Countdown to Departure
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Assessing the impact of the Dutch ISAF contribution to the overall NATO objectives in Afghanistan in general and in Uruzgan specifically over the period 2006 - 2010

Assessing the impact of the Dutch ISAF contribution to the overall NATO objectives in Afghanistan in general and in Uruzgan specifically over the period 2006 - 2010

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  • 1. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011ContentsSummary ................................................................................................................................................. 2Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 3The political decision process ................................................................................................................. 4History ..................................................................................................................................................... 6Lay of the land......................................................................................................................................... 7 Tribal structure ............................................................................................................................... 8Situation on the ground .......................................................................................................................... 8 The insurgents ................................................................................................................................ 9(TFU) Feet on the Ground ..................................................................................................................... 11 Strategy ........................................................................................................................................ 11Operations ............................................................................................................................................ 29 Insurgency .................................................................................................................................... 14 Battle of Chora ............................................................................................................................. 36Build Activities....................................................................................................................................... 38 Governance .................................................................................................................................. 40Evaluation of Impact ............................................................................................................................. 19 Clear and Hold Strategy................................................................................................................ 45 Build Strategy ............................................................................................................................... 49Conclusions ........................................................................................................................................... 52Bibliography .......................................................................................................................................... 54 Books ............................................................................................................................................ 54 Newspaper Articles ...................................................................................................................... 55 Interviews and Private Communications ..................................................................................... 56 Articles and Reports ..................................................................................................................... 57 Web sites ...................................................................................................................................... 61 http://www.isaf.nato.int/ ............................................................................................................ 611-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 1
  • 2. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011Countdown to DepartureAssessing the impact of the Dutch ISAF contribution to the overall NATOobjectives in Afghanistan in general and in Uruzgan specificallyMike Beunder, July 1st, 2011SummaryTask Force Uruzgan (TFU) was the Dutch contribution to the NATO led stabilization effort ofAfghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The mission of TFU started in August 2006, wheninsurgency in the south of Afghanistan was on the rise, and terminated four years later, August2010. The objective of TFU, as defined by the Dutch government and the International SecurityAssistance Force (ISAF) mission, was to bring security to Uruzgan and to support the Afghangovernment in strengthening provincial- and district-level governance and to facilitate and supporteffective reconstruction efforts focused on its infra-structure, health care and education system. TFUexecuted this mission at the cost of “only” 24 Dutch fatalities and 147 injured (of which more than40 with a permanent handicap), a cost which was modest compared to other ISAF nations active inother (southern) provinces of Afghanistan. TFU was launched without a clear definition of itsstrategic charter and with a numerical strength far below what was required for the task at hand.The impact of TFU on the security situation in Uruzgan therefore has been that of consolidation ofthe district centers already under control (Tarin Kowt and Deh Rawud), adding a third district(Chora), achieving some improvements in one district (Gizab) and no improvement or evenworsening of the situation in the remaining districts of Uruzgan (Char China, Chenartu and KhasUruzgan). On the reconstruction level it facilitated the construction of roads, bridges, schools andmedical facilities. In particular on the educational level significant improvements were achieved inalmost all districts, including those under the control of the insurgents. However, strengthening ofthe provincial- and district governance and justice system, the dominant objective of the mission,failed. It failed, not because of the corrupt and tribally biased actions of the central government inKabul but because the ambition of ISAF was unrealistic and above all, not fitting for Afghanistan, acountry whose culture had little if any synergy with a centrally-managed democracy and possessedno relevant building blocks for such an attempt. The sustainability of TFU’s mission results therefore,despite the cost, sacrifices and superficial results, are almost completely dependent on its “own”presence as there is no governance structure that will uphold the achievements once ISAF departs.The first signals visible upon the departure of TFU highlight this lack of sustainability as the keystrongmen marginalized by TFU upon the start of its mission, are returning to the forefront of thepolitical scene while at the same time key actors brought in to establish a better form of governanceare departing together with the Dutch out of fear for their safety.1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 2
  • 3. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011IntroductionTactical Force Uruzgan (TFU) was deployed in August 2006 as part of the International SecurityAssistance Force (ISAF) mission. ISAF had been created as a result of the Bonn Conference1 whichtook place in December 2001 under the control of the United Nations Organization (UN) after theprevious government of Afghanistan, the Taliban, had been defeated by the coalition forces of theUnited States and the United Kingdom. At the Bonn conference it was decided that rebuildingAfghanistan was key to avoid renewed nesting of terrorist organizations such as Al Qaida. ISAF’sinitial responsibility2 was to establish security in and around Kabul and thus help the Afghantransnational government, headed by Hamid Karzai, a US Ally, to establish its authority. Its mandatewas also to create and train the new Afghan security forces. Coordinating the rebuilding of thecountry was the focus of the UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)3, which had a verybroad set of responsibilities, including the support of the Afghan government to implement theAfghan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The primary means for implementing thereconstruction work were the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). In 2003 the charter of ISAFwas expanded to cover the whole of Afghanistan. This charter was implemented in four stages. TFUwas part of stage 3 which covered the southern region of Afghanistan: the provinces Day Kundi,Helmand, Nimroz, Uruzgan, Kandahar and Zabul4. The command over this region was taken over byISAF’s southern command, RC-(S), from the US and UK coalition forces on July 31st, 2006. Task ForceUruzgan took command over Uruzgan.This document discusses the four year period (August 2006 thru July 2010) that Task Force Uruzganwas active in Uruzgan and focuses on its impact with respect to the overall ISAF mission and morespecifically its impact on the situation in Uruzgan itself. TFU was a multi-nation Task Force under thecommand of the Dutch. Where TFU was responsible for the security and stability in Uruzgan, it wasthe responsibility of the PRTs to engage in the “rebuilding” of the province. PRTs were mostlynational and each nation could determine within very wide boundaries how to work within thegeneral guidelines for the PRT: “Helping the Afghan Authorities to establish good governance (onprovincial and district level), promote human rights and facilitate the conditions for reconstruction4”.Within the context of Uruzgan and the four years TFU was active in Uruzgan, there were two PRTsactive, a Dutch PRT which fell under the command of TFU and an Australian PRT, also located inUruzgan. Where necessary and relevant, contributions of other nations5 will be mentioned but thisdocument primarily focuses on the Dutch contributions and accomplishments.To evaluate the impact of TFU and its subordinate PRT over the 4 years of operation I will review itsstrategy and measure it against the objectives of bringing security to Uruzgan, to enable thestrengthening of the provincial- and district-level governance and to facilitate and support effectivereconstruction efforts focused on its infrastructure, health care and education system. As I willillustrate in the subsequent discussion, TFU’s mission was a counterinsurgency mission even thoughthe Dutch government, it’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) and even NATO refused to name it as such.Hence the strategy executed by TFU and its underlying PRT has to be measured against itseffectiveness as a counterinsurgency strategy: winning the hearts and minds of the local population1 Bonn conference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonn_Conference2 nd UN Security Council resolution 1386, December 22 , 20013 th UN Security Council resolution 1401, March 28 , 20024 ISAF web site: http://www.isaf.nato.int/history.html5 Dijk (2009): For instance the logistical unit of TFU counted over 20 different nationalities1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 3
