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Why we risk losing Afghanistan

BY MICHAEL PETROU


 

Why we risk losing Afghanistan

I’ve spent the last two days with people who are or have been intimately involved with the war in Afghanistan since 2001. Their comments were off the record, so I can’t reveal their names, but they included current and former members of the Canadian Forces, DFAIT, the Privy Council Office, CIDA, the Afghan government, the U.S. Department of State, as well as several academics and members of various NGOs. Here are some of their observations:

– The security situation is a mess and is getting worse. The Taliban are spreading into more territory, and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) doesn’t have enough troops on the ground to stop them. “You win counter-insurgency locally,” said one man in a position to know. But we don’t have enough soldiers to hold territory once the Taliban are pushed out. Too few soldiers means an over-reliance on air power – which inevitably leads to civilian casualties, more resentment, and an intensified insurgency.

– The Afghan government and army will not be able to secure the country on their own by 2011 – the date by which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to withdraw Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan. If our commitment is to amount to anything, it should be generational.

There is too little coordination among the multitude of Western actors in Afghanistan, including NATO allies. Different countries have different agendas. Their armed forces and development workers are not cooperating or working toward the same goals.

Dozens of countries have sent troops to be part of the ISAF mission, but deployments consisting of a few hundred soldiers, or fewer, are more trouble than they’re worth. They complicate attempts to forge a unified and cohesive mission without adding much in the way of manpower. Restrictive rules of engagement also limit their effectiveness. Afghans notice.

Too much of the money that Western nations ostensibly spend on Afghanistan never makes it to Central Asia. It is spent in the countries where it was pledged, on consultants, researchers, and administrators. Money that does reach Afghanistan often ends up in the hands of overpriced contractors. Other funds are channeled to NGOs, bypassing the Afghan government. Afghan officials say their country will never have a strong and stable government unless it can deliver the services now typically provided by NGOs. Others counter that it’s necessary to fund NGOs rather than the government because of corruption.

– A successful counter-insurgency involves clearing territory, holding that territory by establishing a presence on it, and then building infrastructure and bringing assistance to the area with the goal of winning over the local population. Western armed forces in Afghanistan have been good at the first task – killing or driving out the enemy – but not the last two. This applies to the Canadians as well. Operation Medusa, for example, the Canadian-led offensive against a Taliban stronghold in 2006, was a military success but not a strategic one. Canadians and other NATO allies drove out the Taliban but were not ready to consolidate their success with development assistance. “We’ve been playing catch-up ever since,” said one man who’s now dealing with the repercussions of that oversight.

– Western soldiers were once seen as liberators by most Afghans. Now, they’re regarded as a necessary evil.

– The Taliban’s strategy is to wait us out.


 

Why we risk losing Afghanistan

  1. “The Afghan government and army will not be able to secure the country on their own by 2011 – the date by which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to withdraw Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan. If our commitment is to amount to anything, it should be generational”

    This is bullshit. Europe could raise millions of soldiers fighting trim in a matter of months. We’re looking for miliary solutions to a polical problem. Because the West put them there, Karzai’s government is getting a free ride. If there’s blame to be placed we should start by putting it at the top on all sides of the equation.

  2. What a grim state of affairs. I am very glad that the NATO alliance was never tested for its original Cold War purpose — would it have had any usefulness then? It seems to be doing an effective job of losing a small-scale war right now.

    Besides the USA, is any one else ready to chip in on the “surge” required in A’stan? By more than the more-trouble-than-they’re-worth hundred soldiers?

  3. Half of NATO is taking advantage of the other half’s diplomatic reluctance to openly challenge what by Article 5 of the charter is an extra-curricular activity. They were supposed to stand down when the UNSC stepped in, not rent themselves out under the NATO banner.

  4. From where I stand, here’s what I think is needed:

    – More troops. This is needed simply to reduce reliance on air strikes.

    – Coordinated institution-building within the Afghan government and bureaucracy. An independent wing of the government that will go after corruption in a big way. Until Afghans and foreigners can trust their government, it will never gain traction.

    – Coordinated development. It’s fine that NGOs and a multitude of governments want to be actively involved in setting development priorities. What’s needed is some centralized tracking of these projects, sharing of best practices, auditing of results, and pitching priorities to donor states.

