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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So why Lashkar Gah?

For certain reasons, I will not link to the place where recently there was a discussion about why on Earth (I mean, in Afghanistan) the U.S. should focus on Lashkar Gah? Something that was recently advocated in a CNAS report. Another thing, remarked at the same place, about the same report, was that it keeps mentioning Taliban, just Taliban all the time. Why?

Well, here is an AP report, where some words could be highlighted (in capitals) to give a tentative answer.

"Some 7,000 of the new U.S. troops ordered to Afghanistan are fanning out across the dangerous south on a MISSION TO DEFEAT THE TALIBAN INSURGENCY and to change the course of a war claiming American lives at a record pace.

The marines represent the first wave of 21,000 troops ordered to Afghanistan this summer by President Barack Obama.

Most of the marine buildup will occur in HELMAND PROVINCE, THE WORLD'S LARGEST OPIUM POPPY-GROWING REGION and Afghanistan's most violent province. Helmand borders Pakistan, WHERE THE TALIBAN'S TOP LEADERSHIP IS BELIEVED BASED."

I know this doesn't sound that sound. I know.

At least the Lashkar Gah-mania one could read out from this doesn't stem now from damned past dam projects and wishful thinking concerning some latent loving for America hiding deep there in the people's hearts, as it once used to be after 2001.

Reminds me, I've just read an article in Dawn about the different Taliban movements' sources of financing... How would you agree with this assertion below?

"Then there is the Afghan Taliban and their earnings from the drug trade in Afghanistan and their more sophisticated front companies that make investments regionally and internationally and plough some of the money back into insurgency-related activities in Fata."

Sophisticated front companies of the Taliban? Making regional investments? I tend to disregard the second half of the sentence. What remains is "earnings from the drug trade." Some commanders taking percents, sure. A toll. Sure. Organising the trade themselves? Not so sure.

Let's see what else the article mentions. Emerald mines. Kidnappings. Robbing banks. A slice of the earnings of timber maffias. (Let me straighten this out: so in the author's view the Taliban are not the timber maffias themselves? Are they Pakistani offshoots of the drug maffias on the other side of the border, and as such taking a slice from the timber maffias? Confusing...)

OK, even if Taliban in all of Durandistan profit (to a degree) from crime, this all looks so fussy, doesn't it? I mean, imagine if you were them. You want to shoot millions of rounds a year, and you would really want to do that by shooting some more in the world of crime? Of course the article begins not with these sources of financing. It also mentions support coming from supportive people, to the Taliban. Which is not very revolutionary, you could say, but tends to work quite well in many contexts.

So what's your bet? Would focusing on eliminating the "drugs" agro-industrial sector of Helmand's (rural) economy give you calmer nights in ("urban") Lashkar Gah? We shall see. I would love to be pleasantly surprised. It's just that I'm a little uncomfortable seeing how the answer to the above question is a seed from which different things could grow, while I don't have much that is reassuring available from the sources at my disposal.

Update (at 22:53):

For dramatic effect I will extensively quote here myself from November 16, 2008.

"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."

In other words. Holding on to the Korengal valley more firmly wouldn't make sense for l'art pour l'art counterinsurgency'ing (pardon me for the verbal abuse) the Korengal valley's population (although NOT occupying the local insurgent leader's saw-mill to have you a combat outpost there could kind of make sense from all sorts of perspectives). Holding on to the Korengal valley (not just heroically trying with too few men) - and holding on to other similar transit corridors as well - would make more sense from a strategic POV. Controlling Helmand would make more sense from an election security perspective.

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