  • 4. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011and through them improve security and governance. Phrased in a different manner, the effectiveoutcome of a successful counterinsurgency strategy is, in the eyes of the population, a legitimateand sovereign government, that can ensure effective administration and can independently reducethe insurgency to - or maintain it at - an acceptable level6. Ultimately, it is against this “outcome”that the impact of four years of TFU will be measured. I will start by reviewing the ISAF objectivesunder which TFU operated. Subsequently I will review the decision process that led to the creationof TFU, the defined objectives and the strategy that was defined and implemented to achieve theseobjectives. Next I will determine the starting point of the TFU mission: what was the situation on theground in Uruzgan. This includes a brief overview of the most recent history of Afghanistan ingeneral and Uruzgan more specifically. From this point I will discuss the basic strategy of TFU andtrace the implementation of this strategy over the four year period. Finally I will review the results ofthe four year mission by measuring the state-of-affairs within Uruzgan at the time of the withdrawalof TFU. Of specific interest is the sustainability of the achieved results. Where it comes tosustainability only a partial analysis can be provided which focuses on the first indicators after thedeparture of TFU. A complete analysis and discussion falls outside of the scope of this study as itwould require a significant longer stretch of time following the departure of TFU as well as the studyof subsequent activities of the ISAF force in Uruzgan: the Combined Task Force Uruzgan under UScommand.As a cautionary note it should be pointed out that real numbers whether statistical or otherwise, arenotoriously unreliable as access to most areas in Uruzgan other than the towns of Tarin Kowt, DehRawud and Chora is limited or impossible due to safety concerns or because of known unreliabilityof the data source(s). Therefore almost all numerical data (e.g. number of schools build, medicalcenters but also the number of teachers, midwifes, doctors and police officers) should be seen asindicators to identify and/or illustrate trends rather than absolute numbers. This is especially true fordata gathered through Afghan channels as these are especially unreliable, often illiterate and knownto provide inflated numbers. As a final warning it should be noted that given that US and Australianforces were also active in Uruzgan, it is not always possible to clearly contribute specific results toone or the other country. In particular the Dutch approach which was based on local execution andownership makes it hard to attribute some of the achievements directly to TFU. In the context of thisdocument TFU refers to the Dutch contribution unless otherwise indicated.The political decision processIn order to assess the impact of TFU it is important to understand the process that led to the finaldecision and approval for the mission as well as the TFU mission objectives that were defined by theDutch government. Not only will the success as well as achievements of the mission be measuredagainst these objectives but it is also an important factor in the ability of TFU to hit the groundrunning as it did not operate in vacuum but as part of an international effort and hence objectivesdeviating from or at odds with the overall agenda and strategy will directly impact its effectivenessand success. There is also another important reason for reviewing the political decision process: itsfailure to identify the real character of the mission. It can be argued that this failure resulted in thelack of a proper political and strategic framework for TFU’s mission that would have made asignificant difference in its set-up and execution. The decision process which stood at the foundationof the mission, started in January 2005 and finally completed in February 2006, by far the longest forany military mission approved by the Dutch government and parliament7. The process was marred6 Graaf (2010), pp.217 Hazelbag (2009), pp.254-2581-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 4
  • 5. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011by a lack of a clearly defined strategic charter8. Instead, motivation for the mission seemed to havehad its origins in a combination of foreign policy objectives centered on securing and extendingDutch influence on the global/international political scene and the ministry of defense’s fear forsignificant budget cuts after termination of previous international operations as well as the ability to“demonstrate” it’s newly created expeditionary force.The mission was to take place under the charter of ISAF. As mentioned, ISAF’s objective was tosupport and strengthen the Afghan authorities, enabling them to establish security and stability inthe whole country. The choice of Uruzgan was mostly circumstantial9 as other more “desirable”locations had already been allocated to other participants, including the province of Baghlan,Northern Afghanistan, the location where the Netherlands already had a Provincial ReconstructionTeam (PRT) active since 200410. Once the location was “officially” fixed, an assessment mission wasexecuted by the Dutch Foreign Ministry to take inventory of the situation in Uruzgan11. At the sametime Uruzgan was starting to experience a growing insurgency which required urgent attention fromISAF. The political objectives defined for the mission were a direct translation from the ISAF charterand centered on the strengthening of a proper governmental system in Uruzgan. It specifically listedthe promotion of Good Governance, a frequently used term, the set-up of efficient and effectivePolice and Armed Forces, assisting the Afghan government in establishing a constitutional state andcarrying out civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) reconstruction activities12. The final Dutch politicaldecision process, communicated to its Allies and the Afghan government, centered on a list of 16points13,14. This list focused on the continued presence and efforts of the US in Uruzgan andneighbouring provinces (4 points), financial means for support and reconstruction (2 points), goodgovernance by the Afghan authorities (2 points), training of Afghan security forces (3 points), thecommand structure (1 point), proper treatment and transfer of prisoners (1 point) and theavailability of NATO backup forces (1 point). This list was in fact a mixture of requirements,originating from multiple unrelated areas: the mission objectives, the political discussion within theDutch government and parliament and the analysis of the situation on the ground11. It dealt with allthe sensitivities ranging from the Dutch traumatic experience in Srebrenica to the negative view onthe US-led Enduring Freedom Operations (too much focus on kinetic operations) and the existenceof Guantanamo Bay. A very different list was created by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thislist defined 13 priority points for TFU to address15 once on the ground. Both lists shared an overlyoptimistic view on the existing governance structures in Uruzgan. However, where the list of theDutch government to its allies had a significant “military” content, the list defining the priorities forTFU mentions security only in combination with a reference to the necessary coordination with ISAFand focuses mostly on the reconstruction priorities. Furthermore, most of the points on the ForeignMinistry list require expertise other than what the military would be able to offer. Neither listmentions counterinsurgency or direct engagement with the Taliban. One can conclude that bothlists, although not necessary required to be in sync as they address different audiences, missed theopportunity to present a shared strategic framework and instead were mostly disjoint and where the8 Graaf (2010), pp.18-199 Klep (2011), pp.17-35, Hazelbag (2009), pp.25510 Hovens (2009), pp 307-332, Klep (2011), pp.1711 Royal Netherlands Embassy (2006)12 Hazelbag (2009), pp.26413 Hazelbag (2009), pp.25814 Although all references to this list mention 16 points, only 13 have been identified in literature. It isreasonable to assume that the 3 remaining points cover specific confidential requirements such as the removalof Jan Mohammad Khan, at the time the Governor of Uruzgan15 Royal Netherlands Embassy (2006), pp.41-431-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 5
  • 6. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011lists do overlap, they share an unrealistic view on the presence of Afghan governance and securityforces which could be used to build and expand on16. The “demand” for at least the foundation forgood governance and a functioning ANP provided some view on the actual stability andreconstruction side of TFU’s mission. At the same time it also indicated little understanding of theactual strength and presence of the Afghan government in Uruzgan and ignored the reality on theground. This lack of coherence was prevalent throughout the discussion surrounding the Dutch TFUdecision and the subsequent translation of its objectives into the actual mission planning. Where thepolitical process under which TFU was approved almost completely focused on reconstruction, theMoD’s view, as articulated by the Dutch Commander-in-Chief, was focused on enablingreconstruction for which fighting (and taking losses) would be necessary17. In fact, according to somewithin the Dutch armed forces, the mission objectives were translated into a combat mission withthe goal to eliminate the influence of the Taliban. The reconstruction efforts as defined in thepolitical mission statement were the focus of the PRT part of the TFU. The official label of TFU,“reconstruction mission”, was therefore only a political label and not practiced by the Dutch Ministryof Defence. It is clear that the translation of the political decision into a military mission failed toprovide a clear context for the mission. By not properly qualifying the mission as acounterinsurgency mission, the Dutch government missed an important opportunity to build theproper base of support and expectations for the mission with the Dutch population as well as withparliament18. It also failed to provide the military with the opportunity to clearly focus on the coreobjectives of the mission. As such a clear strategic context to the (political) mission objectives wasabsent. As a counterinsurgency strategy is by heart a political strategy focused on the population,lack of a strategic framework started the mission on the wrong foot19. The Dutch Armed Forces andhence also its newly created expeditionary force had no experience with counterinsurgency and, aswill be discussed in the following section, the first steps on the ground demonstrated this lack ofexperience.Despite the confusion about the true character of its mission, the impact of TFU on Uruzgan and itscontribution to the ISAF mission as a whole will be assessed along the effectiveness of counter-insurgency: implementing the shape, clear, hold & build steps. As the next step I will review thesituation on the ground to capture the starting point for TFU. To be able to correctly interpret thissituation it is imperative that the recent history of Afghanistan and more specifically Uruzgan iscovered. This should not only cover the lay of the land—to have an idea about the physicalchallenges facing counterinsurgency operations—but specifically the form and state of itsgovernance structures and the people living “under” the ruling of these structures as these areequally if not more important to the TFU.HistoryDuring the last two centuries Afghanistan had expelled several invading nations, not through itsnational army but through the local militias20. This pattern continued through the invasion of theSoviet Army in 1981 and its departure in 1989. After the departure of the Soviets and the fall of theAfghan communist government three years later a vicious civil war ignited. This civil wardemonstrated an ever changing field of alliances and opponents with the civil population in generalas the victim. It is not surprising that under these circumstances many welcomed the arrival of the16 Reijn (2007), pp.2217 Hazelbag (2009), pp.269-272, Dmitriu (2009), pp.61618 Dmitriu (2009), pp.61619 Kilcullen (2006)20 Barfield (2010), pp.51-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 6
