Afghanistan: The cavalry leaves


The good news is that Pakistan is sending 20,000 troops to the border. The bad news, as you’ve heard, is that if you’re preoccupied with keeping bad guys out of Afghanistan, it’s the wrong border. Here’s an AP story that does a good concise job of explaining all the problems that will ensue if the Pak army leaves the border with Afghanistan to head east toward India.

Pakistani troops are far from useless in limiting insurgent Islamist activity and movement across that border. It’s true that they seriously aren’t great: they’re insufficient in number — it’s basically impossible to come up with enough soldiers to plug that border, as the Soviets found with multiples of the current combined Pakistani, ISAF and Afghan army deployment; they’re heavy-handed and uninterested in the relatively subtler techniques of counterinsurgency, which means that in cracking heads they create new enemies; and, as we are being reminded yet again, their political “masters,” to the limited extent they master much, are duplicitous and easily distracted. Still, for all that, everyone I’ve asked says it’s better to have the Pak army well-represented along the border with Afghanistan than not. And soon it will be “not.” To put that number of 20,000 in perspective: Barack Obama hopes to move 30,000 or fewer extra U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan over the next year and a half.  Suddenly, depending how you count it, about half that effort will now amount to merely treading water.


Afghanistan: The cavalry leaves

  1. Can we finally cease with the idea that Pakistan is an ally to our efforts in Afghanistan? With friends like this…….

    • You are right AM, Pakistan was never our ally. Pakistan is nothing but a money sucking country. The more you feed them with money the more lies they fabricate.

  2. Maybe what we could finally be rid of — say on Jan. 20 — is the notion that the distinction between friends and enemies is easy to make or definitive. I didn’t meet a single military commander in Afghanistan who thought his own job would be made any easier if Pakistan moved soldiers away from the border. But then, only a few years ago, Richard Perle and David Frum indulged the luxury of devoting an entire chapter of a book to explaining why France was a problem for the U.S. I love the smell of moral clarity in the morning. It smells like…well, no, that’s not victory…

  3. I never meant to imply that Pakistan is ONLY our enemy. Just like I think it is irresponsible to say that they are ONLY our ally. When it comes to Pakistan, and its role in the region there is certainly room for shades of grey. As with most everything in that region, nothing is definitive, and its a continuously evolving picture and dilemma.

  4. Ah. Point taken. Thanks for the review, Andrew; it sounds like Paul Martin’s book, except with the stakes way higher.

  5. Speaking as a rank amateur, would i be stating the obvious if i raised the fact that all our gallant efforts will amount to nothing if this other little confrontation developes an irresistible momentum of its own. I fear that we may be only scratching the itch in Afganistan, when the real sore is in Pakistan. If we [ the west] fails in Afganistan, it will be a tradegy, but Pakistan…

  6. Kc: indeed, which is why a year ago a lot of people were writing articles about Pakistan with titles like The World’s Most Dangerous Country. The NY Times is reporting tonight that this doesn’t seem to be a massive fullscale redeployment, but there’s always plenty of time for that later.
    Canada’s paying a lot more attention to Pakistan lately. Not, as far as I can tell, at the ministerial level, but to my mind that’s a feature, not a bug.

    • Is there any evidence that this government gives a hoot about soft power, isn’t it rather despised as typical liberal handwringing? Or isHarper coming belatedly to the realisation that Canada’s reach has limits.

  7. Sort of puts into perspective all the criticism that Mr. Dion got, when he audaciously suggested military action may be necessary inside Pakistan proper.

  8. As a pretty handy rule of thumb, anything that gets dismissed out of hand by Peter MacKay is (a) probably a good thing (b) going to happen anyway. This dates back at least as far as the demise of the party he used to lead.

  9. Canada’s engagement over there is a classic, tragic colonial folly writ small for all but those who die in its pursuit. Treasure and lives are being squandered without a clearly stated objective. The whole thing is … and I chose this word carefully … retarded. Leave it for the people in the neighbourhood, those who speak the language, know the terrain and hold the grudges to sort it out for themselves. It’s only Canada’s problem if they believe in the now nakedly discredited notion of an American century. Realistically is Canada going to part of an invasion of Pakistan? It’s too stupid to think about.

  10. That rule of thumb is why I feel confident in that anything dismissed out of hand by Peter MacKay is a path we should probably all be going down.

    • So we send in Peter MacKay to broker a signed agreement with the Taliban, then wait for MacKay to reneg, thus enraging the Taliban and forcing them to cross the floor into an alliance with NATO. Peace and secularism are then proclaimed. Key thing is, we have to think outside the box on this, and MacKay could be our biggest asset.

  11. The Pakistan-India thing could be a PR move on both sides, right?

    India has an election coming up – the Congress led coalition need to show something otherwise the Hindu-fundamentalist opposition led by the BJP will demagogue it to death (they have their own Stephen Harpers who make ours look positively lovable and cuddly).

