (excerpt from McHugh's diary).
" The elder answered immediately, and told Adams the insurgents were behind the ridgeline that he had just been looking at; where the rockets were fired from. However, there is a problem: the land behind the hill is Pakistan. He goes on to say that many people had seen the insurgent training camps across the border. He tells Adams the insurgents had warned the tribes that if anyone cooperated with, or provided information to, the coalition forces, then they would "chop their heads". "
The elder said as much, while a man near the conversing group was wearing a wristwatch showing Pakistani time (there's half an hour of difference from the left to the right of the Durand Line). I think this wouldn't be suspicious in and of itself, as that person might have crossed the border for all sorts of reasons, not only to practice asymmetrical warfare. But that man even behaved suspiciously.
Then here McHugh writes of how on April 28 Mangritay was the POO (point of origin) for a rocket attack at the Malakshay COP (combat outpost), three miles from the Pakistani border.
As it is quite obvious from that, if it isn't obvious from a lot else, it's not only the Dutch who lack blanket coverage in Afghanistan and don't go to every corner of their AO (area of operations) with regularity. An American soldier neatly summarises to McHugh the challenges faced in trying to stop cross-border infiltration, saying the following of the "speed bumps" (bases of all kinds, forward operating bases or FOBs, as well as COPs) placed along the none-too-well-operationalisable "borderline:"
"This used to be, used to be, a huge infill route for the Taliban. Used to be. Now it's not, 'cause we're here. But now, three hilltops over, where we're not, there's probably another good way that they can come through from Pakistan. So it's not necessarily denying, it's just hindering them so that they have to find a new way in. (...) We don't have enough people here."
Getting in is certainly possible. Syed Saleem Shahzad just did it in the footsteps of some Talib fighter fixing him a meet in Kunar province. Read that article as well. The title is a bit exaggerating, but I'll only manage your expectations that much. And (just like John McHugh) this guy certainly has the guts! He wasn't trying to figure out differences between RC-S and RC-E from onboard a helicopter, as that someone from the Economist did the other day, flying around Paktika province, where McHugh has already been involved in some major action in this reporting season.
(Note: I don't mean to suggest that journalists should be taking risks of this kind necessarily. Also, it's understandable that someone like Syed Saleem Shahzad is better at the in-and-out-on-the-ground sort of journalism. This is just to make the point that those tempted to adhere to it should shed the "epistemology" that reality is what you can see peeking out above the lowered back-ramp of a helicopter, for that is not a plausible working hypothesis.)
Here's a photo of Saleem, taken when he was released from captivity by the Helmand Taliban in 2006 - on the right it's his colleage Qamar Yusufzai who was there with him in Helmand.
Good that he made it back again. This time he enjoyed more hospitality (though it shouldn't be missed that he applied for permission before crossing the border this time). Photo attached.

For a comparative perspective, it might be interesting comparing the degree of the freedom of movement you get joining one or the other side as an embed. Contrary to popular imagination, it wasn't just infiltrating wherever they pleased for Saleem Shahzad's hosts. One of them, by the name Ibrahim, says in the article: "Saleem, we have to hurry and pass through this terrain before the sun rises. Once the sun is up, people will spot you as a stranger, and a few houses here have informers for the Americans," adding later that the Americans are looking to buy "each and every stone" in Kunar. They, too, have their OPSEC to worry about. It's just another part of the day they usually prefer from that perspective.

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