    – Pay Afghan farmers to grow food crops. Pay them per acre to plant the crops, and then pay a slight premium over world prices. Reducing economic incentives to plant poppies will help to starve the Taliban of funds.

    – Work on Pakistan. Help the Pakistani government save face while rooting out Taliban. Pay the locals for info on whereabouts of insurgents. Be very careful to avoid civilian casualties.

  5. “Pay Afghan farmers to grow food crops”

    Andrew

    I agree that ideally farmers would grow food but I don’t know if soil quality, and other factors, make that feasible. If poppies are what is appropriate to conditions, there is still lots of demand for opium to use in products like morphine and codeine. Why the West is not paying Afghan farmers to grow poppies for legal products we use I will never understand.

    http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/09/04/poppies-medicine.html

  6. jwl: Because the West has already granted a monopoly on poppies-for-medicine to Turkey, and there is a powerful lobby to protect that industry.

  7. jwl: Part of the infrastructure development would be new irrigation projects (damming rivers to create reservoirs, etc.) to allow the production of food crops. Canada has been involved in such a project near Kandahar.

  8. “Why the West is not paying Afghan farmers to grow poppies for legal products we use I will never understand.”

    Andrew

    Didn’t phrase that very well. I know that something like 80% of our legal opium comes from Turkey and India but they have diverse economies and a little less opium money will not unduly hurt them. Afghan is mostly desert and not many crops can be successfully grown there. So it would seem to make sense that we buy opium from Afghanis and encourage India and Turkey to grow something else.

  9. I’m sure that will happen just as soon as American farmers stop growing sugarbeets under the US subsidy and tariff regime. Farming lobbies are very powerful.

  10. How ’bout we put the GST back up and use the money to raise three new regiments, not to mention equipping our existing ones with IED-proof APC’s?

  11. Deja vu, anyone?

  12. My hopes are on Obama. A coalition has to be led. I hope Harper reverses course on the 2011 comment but my fear is that he is too much of a tactical politician to do it and too bland a character to explain to Canadians why we need to be there. Forget hearts and minds of Afghans – we need to capture the hearts and minds of Canadians first.

    The challenges put forth in the article are elightening but they can be overcome with the will.

  13. The history of Afghanistan teaches that they are a people who will never be vanquished. When help is offered it should only be given without strings attached and such that the Afghans are control of how it is used. The trouble with the development efforts is that every little tom, dick and mary wants to take ownership (and rewards) for these problems. The Afghans will never be western or eastern in the ways we expect. Anything the west proposes, from school curricula to architecture for a dam, hits the sensibilites wrong.

  14. NATO was designed for the protection of Europe…it was never designed to fight outside of Europe and definitely not in Afgh..which I would point out is not in Europe.

  15. Why we can’t win in Afghanistan

    Afghanistan, was ruled by the Taliban for 11 years until 911. The Taliban are mostly members of the Pashtun tribe, who have controlled the area for Centuries. Their land also comprises North West Pakistan. They do not recognize the border. The Pakistani government, which has oscillated between military dictatorships and corrupt civilian politicians, since it’s formation has never controlled the Pashtun. In 1842 the British lost an army of 16,000 to the Pashtun. The Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1978 and tried for 10 years to defeat the Taliban. They never lost a battle but had to leave in 1989, after suffering huge loses, to guerrilla attacks.

    The Pashtun are Muslim, but were not fanatics until the Russians entered Afghanistan. The Americans decided to fund the Pashtun, to fight the Russians. The money was bought into N.W Pakistan with the help of Pakistan’s secret service. The Americans partners were the Saudis. Not only money and weapons were involved. The Saudis wanted to spread their 7th. Century fundamental form of Islam, practiced by the Wahhabi’s in Saudi Arabia. Wahabbi Mosques and schools were set up. The schools taught only this fundamental version of Islam, and any literacy skills learned were through the repetition and copying of Koranic verses. From this that the Taliban were born, an Afghani version of Wahabbism. The system continues to this day. The Taliban continue to be funded largely by Saudi Arabia, through underground channels. The opium fields also help to fund the Taliban. Opium has been grown in this area since the time of Alexander the Great. A Taliban fighter receives several times the pay rate of a similar Afghani soldier.

