Afghanistan: Sorry about the mess... - Macleans.ca
 

Afghanistan: Sorry about the mess…


 

Last week, I was in Ottawa appearing on a panel discussion at UofO that was  about Canada’s future role in Afghanistan. Also speaking were Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada Jawed Ludin, former ambassador to Afghanistan (and current Conservative candidate) Chris Alexander, and Wahid Waissi, director of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.  My brief was supposed to be on the “security situation”, but given that pretty much everyone in the room was more qualified to talk about it than I was, I used up my allotted ten minutes to say, in various ways, that “it’s complicated and uncertain”.

I was gratified then when, during the discussion, a Canadian colonel with extensive experience in RC South stood up to say that the reason it the security situation seems complicated and uncertain is precisely because it is complicated and uncertain. The surge was only completed in early September, the crucial operations in Kandahar have only been underway for about six weeks, and it simply is not clear yet how things are going to turn out. There are plenty of negative signs, a few positive signs, and it won’t be clear which way the wind is really blowing until the “fighting season” resumes in early spring. Which is why Canada’s decision to cease combat operations next July 1 is increasingly turning into a big headache for our allies.

In private, American and British military officers have never hidden their disdain for the way Canada is handling this pullout. In February, a British general I was speaking with in Kabul called it “bad campaign work, and bad coalition work”. When I was back there in late September, I asked an American two-star general working at the IJC what they were going to do when Canada left. He sighed, then shrugged his shoulders. After a bit, he pointed at the map of Kandahar that was laid out in front of us, put his finger on Canada’s area of operations, and said that current thinking is the Canadians will be replaced with an Afghan kandak, assuming one can be found that can operate independently. The look on his face made it clear that he didn’t think that was plausible.

If Matthew Fisher’s report in today’s Gazette is accurate, it looks like they’ve decided to fill that vacancy with an American battalion. And the reason it is causing so many problems is not just that those troops have to come from somewhere else in the country, but that the changeover is going to be happening right smack in the middle of the fighting season, making the transition that much more difficult and dangerous. And since it is pretty clear that Canada is definitely leaving, the Americans have stopped keeping their concerns private. Here’s Fisher quoting Brig.-Gen. Fred Hodges, who has spent the last year directing the war in RC South:

Filling the hole left by departing Canadian Forces was “a great concern,” Hodges said. “It is not just the battle group, with a squadron of tanks, but all the enablers. They are a big chunk of our aviation. They have some of the best ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) collection capabilities.

“There are no more U.S. (troops) coming. It is going to come out of hide. You can be sure we are looking around right now for how to make that up.”

This is not to say that Canada’s combat commitment to Afghanistan should be permanent; there are lots of good arguments why the war has become a distraction from the original goal of fighting terrorism. But the problem is that a few years ago, the Afghan war switched from a mission to deny al-Qaeda a home to a broader program to rebuild a functioning Afghan state.

Maybe that was unwise, and maybe that mission is impossible. But it is the way we are leaving that is making our NATO allies and our Afghan friends extremely unhappy. As ambassador Ludin noted in his opening remarks at the panel last week (repeating a plea he made back in March) despite frequent promises to do so, the Canadian government has given no indication of what form our engagement in the country will take after we cease combat operations. The military people are desperate for trainers, Ludin says his country is desperate for our expertise on governance, but the message we’ve been giving is that we’re leaving, but we’re staying, but we’re not sure how.

This didn’t come up as one of the purported reasons for why Canada didn’t win a seat on the security council at the UN. But given the ignoble way we’re skulking out of one of the UN’s biggest security and development operations in decades, it is mystifying why we ever thought we deserved the seat.


 

Afghanistan: Sorry about the mess…

  1. Well the Americans are about to spend $511M to expand their embassy in Kabul, so they plan to be there awhile.

    Their problem.

    • Yeah: supporting formerly failed states in their ascent to functionality, using our power to shield populations from systemic human rights abuses, and engaging in the protection of international aid endeavours simply isn't Canadian.

      • No, it's western arrogance.