  • 7. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011Taliban in 1996. The cyclical nature of the strongest player (communists, Taliban, war lords) had alsoresulted in an interchangeable role of victim and oppressor, further complicating the volatilemixture. Over this prolonged period of strive not only the central government structure had beencompletely destroyed but more importantly also on provincial and district level had the existing andcomplex structure been severely damaged, including the historically already fragile link with thecentral government. Majles21, which was basically an unspecified form of authority, provided thislink from village to districts- and provincial level but had been destroyed over the past 30 years. Ishould also stress the fact that the concept of central government had a completely differentmeaning in the context of Afghanistan, a country that had completely different political traditionscompared to the western world. What was left after this period was the basic element of power in avillage which was the Khan. The Khan is the central authority of a family and is surrounded by otherdependants and people that furthered their own interests through a direct relation with the Khan.The Khan represented the one recognizable element of authority in a village.Lay of the landTo get a full appreciation of the sheer task of TFU it is illustrative to look at the numbers: the threedistricts of Deh Rawud, Tarin Kowt and Chora alone count 241,000 inhabitants, about 50% of the494,000 inhabitants that Uruzgan counted in 200622. Uruzgan itself is 22,696 square kilometers (alittle over half the size of the Netherlands). Nearly three quarters of the province (72%) ismountainous or semi mountainous terrain while a little more than one-fifth (21%) of the area ismade up of flat land. Uruzgan was one of the poorest provinces of Afghanistan, accentuated by itsextremely conservative population23. It counted 7 districts, Tarin Kowt with the province capital, DehRawud, Chora, Gizab, Char China, Chenartu and Khas Uruzgan. Over 90% of the population lived inrural areas, relying mostly on subsistence agriculture for their living. Families lived in mud-walledcompounds called qualas. Female members of the family lived in a separate section of the quala ,kept away from anyone except direct members of the family. Rural (agricultural) areas were mostlycovered by a maze of irrigation channels. Education levels were the lowest of Afghanistan, with 80-93% and 94-99% of the male and female population being illiterate24. Only 5-6% of boys and lessthan 1% of girls were going to school regularly. Medical facilities were available in the districtscenters only and mostly primitive with virtually no educated staff. The rate of child birth fatalitiesranked the highest of all provinces, with an almost total lack of midwifes. Uruzgan is also the originof the Taliban movement. Governance on all levels was absent or worse, present only to extort thelocal population while not providing any relevant service. Salaries for teachers almost never made itto their destination and it was quite common as a teacher to go without salary for months, forcingthem to sell school books and furniture to pay for their own basic needs. Worse was the situation atthe Afghan National Police (ANP). Pay at the ANP, if it did make it to its destination, was significantlylower as what the local militia would earn resulting in a (local) police force that was illiterate,addicted, deeply corrupted and, worse of all, only interested in earning money by “taxing” the localpopulation. Chiefs of Police (COPs) were equally tarnished by illiteracy and endemic corruption.Their tashkil25 were typically inflated to allow the COP to pocket salaries for the ghost officers. Dueto the low quality of the police force, their death rate in case of encounters with insurgents, was also21 Azoy (2003), pp.2622 TLO August 2010, pg. 1-3 (1)23 Even within Afghanistan by the Afghanis, Uruzgan was regarded as backward24 https://www.cimicweb.org/AfghanistanProvincialMap/Pages/Uruzgan.aspx25 Manning list1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 7
  • 8. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011significant, making it even more difficult to attract officers. Pensions for widows mostly disappearedalso into the pockets of the COPs, illustrating the depth of the corruption.Tribal structureMost of the Uruzgan population belongs to the Pashtuns (90%) as the main tribal group inAfghanistan (and, as a matter of fact Pakistan as more Pashtuns are living in Pakistan). Within thePashtun several heritage lines are present and being a Pashtun does not mean one cannot have aconflict with another Pashtun. President Karzai belongs to the Popalzai tribe, which belonged in itsturn to the Durrani. The Durrani had a centuries old conflict with the Ghilzai to which the Hotakbelonged. Some tribes didn’t even agree to which line of heritage they belonged, like the Babozai:some will claim to be part of the Durrani, others will claim Ghilzai descent26. The three districtsinitially targeted by TFU were mainly populated by the Popalzai (Tirin Kowt), Babozai and Tokhi (DehRawud) and the Achekzai and Barakzai (Chora). The Nurzai-, Hazara- and Achekzai tribes were almostfully outside of these ink spots, despite the fact that these composed almost 50% of the populationof Uruzgan. The fact that the conclusive battle in 2001 between Karzai and the Taliban took place inTarin Kowt is also noteworthy: it was one of the local strongmen, Jan Mohammad who sided withKarzai to defeat the Taliban.Geographically Uruzgan did not play a strategic role; its neighbouring provinces Helmand andKandahar much more so, highlighted by the significant higher levels of fighting between coalitionforces and insurgents. Economically, Uruzgan was mostly recognized as the center of the poppyculture and the related narcotics trade.Situation on the groundThe situation on the ground before the Dutch troops arrived had been shaped by US Forces underOperation Enduring Freedom. The US’s primary objective from the start in 2001 had been to removethe Taliban from power and eliminate Al Qaeda as a threat. By putting their ally Karzai in place itthought it had implemented the desired regime change and otherwise could focus on its single goaland objective: eliminating Al Qaeda. As such, over the period 2002 to 2005 it lost the opportunity toengage with what remained of the local and regional authority structures. It was at the early stage,after the Taliban had been removed, that the local population welcomed foreign troops as they sawthem as the cure against their very own militias that had destroyed the country earlier on27. Servingthe purpose of hunting Al Qaeda, the US connected with the different local war lords that hadbecome visible as opponents of the Taliban. These local strongmen, now being positioned as thenew “authority” on district level (and as a replacement for US boots on the ground which wereneeded in Iraq), used their preferred position with the US to further their own power position andnot only settle existing tribal disputes in their advantage but also marginalize or eliminate remaininggovernance structures that might compete with them. By not understanding the tribal culture, orthe status of such strongmen, the US created a situation of strong polarization, establishing a defaultpower structure that would proof to be hard to dismantle later on28. At the same time they lostcredibility with the local population as these continued to suffer under an oppressive structurewithout any proper governance. In Uruzgan this process is illustrated by the position of JanMohammed, a member of the Popalzai tribe. During the reign of the Taliban, Jan Mohammad hadbeen prosecuted, imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban. Upon the invasion of Afghanistan by theUS, Jan Mohammad sided with the US Forces and fought the Taliban. In 2002 he was made Governor26 TLO (2011), pp.427 Barfield (2010), pp.728 Barfield (2010), pp.71-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 8
  • 9. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011of Uruzgan by the US and unleashed a virtual Taliban witch hunt which specifically targeted theAchekzai, Barakzai and Nuzai tribes. Being paid and supported by the US allowed him to build up asizeable army that he used to further the interests of the Popalzai tribe. It allowed him to control thebuild-up of the provincial and district governance by assigning family and tribal members toimportant posts such as the Provincial Chief of Police (Juma Gul – his brother) and the Chief of theHighway Police (Matiullah Khan – his nephew). Subsequently, Matiullah Khan was used by the US asa security force covering the main highway with Kandahar, an important logistical link. For thisservice he was paid handsomely and used that to further extend his own private security force.Matiullah, through better pay, attracted more and better recruits to his force than the local ANP. Asto the state of the ANP in Uruzgan, it was similar to that of the rest of Afghanistan, deplorable. It wasundermanned, unqualified and deeply corrupt. Of course, given that a Dutch PRT had already beeninvolved in the training of Afghan Police forces, its general state should have been well known29. ISAFhad understood the importance of a proper police force early on. Early 2002 it had been decidedthat the build-up of the ANP would be a German responsibility. As early as 2003 and 2004, the US,itself responsible for the build-up of the Afgan National Army (ANA), expressed deep concern aboutthe lack of progress in the build-up of the ANP. It provided an additional US$2.1B over the next fouryears to support the German effort30. The fact that the program was a failure was amplydemonstrated in early 2006 when riots in Kabul ran completely out of hand as the ANP used directedlethal fire to disperse the crowds. A significant number of police officers turned out to have joinedthe riot. Given that the ANP in and around Kabul had been the first target for training andprofessionalization its performance was a clear signal that out in the provinces the problem wouldbe significantly worse. The Ministry of Interior, under whose responsibility the ANP fell, was itselfalso thoroughly corrupt and ineffective. It had seen several Ministers come and go, unable orunwilling to enforce the necessary reforms. Uruzgan being far away and hard to reach got littleattention. The number of ANP officers in Uruzgan was estimated at 100-150 at the beginning of200631.The program to train the Afghan National Army was in somewhat better shape but, similar tothe police program was not delivering sufficient troops. It too, like the ANP, suffered of highpercentages of absentees (sometimes up to 40%). By 2006, the availability of partially trained ANAforces in Uruzgan was estimated to be around 400-450. They were poorly armed and equipped andwere mostly used as guides or house-search parties. A larger number of them were assigned to USforces active in Uruzgan. The justice system was in a similar state, if not worse. Many positions werenot filled and those filled were filled by people without any qualification, often illiterate and almostall with a clear tribal bias.The insurgentsAll this created a fertile ground for the Taliban insurgency. As early as 2002 insurgents started tostage a clear strategy of establishing control over the province, starting with the areas under theirown control. The ever growing power of the Popalzai, collateral damage associated with ISAFactions32 and the shenanigans of the thoroughly corrupt ANP33 all contributed to the steady supplyof new recruits Most of these local fighters would be working the land in their regular existence butwhen ISAF or government troops would approach they would pick up their arms and fight. Similarly,the for-rent fighters were attracted due to an abysmal economy with a high percentage ofunemployment. Fighters would get paid by the Taliban but sometimes had to provide their ownguns. The influx of for-rent fighters could often be noticed by a significant increase in the price of29 Hovens (2009), pp.31630 ICG Asia Report (2007), No. 138, pp.7-831 TLO (2010), pp.3432 Dmitriu (2009): “Kill one Pashtun tribesman and you make three more your sworn enemy”33 The saying goes: “All criminals are off the street now that they have joined the ANP”1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 9
