In Afganistan the final battle begins - Macleans.ca
 

In Afganistan the final battle begins

Paul Wells: This time the tactics are different and backup has arrived


 
afganistan, kaadahar city, canadian troops

Louie Palu/CP

“This is the edge of the moon,” Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie told me as we dismounted from our armoured vehicles at the foot of the Soviet-built mountain fortress of Sperwan Ghar. He pointed westward. “If you go 100 m that way, you will die.”

For now, this little outpost, only 30 km from Kandahar City in the rolling farmland of the Panjwayi district, marks the outer edge of the territory Canadian troops control and patrol. It’s impenetrable: a steep man-made hill with heavy guns, a moat, and a tethered balloon whose cameras allow the 200-odd Canadian Forces soldiers there to monitor and sometimes target insurgent activity in every direction.

But to the west, Canadians have left the area to insurgent fighters. There are perhaps only a few hundred of them in a local population of 3,000, Maj. Wade Rutland told Leslie. But the bad guys have “complete freedom of manoeuvre” in and around three villages, Zangabad, Mushan and Talukan, that Rutland called the area’s “insurgent Axis of Evil.”

Leslie stared out at green vineyards punctuated by the telltale pink of opium poppies. “Well,” he said, “this summer a few thousand of our closest friends are going to be paying them a visit.”

Andrew Leslie is the chief of the land staff of the Canadian Forces. Every few months over the last four years, he has come back to Afghanistan to better understand the progress of Canada’s war effort. These are not royal visits: as quickly as he can, Leslie gets out of conference rooms and onto the road, travelling by light armoured vehicle to visit soldiers at the forward operating bases and combat outposts on the leading edge of battle. For this latest visit, his last before he is replaced as chief of the land staff in June, Leslie invited Maclean’s along for the ride.

This was my third trip to Kandahar, after short visits in late 2007 and late 2008. In those earlier visits I heard about the frustrating business-as-usual all Canadians have come to recognize in the news from Afghanistan. Hardy and valiant Canadian Forces troops were more than able to beat back periodic Taliban offensives against Kandahar City. But they were desperately insufficient in number for the task of holding the vast territory beyond. The Canadians put a brave face on, but at best, for year after brutal year, they were buying time. Until what? It was never clear.

This year is radically different. The old status quo is gone, wiped away by thousands of newly arrived U.S. troops, with more to come soon. That buildup began, here in the Afghan south, only last autumn. It has been breathtakingly rapid. Block after city block of newly built U.S. barracks line the boulevards of the sprawling International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base at Kandahar Air Field. In the forward bases Leslie was as likely to be briefed by a U.S. Army colonel or major as by a Canadian. In an unheralded departure from the tradition that U.S. soldiers take no orders from a foreigner, all of these forces, Canadian and American, are under the direction of a Canadian: Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, who arrived last November to serve as the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan.

It is hard to overstate the difference all of this new muscle makes to the strategic picture in Kandahar. A U.S. civilian official I met, viewing the landscape with the fresh eyes of a recent arrival, did perhaps the best job of summing up the new situation.

“The Canadians were out here for five years with a kind of augmented battalion. They call it a battle group but I think it only had about 1,200 guys in it,” said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “So the insurgents would come back every summer running the same play. If they were a football team, you would say they had one play in their playbook. The play is to lay up in the crescent around Kandahar City—from Arghandab to Zahri to Panjwayi to Dand, running north, west, south in that agricultural crescent,” he said, naming districts that are roughly equivalent in size to rural Canadian counties.

“They lay up in there and when they feel that the city is vulnerable enough and they are strong enough, they make a run on the city. They did this in 1994 and that’s when they took the city. And by 1996 they had taken the country. So they scored on that play, once. So they came back at the Canadians in ’06, ’07 and ’08. And the Canadian battle group was able to deny them the city—but they were never able to vanquish them from this area of operations because they didn’t have the resources.

“Well, the resource picture now is quite different. You have a battalion of American paratroopers in the Arghandab. You have a battalion of American infantry out in Zahri. You have the Canadian battle group in Panj­wayi. You have a squadron of American cavalry, that’s 500 guys, coming into Dand. You have the Strykers doing the road mobility mission on Ring Road 1 and Route 4 down to Pakistan, so they keep that road clear. And then you have the Second Brigade of the 101st Airborne, which is going to be 5,000 or 6,000 guys, coming in this summer.
“That’s a lot of people. I mean, that’s just a completely different set-up than anything the insurgency has ever faced down here.”

