Just to follow up on yesterday's post about the prison break, Graeme Smith reminds us that the real failure of counterinsurgency here is not at the prison but outside of it. Sure, some guards might have been bribed, but the key failure is that none of the folks in the neighborhood tipped off the government or the internationals. Such a significant operation would have probably been noticed by some of the locals in an area that had seen much investment and had been very much under the control of the government and ISAF.
One of the recurring themes here at the Spew is that progress is best measured by information that we outside observers cannot really see--patterns in actionable intelligence tips from the people. Are people betting with their lives? Do they see the government and NATO as the best option in town? Or are they intimidated enough by the Taliban not to give the counter-insurgents the info they need? While there may be classified collections of data to suggest that the US/Canada/NATO/Afghan government is getting more and more good information to target the Taliban and detect roadside bombs and suicide bombers, clearly this prison break is one of those kinds of things that we would want to get info about beforehand. And we did not.
I always say we have not been doing COIN for eight or nine years, so we have to have reduced expectations. BUT this is a hunk of land with which the government and the international community have had much interactions and even control for the past several years. Yet none of the locals warned the relevant folks. If COIN does not work in the heart of Kandahar City, how likely is it work out in the outer-lying areas of the province?
Now, more than ever, it seems like a decent interval is all we can hope for. This one event (well, the second time) achieved its goal--of sucking all of the optimism about ISAF's latest efforts out of the country. The Taliban may be bad at governing and may be bad at marketing itself, but they do a mighty fine job of making the government and its allies look bad.
As always, Afghanistan is the land of bad alternatives. Which one is the least bad now?
Update: One addition: check out the debate in original Parliament. The Brits have style, I must say.