  • 10. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011weapons and ammunition. This mixture of disgruntled locals, for-rent local fighters and hard coreinsurgents makes it also difficult to label such groups as THE Taliban. In reality the Taliban is acollection of groups with different motivations that at times, could be at war with each other as well.As mentioned before, the violent history over the last 30 years has seen many different alliances,frequently seeing parties swapping sides over time. Complete militias could switch sides if the rightincentives were provided. Of course, there was also an influx of hard core Taliban from Pakistanwhere they had taken refuge after the Coalition invasion in 2001. By 2006 the insurgency countedapproximately 350 hardcore Taliban fighters, both from inside and outside the province. Talibanfighters moving in from outside the province had two origins: the southeast and the west. Thesoutheast provided the strongest influx as it linked through the neighbouring provinces Zabul andKandahar directly to Pakistan. Apart from fighters, it was also the main route for narcotics exportand weapons import as the border with Pakistan was porous and Pakistan territory itself hadvirtually no legal challenge with respect to both activities. The strength of this channel was furtherillustrated by the fact that the accepted currency in Uruzgan was mostly the Pakistani rupee and notthe Afghani. On the west side Uruzgan borders with the Helmand province. Helmand had been asignificant trouble spot for the British forces located there and any major military operation in thisarea would result in fighters melting away into Uruzgan. The importance of Uruzgan to the hard coreinsurgency had been growing as the poppy culture provided a significant cash flow, necessary to payfighters, local supporters as well as procure weapons and finance logistics. As a group, the insurgentswere often referred to as the “neo-Taliban”34. Although still a key follower of the Deobandidoctrines, they had adopted in particular modern technology and techniques and in a sense a morepragmatic/less orthodox attitude with respect to media and internationalization. Effective use ofinternet, including Youtube and Twitter35, ensured that their (claimed) activities received widespreadattention. The fact that ISAF could communicate only after a lengthy process of multi-nationalreviews, made this even more effective as the Taliban was inevitably the first to (re)act on any event.As to the building of their power base, the Neo-Taliban clearly based their strategy on that of thevillage mullahs rather than the tribal codex of Pashtunwali. This allowed them to exploit the oneunifying element of Afghanistan: Islam. Within conservative Uruzgan this focused on two clearcomponents that still represented some level of authority on village level: the mullahs and thekhans. Historically mullahs had no role of authority other than within the social boundaries of thelocal village mosque. This is typical for the Sunni version of the Islam where there is no real clericalhierarchy and hence authority. The presence of “infidels” made it possible for the Taliban to exploitreligion as another fertile ground for growth and support. This moved the mullahs into a positionwhere they could exercise their growing power to disrupt the central government and frustrate ISAFefforts to improve the local situation. By “unifying” this line they build a local supply of fightersthrough the local village mosques, guaranteeing that the local elders would not object. The absenceof even a marginally functioning local government facilitated the building of this power base by theTaliban.Based on the previous discussion the situation in Uruzgan at the time of the arrival of TFU cantherefore be summarized as steadily worsening with a highly polarized tribal constituency. Given thedominance and influence of the Popalzai, which represented only 10% of the population, ineverything related to governance and justice system, the local population avoided it at all cost asthey did not expect fair treatment. The Afghan government in Uruzgan, was, in different degrees ofseverity, pitted against close to 70% of the population. In addition to this already polarized situation,the US and its coalition forces made, by lack of sufficient boots on the ground, abundant use of its air34 Giustozzi (2008), pp.12-1435 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/world/asia/15zabiullah.html1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 10
  • 11. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011weapon, resulting in significant collateral damage and further polarization. This is mirrored by anomnipresent Taliban, estimated at around 6,000 insurgents36 in the South alone. In Uruzgan it wasestimated that the Taliban had at least four out of seven districts under firm control37, unabatedaccess to the other three districts, a flourishing narcotics trade, a solid flow of new recruits, solidlyorganized supply lines all the way back to Pakistan and well protected areas for rest and training[including in Pakistan].(TFU) Feet on the GroundTFU defined its starting point with the three central districts of Deh Rawud, Tarin Kowt and Chora,building its main base in Tarin Kowt (Camp Holland) and a second base in Deh Rawud (CampHadrian). Deh Rawud and Tarin Kowt already had an ISAF presence. In particular Tarin Kowt, whichwas also the capital of Uruzgan, had already an Australian PRT present (approximately 1,090 troops).At that time, due to the lack of security in the province, there were no NGOs or other internationalaid organizations active in Uruzgan. The size of TFU was at its high water mark approximately 2,000Dutch troops and 1,800 Australian, Singaporean, Slovakian, New Zealand and French troops. Onaverage the Dutch contingent counted around 1,600 troops. If taking the operational size of theDutch Armed Forces into account, it would put the Dutch contribution to ISAF on a third place, afterthe United States and the United Kingdom. With respect to the three operational areas of TFU, DehRawud, Tarin Kowt and Chora, the total area comprised about a third of Uruzgan and counts 241,000inhabitants. This amounts to approximately 14 TFU soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants. For the fullprovince the ratio comes to approximately 7 TFU soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants. From an operationalperspective only about a third of these troops were active outside of their base so in reality theseratios were about a third of the above values. Also, it is important to note that TFU’s initial securedareas (ink spots) were limited to the district towns. This puts 90% of the population of Uruzganoutside of these secured areas.StrategyThe almost phobic avoidance of the term counter insurgency by NATO, by the Dutch MoD andgovernment led to the use of other terms such as ink spot38, ink blot or 3D strategy (Development,Diplomacy and Defence39) to characterize the TFU mission. Fundamentally, TFU’s strategy consistedof the creation of a number of areas (ink spots) which were under the control of TFU. From thereTFU would extend its influence and control and merge the ink spots into a single area under fullcontrol of TFU. Within the ink spots but also outside, the PRT would focus on reconstruction anddevelopment, also known as the third “D” in the 3D strategy, or as the “build” phase of acounterinsurgency strategy (as in shape, clear, hold and build). The Dutch PRT, under militarycommand and subordinate to the commanding officer of TFU, was configured around four missionteams which were assisted by a number of (political, cultural and development) advisors, a numberof functional specialists, a Police Mentoring Team (PMT) and a CIMIC Support Unit (CMU). As to themarching orders of a PRT, PRTs were driven on an individual basis, its actual planning and executionvery much up to the contributing nation. This provides a high degree of flexibility and discretion tothe PRT. Overall strategic objectives of the PRTs were more or less coordinated through UNAMA aswell as the general master plan defined for the reconstruction of Afghanistan: the Afghan NationalDevelopment Strategy40 (ANDS). ANDS clearly presented a central government-, top-down view on36 Giustiozzi (2008), pp.33-3537 Giustozzi (2008), pp.36: Dutch estimations in 2006 had up to 80% of Uruzgan under Taliban control38 Dmitriu (2011), pp.139 Aker (2009), pp.28040 ANDS (2007)1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 11