All this new muscle is preparing for a two-month operation that will begin sometime in June. It will aim at last to extend coalition control, and then the civil authority of the government of Afghanistan, into every pocket of Kandahar province.

There will certainly be violence. “I’m going there in a big way,” Menard told me, sweeping his hands westward across a map of the province. “Like, in a big way. And I’ll be right at the end of all of this with troops. Right to the end. I will be. That I promise. Right? So are they going to resist or not?”

But here is where the business ahead starts to look different from what you might expect. This summer, as in earlier battles this spring in neighbouring Helmand province, the ISAF commander, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has made a point of substantially abandoning the element of surprise. In radio broadcasts and widespread pamphlet dumps, the coalition is warning the insurgents a fight is coming. That gives them all the opportunity in the world to run away.

“If they decide to fight, they’re gonna die,” Menard said. But if they flee the province ahead of advancing troops, “I’ll be the happiest guy on the planet because we’ll have achieved the aim without interrupting the normal life of all those folks here that are the important ones”—the ordinary Afghans whose towns and villages have been a battleground for years. “I don’t care about the insurgents. I really don’t. All I want to do is marginalize them.”

That’s the other big change, harder to see than four U.S. infantry battalions but perhaps as important in what lies ahead. It’s an evolution in the attitude of the ISAF forces, under the leadership of McChrystal and his boss, the commander of U.S. Central Command, David Petraeus. It’s a new commitment to the doctrine of counter-insurgency—a belief that the real target isn’t the insurgents, it’s the attitude of the broader population.

If ordinary Afghans believe their government can enforce minimal standards of comfort and decency, they won’t put up with Taliban fighters who, after all, first showed up among them less than 20 years ago in a country that had been war-wrecked to anarchy. And if they don’t believe it, then the other strangers in their midst—the Canadian, U.S. and allied armies—can kill all the insurgents they like, it won’t change the fundamental equation.

It was always easy enough to find a general or two in Kabul or Kandahar willing to pay lip service to this doctrine. What I found this time, in spartan fortified camps in territory the Taliban still held as recently as last November, was majors and captains in their thirties who truly believe the goodwill of the population is their real target and who plan and work according to that assumption. Guys like Jeremiah Ellis.
Capt. Ellis commands the Dog Company of the 1st Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 12th Infantry Regiment. He greeted Leslie, Menard, and the other top Canadian officer in our four-vehicle convoy, Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, at an outpost in Senjaray. Ushering his VIP guests into a briefing room built of plywood and sparsely decorated with folding chairs and wall maps, Ellis gave only the briefest account of the military situation—basically, his guys have it under control—before pleading for help to reopen the local school.

“This place is ready to tip,” from a population that supports the Taliban to one that will reject them, he told Leslie. “These people want to tip.” But the haunted school in the middle of town is the biggest reason they don’t.

Canadian money built and opened that school, but Canadian troops were not around to defend it when the Taliban booby-trapped it in 2006 and left letters saying anyone who tried to take it back would be murdered. If Dog Company takes the school back, sooner or later the insurgents will do the same. What’s needed is a commitment from the Afghan government to keep it open, backed by Afghan National Army troops who will be vigilant long after Jeremiah Ellis goes home.
He’s pleaded for help, he told Leslie. The Afghan police, poorly equipped and often corrupt, have been no help. “They’d show up, kick a dog, steal an apple, not do much.” It’s the Afghan army, rapidly growing and professionalizing, that’s needed. “Until then, that school sits as a monument,” Ellis said. “It sits there as a monument to the fact that their government won’t do anything for them.”

This conviction that the first job of soldiers is to vouchsafe the essentials of a civil society was clear everywhere we travelled. Near the village of Nakhonay we visited Combat Outpost Shkarre, built around a single-storey building of dried mud and grass the Taliban were using, only months ago, as an outpost to trigger roadside bombs to destroy passing traffic.