    The Saudi Royal family have homes, yachts and resorts throughout the world. They are heavy gamblers and entirely hedonistic. In addition to vast oil revenues, they receive huge bribes to buy arms and other infrastructure from the West. The Wahhabi allow them to remain in power, and in return they run most other things . Saudi Arabia desperately needs engineers and technicians, yet 50% of education is in Wahabbi Islamic theology.

    Saudi Arabia has only a tiny proportion of the world’s one and a half billion Muslim’s, yet if funds 90% of the World’s of the World’s Mosques The doctrines preached are strictly hard line Wahabbi with much of hatred and disgust towards unbelievers. These preachings have recruited young Muslim’s from all levels of society to plots and violence worldwide. It is considered by Wahabbis no sin to kill Apostates[unbelievers].
    Everything we are doing in Afghanistan is noble and a credit to our country. But unless we deal with Saudi Arabia we cannot succeed.
    Tony

  16. There’s no such thing as an IED proof APC. Even a heavy tank can be destroyed by an IED. All they have to do is build it bigger and bigger. If its big enough, the soldiers inside are killed by the concussion, not the actual explosion.

  17. We “waited out” the Soviet Union. It cracked from within because we had the patience and the guts, and used a wide range of strategies on a world wide basis. Mistakes were made, but democracies prevailed. We must do the same with the “Jihadists. In some ways, it will probably be more difficult than the cold war, but the stakes are just as high.

    According to statements of Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri, Afghanistan is central to their ideological goals and objectives; namely, the creation of a “New Caliphate,” based on the Taliban model under Mullah Omar; essentially a very repressive society stretching from the middle east, through central Asia, much of north Africa, and into southeast Asia. Socially, this would be a 7th to 14 century society, but with 21st century technology, likely with weapons of mass destruction and use of terrorist attacks as the main method of warfare against the infidels (which includes most Muslims who do not buy in on that vision). Actually, there is some evidence in some places that al-Qaeda’s network is strengthening at the present time.

    We must continue to disrupt that Jihadist network. This is no time for “isolationism” on this issue. The network is highly decentralized and operates on many different levels. But again, Afghanistan is the real test case and the core goal of the movement.

    We hope that ultimately, as is generally the case with totalitarian systems, it will crack from within. May it be.

  18. Canadian officials as well Americans have been dishonest from the get go or unbelievably ignorant from the get go and still are. There has never been any realistic hope of condoling that area much less installing a democratic regime that would be friendly to the west in the long run, any more than any Islamic country would have a prayer in turning a western country to their way of live. It has always been a sky in the pie, a lesson we should have learned from the Soviet Union, but we have been blinded by our arrogance and disdain of the Soviet.
    We have no understanding of the power of religion in that part of the country and we have been duped by our ignorant politicians as well Military who are very competent in traditional warfare but have no concept of fighting the Islamic in their home turf. They can attack and hide, they can terrorise their people and we have only bribes to offer but that does not win their hearts and minds. We are learning that the hard way but it has not fully sunk in us yet. So we continue to lose our most valuable resource, the brave men and women. What a pity.

  19. As a woman and as a child who was raised in the Middle East I find this a real tragedy. If we don’t manage to consolidate democracy, I believe the Taliban will return with an evil vengeance.

    We have to increase our presence and our help and support of Afghanistan. The alternative is unthinkable.

    On the other hand, I know US embassy staff who say that the quality of life in Afghanistan is unbearable for foreigners. I wonder if anyone reading this can comment on that?

    Perhaps if we increased our presence it would make like better for Westerners and at the same time win over local population – who at the moment don’t dare do business with us for fear of reprisals.

    Julie

  20. Julie, it seems you have not been paying attention, Taliban has already returned with vengeance and the west has offered to negotiate with them but they have refused. They seem to think that they have already won so they have nothing to negotiate for.

  21. The news of young school girls being sprayed with acid while walking to school this week should be a testimite of the brutality of the taliban muslim finatics and the horrors they can unleash against innocent childern.
    If you hear statements coming from anyone stating that we should not be in Afganistan and have no right to be there, tell them to look at the pictures of these poor childern on the internet and then ask them how would they feel if their girls were brutilized in this manner.
    Where as the Koran states that woman should be honoured, not horrored. Keeping them uneducated, silenced and in the kitchen were they belong is the mentality of the taliban. It means that women don’t have the right to vote, to be educated or make political statements. Under taliban rule, if a female does any of these would mean imprisonment, torture, or public beatings.
    We are talking about the extreams that the Nazies took against the Jews. People disappearing in the middle of the night, tortured and executed, beatings and rape being officially sactioned by the taliban government, and culture of art and music is not tolerated at any level. We fought a war against fascist goverments from 1939-41, why would we condone it now?

  22. The news of young school girls being sprayed with acid while walking to school this week should be a testimite of the brutality of the taliban muslim finatics and the horrors they can unleash against innocent childern.
    If you hear statements coming from anyone stating that we should not be in Afganistan and have no right to be there, tell them to look at the pictures of these poor childern on the internet and then ask them how would they feel if their girls were brutilized in this manner.
    Where as the Koran states that woman should be honoured, not horrored. Keeping them uneducated, silenced and in the kitchen were they belong is the mentality of the taliban. It means that women don’t have the right to vote, to be educated or make political statements. Under taliban rule, if a female does any of these would mean imprisonment, torture, or public beatings.
    We are talking about the extreams that the Nazies took against the Jews. People disappearing in the middle of the night, tortured and executed, beatings and rape being officially sactioned by the taliban government, and culture of art and music is not tolerated at any level. We fought a war against fascist goverments from 1939-45, why would we condone it now?

  23. Hi Charles

    I am listening – and I agree things are just awful. I fully accept that we need to be there – but perhaps in greater numbers?

    That humans can do such horrific things to each other is incomprehensible to me.

    Julie

  24. Also Charles, if you think this is a full return… Things could be a hundred times worse – I’m very sad to say.
    Julie

  25. I realize the acid attacks were terrible, but we must understand Saudi Arabia funds the Taliban and Al Quaeda. Saudi Arabia still buries woman up to their necks and stones them to death for aldutery. All of the World’s horrific interpretation of Islaam is coming out of Saudi Arabia, The soon to be ex -administration in the US is the best of friends with the Ladin family and the Saudi Royal family. We have to stop funding all this and cut of all oil purchases from Saudi Arabia.

  26. I spend about 1.5 years recently in Kabul contracting for NATO/ISAF. The country is messed up on every level. The thinking is at the 7th century level with modern technology available. I actually saw a local riding a camel while talking on a cell phone. Talk about a mixture of eras. The lack of education seems to be the biggest problem for the citizens. Most cannot read so they have to listen to fanatical clerics for any interpretation of the Quoran. I cannot think of any realistic solutions. I’m glad there are wiser people in the word than me.

  27. The mission of NATO and Canadian Forces in Afghanistan is an expensive exercise in futility that plays into the hand of Radical Muslim propaganda that portrays it quite successfully as fight of Crusaders against Islam. The costs in human and financial resources are high and unfortunately it all is wasted and will not achieve any its objectives.
    It takes millions to build irrigation system, roads and bridges but only couple $100 worth of explosives destroys it. It takes years and many thousands of Dollars to train teachers and build schools but $10 worth of acid closes them. All the good intentions of western democracies will not win the hearts and minds of population in Afghanistan or in Iraq because it faces determined and ruthless resistance of radical Islam.
    Only Sadam Hussein of Iraq and Hafez el Assad of Syria were successful in fighting Moslem radicals. They succeeded because they were Moslems and the brutal methods that they employed to win the “hearts and minds” of the population and crush their adversaries.
    After all if it is true that the majority of Muslims are against the radicals and terrorists then they and not the infidels should spend human and financial resources to try to get rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and Al-Queida?
    But it appears that the Muslim majority with its large number of countries does not fight the radicals because it is supporting them, which has been confirmed by poll after poll and is evident by the support that Taliban enjoys in Pakistan.
    The change in human rights and in particular women rights can not imposed on the Moslem world by infidels but it has to come from within and has to be fought by themselves.
    There is hope this change will eventually come but it will not come in month or years it might take several generation and as much as we want it there is nothing that we can do to speed it up.
    In mean time we should withdraw ASAP from Afghanistan. We should stop sacrificing our brave soldiers. We should stop wasting our limited financial resources that in best case are embezzled by corrupt officials or may even fall straight in to the hand of Taliban. Instead of it we should concentrate on curbing home-grown radical Islam instead of encourage it growth by staying in Afghanistan.

