Friday, April 06, 2007

# Posted 3:09 PM by Patrick Porter  

QUOTE OF THE DAY: One of the things we've discussed recently is the right formula(s) for counterinsurgency, and the relationship between military force and civil reconstruction.

An Afghan interpreter has been debating the same point with Dutch soldiers:

'The Dutch, if the fight starts, they run inside their vehicles every time...They say, ‘We came for peace, not to fight.’ And I say, ‘If you don’t fight, you cannot have peace in Afghanistan.’

You don't have to be Ralph Peters to see his point.
(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

Although some smartass might be willing to note that if you do fight, there is no peace.
That smartass would be wrong, of course. There is peace immediately after the fighting, if the side that wants peace wins.
Barnett comments on the same article, saying we can learn from Dutch sysadmin:

"Restraint is everything in peace-keeping for two reasons: 1) to want to create local capacity, not do it for them, and 2) your real goal is the overall reduction of violence, even at the costs of increased risks to your own guys and maybe not going kinetic on every bad guy out there (remember, they will grow them faster than you can kill them)."

"Dutch, like the Brits are super solid on this."

In this particular case, I'm a bit skeptical about Barnett's views, but I'm also somewhat skeptical about the Afghan interpreter quoted. It's possible that the Dutch soldiers are part of a plan which might be a good plan even if it mainly leaves killing bad guys to others. I was interested in the NYT article saying that "of roughly two dozen soldiers and officers interviewed, none felt that avoiding casualties was the driving force behind their tactical choices. And Dutch officers point out that Dutch special forces are operating here, and fight the Taliban directly."

It's a tactical choice, and could be a good one.
fair point Tom, but on the other hand, as well as objectively combating the Taliban, its probably helpful to ensure that the Afghans know that the Taliban are being combated.

Otherwise, they might get the impression that it will only be a matter of time before NATO withdraws and the Taliban take over. Their active assistance might not be forthcoming if they think your defeat is inevitable. Credibility is important here.
I'll agree with you, I think, that if the general view among Afghans is the quoted interpreter's, i.e. that the Dutch have no credibility as counterinsurgents, then their strategy won't work. Yes, their credibility is crucial. That's why I was saying that I was somewhat skeptical about the Afghan interpreter; his credibility is central in evaluating theirs, and I know nothing about his credibility. It seems to me quite possible that

(1) the interpreter is right, and that the Dutch have gone too far to avoid combat. (Maybe it's relevant that, according to today's Pajamas Media, they're leaving home rather than fight their own bureaucracy. If so, it's really rather sad.)

(2) the interpreter's interpretation is self-fulfilling; the Dutch are doing the right things, but -- as you say -- the Afghan perception turns their good tactics into bad strategy.

(3) the interpreter's view is either atypical or even distorted, and it's the NYT's credibility that we should be questioning. (Working on a comp-sci PhuD in the 70s, I had my own moment of revelation when my father-in-law sent me an NYT article on Khachiyan's then-new algorithm and I decided that whoever had written this article had not taken the time to check it out with anyone who actually understood what was going on -- it was a question of editorial standards. Of credibility.)

So, with that long-winded laying-out of possibilities, I conclude by sticking my neck way, way out and firmly declaring: I dunno. But I wish I did.
No time to get into this right now, but anyone remember the role of the Dutch peacekeepers in the Srebrenica genocide? They did nothing. The Dutch government resigned in apology over that event a few years later, and while I'm not sure these two examples are comparable, I do wonder whether this reluctance to get involved is really defensible under the "we are here for the peace, not fighting" and "we want to remain neutral" excuses...
Yeah, the thought of Srebrenica might well reinforce my scenario (2) above; even if the Dutch are doing the right thing tactically, they may be vulnerable to a hearts-and-minds loss. And I suppose the occurrence of Srebrenica reinforces the possibility that the Dutch armed forces are prone not to fight, although Spiegel reported in "Dealing With Genocide: A Dutch Peacekeeper Remembers Srebrenica" that the "seriously restricted deployment mandate" had something to do with it. "Under the mandate, the lightly armed Dutch soldiers were only allowed to shoot over the head of aggressors - even when they were attacked by Serbs." But my (mis?)understanding in any case is that they did not have the numbers or weaponry to put up a serious fight. Still, it's possible that they were then and are now making a single primary error: the error of getting into a situation where you cannot succeed without doing a lot of killing that you haven't prepared yourself to do. That would be consistent with everything I know now, I guess. Hmm...
The irony of these we don't fight forces is that the Taliban is probably safer and the general population less safe where these "fighters" are based.

There very presence means the villagers know the only place they can go to for real security is the enemy.

As an aside; How many terrorists were created as a result of the Dutch military action at Srebrenica.
Sorry for the above post. I should drink coffee before applying fingers to keyboard.

The irony of these "we don't fight" forces is that the Taliban is probably safer and the general population less safe where these "fighters" are based.

Their very presence means the villagers know the only place they can go to for real security is the enemy.

As an aside; How many terrorists were created as a result of the Dutch military action at Srebrenica.
The Americans, of course, do exactly the same thing...
As a continuation, I'd look at the commentary on Dutch sysadmin: "Dutch Soldiers Implement Sys Admin Approach" which says:

"The Dutch believe they are balancing the destructive military activities being pursued by others. Development cannot proceed without security and security cannot be sustained without development... A Sys Admin force working side-by-side with a Leviathan Force helps provide the balance that fosters success."

My own preference, any time since late 2001, would have been a cabinet-level Department of Nation-Building, running a "SysAdmin" force (which in 2001 I would have called a PNAC Constabulary force) which would recruit internationally, but I am also happy to have actual Dutch (or whatever) troops, who probably do not train or equip at the Anglosphere level for breaking and killing; this may be the best use of them. As long as somebody, mostly us, supplies the breaking and killing, it may work. I dunno.
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