The soldiers of Delta Company’s 11 Platoon have only lately installed working hot showers in the yard. Our convoy stayed overnight, sleeping on cots under the stars. For Capt. James O’Neill, 11 Platoon’s commander, the main goal is to keep local “FAMs”—fighting-age males in their late teens and twenties—busy with construction and irrigation projects so life in the area would improve and the FAMs would be harder to lure into the insurgency.

“I remember when I was in work-up training, thinking, ‘What is this COIN shit?,’ ” O’Neill said, using military slang for counterinsurgency. “I’d say, ‘We’re Canadian Forces, let’s just kill the enemy.’ ” But these days the overwhelming majority of IEDs Delta Company disposes in the area are those turned in by local residents. That only happens because the Canadian soldiers and the villagers have worked together and grown to trust one another. It makes everybody safer.

Menard’s enthusiasm for the strategy of keeping on the population’s good side is endless. He’s poured huge resources into basic irrigation and road building. “You’ve seen water like probably you’ve never seen in the past,” he said, referring to the reappearance after many years’ absence of verdant farmlands in Arghandab, just north of Kandahar. “I’m still digging and clearing canals so that farmers can have some water so they can farm. It’s as simple as this. I’m trying to give the obvious a big place. I’m not suggesting this is very brilliant. But that’s what I’m doing and it’s working. We are in a position now to reinforce what they want. They’re not after, you know, solar-powered lights or whatever. They want water.”

The focus on the population is also driving the ISAF forces to push their presence from the big camps into smaller outposts closer to the people. That’s the first point Menard always emphasizes: “Live among the population and protect them day and night.” This carries some risk. Instead of arming to the teeth every time they go out, soldiers are more often leaving helmets and body armour aside as they participate in shuras with local district leaders and elders. But that builds trust and, sometimes, genuine co-operation.

Menard ran down a list of the other elements of his command philosophy. “Persistent, partnered presence.” No more of the “whack-a-mole” Canadian forces participated in for so long, where they would show up just long enough to beat down a sudden outcropping of insurgent violence, only to leave for another crisis zone and allow the Taliban to rebuild where they’d just been flushed out.

Instead, Menard has established two main geographic zones extending around Kandahar City. Closest to the hub is a “ring of stability,” in which ISAF forces and the Afghan government work together to ensure something like an ordinary life for a majority of the province’s population. “Creating an environment where people can be employed, sell their products, do their farming, have an alternative to what they know right now,” Menard said. Further out is a “ring of security,” in more sparsely populated terrain, where the coalition has been fighting the Taliban to a draw and where the bulk of the action this summer will take place.
The scale of the Canadians’ and Americans’ pure military advantage is breathtaking. In southern Panjwayi our convoy veered off-road and travelled through a patch of desert to meet 11 Canadian Leopard tanks encamped in a circle. Nothing the insurgents have can put more than a dent in any of those awesome machines. But not even hardware this impressive will provide the “enduring results” and the “persistent, partnered presence” that are on Menard’s checklist of proper counter-insurgency concepts.

What’s needed are two things that are harder to conjure. Without them, even a bulked-up, population-focused ISAF mission stands every chance of failing. The first is time. The population has lived in a near-constant state of civil, regional and global war for decades. In that kind of environment, hope is ephemeral and never to be trusted. Success lies in assuring the population that a better standard of living, free of harassment from insurgents, might be permanent.

Of course this requirement slams up against the Canadian Parliament’s decision to end the military involvement in Kandahar in 2011. Nobody I talked to would say a word against this decision for the record. “I would never want the Canadian army to stay somewhere that the Canadian people didn’t want us to be,” Leslie said. “Ever. We go where the government sends us, we fight the good fight or whatever else the role requires us to do, we come home when Parliament sends us home.”
Privately, others involved in the military effort express a lot of frustration with the 2011 deadline. But whatever Canada does, or even the Americans, all this COIN stuff will come to little without the second needed ingredient: a legitimate, competent, compassionate Afghan government capable of responding to the population’s wishes and ensuring some level of comfort and security for them.

