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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The politics of coalition burden-sharing: The Steve Irwin way of doing COIN

There is a new report out from the Australian Land Warfare Studies Centre by Col. Peter Connolly, on counterinsurgency in Uruzgan province. (To make this clear before somebody misunderstands me, the title of Colonel Connolly's study is much more modest and unassuming than the one I gave to this post out of my own free choice.)

The colonel has great experience in COIN operations, from past deployments to Somalia in 1993, and East Timor in 2000 -- experience already from before Afghanistan, where he was then Commanding Officer of the Australian MRTF (Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force) Two in 2009. In his study, Connolly credibly claims similarly long-running experience for the Australian Defence Forces in general. In one telling reflection, on pages 50-51:
"The Americans at JMRC (Joint Mission Readiness Centre – Hohenfels, Germany) commented on how good our (Australian and New Zealand) soldiers were at switching from a hearts and minds focus to killing the enemy, and then switching back just as quickly to caring for the people. They asked how we had trained them to be like that, and I concluded it was our culture rather than any specific training."
Now, this may have been the well-known institutionalised bilateral patting on the back intended to encourage an ally. A matter of military-to-military diplomacy. But looking back at Australia's experience over the years along with others in southern Afghanistan who equally tried to make the most of their stay there, the ADF do indeed seem to have something in them that was missing from some of the so-called "allied caveat and stand aside forces." Maybe this is not down to Australian national culture as such, rather to a healthy organisational culture or set of norms (along with the political will from above to let this work). But it certainly is there in their case and not so much there in others' cases.

They were keen on doing dismounted patrols in dispersed operations, to try and dominate valley-floor "green zone" areas. They would rent qalas for section or platoon-level operations like this, with soldiers buying their food from locals. They would counter Taliban nightletters with nightletters of their own - in Colonel Connolly's words, quoting from page 50:
"The delivery of ‘night letters’ to population centres was occasionally employed to develop the perception amongst the population that the ANA and ISAF ‘owned the night’. These letters would counter insurgent propaganda and spread messages concerning local government initiatives and progress. This technique required immediate follow-up the next morning to reinforce the themes delivered through the night letters and assess any changes to atmospherics."
The bottomline is that they were willing to take calculated risks to a greater extent than has been the case with so many other contributors to ISAF's operations. This is what I refer to as the Steve Irwin way. Dispersed operations in areas like Uruzgan's green zones do carry much such calculated risk, and can be realistically compared to working with a stingray's barb in the vicinity.

And that is why we, with my colleague Nik Hynek, in our book on coalition burden-sharing, were determined to look at not only quantitative measures of individual countries' contributions. We assumed that their guiding role conception in ISAF, that is, whether they see themselves as, say, "strivers," or mere "servants" rather, will affect the quality of their contribution even in a dynamic sense - strivers are those countries that not only contribute significantly in qualitative terms, but adapt to the changing circumstances -- which are constantly evolving on various levels of analysis.

No comments: