The first quarterly report of 2010 on the Afghanistan mission was posted today. Colleagues Geddes and Wells are going over it and I look forward to their thoughts, but my initial impression is that it is even thinner and more unhelpful than the last one. The main report is full of assurance that progress is being made on most fronts, underwritten by indirect and flossy prose that uses phrasings such as “Canada continues to support” and “continues to implement” and “continues to provide”, but it’s never really clear what that support or implementation or provision is achieving.
Going by the benchmarks in the Appendix, things do seem to be progressing on one key aspect, and that’s the training and mentoring of the ANA kandaks (though they remain woefully under strength) The polio vaccination program seems to be doing well also, even if it hasn’t achived its objective of complete eradication. But most of the other successes are in the land of low-hanging fruit — building things, giving money to people, organising meetings, and so on. The crucial aspect of the COIN strategy – security for the population of Kandahar — remains a long way off.
But probably the most misleading part of the report is the status of the Dahla Dam project, Canada’s largest and most important signature project. The quarterly report says that “significant progress” was made on the rehabilitation of the dam, with 85000 cubic metres of silt removed from the canals, and preliminary engineering work completed. That may be so, but for a more complete version of events you need to read the investigative work done by the Toronto Star’s Mitch Potter, and published this week. Far from “significant progress” being made, he reports that the project is headed toward disaster. I won’t even try to summarise the report — read it for all the gory and unhappy details details.
Canadian officials, especially from CIDA, have been telling journalists for months that everything is peachy over at the Dahla Dam, while rumours that it is turning into a s**t show have been circulating for just as long. This is outstanding work by the Star, and it puts the lie not just to the blandly pleasant quarterly report on the Dam, but also calls into question the report’s alleged progress on almost every other front.
If the project is really in as bad shape as the Star has reported, it is bad enough. The real scandal though is that the opposition did not think it worth bringing it up in the House of Commons this week.