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

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two remarks on Afghanistan strategy (so this blog doesn't die)

1. Dan Korski visited my area of operations recently, and delivered a talk about the future of ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy). His constructive outspokenness is always thought-provoking and welcome, and I want to react to something he raised in connection with the Obama administration's idea of the civilian surge needed in Afghanistan. He really wants to make this work, and he outlined a few ideas regarding how it could possibly work. Among them he said he sees a need for some countries, especially smaller countries, to go for specialisation in niche capabilities in this area, too. For example, some countries could specialise in the provision of civilian agricultural experts that can be deployed to places like Afghanistan.
I perfectly understand the rationale of why this idea emerges in the Afghanistan context, of course. But I can't stop myself from taking a step back and going critical of this, taking a look at the larger picture. There are, in fact, organisations specialising in providing experts with the sort of "niche capabilities" that could be very useful in places like Afghanistan. They are sometimes referred to with the abbreviation IO/NGOs. International (or Intergovernmental) Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations. Fascinating insight from me, this, isn't it? Anyway, it's important, in order to see a crucial aspect of the challenge: that we just want to get people with the same skill sets, but also with a readiness to work in grave danger - in greater danger than some of the quite brave people from the IO/NGO crowd would be willing to take for a longer period.
I even have some visualisation here, regarding this. It is, as the title of the figure indicates, a by no means perfect illustration of the outreach of organisations of different types, in Afghanistan. NGOs (not ready to work together with militaries), IGOs (that are somewhat more ready to operate together with ISAF), PRTs (whole-of-government in name, but more military in general, in practice) - and then the mostly all-military-manned FOBs and COPs (Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts or Combat Operations Posts). An imperfection of the scheme, tolerated for the sake of reasonable simplicity, is that state agencies, such as USAID, and their contractors, may be willing to go further beyond the boundaries of the area of operations permissive for civilians than NGOs and IGOs, but working with significant security detachments of course. The civilian surge is really just meant to push useful civilians outwards in the scheme below - that would be the point.
Some added explanation regarding the scheme: it is perhaps interesting to mention what's beyond the COP-reach line. Well, sometimes the Pakistani border, sometimes extremely difficult mountainous terrain, with the narrowest outlying valleys, sometimes just generally difficult terrain which nobody has the resources to cover for now (neither ISAF, nor ASFs). An example could be Gizab district in Uruzgan, where militant fun includes the running of training camps (yes, there are training camps in Afghanistan even - so just send the cruise missiles, I guess...).
2. The Afghanistan "strategy," which doesn't exist because such a thing cannot exist, as I pointed out here earlier, with its wider context in mind, resembles a hammer-and-anvil kind of military operation in general. Pakistan is the at times softish, at times quite hammer-like, anvil, against which a well-resourced US counterinsurgency effort could smash militants (or militancy, in abstract but more accurate terms). Of course it doesn't really work that way, as the US effort is not well-resourced (and perhaps will never be), while Pakistan, as just discussed, is not playing a perfect anvil, in one sense or another, at times.
Read Joshua Foust's excellent article on recent developments in Nuristan, btw, to get some of the specifics regarding this, and also follow his links to Richard Strand's page. See the mention of all those kids going to get education in Pakistani madrassas? The problem is, as long as you let that happen, and if no radical change occurs on the other side of the border, you get people coming back, killing whom might, in this terrain, take as much as 250,000 rounds per capita (or even more, especially if you count training rounds), an x (certainly dreadful) number of civilian casualties, many own casualties, and a lot of time of course. Probably not the amount of time in which critics want to see major improvements.

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