Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Transition Means What?

President Hamid Karzai announced which parts of Afghanistan will transition from ISAF control to Afghan control: four cities and three provinces.  The cities include Mehtar Lam, Herat, Mazer-e-Sharif, and Lashkar Gah.  The provinces include Bamyan, Panjshir, and most of Kabul.

First, there are some surprises and non-surprises in this list:
  • It would have been surprising if Bamyan was not on this list.  It is remote and populated by Hazaras who deeply resent the Taliban.  The province has been mostly the responsibilty of a very small New Zealand contingent (around 200) and most notable for having a female governor.  The one question here is how far along the police might be since the Kiwis have not been doing police training if I remember my interviews correctly. This will most likely give the Kiwis the excuse to pull out their conventional forces.  200 troops is not a deal breaker anywhere in Afghanistan.
  • Herat is the site of the Italian Provincial Reconstruction Team [PRT] and much of the Italian effort.  Little is really known about this.  When it comes to Afghanistan, the Italian government is atypically quiet.  I tried to interview the Italian defense attache in Ottawa, but did not get an audience (yes, caveats apply to DATT's as well).
  • Mazer-e-Sharif has been a key German base for RC-North and the location of the Swedish PRT.  This is interesting because the Norweigans, I think, were hoping to move out of their PRT that is further west and more remote to move in with the Swedes, but perhaps it will be the other way around.  The city transitions raise questions about what counts as a city.  Will the German base in this area, used to support the rest of operations in the western part of RC-North, be closed?  Re-deployed to another part of RC-N?  It certainly is not leaving the region, unless it leaves the country.
  • Kabul was supposed to have transitioned a few years ago.  Turkey still has a large contingent here, and it is unlikely to go anywhere else as security here is still too important and the Turks are pretty heavily restricted.
  • Lashkar Gah is the most controversial since it is the capitol of Helmand, the most violent province.  Perhaps the violence is not in the city so much as elsewhere?  A very puzzling choice given the fragility of the region, and the desire to start only where the gains are seen as relatively irreversible.
The Canadians would like to see Kandahar on the list, but that is quite, well, laughable.  Yes, the Canadians have worked hard over the years, but Kandahar is hardly ready to be among the first to be turned over.  Especially since the politics here are shaky with Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, always stirring the pot.

It is not clear what transition really means since the first case of it--Kabul--still has not really happened.  The idea is that Afghans take the leading role in providing security.  That means PRTs can stick around, I guess, since they are not security providers but development and governance facilitators (or whatever).  But their efforts/movements are heavily coordinated with the military units, so will Swedes remain in M-E-S and be guarded by Afghans? Or will the Swedes move their PRT to someplace else?  Lots and lots of unanswered questions. 

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