      • If history, or public opinion, is of any instructive value, than no, no those things aren't Canadian.

  2. Maybe our pull-out will convince the next people planning an invasion to have a half-decent plan that can be exectued in less than a decade (that's TWO second world wards).

  3. Remember we went to the south to relieve US soldiers needed in Iraq. Before they left for that waste of time and lives, there was a chance to get Afghanistan back on its feet. So for them to return so many years later in force, then complaim about Canada’s small force returning home, is a bit rich. They should be thanking us.

  4. The surge is not going to work like in Iraq, The best we can hope for is to keep the pressure on and seek a negotiated settlement that will bring the Taliban into the Govt. and let western forces leave saving face…

    • You call that saving face- bs it is running out while the project is incomplete. Not even close to accomplishing the goal. Not a proud moment but not unexpected from Harpo. I wonder if this will be his "AVRO-ARROW" for which Deifenbaker is still the worst PM we've ever had. Big ego to go with a small brain, insecure, and powerful enough to do stupid stuff.
      The Taliban will only talk when they know it will be able to take control as soon as everyone leaves.

  5. We shouldn't have gotten into this mess. We should get out of it. Because it won't be a clean break is not an excuse to keep us there risking our men and women and wasting our money rebuilding a nation that doesn't want us, won't tolerate us, tries to kill us.

    Afghansitan is not too big to fail. It's failed, lets GTFO!

  6. Gee, if my son was in Afghanistan, risking his life, while a putz like Potter makes contributions to public policy concerning his future, i'd be alot angrier than I am now.
    What gives these 'thinkers' the right to say one damn word? They have no character, they're not stakeholders, they don't have salient experience or knowledge. Who are they? Who are these elites? Why aren't Canadians angrier, now that we can see the machinations of the policy-speak-wheel on the web?
    These idiots should keep quiet.

    • You do realize Potter has gone to Afghanistan twice to ask soldiers exactly what it is you demand he should know, right?

    • "These idiots should keep quiet" says the one with a major in international relations.

  7. Gee, if my son was in Afghanistan, risking his life, while a putz like Potter makes contributions to public policy concerning his future, i'd be alot angrier than I am now.
    What gives these 'thinkers' the right to say one damn word? They have no character, they're not stakeholders, they don't have salient experience or knowledge. Who are they? Who are these elites? Why aren't Canadians angrier, now that we can see the machinations of the policy-speak-wheel on the web? The government is going to pull out of Afghanistan. It's DONE! It's the British who have tied up the development money in their circle of elites — money that, had it been adminstered by Afghans, would have made the difference. But Potter here takes their side! He's not even patriotic! Yet he gets to speak. How unfair. How dangerous.

  8. Gee, if my son was in Afghanistan, risking his life, while a putz like Potter makes contributions to public policy concerning his future, i'd be alot angrier than I am now. What gives these 'thinkers' the right to say one damn word? They have no character, they're not stakeholders, they don't have salient experience or knowledge. Who are they? Who are these elites? Why aren't Canadians angrier, now that we can see the machinations of the policy-speak-wheel on the web? The government is going to pull out of Afghanistan. It's DONE! It's the British who have tied up the development money in their circle of elites — money that, had it been adminstered by Afghans, would have made the difference. But Potter here takes their side! He's not even patriotic! Yet he gets to speak. How unfair. How dangerous.

    • Patriotism has nothing to do with

      Patriotism has nothing to do with

      Patriotism has nothing to do with Afghanistan

      • If you believe that you’re a fool!

    • I was in Afghanistan for two years as a civilian supporting the military mission. Your statement "It's the British who have tied up the development money in their circle of elites — money that, had it been adminstered by Afghans, would have made the difference." Is a real hoot. On the world index Afghanistan is the second most corrupt nation on earth with Somalia at #1. The only difference Afghan administered money would have made is that the warlords would have newer Mercedes and more luxurious compounds.