  • 12. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011the development of the country. The fact that Afghanistan had not had anything resembling acentral government for the last thirty years the central government also engaged with the districtsand provinces and based on their input the so-called Provincial Development Plans41 (PDPs) hadbeen created (34 in total) as part of the ANDS42. It is noteworthy to mention that within the ANDSdocument released in 200640, the south of Afghanistan, including Uruzgan, is marked “red” and hadas top priority security43 (actually 17 out of the 34 provinces had this priority). Second and thirdpriorities for Uruzgan were governance and agriculture. The Dutch PRT, as part of the TFU, wouldhave been aware of these priorities but, as mentioned, implementation was at the discretion andinterpretation of the PRT itself. The PRT had its own strategy which started with the so-called QuickImpact Projects44, used as an opening gambit in new areas, followed by the more regular CIMIC anddevelopment projects. These Quick Impact Projects (QIPs, sometimes also known under the name“effects-based operations”) fit within the standard counterinsurgency strategy as these projectshave as objective to win the hearts and minds of the local population. Of course, often these QIPswere at odds with the priorities defined in the ANDS and related PDP. The Quick Impact Projects,within the context of the Dutch TFU were one-time projects, set to have a short time span for theirimplementation, low cost and planned as “icebreakers” for the larger CIMIC/development projects.The building of a new well would typically be a quick impact project whereas building a bridge falls inthe category of CIMIC projects. Large development projects such as building the road between TarinKowt and Chora required support from the local population which would have been obtainedthrough the QIPs. Another important characteristic of the Dutch PRT was the fact that it did notperform such construction projects itself; it did specify the project, provided the work planning aswell as the complete funding but manpower and materials were to be provided through localcontractors. This illustrates again the individual nature of these PRTs as the Australian PRT, alsostationed in Tarin Kowt, executed most of its projects completely autonomously.OperationsThe first Dutch action, even before moving in was to “encourage” President Karzai to supplant hiswar-time ally and Governor of Uruzgan, Jan Mohammad Kahn. On March 18, 2006, Karzaiappointed Maulavi Abdul Hakim Munib ("Maulavi" is a religious title), a former Taliban official whohad reconciled with the Government of Afghanistan, to replace Jan Mohammad Khan. Munib was aPashtun from Paktia Province. However, Munib turned out to be ineffective, mostly because helacked his own local power base and was consistently sabotaged by the existing rank and file whichhad remained loyal to their tribal (Popalzai) roots. He was replaced by Assadullah Hamdan inSeptember 2006. Like Abdul Hakim he was not local (e.g. no local tribal preferences) and was alsoex-Taliban45 who had reconciled himself with the Government. This Dutch “solution” to establishingtribal balance constituted two clear mistakes. The first was the thought that by removing JanMohammad from the governor’s position he would be neutralized. The second mistake was theassumption that a new governor could effectively drive a process of change. Both mistakes werebased on the Dutch perception of the existing governance structure and its relative strength, qualityand reach in Uruzgan. Next, a second illustration of the lack of insight into the actual nature of its41 ANDS (2007), pp.17-2342 ANDS is regularly updated; a second ANDS has been issued for the period 2010-201343 ANDS (2007), pp. 2344 Koster (2011), pp.1145 It could not be determined if the Dutch or Afghan strategy was aimed at opening a (negotiation) channelwith the Taliban as some claimed (e.g. Giustozzi (2008)), it was however remarkable that both governors had asignificant Taliban (leadership) past. Dutch and Afghan authorities might have hoped for the possibility ofcommunicating directly with the Taliban if the opportunity would provide itself.1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 12
  • 13. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011mission was the Dutch request to “prepare” its area of operations. This was done in July 2006through operation Perth which targeted Taliban presence in Tarin Kowt and surroundings,specifically along the Tarin Kowt-Chora line. Although the operation did result in pushing the Talibanout and making the Baluchi Valley (temporarily) accessible, it was a schoolbook example of how NOTto conduct counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. Operation Perth successfully cleared the targetarea but had no concept of “hold”. Immediately after the departure of the coalition forces theTaliban reappeared as its actual power base had not been affected at all. The net effect of operationPerth was to instill further hostility with the local villages and communities through house searches,damage from fighting and the failure to protect them by departing immediately after the completionof the sweep and clear operations. Another clear conclusion from Operation Perth should have beenthe lack of sufficient numbers of trained ANA and ANP forces to support the ISAF operations inUruzgan. Use of ANP forces for house searches within Pashtun communities created further rift as alarge number of ANP officers were Tajiks who gained access to the Pashtun households, includingtheir women. This clearly constituted a disgrace to the Pashtun men, resulting in an increase ininsurgent attacks targeting Tajiks. More important was that either the ANP or ANA could muster thenecessary forces for the hold stage after the sweep and clear operations (if this had been planned).This should have been a clear signal to the incoming TFU that its PMT effort would be crucial, leadingto the proper conclusion that the 10 person PMT team was not going to deliver the requirednumbers of ANP officers. As the international effort to build an effective ANP had been active forsome time it should also have been clear at that time that the output of this effort was falling wayshort of the needs of TFU, let alone the whole of Afghanistan46,47. The lack of sufficient numbers oftrained ANA and ANP officers would also badly impact the available TFU forces for deployment andextension of the ink spots as they would be needed to provide the necessary security in the ink spotsthemselves48. TFU missed an important opportunity to assess its ability to execute effective COINoperations, even before it had fully deployed. It is here where I conclude that the political decisionprocess and its military counterpart preceding the arrival of TFU had failed to define the exactnature of the mission and its strategic and operational framework. With that neglect it alsoprevented the TFU from starting its operational life with a clear understanding of its limitations, bothfrom experience and from the required resources to achieve its objectives. As I pointed out earlier,TFU had understood the need to “repair” the tribal/power imbalance created over the periodpreceding its arrival. Its first order of business, the removal of Jan Mohammad, was followed by anengagement of TFU with Tokhi and Barakzai leaders. This was partially driven by its strategy toimprove the position of marginalized tribes and include them into the governance process but it wasalso driven by the need to prepare the ground for one of the key infrastructure projects under TFU’sPRT responsibilities: the road from Tarin Kowt to Chora. It is tempting to regard the removal of JanMohammad as a QIP that functioned as an icebreaker to the larger development project, namely theroad between Tarin Kowt and Chora. However, this would suggest that TFU would have known thatthe removal of Jan Mohammad would have been largely symbolic and not impact the actual balanceof power. Given the means through which Jan Mohammad had been removed (pressure onpresident Karzai) and the downside of a hostile Popalzai population I would argue that TFU trulythought that the removal of Jan Mohammad Kahn would result in an improvement of thegovernance system in Uruzgan.46 Reforming the Afghan National Police, RUSI & FPRI Report, 29.9.200947 Provincial needs assessment: Criminal Justice in Uruzgan Province, Tilmann Röder, May 15, 2010, RoyalNetherlands Embassy & GTZ48 Klep (2011), pp. 481-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 13
  • 14. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011InsurgencyThe Taliban clearly perceived the arrival of TFU as a threat and stepped up its activities. The Taliban’sactivities in the southern provinces were coordinated by the Quetta Regional Military Shura49. Asmentioned earlier, the Taliban had based its build-up of influence in Uruzgan on the control over themullahs and elders in the villages. Outside of the three ink spots, the Taliban exercised its control bybuying loyalty through land distribution, money from the narcotics trade. It also exercised harsh buteffective justice using sharia as their guidance. The local population avoided the official justicesystem because it was heavily biased and slow, if present at all. Hence, whenever possible, localswould seek Taliban judges. Taliban fighters almost always included one or more local fighters whichwere aware of the local sensitivities, avoiding the mistakes that were almost inevitable for the ISAFtroops that had none of this local context. The Taliban’s reach into the ink spots followed the sameline: first with the mullahs, followed by the village elders. Lack of cooperation with the Taliban or,vice versa, cooperation with ISAF or governmental security forces was punished harshly. Therewhere ISAF presence was too strong and Taliban would run the danger of being arrested a system ofhidden but effective pressure tactics was used through the means of nightly delivered threat lettersor even personal visits. To further improve the security of the messengers, the Taliban forced thelocal mobile communication companies (only present in the ink spot areas) to shutdown theirmobile networks after dark. This was also to improve the security of the IED teams that typicallymoved and worked at night. Here the efforts were focused on limiting the ability of the TFU to movearound. Whereas before the arrival of the TFU there was only limited use of IEDs, mostly targetingthe OEF Special Forces teams that roamed through the province (and which were much harder topredict with respect to their presence and traveling routes). Although statistics are notoriouslyunreliable as a whole they do provide some insight into the dominant trends. Where the number ofIEDs in Uruzgan in 2005 was less than 20, the IED count just for the three ink spot districts in 2006had gone up to 30. The other districts were more firmly under control of the Taliban and countedonly 10 IEDs. For 2007 both counts went up where the count for the Tarin Kowt, Deh Rawud andChora districts more than doubled to 70. The total for the other districts went up to 30. The Talibanquickly determined that IEDs were the easiest and cheapest way to limit TFUs operational reach andensure that the ink spots remained limited to the three population centers and had little reachoutside of these villages. On average an IED threat would accumulate to a delay of 6-8 hours for aTFU patrol, often resulting in a three-day patrol covering only a radius of 20-30 km max. The Talibanachieved this result at the cost of a mere US$20.00 per IED. Even when the sale of fertilizer (the mainexplosive component of an IED) was prohibited in 2008 sufficient supplies were available to drive theIED count up to 200 in 2010, just for the three ink spot areas. The effectiveness of this campaignshould not be underestimated. First of all in terms of casualties: 50% of the Dutch fatalities were dueto IEDs against 20% through direct contact with the Taliban. Secondly and more serious to the actualcounterinsurgency: a severe limitation of the number and length of visits to villages outside the inkspots. The Taliban also traveled through the province but virtually without any limitations. Weaponswere often located in caches “at location”, allowing the Taliban to travel unarmed. When travelingarmed, a web of local supporters would warn them of any ISAF or ANA presence and the web ofirrigation channels allowed them to quickly disengage and disappear into the countryside. Thesearch for weapons caches and IED factories by TFU only caused further anger with the localpopulation as their qualas were frequently searched. In particular the nightly visits were cause forsignificant resentment on the side of the local population.TFU, already hampered by an undersized force, was severely curtailed by the Taliban’s IED weapon.In particular the frequent occurrence of IEDs in the ink spot areas themselves increased the feeling49 http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2010/02/the_talibans_top_lea.php1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 14