Which is why Hamid Karzai’s reliably erratic behaviour causes so much consternation. The Afghan president is plainly in over his head, unable to stem rampant corruption if he is not actively benefiting from it. It got worse during my trip, with Karzai even threatening to join the Taliban if he didn’t get proper respect from the West. (This caused great amusement even among Afghans I spoke to. “I’m sure if he tried it,” one interpreter told me, “the Taliban would cut him into 12 pieces.”)
Remarks like Karzai’s “are killing us,” one Western diplomat told Leslie in Kabul. Soldiers and Western civilian authorities can do a lot, but they cannot hold this country’s hand forever.

But the 2011 deadline and the fitness of the Karzai government are problems for another day. Neither will matter if the massively expanded ISAF force in Kandahar cannot change the dynamic in the province quickly. “Is this just another summer? Oh no,” Menard said. “This is the summer. And I’ll tell you why. We will be in a position to break them. I truly believe this. The reason is resources, force ratio, and the establishment of the ring of stability so the population is supporting us. It’s not us fighting the Taliban. It’s the population saying, ‘You know what? We’ve had enough of the Taliban.’ ”

All a visitor could do was to wish him and his forces luck. I found more reason for optimism on this visit to Afghanistan than on either of my other two visits. But soon enough the guesswork will be out of it. By the first days of autumn we will know whether anything has really changed in Kandahar. From there it will be easier to decide, at last, whether there would be any point in staying further.


 

In Afganistan the final battle begins

  1. Memo to NDP/Liberal/Bloc CAF bashers….better re-work your talking points. Remember, you have always been in favor of securing Afstan for its people, you have always fully supported the CAF and you have always supported our commitments to our allies.

    • I don't think they need to revise any of their talking points, as all of these have been true all along. Although to be honest, I'm disappointed that some of the parties were in agreement with the 2011 pull out. Not necessarily because I disagree with the idea of pulling out.. especially when the Americans were off on their neo-con inspired goose chase.. but because announcing a date for such a thing is, and always has been, bloody stupid policy.

      • Probably because you're lying.

      • Right. We need more Canadian troops to kill and die for Hamid Karzai. Darn shame we're going to shut 'er down in 2011, just when things were going so well.

  2. Well Done Paul! an excellent and a real article with relevant information .. WHAT A REFRESHING approach. I for one am so tired of the some in the media and the oppostion parties just endlessly slagging the mission and placing all their focus on whatever gov't party is sitting at present be it Lib or Con the thing is there are certain realities of life that need to be looked at clearly and the main stream media's approach the last few years has been lazy at best and down right counter-productive in a lot of situations much like the detainee or Geurgis issue right now – maybe we need a law that says no major hub ub until the war is over then have alll the partisan shots you need .. and maybe ahother that says unchecked allegations are illegal to spread in the media much like slander and defamation are … oh well can't happen I guess as human nature will insist on gossip over facts any day!

    • I agree Psiclone: Paul Wells you're once again writing fantastic stuff with a journalistic non-partisan style we don't see/get enough of. I promise to get my head around your jazz articles one day :)

      • I'm a little confused by this reaction. I'm a strong supporter of the mission, and have been all along. I believe it should be extended. I'm happy to see reports of progress, and cause for optimism.

        That said, Paul Wells seems to have been a little starstruck in this otherwise interesting feature. Because the sources for all of my negative concerns on the situation are all military, and all allied. So it's a little tough to believe it's all going to be a cakewalk – and this article's tone suggests as much – if we just stick it out another year. Problem 1) serious issues with the Afghan National Army remain, and we're supposed to be relying on them in a year or two to consolidate all of these gains we're talking about. 2) The government we're struggling to prop up is corrupt, unstable and abusive; what happens if it deteriorates further, even if we do well in the SW?

        It's because I'm not so confident in the answers to those two questions that I believe we should be there for another few years at least, and it's because of that need that I believe the Conservative government should pay dearly for its total unwillingness to sell the mission in the last few years when it was crucial for them to do so.

  3. We wouldn't need folks like Michael Yon if there was more of this coming from the rest of the MSM. Well done.

  4. Mr. Wells, thank you for writing about this. The good works, and commitment of the Canadian Forces is outstanding and heroic. I hope they know just how much support they have back home.

    • I hope so too!

  5. Nice work Paul Wells. Thanks also for putting your own ass on the line to do that work.

  6. But there is no competent Afghan government or military, so the our military's effort is in vain.

    Unless one intends to occupy the country for a century, the Taliban will wait Canada and the US out. Every day, the Opposition reminds us of who our Afghan allies and and partners are…corrupt would-be torturers. Most of them are only our allies because the United States is paying them off. They stop being our partners when the American money stops.

  7. Another excellent article, Paul. I look forward to a book about Canada's Afghan war – I can't think of anyone better positioned to tell the whole story, start to finish, military and political.

    • Thanks so much, but I can think of someone (even?) better: Graeme Smith of the Globe. Many of us are wondering when his long-promised book will appear.

      (Now returning to my sullen refusal to participate in the comments)

      • missing Jack? :)

        • I miss Jack Mitchell too:):)

          Great writing Paul. Stay humble.

      • Man up Wells and get back in the trenches with the rest of us. Good article by the way. Can we safely say it may have come a good deal sooner, or even have been unecessary but for the neo-con lunitics chasing phantoms in Iraq?

        • Yes, I agree kcm; the COIN could have come a lot sooner. What an intelligent, humane option to reduce bloodshed and empower/build the governing capacity of the Afghan people. That is what community development is! I really like the idea of announcing their presence before going in to a village.

          • Innocent Afghans killed by NATO are up over 100% for the first three months of the year. SOF devoted to taking out the Taliban have doubled. Drone strikes have more than doubled. The major events of the past year were offensives in Helmand that killed more civilians than Taliban and Kandahar will be the same but on a much greater scale. Development projects in the areas of Helmand recently taken have stopped. You're fooling yourself if you think COIN is about development. In fact most Taliban funding comes from shaking down development projects and stealing NATO supplies. The civilian "surge" might actually be to the Taliban's advantage.

            "Population Centric COIN" was a cover to get more combat troops in theatre by pretending the US Army had discovered the magic bullet for winning a foreign guerrilla war. We'll see but if you're willing to spend $ 4-6 billion to "clear" Panjiwi for a few weeks each summer then "victory" ceases to have any meaning.

            You'd be better of looking at what the military does as opposed to says and while you're at it figure out what the whole mess is costing.

  8. So with the best will in the world, Canada has delegated its military policy in Afghanistan to ISAF which has a maximum of several hundred thousand troops, even allowing for the American escalation. The ISAF plan seems to be an intense military operation to push the Taliban out of Kandahar, a battle in which many people, intentionally or unintentionally, will be killed and wounded. Then a competent, honest, civil administration will arise by magic in the now secure province of Kandahar, and ISAF will leave in 2011. This assumes everything goes according to plan.

    As a policy it seems not only stupid but delusional. To commit Canadian troops to it seems irresponsible, and in fact a criminal abdication of responsibility on the part of the Canadian government. I'd feel a lot better about the seemingly inevitable 'Battle for Kandahar" if both Laurie Hawn and Peter MacKay were leading foot patrols in Kandahar instead of blathering about their solidarity with the troops from the safe confines of Ottawa.

    • And the chances of a competent, honest, civil administration arising in an unsecured province of Kandahar?

      I'll agree, it's not going to happen by magic, there's a lot of hard work involved, but the first step is making it possible, and you can't do that while the Taliban are able to come in and terrorize the populace from using schools and infrastructure.

      • The Taliban have already won in case no one noticed. A surge here an airstrike there, just strengthens them in the eyes of the population. This is an American strategic resource war that has been lost. Bring our finest home.

      • Thwim, the Taliban don't have to "come in" to terrorise the local population. They're part of the local population. That's why this whole adventure cannot work. We'd have to kill all the boys over the age of ten. We're foreign infidel invaders in a land governed by a millenia-old honour code called "Pashtunwali". Seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtun_people#Pasht

        The idea that "they" are the bad guys and we are the good guys is a conceit. Pashtuns themselves sure as hell don't see it that way.

        • Except your theory doesn't coincide with Paul's reporting.. and I'm betting I know which of you two has been there most recently.

  9. This is a great article – nice work, Mr Wells

  10. Mr Wells: You write: "The old status quo is gone, wiped away by thousands of newly arrived U.S. troops, with more to come soon…In an unheralded departure from the tradition that U.S. soldiers take no orders from a foreigner, all of these forces, Canadian and American, are under the direction of a Canadian: Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, who arrived last November to serve as the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan."

