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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bullet sponges and infiltration

I had few time to even read what I wanted to, in the previous days, but I promised I'd post stuff anyway. Thoughts I may be able to come up with shall be rawer therefore, can't help that, but I might still make this interesting. Let's hope so. So the other day I came across this NY Times piece by C.J. Chivers, who's always worth reading, thanks to JF at Registan.
US officers there described the functions of COP Lowell like this:
" Col. John Spiszer, the commanding officer for the larger task force in the region, distilled how the mission often worked. The American presence, he said, is a Taliban magnet, drawing insurgents from more populated areas and enhancing security elsewhere.
First Lt. Daniel Wright, the executive officer of the American cavalry unit — Apache Troop of the Sixth Battalion, Fourth Cavalry — put things in foxhole terms. “Basically,” he said, “we’re the bullet sponge.” "
That's the war in eastern Afghanistan.
Some are asking if a surge would help here, as it did in Iraq? Things that need to be clarified in response are that in Iraq it wasn't really a "surge" in the first place, and that it wasn't really that thing instead of a "surge" (the proportionally significant, but not really huge numerical increase of troop numbers) that turned the situation around. As I pointed out in the past, those were Sunni Iraqis instead, who thought their country deserved a more complex future than just eternal guerrilla war and extremism-tourism. And they did not need a US strategist for them to be enlightened to the advantages of an alternative future, although it did take smartly led US units on the ground who went through the right interaction with those playing a prominent role in the change on the ground, adjusting well to it.
The question could then be if more soldiers are useful in Afghanistan? Of course they would be. Again, this is something I put down in the past. Populated areas need to be secured so that ideally no combat take place there. Then and only then it will mean something positive if other units can draw fire from the guerrillas in areas where countering harrassment mortar fire with small arms, artillery and air strikes causes less damage and less loss of innocent life.
This is not enough, however, if guerrillas commute to Afghanistan from the other side of the border with Pakistan. As long as that is possible, and with the extreme terrain of eastern Afghanistan, this war can very much be sustained by those who wish so.
A "surge" could be useful with troops positioned very-very carefully along these sections of the border, to man more speed-bumps against infiltration. All the routes that are passable by but one man or a donkey have to be mapped and known, and defending units' position optimised accordingly. That would take a huge effort, and in fact more strikes at targets of opportunity against guerrilla units organising for infiltration along and around the infiltration paths, anywhere around the border. This would help in areas of Afghanistan further away. Yes, the neo-Taliban insurgency in the south has probably more of a local constituency, but even so it is reinforced significantly by anything and anyone coming from the east. Supplies and fighters. The impact of closing down the eastern border more effectively could be marginally significant in the south, even while the Afghan-Pakistani border is no less infiltratable from Baluchistan. Baluchistan is less of a home ground for the infiltrators than, say, Bajaur is.

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