Last year, I wrote a pretty decent sketch of the past few years of operations in Kapisa province, just north of Kabul. The gist of it was that Kapisa has tremendous potential to become a model province for security mentoring, governance, and development, but individual units had been unable or unwilling to continue successful policies between deployments.
Now, when I was writing that piece, the French has pretty recently switched over Task Forces, and things were looking up: I was most excited about the campaign to retake the Alasay Valley, an infiltration route populated by an ethnic minority known as the Pashai. I even was able to scrounge together a short video about the operation:
For a while things, looked really positive: the locals in Alasay had responded positively to the establishment of a new combat outpost, and seemed happy about the re-opening of the district center. A few months down the line, however, things had begun to look really iffy:
This NGO friend reports that Kohistan, Mahmud Raqi, and Kohband districts, all of which were Jamiat and almost all Tajik, have become targetted zones of interest for the insurgency. Because they are close enough to Kabul, the militants count attacks there as attacks in Kabul—surely not good for the purposes of propaganda. “Our team sees a lot of movement of weapons and people from Pakistan with only a few intercepted by the security forces,” he says, “and there’s active insurgent surveillance along major roads where previously you’d never have seen them.”
Thanks to the usual unit turnover—my friends who served in the area were rotated on or chose to end their deployments, and the French switched over task forces—I lost track of what was going on in the area. Until the other week, when a buddy passing through Bagram was able to get a bit of an update on goings-on in the province. It doesn’t look good:
The French are not talking to the ANA (again) after a rather large brawl at a checkpoint. The ETT and PMT have pulled out of at least MF [FOB Morales-Frazier, the primary base in the province); I don’t know what’s going on at FOB Kutschbach. The PRT isn’t doing much at all. It looks like they’re just marking time till they leave. The worst bit of news though, is that the French and ANA have pulled out of Alasay, and after a few ambushes, don’t even venture in there anymore. That’s got me pretty upset. After all that shit, they just turn it back over to the Taliban….
I bring this up both to highlight what’s happening in a story I’ve been trying and failing to keep abreast of, but also to contextualize this disagreement between Andrew Exum and Tom Ricks. Ricks, perhaps predictably, wrote some somewhat misleading snark about the French being useless in combat; Andrew Exum responded by saying that in Kapisa they’ve actually acquitted themselves quite well.
The “real” answer is probably a little of both. The French have been effective, even visionary, when they want to be. But, much like the U.S. (or perhaps any) military, that effectiveness is due entirely to visionary leadership, rather than sound doctrine or policies. Just as American forces are a true mixed bag, with some encouraging successes and some truly disappointing failures, so the French too are a mixture of bad and good. And from the way it looks, the current crop of Frenchmen in Kapisa are not really doing so well.
If I can dig up any more information about what’s going on without actually traveling there, I will. Until then…
Photo: A French Cougar helicopter lands at FOB Morales-Frazier on February 16, 2009, taken by me.