    Just to clarify, only the US forces assigned to the CF's Task Force Kandahar, some four battalions when the squadron of cavalry you mention arrives, are under Canadian command. The other US ground forces you note, the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team now in the field, and the coming Second Brigade Combat Team,101st Airborne Division, remain commanded by Americans.

    Mark
    Ottawa

  11. Which side are the lefties on? Jim Reed, a CBC lefty, has a web site where he posts his propaganda. On one article, he claims that Ahmadinajad is little more than an exhibitionist who loves to get in front of the microphone and mention his " loopy " ideas. And in all articles regarding Israel, Israel is always the bully, which gets what it deserves. Lefty reed places annual hate Fest, in a positive light, In his most recent post he shores up Islam by pointing our just how terrible Christians have been in the past, and yes the present-vintage cultural Marxism.

    Reed, like so many lefties, and cultural Marxists, displays knee jerk reactions to anytime we assert ourselves as a nation in any manner which doesn't involve genuflection to everybody and anybody else.

    • What, if anything does this have to do with the article at hand?

      • Shush. You're breaking his rant and he'll have to take his meds soon.

  12. Afghanistan is Muslim, surrounded by Muslim countries. That is even worse than Vietnam. ____How can anybody commit troops to that debacle? Commitment of any number of troops will lead to the same result. I repeat VIETNAM!!

  13. Kudos Paul,

    It's much easier to take someone seriously about Afghanistan when they've actually been there. Good read, and thank you.

  14. This is the first article I have read which gives us a clear idea of what is really happening on the ground in Afghanistan. Thanks, Wells. This is great work.

  15. Superb journalism. Excellent reporting. It is refreshing to know it still exists. Thank you.

    I hope you follow up with a visit to Brussels. I am anxious to know your views on our standing with our NATO Allies. As you know, we are in Afghanistan not because we want to help the Afghans (we do) but because we are a good and dependable Ally.

    You are right to point out that American combat troops under the command of a Canadian general is a big deal.

  16. My compliments on another excellent piece of journalism. It's often easy to forget what a noble profession journalism can be, but it really stands out when you see it.

    As to the status in Afghanistan, I think two things are clear:
    (1) Kudos to Obama, he is handling it very well. The correct play was the Bush-Iraq play: put Petraeus in charge, and surge the troop levels. Obama has learned that lesson and not let past political stances get in the way of doing what's best for his country in this case.

    (2) One can lead a horse to water, etc. The key here is to give the Afghans a real choice. Not "help a bunch of invaders for now and then get killed by the Taliban later, or sit tight until the Taliban regain power". That's no choice. But make it a choice between "steadily take over from us until you can have your own free country again, or don't help us and get the Taliban again" and there's a real chance the horse will drink.

    In my opinion when you go to war, you go in to win and you spare no resources until the job is done. The first soldier who dies merits that commitment from his country. However, I can see the argument that it may have been a mistake to enter this war if the US (on whose behalf we entered) is not fully committed. That assessment has to be made, and soon, but if they are fully committed then we need to stand by them until the fat lady sings.

    • We entered as part of our responsibility as a member of NATO, along with supposed support from European countries.

      • We went in 2001-02 as a result of a sense of obligation from NATO membership. Nothing in our membership mandated any particular level of support. We also largely left in 2002. Everything after 2003 has been an effort not in defence of a NATO partner but as an excuse to avoid Iraq and in 2005 because the CF was hunting for a small war to take part in (having be told to leave the ISAF brigade in Kabul) that the Canadian public could be convinced was just and sensible, for it's own internal rationale.

        Most of the public now sees the war as futile. There's not much to choose from between our Afghan "allies" and the Taliban. The CF has accomplished almost nothing at huge cost. The NATO allies are starting to pull out. The war has less than 50% support in every NATO country except the US. The "surge" is unlikely to work but has increased the cost of the mission by $ 40-50 billion per year with many more billions down stream for health care and pensions.

        ISAF in Kandahar is busy getting ready to head out into the districts to prevent the Taliban from "taking" the city. That might make sense if this were WW 2 but the Taliban already roam at will in the city. Attacks over the last week have caused almost all the development groups necessary for the "build" phase of the summer offensive to bug out. None of the "build" projects in Helmand that were to follow the Marjah offensive have started.