    Pakistan would also benefit by showing its own military and civilan pop that they are defending their nation against the Indian aggressors.

    Hopefully, somewhere US satellites are providing intelligence to both sides just so they don’t bomb the wrong things.

  12. We seem to be in a classic lose,lose situation. We aren;t there in enough numbers to really change anything decisively and we hav’n’t the political will or public desire to change that fact. In a sense we’re asking our troops to do the best they can while all the while pretending that a worthwhile resolution is possilbe despite evidence t the contrary. Someone once said hope isn’t a strategy. i don’t doubt the sincerity of the desire of our troop to make a difference, but is that enough?

    • re: my point above, obvously i feel more needs to be done on the diplomatic front. I grew-up dealing with the ira and i’m pretty sure it would be accurate to state that, that war was not won on the battle field. every situation is different but i take it as salutary that one of the worlds great militaries was, in a sense forced to negotiate. We are not prepared , nor should we be prepared, to be ruthless enough to beat these guys. Maybe this is thinly disguised defeatism, but i think not.

  13. This must mean ex-floorcrosser Wijad Khan’s report on the region must be truly a gripping barnburner. No doubt Harper kept it under somewhere-other-than-Bernier’s pillow because it held some of the answers to the above…

  14. I know some some Canadians who have spent actual time in Afgahanistan recently. Their opinion is very simple: let the Afghans govern themselves. They say its difficult/impossible for outsiders to understand the local politics, let alone make a difference. Sending more and more troops does not really help. Why get killed in somebody else’s war?

    • This makes sense to me

  15. Afghan troops killed: 8,587
    Afghan troops seriously injured: 25,761
    Afghan civilians killed: 3,485
    Afghan civilians seriously injured: 6,273
    U.S. troops killed: 556
    U.S. troops seriously injured: 1,668
    Other coalition troops killed: 399
    Other coalition troops seriously injured: 1,197
    Contractors killed: 75
    Contractors seriously injured: 2,428
    Journalists killed: 6
    Journalists seriously injured: unknown
    Total killed in Afghanistan: 13,108
    Total injured in Afghanistan: 37,327

    So if more soldiers are deployed knowing history has proved fatal to any invader of Afghanistan…. what will have been accomplished….. another million or so people who hate the West and strike out in a number or ways or will they throw flowers at the feet of these invaders?

    • You forget that, as far as i know, Afgans support our role there. How long this will last is debateable if Afgans come to view our efforts as futile, or even ineffective.

      • It matters, I guess, that some Afghanis support us sending troops to fight and be killed by their enemies. What matters a more, however, is that most Canadians don’t support our troops being there.

        I agree with most Canadians on this.

        – JV

  16. The more I read about Afghanistan’s history the more I discover its complexity. Much of Afghanistan’s history has involved foreign invasion for control of its passes, nothing else. Is it any different now?

    Canada has been involved in a fight it was meant to maintain, not to win.

    I don’t trust Pakistan in the least.

  17. “Canada’s engagement over there is a classic, tragic colonial folly writ small for all but those who die in its pursuit. Treasure and lives are being squandered without a clearly stated objective.”

    The objective of the folly is pretty clear. You put your finger on it … “treasure is being squandered”. Think about it. WHERE is treasure being squandered, and WHO gets the treasure? The lion’s share is being squandered into the pockets of military contractors who supply food, fuel, weapons, vehicles, aircraft, naval ships, etc. These contractors spend millions and millions of dollars every year on bribes and kickbacks, which are known by euphemisms such as “hiring lobbyists” and “giving consulting jobs to retired politicians, bureaucrats and military personnel”. And this is just a hunch, but I would be very surprised if fat envelopes of cash are not also changing hands.

    That is why our forces are engaged in a useless, unwinnable quagmire. But it is a quagmire which is just inexpensive enough in lives and money that it doesn’t cause *too* much protest from the victims (i.e. taxpayers). The people who are stealing taxpayers money have come very close to finding the optimum amount to squeeze out of the public teat for the longest possible time. That is the main objective of the war.

    Secondary objectives are to appear to play ball with the Americans in order to not endanger certain cross-border business deals (mostly related to the arms industry), and also as a sop to the significant segment of the conservative base who think that war and death make a country great.

  18. There’s a short report today at BBC News about Taleban launching car bomb attack in NW Pakistan, killing 23, in retaliation for an attack on Taleban fighters a few weeks ago. It is a good sign if villagers are fed up with Taleban and are trying to fight back.

    Not sure if it’s villagers in one village or if it’s widespread but hopefully Pakistanis are tired of the Taleban. I am sure it would be much easier mission in Afghan if Taleban are being pushed out of Pakistan.

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