The British weekly The Economist this week published an article about Dutch NATO activities in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan. Interesting, as not too many non-Dutch media report from the province. However a few remarks could be made (apart from the fact that The Economist uses yet another and unusual transcription of Tarin Kowt, the province capital. It goes for ‘Tirin Khot’). On a more serious note:
– The Economist writes that the Netherlands deployed 2000 troops to the province. That’s incorrect: there have never been more than 1000-1300 Dutch military personnel deployed there.
– The weekly writes that Uruzgan was the birthplace of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. That’s not correct either. Omar was born in Kandahar province, but his family did move to Uruzgan province at a later stage.
– The Economist compares casualty numbers among the Dutch with those of the British and Canadian forces in neighbouring Helmand and Kandahar provinces. This comparison is meaningless, as the activities of the Taliban and other armed groups have been far more intensive in the latter two provinces. Since 2006, there have been only two major Taliban offensives in Uruzgan province, both of those in 2007.
– The ‘ink-spot’ approach cited by The Economist is not a Dutch invention – it’s a standard counterinsurgency strategy, first developed by British troops in Malaya during the 1948-1968 Malayan Emergency.
– Dutch forces did not fight “a long battle” in the Baluchi Valley in late 2007. There was a major battle in June of that year, in the adjacent Chora Valley. In fact, in the eyes of the Dutch military that particular battle finally laid to rest “the ghost of Srebrenica” cited by The Economist – it was the largest battle the Dutch had fought since the Korean War of the 1950s. In three days, using all available combat troops and with massive air and artillery support they defeated a large force of Taliban and foreign fighters.
– An interesting aspect of the article is that it does provide statistics for access to education and health care. In official Afghan surveys, Uruzgan is the only province of the country where no figures are available, making it a statistical ‘black hole’ of the country. The reason, as given by the authorities: conducting a survey was impossible due to the insecurity in the province.