        This is a debacle and Canada should start to pull out now. We should certainly not join in another whack-a-mole hunt this summer.

  17. My sense is that the Canadian lefty wants the mission to fail Thomas Walkom, that brave pacifist, said it would fail. Haroon Siddiqui, the resident Toronto Star Islamist, said it would fail. And then there's CBC researcher Jimmy Boy Reed, who also did the lefty shuffle in one of his propaganda pieces by echoing the exact same message.

    Our country is at a crossroads. The lefties want to continue the implementation of Cultural Marxism ( black is white) political correctness, and hug a thug while the small c conservatives, believe the time has come to stand up and be counted.

    • I think you should stand up and be counted, fool. Go join the army and get your ass shot off as an invader in someone else's country. Do it. Show us what a tough guy you are. Armchair gun nuts borrowing other mens' balls don't impress me much.

  18. Hardy and valiant Canadian Forces troops were more than able to beat back periodic Taliban offensives against Kandahar City. But they were desperately insufficient in number for the task of holding the vast territory beyond. The Canadians put a brave face on, but at best, for year after brutal year, they were buying time. Until what? It was never clear.
    Coach Hire
    nitric oxide supplements
    Pubic lice

  19. I do hope that the average Afghan is as willing to eschew the Taliban as the article suggests, and that they simply won't be able to go into hiding as western forces push deeper and deeper into the country.

  20. Here's an excellent assessment by that rarest of American creatures: someone who understands history.
    http://aep.typepad.com/american_empire_project/20

    There is no way, no way, no way, no way, that Hamid "Mayor of Kabul" Karzai, friend and relative of vicious warlords, thieves and opium dealers, is ever going to prove a competent governor. Nor will his friends and allies. We should either declare a NATO protectorate, dig in for the long haul – fifty years, say – and govern Afghanistan directly in an effort to turn it into a Western country, or we should get the hell out of there. The reality is, we're not going to do the former, so let's do the latter. If Bin Laden or similar return to the country, well, we'll send a few drones or Special Forces killers over to deal with it. That's what we're going to do; face it. All that we'll accomplish by the current surge is to kill more locals and piss people off. Worth remembering: Taliban guys think they're the good guys; Taliban guys have families, parents, siblings, kids; Taliban guys are there to stay. We're foreign invaders. That isn't going to change.

  21. Islamists have been killing us for almost 1&1/2 thousand years. Whenever we retreat they advance. They will not allow us to disengage. If we do not go there and kill them. They will come here and kill us. Afghanistan is a better place for a fight than most.
    That said, I would really like to see Europe doing some of the heavy lifting for a while.

    • How rediculous. The wars in the middlle east are purely to control the oil, gas and the pipelines to asia and india.
      The anti-islam campaign is pure war propaganda! If we wanted peace in the middle east, why don't we talk to the people even just once??? Have we no diplomatic skills? 911 was orchestrated by elements of the US and other governements to remove the resistance to war amongst the public.

  22. The Canadian pundits' support for the mission is clearly inversely proportional to the time they have spent there.

    The most vocal critics have not moved their a**es from their cubicles in downtown Toronto.

  23. Great article Mr. wells. We need more – but I will not hold my breath waiting for the main stream media to honestly cover Afghanistan.

    When we pull out in 2011 without even a parliamentary debate it will be a shameful thing for Canada and honourable Canadians.

    The only reason we are able to pull out and drop everything in 2011 without Afghanistan falling to the Taliban is because of the US build up. Now that will look great on Canada's resume(quitters).

  24. A very LONG overdue departure, as far as I'm concerned.

    This entire mess has been a Bush-era Republican clusterf*ck in the eyes of the clear majority. How much longer must our troops wear a Halloweenesque mask of Yank imperial aggression before we do the right thing and completely disassociate ourselves from those arrogant fools? Same goes regarding the dumb-ass blind allegiance to Isreal.

  25. Nice work on an important subject, although at some point it would be nice to see someone deal with what it really means to for a society like ours to be at war with the 14th century. It's also a bit sad that the number of comments for a good piece of journalism seem to be in inverse proportion to its quality. An article by one of your colleagues has over 500 comments – as well as an Editor's note apologizing for significant erroneous quotes. Clearly not everyone at Maclean's works as hard.