  28. I think that the efforts our Canadian forces are doing in Afghanistan are vary good. However, it is sad to read about the politics that go on behind the scenes.

    Having more troops, more equipment, etc… would be a much greater help to accomplishing the mission. Our troops are better trained and better equipped than most US soldiers. The time and money that is invested into each infantry soldier, etc, is far more extensive than what the US invests. Canada has got to take part in some way with regards to implementing democracy in a foreign land such as Afghanistan: it is truly necessary!

    With Obama becoming the next President, thank God, we can look forward to the establishment of more forces and facilitation in the fight for peace in Afghanistan.

    I think pulling our troops out in 2011 is not a good idea because we need to invest more time in Afghanistan. Our military is learning and getting a chance to use the knowledge and weaponry that we as tax payers have been funding. Not only that, but our military will also get a chance to stream line itself towards an even better military.

  29. We need to see this through.

    To provide the stability and infrastructure to allow Afghanistan to stand alone.

    That might be ..20011…2013…20015..20016..

    It is a strategic mistake to give the Taliban an end date.

    If we leave too soon all the personal sacrifice our soldiers have made will have been in vain.

    So many of these soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice…let us respect it and their memory by staying the course…until Afghanistan is strong enough to stand alone.

    The Taliban are commited to waiting why should we have lessor resolve.

  30. Well, nice to read comments from different perspecives but my message is for Tony who should better not take help of his personal bias about Saudi Arabia, a country who donates generously to the poorest Islamic states,has the largest reservoirs of oil in the world by which capitalist nations are fed and most importantly has the lowest crime rate in the world.
    I hope the above mentioned points may negate some of the personal prejudice you have nurtured in your mind and you would think double before writing about any other country in future.
    Good luck, Tony.

  31. I find it mind-boggling how supposedly educated people are surpised by this turn of events. I’m beginning to think that it isn’t even in the consciousness of most westerners learn from the mistakes of others when it comes to the use of military force against a willful population. Do you all just think it is mere coincidence that Afghanistan has never been controlled by outside forces? And do you really think Afghan society, whose national sport is bushkazi (fighting over a goat carcass on horseback) is ready for western-style democracy? Canada is in Afghanistan to try to depose the Taliban, yes, but not for some altruistic humanitarian cause. The US wants to put a pipeline through, which they can’t do with the Taliban in control – because they can’t be bought off like so many other governments. The security of the pipeline is the main goal. Rights for women and a diversified economy are a corollary result at best.

  32. Where is common sense folks?

    Andrew, you say the Taliban is funded by the opium crop, and that swapping crops will starve the Taliban from funds. Um how so? Money is money whether from opium or sugar beets. If the farmers are supporting the Taliban it won’t matter what they are growing. Shoot the farmers.

    Then you talk about paying locals to snitch out the Taliban supporters. Hey I will tell you for free, it is the farmers. Shoot the farmers.

    Chris you justify the war because a few girls got burned with acid. Sad. But not any more sad as the hundreds if not thousands of casualties caused by bombing weddings and other civilians. You ask why the military is staging prison breaks, and flying Taliban leaders out of the country to safety, and the real purpose of the war. To secure a route for the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, and nothing else. Forget human rights, democracy and all that other b.s. propaganda designed to get public support.

  33. It is a fantasy that NATO is in Afghanistan to protect a non-existent and non-planned pipeline through that country.

    Back in 1998, the Unocal company had considered such a project, but dropped the idea completely. A company from Argentina had some interest in the idea, but also turned the page on it.

    Those who believe in the pipeline myth are indulging in pipe dreams.

    See my earlier posting regarding some more likely motivations for our presence in Afghanistan.

    WR

  34. If narcotics, made from poppies, is providing financing for the Taliban, surely in this age, science can develop a natural predator to decimate the poppies. In this way we can eliminate poppies, support for the Taliban, a source of narcotics to users, and cause Afganistan farmers to plant potatoes, rutibaga. or whatever their pathetic soil will support . Let’s see the Taliban buy arms with turnips, and I’m not averse to shooting the farmers. Those who are not with us—————-

  35. Robert,
    In order to succeed we indeed might need to stay there as you wrote to 20016. But long before that maybe within 150 years we will be part of the North American caliphate and Taliban style government will rule Canada.

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