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

Sunday, May 11, 2008

RC-East vs. the virtual Afghanistan?

It's really beginning to look to me like that lovely story of eastern Afghanistan going the way of Anbar (that connotation was there and it just stank) is beginning to fall apart a little. Barnett Rubin notes, besides posting a graph showing security incidents in RC-East's area:
"Michael's death while working for NATO's Regional Command/East came as I and other researchers have been trying to evaluate the claims of the U.S. and some journalists that its counter-insurgency activities in the region, including Michael's work, have been succeeding in improving security in this contested region across from Pakistan's North Waziristan Tribal Agency. By coincidence, as I was receiving and circulating information about Michael's sad death, I received another notice of the incident -- as a statistic. My source in Kabul has updated the comparison between the number of Taliban and other insurgent attacks per week in 2008 and 2007. As I noted previously, data from the first 17 weeks showed a significant spike over the previous year in RC/E. The statistics from the first 18 weeks are now in, and the increase over last year continues.
But this time, we know the name of one of the statistics from week 18: Michael Bhatia."
He is referring to Michael Bhatia, the social scientist who was killed in Khost province, on May 7. What killed Michael Bhatia was indeed beyond the challenge of an exclusively local insurgency. There is an element of truth, something I can understand when I hear soldiers, fed up with the nuanced approach demanded by the likes of Nagl, Kilcullen and even generally the social scientist "Other" coming from outside the military, saying that John "Global Guerrilla" Robb's Brave New War is the real basic COIN reading of their choice nowadays. Consider this:
"KABUL (Reuters) - A prominent member of al Qaeda was killed in fighting with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, the group said in a statement posted on an Islamist website on Sunday. Abu Suleiman al-Otaibi, formerly one of the group's leaders in Iraq, was killed in a "fierce battle with the worshipers of the cross" in Paktia, it said without giving the date of the battle.
Another al Qaeda member, identified as Abu Dejana al-Qahtani, also died in the fighting, it added.
Afghan officials said they had no information on the report. But the government earlier said in a statement that "five opposition" fighters were killed on Saturday in Paktia during an operation involving Afghan and U.S.-led troops.
The leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said Qahtani left Iraq about six months ago without giving further details.
Otaibi was the head of the judiciary at the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, a group started by al Qaeda and fellow Sunni militant groups."
Of course, element of truth to the application of Robb's theses here notwithstanding, the social context allowing for the presence of foreign fighters coming over from Iraq is still very much worth analysing. But the world these foreign fighters are coming from is indeed a very different one. Here's an insurgent's tale from 2005, which should be pretty interesting read to anyone. What struck me while digesting it was how conflatable paramilitaries of the Republika Srpska in the Bosnian war could be with even ISAF troops, from a Yemeni traveller-warrior's first person shooter mode perspective.
Before you might submerge into reading that article from the Rolling Stones Magazine, here's another link to a post by Kotare at the Strategist drawing attention to a BBC piece about the virtual world insurgents of the future might increasingly use. The title of the Strategist's post I find especially appropriate: an on-line, virtual Afghanistan is one untouched by any effective, population-centric counterinsurgency work. It's easier to radicalise in the space of such a virtual place, it's easier to stay radical. Certainly ideal to those looking to make the two-nanosecond contribution of a suicide bomber, even while I'm not so sure about the rest. Though, arguably, the insurgent's tale linked to above shows that to a degree ISAF is up against warriors of a virtual Afghanistan anyway.
Yet no matter how virtual the Afghanistan is that those warriors are coming from, in the end they have to have some support from some constituency in the real Afghanistan to continue with their fight. Eastern Afghanistan just hasn't gone the way of Anbar so far.

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