  26. Nice work on an important subject, Mr. Wells, although at some point it would be nice to see some discussion about what it really means to for a society like ours to be at war with the 14th century (have to look elsewhere, perhaps). It's also a bit sad that the number of comments for a good piece of journalism seem to be in inverse proportion to its quality. An article by one of your colleagues has over 500 comments – as well as an Editor's note apologizing for significant erroneous quotes – typical errors, in that particular case. Clearly not everyone at Maclean's works as hard.

  27. Thank you Paul for the best damn article I have read anywhere about the situation in Afghanistan. Win or lose it is a fight that has to be fought. It is unfortunate that we do not have all the cards in our favour in respect tot the Afghan government and our ability to stay and finish the job. One day when historians look back at the shennanigans of the major mass media's biases in their reporting of the situation and their attempt to undermine any response to 9/11 and our participation in the fight, they will cite your article as a gem among the naysayers. Thanks. A breath of fresh air.

  28. Great article. Best one on the situation I've read in months.

    • Very good article. It taught me about the situation if more depth than i ever knew. Best of luck to the good guys. Prayers are sent your way.

      guest

  29. This is an excellent article but does not paint the real picture of what our soldiers are going through in Afghanistan. Check out chucksbunk.blogspot.com & read Chuckies Bunker for an account from someone who has been there for 6 months.

  30. It appears from this article that the important changes in tactics described by Paul Wells that promise a real chance at success in Afhanistan, have been implemented AFTER General Rick Hillier left the Canadian Armed Forces. His idea that "he would prefer to just kill scumbags" was perhaps not a very professional one. I suspect Hillier was not capable of serious thought about how to engage the Aghan population. Hillier's testimony at the hearings on Aghan detainees would also suggest that his policy of hear no evil, see no evil regarding treatment of Afghan detainees likely alienated the Afghan population resulting in increased casualties for Canadian Forces personnel.

  31. The author did a good job giving the army's explanation of what and how they hope to achieve. The problem is military perception of the situation is wrong. ISAF never "clears" area of the Taliban. The insurgents fight a bit and then if the pressure gets too high down tools and go back to farming or walk away to fight another day. Menard's notion that he'd be happy if they go someplace else is exactly the definition of "whack-a-mole". The vast majority of Afghans don't want any more big ISAF offensives- which are guaranteed to kill more innocent Afghans and destroy a lot of property.

    The spring's big pushes in Helmand haven't worked- the Taliban are still there and now four ISAF battalions are tied down in areas much smaller and less heavily populated than any of the main districts in Kandahar.

    The summer offensive in Kandahar will be hugely expensive and cause relatively heavy innocent Afghan and ISAF casualties. It's effect will be temporary as there is no Afghan government to take over and ISAF will eventually withdraw leaving the field to the Taliban.

    The chances are very high we'll be discussing the latest ISAF plans to pacify Kandahar at this time next year.

    • Just curious, where do you get your information on what the vast majority of Afghans want.

      • There was a poll published this week that indicated the vast majority of Kandharis were against the upcoming offensive and for negotiations. A second poll showed over half thought well of the Taliban. Whatever NATO has been doing to win over the locals it hasn't worked and they are seen as a foreign occupation force by large numbers of the population. The police are almost universally disrespected and I suspect the higher opinion in which the ANA is held by most Afghans is a result of lack of exposure and better behavior due to ISAF mentoring.

  32. Paul, a couple of questions for your considerations …

    1. I seem to remember that General Milner's predecessor as temporary Commander JTF Afghanistan had written that one of the Armed Forces' main uses in this post-Soviet era was cementing our commitments to our allies. With that purpose, how important is it to our forces' being there that the Afghan campaign (or whatever it is) be going well or ill? That is, as long as NATO is committed, should we (Canada) stay committed?

    2. Is one of the problems here that we expect our generals to defend public policy to the media & the public? Even under governments not as committed to message control it would be unusual to have Public Service officers around the Director or DG level to be speaking on the record in defence of broad government initiatives; but we expect 1- to 3-leaf generals to do that, and doesn't that (inevitably?) lead to their sounding like brainless cheerleaders?