Vikings in Afghanistan

This continues my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

Norway (by Kristian Berg Harpviken) occupies the next chapter of the book.  Just as I recommended that you read the Australian chapter after the Dutch since they took over the Uruzgan PRT from them, it seems the Norwegians chapter would be well read right after that of the Germans.  After all, the Norwegians took over the PRT Meymaneh from the British but the Germans were in control of RC-North.

As with many of the coalition nations in Afghanistan, cooperation with the United States was a key motivator.  The Norwegians pulled out their modest contribution to the Iraq war in 2005 and felt obligated to demonstrate themselves to be good allies and so determined to increase their presence in Afghanistan.

It’s not clear what lessons Norway has gained from its time in Afghanistan.  As Harpviken states:

With the possible exception of Special Forces, though, Norway has not developed any clear niche capacity.

Further, while most nations have decided that unity of effort is an important  component to counterinsurgency and state-building (even if it isn’t practiced in reality), the Norwegians have clearly separated their military and civilian efforts.  Military commanders had no authority over the allocation of aid money and, presumably, little say in prioritization of aid projects.  Some of this is part of how Norway sees its role in statebuilding missions generally.

By implication, this also meant that the PRT was a security-focused entity which, in the absence of civilian authority over aid allocation, could not pursue a ‘whole of government’ ambition.

And, similar to what happened to the Germans, 2006 was not a particularly good year.  If you remember, the Danish cartoon scandal was rocking the Islamic world and Afghans (like Americans) apparently didn’t see much difference between Danes and Norwegians and so started a riot in Maymana.  Things apparently got quite bad and the PRT moved it’s base from the center of town to the outskirts.

Now, I have no idea how secure their old facility was and it could have been a total death trap (like the British base in Kabul during the insurrection of 1841-1842) but, in any case, the outcome still played into the insurgents’ hands.  The Norwegians left the city, putting even more space between them and the population.  Again and again (and usually in 2006) we’ve seen the insurgents conduct an attack and the response is usually to hunker down and focus on force protection, giving the insurgents a great deal more freedom and undermining the credibility of the coalition forces in the eyes of the local population.

And so Norway is kind of left in this weird twilight zone where they try to cram the realities of Afghanistan into their doctrine of how stabilization operations should work.  They can probably be seen as a ‘Goldilocks’ partner, doing neither much overall harm or good to the mission.

Finally, this probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t had a chance to read the book but it’d be nice if the editors took a couple of the figures they used in their introduction (the alliance dependence/threat balancing matrix and integrated model of coalition of decision making) and placed the nations spotlighted in the book on them to give the reader a quick impression of the range of motivations and priorities.


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