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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bad news, good news, all sorts of news

A Swedish officer on what one should expect to come in northern Afghanistan next spring and summer (and autumn and so on).
"In the first 10 months of this year, there have been 82 significant combat incidents in Balkh, more than triple the number in 2008, and the insurgency may be even more potent next year.
"In areas where they are hiding right now, we won't have any control during the winter," said Col. Olof Granander, a commander of Swedish forces in Balkh. "And there is a risk they will try to build up their capacity, and they will be tougher to fight during the upcoming spring and summer." "
Christian at GoA sums up developments in Nuristan at the same time. It might bring home how odd it can seem to people and powers in the region what the U.S. is actually up to in Afghanistan. I mean, the West is normally very critical of Pakistani troops leaving an area behind for any reason, be it a Kashmir earthquake or one of their foolproof peace agreements. So what good is there in ceding an area like Nuristan to the militants? Of course there is an answer to this, in that this is a fight that cannot be won from one day to the other (understatement), and a step back might be required to eventually get two steps ahead (optimism). But this all may still seem odd to many.
Elsewhere, in Uruzgan, the situation is changing in other ways, however. Hans de Vreij recently wrote an entire series of dispatches from the province, and he has gone to many of its corners where it was possible. In this article (in Dutch), he accounts of the taking of the Mirabad Valley, an operation that ended seven years of Taliban rule in an area which used to be important to the Taliban for logistical reasons. There is some progress notable in the Chora valley, to the northeast from Tarin Kowt, and at the remote Firebase Cobra, manned by U.S. special forces, in Charchino district, a Green Beret notes that "last time I was here, they opened fired as soon as we left the gate. Now, this doesn’t happen until we venture out a couple of clicks" (the previous link goes to another article by Hans de Vreij). This all is not cause for feeling an overwhelming wave of hope that things might change for the good now (especially given that in some of the areas concerned the underpaid Afghan National Police is taking over "security" for the locals), but it does say something about Taliban strength in these areas. Without much data this is bound to be wild speculation, but it would be interesting to see (take this clearly as a question), whether the stronger push in Helmand against the insurgents hampered their operations in other areas, like Uruzgan.
In other news, if you thought Obama's spectacular hesitation about adding more U.S. troops to man the mission in Afghanistan was all about Hamed Karzai's lacking or weakened legitimacy, reconsider, in light of this article in the New York Times. Quote:
"Seven months after the idea was raised and four months after the agreement was signed, the number of American flights that have actually traversed Russian airspace?
One. And that was for show."
Peter Baker rightly points out that this show was already important in and of itself, to communicate that the U.S. has some cards to play, to thus diminish blackmailing potential on the part of others - while it is equally rightly said that signing off on a major troop increase is not possible with this much haggling potential on the Russian side.


Hans de Vreij said...

Hi Péter,

Re operations in Helmand and the effect elsewhere: as far as Uruzgan is concerned I was told at ISAF Regional Command (South) that some of the leadership and fighters of the Taliban moved from Uruzgan to Helmand. The latter province appears to be higher on their priority list.

Péter MARTON said...

Hi Hans,

This is very interesting. It seems to give one a sense of how much resilience the Taliban have, and of limitations thereof. Of course I don't want to jump to conclusions, but still.