  • 15. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011of insecurity with the local population as well as limiting the mobility of TFU, reducing the frequencyof their patrols and, by forcing them to travel in armored vehicles, reduced the opportunity tointeract with the local population. Incidental suicide attacks added to this feeling of insecurity.Reconstruction teams as well as Afghan government officials were equally limited in their reach andrequired significant protection to enable them to travel to their destinations. Within the ink spotsTFU was building both its major base of operations as well as smaller operation posts (FOBs) outsideof the populated areas on higher grounds to optimize their security. This counters the COIN practiceswhere it is critical that the troops live within the population centers. Being close to the population isone of the key priorities of a counter insurgency strategy as they, the local population, are in fact theobjective: winning the hearts and minds of the local population allows denies the insurgents thesupport they need to rest, eat and operate. Worse, governmental representatives, severelythreatened by the presence of the Taliban, chose to co-locate with the TFU whenever possible50. Thiscreated a strong dependency of the [build-up of] governance structures on TFU. Judges had a similarproblem: either they could travel under protection of TFU (with a very limited availability outside ofthe secured areas) and live in TFU compounds or run the risk of being assassinated by insurgents.Here it is interesting to see how US forces were operating. Once the US had switched from huntingAl Qaeda to stabilization (or at least a reasonable combination of the two) it determined that apatrol passing through a village once every 2-3 days did not constitute protection51. Actualprotection came from “being there” all the time. It changed its strategy whereby it integrated itspresence with the local population by having squad-sized teams living in the villages. In particular incontested areas this resulted in a quick increase in the number of fights and casualties as theinsurgents now had to take the fight to the coalition forces. Clearly this development passed by theTFU or was deemed impractical given the numerical limitations of TFU.Battle of ChoraA report by the Dutch military intelligence service (MIVD)52 in the spring of 2007 concluded that theTaliban was actually growing stronger and more than a match for the Afghan National SecurityForces (ANSF). It also concluded that the Karzai government had made little progress establishing asolid government presence in the south of Afghanistan. This was echoed by a number of otherindependent organizations and countries participating in ISAF operations53. In the summer of 2007the Taliban felt confident enough to launch a major offensive targeting the district center Chora andits surroundings. The exact motivation for the offensive has not been identified although the generalunderstanding had been that at least part of Taliban’s intention was to achieve unrestricted accessfrom the Gizab district towards Tarin Kowt. Another reason proposed was the strategic value of theChora area to the Taliban for the transport of narcotics, weapons and money54. The battle for Chorawas characterized as the most significant engagement of TFU with the Taliban over its full stay.Although there is no reliable estimation of the number of Taliban fighters involved, estimationsrange between 400 and 800. The battle lasted almost four days and only by employing its full kineticcapabilities including heavy artillery, F-16s and Apache helicopters, as well as accepting the help oflocal militia, was TFU able to avoid Chora being overrun. The Taliban gained control over theresidential areas of the township resulting in significant collateral damage during the subsequentbattles. At full strength up to 500 Dutch TFU troops were fighting in Chora, supported by moreAustralian troops securing the road between Chora and Tarin Kowt. Even though the main fightingforce of the Taliban was ultimately dislodged and expelled, confidence in the Afghan government50 Klep (2011), pp.129, example: the White House in Chora which housed the district governor51 West (2011), pp.249, Kilcullen (2006)52 NRC Handelsblad, May 11th, 200753 UNDP (2006)54 Wegerer (2009), pp.3481-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 15
  • 16. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011was further reduced. The ease with which the police had been driven away by the Taliban was onesignal to the population. At the time of the Taliban attack around a 100 police officers were presentin Chora. Given their deplorable state and poor equipment, TFU had even bought ammunition at thelocal market for these ANP forces. The fact that close to a 150 fighters, belonging to a Barakzai tribalmilitia leader had to be called in by TFU was another concern to the village elders as they feared thereturn of militia to their village. For TFU the battle of Chora signaled several short comings. The factthat almost the complete fighting capability of TFU had to be deployed to stop the Taliban attackcame as a complete surprise. The fact that the Taliban had been able to amass such a sizeable forcewithout any significant warning signals to the TFU was another major concern. As visible as thebattle for Chora was, it remained an anomaly within the four years of TFU’s operation in Uruzgan. Itwas a large scale engagement where the Taliban carried the fight directly to TFU instead of attackingits patrols and disappearing back into the countryside. It is also important to note that despite theTaliban losing the battle it did not disappear from the Chora area.Soon after the battle for Chora, in October 2007, TFU launched a major offensive, Spin Ghar, aimedagain at the Baluchi Valley. Based on the experiences of Operation Perth, it was decided that part ofthe objective of Operation Spin Ghar should be to establish a new base in the Baluchi Valley itself. Aswith operation Perth, clearing the Baluchi Valley proofed to be relatively easy. The Taliban avoidedthe fight and either hid its weapons and returned to the fields or dispersed into the neighbouringprovinces. As part of Spin Ghar a Forward Operating Base (FOB) Khyber was established but it was atthe entrance of the Baluchi Valley and not in the Valley itself. Further check points were establishedand manned by ANA troops, which participated in the operation. However, as soon as the operationhad terminated, the Taliban re-emerged unscathed and the checkpoints in the Baluchi Valley itselfhad to be abandoned, making it once more clear that there were not sufficient forces available toestablish firm control over the area. Without the proper hold, the area could not be secured and nobuild activities could be started. Of course, TFU considered the battle over Chora a resoundingvictory and the results of operation Spin Ghar were equally impressive when considering the numberof insurgents killed. However, if not after operation Perth, operation Spin Ghar should have made itclear to TFU that little if any progress was being made towards the actual goals of the mission:enabling the Afghan government to establish a governance structure.Build ActivitiesIn terms of its “Build” phase, TFU had demonstrated its good intentions at the start by forcing thereplacement of Jan Mohammad which gave them, as previously mentioned, an entry point with theelders of the Achekzai and Barakzai. This also allowed TFU to facilitate the infrastructuredevelopment, in particular the construction of a main road from Tarin Kowt to Chora55. Avoiding theuse of Mattiullah Kahn, TFU organized the security of the road works as well as the finished roadthrough local tribes along the road. Although this provided some level of security it was also a signalthat the ANP was not up to the task of providing this security nor were they acceptable to the localtribes. The Dutch PRT approach to let local companies and contractors execute as much of the workas possible reduced loading of TFU troops for the security of such projects. It improved theownership of such projects, ensuring that after the completion of the project, the local populationwould ensure proper maintenance. It also gave the PRT the ability to execute projects far away fromthe ink spots and obfuscated its presence. In particular smaller projects could be executed withoutthem being tied to TFU or ISAF. This sometimes avoided the destruction of such projects by the55 Klep (2011), pp.54 Although scheduled to start in 2007 roadworks started in 2008 and were in fact executedby the GTZ, a German organization.1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 16
  • 17. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011Taliban and repercussions against the villagers that had accepted the project. Projects executedfocused mostly on education and health care. This included the building of schools and providingbooks as well as furniture. Similarly funded was the construction of small clinics, the training ofmidwifes and nurses and providing medication and furniture. Often such activities would bepreceded by regular medical visits of TFU teams, again within the framework of QIPs that preparedthe local population for the actual development project(s). These activities resemble those ofstandard development aid offered to other developing countries. Executing projects in a hands-offapproach also had several drawbacks. Most prominent was the fact that (Dutch) TFU efforts werenot very visible, in contrast with the Australian TFU efforts as these were executed by the Australiansthemselves and hence were very visible contributions. The other drawback was the significant highercost of such projects and the lack of visibility on their execution and delivery. For a significantnumber of (smaller) projects in districts outside of the ink spots it was simply impossible to verify ifthey had indeed been executed at all. An interesting aspect of this approach was the completion ofsome facilities with Dutch money in areas under control of the Taliban such as the medical facility inGizab. Similar cases are known where infrastructure projects of other PRTs in areas under Talibancontrol (for instance in Helmand), upon completion, were used by the Taliban to tax the localpopulation. The higher cost of these projects added to the total cost of the TFU presence, somethingthat became clearly visible in the spring of 2008 when the TFU mission had to be extended withanother two years56. The original decision regarding the length of the TFU mission was two years.Within the scope of a real counterinsurgency operation, two years is insignificant, making itimpossible to judge any form of progress. By the beginning of 2008, the extension of the missioncame up for a decision by the Dutch government. Contrary to the original decision process, thedecision regarding the extension was made relatively smoothly. After a short debate the mission wasextended with two years. However, part of the reason for the (relatively) smooth decision processwas the promise that this would be a one-and-only extension and that the TFU mission would finishby the summer of 2010 come what may.GovernanceDespite the discussion regarding the almost double cost of the mission over the two years and thelack of improvement in the security situation, little attention was devoted to the full scope of themission. Having as its main objective “Helping the Afghan Authorities to strengthen goodgovernance (on provincial and district level), promote human rights and facilitate the conditions forreconstruction” this neglect seems out of place. There was a lot of attention regarding the security inUruzgan, highlighted by the battle for Chora that took place only a few months before the discussionregarding the mission extension started. However, little attention was given to the lack of progresson building a government presence in the south of Afghanistan by the Karzai government. In thisrespect it should be emphasized that according to the PRT charter, it was not responsible forcreating “Good Governance”, it was merely there to help strengthening the relevant institutions.Establishing a presence was the main responsibility of the central government in Kabul. Here itbecame clear that another important aspect of the ISAF mission had neglected the real situation onthe ground: the availability of a cadre of administrational personnel. Over de last 30 years any formof governance had been destroyed. Even the Taliban, after their victory had not set-up a governancestructure as they had no interest in doing so. ISAF and TFU within its mission relied on the Karzaigovernment to establish a governance structure that could be further trained and improved(capacity building). Reality was that in 2006 less than 20% of the governance and administrationalpositions in Uruzgan were actually manned. More importantly, most of these employees wereilliterate with no skills relevant to their job and were placed there because of their tribal relations or56 Klep (2011), pp.2751-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 17