  9. Bertrand Russell wrote "War Crimes in Vietnam" in 1967, a year before the 'watershed' Tet offensive – and 5 years before Richard Nixon 'surged' US forces there to cow the enemy into surrender. We all know how that fiasco spun out, but at the time Russell was vilified as a Communist propagandist and an enemy of freedom. History has shown that he was right – those things he decried: Napalm and white posphorus, the Phoenix program, massacres and carpet bombing, Agent Orange and experimental weapons all turned out to be the stuff of that lost war.

    What he noted most were the lies and deceptions perpetrated on the people, to cast that foreign offensive as, somehow, the fault of the offended.

    Change Vietnam for Iraq or Afghanistan and Russell's story can be repeated without little other revision, for the same injustices visited on the Vietnamese in the name of 'democracy' or 'freedom' or 'security', the same false casus belli – an intangible threat to civilization and slighted power, the lies and disingenuities, the depersonalized, mechanized killing, are the same 'stuff' of to-day's wars.

    For Canadians the difference is that, 40 some years ago we were wise enough to know naked aggression and injustice when we saw it, and this time we joined the 'bully boys'. We should have maintained our independence from and 'honest brokerage' to both sides. Now – 25 billion and 152 dead Canadians later, we're hanging on to the same tiger's tail they grabbed and our 'pals' are getting ready to call us names if we let go.

    With 'pals' like that we don't need enemies.

    • here here

  10. I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF THE ADMINISTRATOR CAN TELL ME WHY MY COMMENT HAS BEEN DELETED

  11. It appears to me Afganistan and Irag are just another Vietnam
    It's an endless situation that should be decided by the people or Irag and Afganistan , what type of country they want and persue it on their own. Why did the USA go there for in the beginning, when it wasbased on lies . It seems to me the Bush presidents are just "war mungers" not much better than the enemy Who do they think they are invading other countries and bombing their people in the name of fighting terrorism and jamming American democracy down their throats. with no commitment to help these people when all is said and done.
    We Canadians have always been highly regarded in the world as peace keepers and have shown poor judgement going to a USA war to rid the world of non democratic countries and likely ideally only for the oil fields they want control of. Shame on them , just killing innocent citizens for nothing.

  12. As many of you know, I am a veteran of 25 years. From the beginning, and even prior to the operation into Afghanistan I have been against any involvement there under the pretext of "fighting terrorism." I have always thought that terrorism should be countered at our own borders. not in the trackless mountains and hills of Afghanistan where dozens of armies of one sort or another have failed to achieve success, right back to Alexander the Great. As before, after westerners leave the country will change back, just as a sand castle disappears on the incoming tide.

    We are not in a war against Islam and we shouldn't be pulled in that direction by the US whose evangelical right seem to want to fulfill their insane expectations of Armageddon and "Rapture", but because a relatively small number of Islamic terrorists want to target elements of Western, particularly British and American social structures. Americans got lost in Iraq, kidding themselves they were after terrorists and WMD. Our concern must be to stop terrorists from getting into Canada, a smaller goal than cleansing them from Afghanistan.

    For the our army, this has been their opportunity to re-equip, develop purpose and esprit de corps – and test leadership.
    We are good at peacekeeping and should not get pulled into sinkholes involving peace making which is a euphemism for unorganized war. I am sorry some generals noses are out of joint, but if the US had not wasted its substance in Iraq they might have succeeded in Afghanistan, although I doubt that too.

    We should not let our leaders use this panic over our departure from Afghanistan as a reason to stay on in any capacity., Too soon it would be an excuse to get involved again.

  13. We should be in a war against Islam as it is one of the very few ideologies (it doesn't merit being called a religion) that does not follow a "live and let live" theme. It seems that you are either with them or against them with no middle ground.

    • But can we not simply reject their philosophies? Do we have to be at war with them?
      If anything they are bullies and should be ignored. Go draw a picture of Mohammed and laugh at them when they get all upset. Treat them as the bullies they are, don't reduce yourself to their level and get violent and threatening.
      Maybe the don't have a big gray area or middle ground. But your statement above is equally indicative of a lack of middle ground. By making such statements you become the extremist and lose all moral grounds to stand on.

      • Nicely said, John.