Saturday, October 06, 2007


The following is a translation from the reliable Dutch magazine "Trouw":


Gino van der Voet , Lieutenant-Colonel, Commander Provincial Reconstruction Team Uruzgan from March to September 2007

For six months I was closely involved with the reconstruction effort in Uruzgan. I have, of course, followed the many reports and opinions in Dutch media about the situation there. Having worked myself in Uruzgan till last September, I am sorry to say I recognize very little therein [from the real situation].

A lot has changed in Uruzgan. I remember the situation two years ago, when I first reconnoitred the area. There's a world of difference with the present day situation. Those driving through Tarin Kowt now, see tremendous activity. The number of shops has more than doubled, and they offer more. Building companies act as local DIY's too. More trucks than ever drive to Kandahar and back carrying goods.

At the time, the camp lay at least at a distance of one kilometre from the township, now it borders, together with Camp Holland, on the outskirts. More and more Afghan citizens settle in Tarin Kowt to benefit from the activity. So there's certainly a good deal of positive news to tell. Last week Minister Koenders of Development Aid, together with his Afghan colleague, signed the building contracts for the first eleven schools, paid for by The Netherlands via the 'Equip Programme'. And then there's lots of ongoing projects in the fields of education, health care, agriculture, infrastructure, justice and safety.

That things don't move faster is disappointing for some. This conclusion however ignores the circumstances under which the reconstruction effort takes place. Do not forget that Uruzgan is one of the poorest provinces in one of the poorest countries. Of the inhabitants, 93.5% cannot read or write. Establishing effective local governance is therefore a tiresome process. One NGO assists in this task, in Tarin Kowt. On the provincial level, this too will take time. Even as the local authorities are so "green", we prefer to organize our projects in cooperation with them. In this manner one gives the reconstruction effort an Afghan face, which is of paramount importance for the populace to trust its own authorities.

That it won't go faster is also because of the polarization, over tens of years of conflicts and suppression, of Pashtun society. Tribal twists and faux tribal representation in local authorities have led to nepotism. Some parts of the population are deliberately neglected. In an environment like that, we cannot simply pass by and start a project. It costs time to get a good grasp of the local circumstances, but it can't be done any other way. A project that favors one tribe over another, is doomed.

Gaining the trust of the population costs time. But over the past months, a solid base has been laid. Using the contacts we have now, we reached a level of success in new projects. And about that reconstruction effort: there sure are obvious results. Under the PRT's aegis, over the course of one year schools have been renovated or built and irrigation canals have been dug and dams been built. Sabotage by Taliban fighters - widespread in other provinces - hasn't taken place. Not one Dutch PRT project has been set on fire. We ask a local community: what do you need? The school that's built subsequently with Dutch money won't be torched that fast by the Taliban. They would lose all sympathy among the locals.

The Netherlands is deliberately keeping a low profile in the reconstruction effort, so as not to give the impression the project is an exclusive NATO/ISAF initiative. Much smarter is it to have the school built by local entrepreneurs. During patrols the PRT is checking whether the work is done according to the plans drawn up.

It is true, the Taliban try to undo our work and get the country under their yoke again. The Task Force's military act against that. The locals simply don't want to live under the Taliban. They want a future for their family, so that their children can go to school. They want a life without Taliban confiscating their winter rations, enforcing shelter at gunpoint, bomb attacks. The Taliban aren't that strong they can paralyze the whole province. They don't have that power.

The heavy fighting of the past few months doesn't mean The Netherlands is losing. To the contrary, the fighting has enhanced the Dutch troops' standing among the locals, even if civilian casualties were counted. In some areas we now have easier access. Given the circumstances the Dutch military is working in, Holland has accomplished a lot the past year. But it is and remains a first step. All our results have to be consolidated and that too costs time, requiring a long-lasting involvement of the international community.

- Lt.Col. Gino Van Der Voet, Dutch Army, Uruzgan Province

This is not the first time that I read about the Dutch success in quelling Taliban terror, using the bifold tactic of an iron fist against the terrorists and smart, intense cooperation with the local population in rebuilding their war-torn country. As our good friend CDR Salamander has noted several times:

There never was a feeling that there was strictly a military solution to AFG. The military can only provide the security so that the true keys to victory – rule of law, reconstruction and development – can take place. That has always been the case.

You should follow that link. It has an amazing story about American paratroopers enlisting the help of an anthropologist - yes, an anthropologist - in their fight against the Taliban:

SHABAK VALLEY, Afghanistan — In this isolated Taliban stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, American paratroopers are fielding what they consider a crucial new weapon in counterinsurgency operations here: a soft-spoken civilian anthropologist named Tracy.

Tracy, who asked that her surname not be used for security reasons, is a member of the first Human Terrain Team, an experimental Pentagon program that assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to American combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. Her team’s ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations — in one case spotting a land dispute that allowed the Taliban to bully parts of a major tribe — has won the praise of officers who say they are seeing concrete results.

Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division unit working with the anthropologists here, said that the unit’s combat operations had been reduced by 60 percent since the scientists arrived in February, and that the soldiers were now able to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population...

Okay, enough now about reaching out to other cultures, anthropologists and learning mollahs how to craft wooden shoes. For those Taliban who are no quick studies, there are other courses and projects:

Dutch F-16 takes off from Kandahar Airfield


Dutch Apache attack helicopter


Dutch Bushmaster armoured trucks



(*) (Low Countries version of Holland ueber alles)