  • 18. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011by corruption rather than their administrational skills. The organizations needed to train governmentofficials were not present because of the security situation. It is no surprise that under theseconditions the Dutch PRT determined that the only solution was to do the mentoring themselves57.Of course they were neither prepared nor trained for such work. Given their bandwidth, the PRTdecided to mentor the District Chiefs, the District Chiefs of Police and the Provincial Governor. Theeducational and skills levels of these government officials were so inadequate, with at least one ofthe COPs being illiterate, that it was concluded that training should have started “years ago”according to members of the PRT58. Vice versa, the local population had no experience working withthe governance system being set-up nor did it trust it given the process that had put the differentofficials there in the first place. The PRT itself could not change anything either as these officials hadbeen installed by Kabul. In order to facilitate some level of communication, the PRT would organizeShuras with the local population to get their buy-in for projects. With respect to the security forces,the state of the Afghan National Police was another key concern. Although the PMT, as part of thePRT, started as planned the training program, its capacity was not nearly enough to meet even thedemand for the existing ink spots. Early 2006, as a measure to boost the ANP strength, the AfghanNational Auxiliary Police (ANAP) had been established. The ANAP was based on the enrollment oflocal militias empowered as part of the national government. This resulted in further polarizationand empowerment of the existing militia leaders as these were the only sources for such troops. Mid2008 it had become clear to even the national government in Kabul that this was a major mistakeand had made the situation only worse59 and the ANAP was dissolved (although that didn’t changeanything in the local power structures). Also a modest program for training judges and other judicialofficials had been initiated by the PRT. Given that only a few of the required judges andadministrational employees were actually in place, capacity did not pose a problem. However, thefact that almost all judges were incompetent, lacked the basic skills and education and werethoroughly corrupt, made the local population avoid them for even the most rudimentary cases.Problems were solved by the village mullah, the elders or by asking the Taliban judge.As to the local economy, within the TFU secured areas of Tarin Kowt, Deh Rawud and Chora therewere clear improvements. A number of factors allowed for this improvement, specifically theimproved infra-structure and road security (although at a price), allowing farmers further out tobring their products to the markets. Also, demand in the ink spot areas had increased. Due to theimproved security and the presence of TFU, the population of three district centers had risen. Up to60-70% of the household income was dependent on migrant labor60 against 20% in other areas, anindication that the population was increasingly active in the different infra-structure projects. Suchmigrant workers would more or less move into the secured areas, looking for safety as outside of thesafe areas they would be targeted by the insurgents. This influx was further illustrated by the sharpincrease of house prices in the three areas.At this stage, the end of 2008, TFU planned a renewed step to extend the areas held by securing theconnection between Tarin Kowt and Chora and at the same time moving (again) into the BaluchiValley. This time, based on the experience of both operation Perth and Spin Ghar, a sizeable force ofthe ANA was included to ensure that the hold phase could be properly executed. Operation TuraGhar61 was launched in January 2009, ahead of the spring season, typically the timing for Talibanattacks to resume after the winter. Operation Tura Ghar was part of a larger attempt by ISAF to gain57 Koster (2011), pp.8158 Koster (2011), pp.7159 Hovens (2009), pp.31460 TLO (2010), pp.61 Dmitriu (2011), pp.6221-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 18
  • 19. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011the initiative. It demonstrated an increased coordination amongst the different players within ISAFand more specifically, of the RC-(S). Operation Tura Ghar was also successful in its hold operation: anew operations base (FOB Mashal) was established in the Baluchi Valley and active patrols were nowestablishing a more permanent presence. As such operation Tura Ghar can be earmarked as asuccess, where both clear and hold were executed properly and a first real extension of the originalink spot areas had been achieved, establishing a clear and permanent presence in the heart of theTaliban’s original territory: the Baluchi Valley. Operation Tura Ghar also marked the last majoroperation of TFU. A few months later, early summer 2009 the first discussions regarding thecontinuation of the TFU mission started in the Netherlands and would ultimately lead to the fall ofthe Dutch government. Although those events fall outside of the scope of this discussion, it isimportant to note that, with the extension discussion becoming more prominent, the character ofthe mission was finally acknowledged by both government and military. Ultimately this did not savethe mission and TFU was not continued: August 1st of 2010 marked the departure of TFU. ISAFcommand over Uruzgan was handed over to the Combined Team Uruzgan (CTU) under US commandwith the US, Singapore and Australia as its main contributors.Evaluation of ImpactTaking inventory of the state of Uruzgan at the time of departure of TFU is not straight forward. Asindicated at the start of this document, statistics are notoriously unreliable and information is oftennot verifiable. To arrive at a comparison between 2006 and 2010, generic trends have been used, astaken from a number of sources, mostly non-governmental62. These trends have been illustrated inthe previous discussion which followed the general time line of TFU’s deployment. Whereappropriate and relevant, these sources have been extended with those from NATO/ISAF and therelevant governments. More important, the core issues related to the impact of TFU on Uruzgan,are, in fact, more easily identified as the activities and trends over the four years of its existence anddescribed in the previous sections, provide ample evidence of both trend and approximate status.As mentioned in the introduction, despite the fact that the TFU mission was labeled differently, itsimpact will be evaluated against the desired outcome of a counterinsurgency operation. To maintaina level of oversight, the evaluation will decompose into two distinctive parts: the shape, clear andhold operations and the build operations.Clear and Hold StrategyAt the root of the TFU was its problematic start, the missing political strategy that is at the core ofcounterinsurgency. It does not surprise that based on the lacking political framework, the strategyon the ground was also not available. The best illustration of the total lack of a strategic frameworkat the start of TFU is the statement63 from General T. Vleugels who was the first commander of TFU:“We didn’t have a campaign plan when we started, but we later got one from my higherheadquarters that was close to ours, which is not surprising, as they told us to do what we told themwe would do.“ The clear and hold was to be implemented according to the ink spot approach:starting with the district centers of Tarin Kowt, Deh Rawud and Chora, the ink spots should bemerged and extended, in the end to cover the whole of Uruzgan. Over the period of four years, TFUhas been able to secure its initial ink spots. With operation Tura Ghar TFU demonstrated it hadlearned from its previous mistakes and was able to clear a key Taliban stronghold, the Baluchi Valleyand, with the help of the Afghan National Army, also implement a proper hold operation. Hence, a62 TLO (2010), Klep (2011), Derksen (2011), Koster (2011), UNDP (2006), UNDP (2010)63 Wikileaks citation from RAND Corporation report,http://blogs.rnw.nl/vredeenveiligheid/2009/03/06/briljant-citaat/1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 19
  • 20. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011modest expansion of the ink spot was also achieved. However, the size of TFU was simply too smallto extend beyond this area64. This lack of sufficient troops was already concluded by the secondcommander of TFU, General De Kruif65. The ensuing stalemate where the TFU was incapable ofextending the safe areas much beyond the original three district centers clearly played into thehands of the insurgents. TFU’s counterinsurgency strategy had other deficits: gaining the trust of thelocal population, one of the key elements of a counterinsurgency strategy66. Gaining this trust in aconservative, illiterate and polarized environment with a completely different culture and an almostnon-existing governance and leadership structure requires patience and a lot of time. Such relationsare build on a personal basis. Where US troops would rotate on an 11- or 12-month basis, USMarines on the basis of a 9-month cycle, Dutch TFU troops were rotating on a 4 to 6-month basis,making it virtually impossible to create some form of durable trust relation with the local populationand understand the lines of authority within the different communities. Specifically when engagingwith reconstruction efforts it is important to understand the sensitivities in these communities andengage with the right leaders. In addition, given this limited time it was also extremely hard to get agood understanding of the lay of the land and the specific details of the local economy, all importantas part of a thorough counter-insurgency strategy. Combined with the fact that the TFU forces wereall located in compounds outside of the villages it was virtually impossible for TFU forces todistinguish potential insurgents from the local population. Taking Kilcullen’s Twenty-Eight Articles67as a guideline for effective counterinsurgency, one can only conclude that TFU was severelyhandicapped before it could even get to the actual work. TFU was also not able to affect the powerbase of the insurgents outside of its ink spots nor was it able to impact its supply lines, its safe areasor its financial means. The areas secured by TFU were more and more perceived as unsafe due tothe sharp rise in the number of IEDs as well as suicide attacks. In this respect it is important to realizethat the ability of TFU to clear the area of Taliban should not be seen as just chasing the fightersaway but also the ability of TFU to dismantle the Taliban’s power base. This is of particularimportance with respect to the Taliban’s ability to recruit local fighters. Given that at least 6,000local fighters were counted in the south by 2006 (out of an estimated total of 10,000 68) it is clearthat reducing the Taliban’s ability to recruit new fighters was key to the Hold and subsequent Buildstrategy. This requires not only the dismantling of the Taliban’s local power but also, and asimportant, removing the reasons for local fighters to join the Taliban. In particular the Barakzai andAchakzai, being the largest tribes in the Uruzgan had been severely marginalized by the Popalzai andhad clearly changed their original pro-government stance into one of latent support for theinsurgents. Hence, one of the key requirements was to re-establish some form of tribal balance, oneof the primary focus points of the TFU upon arrival. Its first action, even before arriving was to try toreduce the Popalzai powerbase by forcing president Karzai to replace Uruzgan’s governor, JanMohammad Khan. Despite the removal of Jan Mohammad from the governor’s post (he wasappointed vice-minister for tribal affairs69), behind the scenes he remained in control. Thisexemplified the overall problem with the central government of Karzai: rather than trying toestablish neutral institutions for governance, it operated mostly in a tribal setting. Jan Mohammad,being a close trustee of Karzai (also a Popalzai), remained unchallenged. In fact he continued toexpand his own power structure, illustrated by the rise of Matiullah Khan. Over the last years, with64 It is illustrative that the surge of over 30,000 US troops, decided at the end of 2009, was focused on pushingback the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan.65 Dmitriu (2009), pp. 62166 Kilcullen (2006)67 Kilcullen (2006)68 Giustozzi (2008)69 Weger (2009), pp. 3451-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 20
  • 21. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011the rising insecurity in Uruzgan, Matiullah Khan, Jan Mohammad’s nephew, quickly became one ofthe most powerful players in Uruzgan, mostly by providing security for traffic along some of themain highways in use by ISAF for their resupply convoys. In 2010 his army counted up to 1,500soldiers which were better paid than the regular ANP forces. Payments of up to US$1,700 per truckprovided a formidable source of income to Matiullah. This also created a clear incentive forMatiullah to keep the Taliban (or other armed factions opposed to the presence of ISAF) at leastsufficiently alive to guarantee trouble for those convoys that refused to pay the protection fee.Similar to their negative view of Jan Mohammad, the TFU refused to pay Matiullah for the protectionof their roads, in particular the road under construction from Tarin Kowt to Chora. TFU’s choice wasa gathering of local groups along the road, each “securing” its own segment. This choice amplyillustrates the same fundamental problem that bedeviled the TFU mission: the lack of (build-up of) areliable and strengthening governance system of which ANP was a part of. Instead of improving thelocal situation these (inevitable) choices resulted in a further enablement of non-governmental(power) players, adding to the complexity of the situation. The growth of such a non-governmentalsecurity force also illustrates the lack of a common strategy between the different parts of ISAF.Where some within ISAF (and EOF for that matter) chose for further strengthening of the non-governmental power players (playing along the existing status quo) that provided some form oflegitimacy through (tribal) ties to Karzai, others focused on the local playing field and tried to(re)build some form of balance between the tribes. This lack of a common strategy not onlyimpacted the effectiveness of the respective (COIN) operations but also prevented the growth of astable and strong local and provincial governance structure, including the judicial system. Thisenabled the Taliban to move in and claim legitimacy on the basis of an absence of an effectivejudicial system. In terms of actual (government enforced) security this resulted in a furtherdependence on the ISAF forces as the non-governmental players functioned along tribal relations,making it non-responsive to complaints outside of these relations. Of course this further increasedthe dependency of local stability on the presence of ISAF.Build StrategyOn the build side there is the clear link with the ISAF mission and hence the TFU mission: “Helpingthe Afghan Authorities to establish good governance (on provincial and district level), promotehuman rights and facilitate the conditions for reconstruction”. The Afghan National DevelopmentStrategy70 had identified security as the first priority for Uruzgan. As second priority goodgovernance had been identified. The importance of good governance cannot be overrated in thecontext of Afghanistan. As has been discussed, its recent history had destroyed the original fragileand non-institutionalized governance system. The installation of the Karzai government had beenISAF’s departure point, defining its mission. Unfortunately, rather than rebuilding a system usingexisting (but damaged) institutions and available skills, good governance in the context of the ISAFmission translated into building a complete new structure in a top-down fashion that, mostimportantly, had no buy-in from the local population. It was tribally biased, thoroughly corrupt,largely incompetent and only present in the areas that were under direct control and protectionfrom TFU which meant away from most of its (rural) constituents.Although the PRT executed numerous projects, improved education and health care, improvedinfrastructure and agriculture, most of these achievements are dependent on the governancestructure: teachers’ salaries to arrive in time, police pensions to be paid, nurses and doctors to befurther trained and facilities to be maintained. Even with TFU presence, teachers’ salaries were70 ANDS (2006)1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 21
  • 22. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011disappearing in the pockets of corrupt officials in Kabul and the provincial and district centers andpolice salaries and pensions in the pockets of the Chief of Police. This resulted in teachers having tosell school books and furniture to be able to support themselves. Similar situations applied to policeofficers, doctors and nurses and other administrational officials dependent on the governancestructure itself for their salaries. The Afghan National Police’s reputation remained badly tarnished,despite some level of progress in their professionalization. The ANP continued to hassle the localpopulation, including random shootings and imprisonment on false charges, keeping the localpopulation deeply suspicious of the ANP. Like the police the judiciary system was, after 4 years ofTFU, in the same deplorable state and avoided by the local population. Here, the lack of coordinationbetween the different ISAF partners also created problems. As part of the Bonn Agreement71responsibilities for the (re)building of ANA, ANP and the justice system were in the hands of thedifferent players: USA, Germany and Italy respectively. The definition and roll-out of anti-drugcampaigns was also in the hands of a different country72, the UK. Due to this fractured approach andlack of coordination, fundamental tasks related to establishing proper justice in Uruzgan were neverimplemented. The most visible task was the eradication of poppy fields. Different policies werepursued. The UK focused on the traffickers, the US on the eradication of the poppy fields (mostlyimpacting the already poor farmers which had taken loans to buy the seeds) and the Dutch wantedto stay out of it completely. TFU did not pursue any relevant anti-drug policy73, resulting not only inthe continuation of criminal organizations involved in the narcotics trade but also leaving theircorrupting influence on justice and police untouched. The fact that the Taliban, through taxes, hadensured itself of a significant finance stream, estimated by some at US$350M/year, is anotherimportant failure associated with the lack of coordination between the different nations. The factthat the narcotics output of Uruzgan reached its top in 2009 illustrates this failure.ConclusionsIn summary it can be argued that the TFU mission failed. Its failure can be contributed to manyfactors: its lack of troops, the wrong start, the lack of counterinsurgency experience, its shortduration, the lack of a common strategy between the different ISAF contributors on virtuallyeverything ranging from the reconstruction efforts to fighting the narcotics trade. Where TFU failedto make sufficient progress on the secure and hold, it was the Afghan government that failed tobuild the governance framework whose presence was required to fixate the improvements drivenand enabled by the TFU. Even for the relatively small ink spot areas of the district towns of TarinKowt, Deh Rawud en Chora and their surroundings, proper governance and security could not beestablished. Whatever level of security and governance that could be established, it was non-sustainable and completely dependent on the presence of TFU and now its successor, CTU. Althoughthe finger is pointed at the central government in Kabul, its endemic corruption and its tribal bias Iconclude that the fundamental failure lies in the attempt of ISAF to establish a form of governmentthat had no roots within Afghan society74 and hence had no institutions and skilled people toimplement such a governance and justice structure. This resulted in a build phase which did notcreate the required independency but rather the opposite: a strong dependency of any progress onthe continued presence of the ISAF. Whether it concerns the economy, the security, the educationalsystem or the improved health care, the disappearance of ISAF would remove the framework thatupholds these improvements. What would remain are the different militias and their strongmen,71 Bonn agreement: wiki72 Police Reform, Hans Hovens, NL-ARMS, 2009, pp.30973 Giustozzi (2008), pp.20074 Barfield (2010), pp.71-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 22
  • 23. Mike Beunder/Countdown to Departure/July 1st, 2011tribal justice, a flourishing narcotics trade and the Afghan capital that would have lost its “raison deexistence”. Given its history, there is no doubt that tribal conflicts will return to the main course onthe menu for Afghanistan if and when ISAF would decide to depart.After the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, it took three years before the communistgovernment in Kabul fell, much to the surprise of even their own sponsors, the Soviet Union. Adeparture of ISAF would most likely trigger a similar time line as the key elements driving such ascenario (tribal conflicts, no governance beyond Kabul, neighbouring states interested in a weakAfghanistan) are close or identical to what they were some twenty years ago.1-7-2011 22:20:00 Page 23
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