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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Afghanistan 2014? A Historical Perspective

Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan 
has been a long and rocky road.  

First conceived in the aftermath of September 11 and now justified for the security of an entire region.
In many ways both are true.  
Security of Afghanistan is the security of the world.
Pakistan and India have long been enemies and with the North Western areas of Pakistan largely out of control of the central government the area has been largely un democratic and repressive.  With interior conflicts and a nuclear armed neighbour as well as fundamentalism on the western border with Iran, Pakistan felt truly isolated.  When the weak Afghan King was overthrown by communist forces in the 1970's world politics re discovered the importance of Afghanistan.  The Soviets saw a government that they could support and potentially expand their sphere of influence into the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf areas.  India welcomed Soviet support in industry, agriculture and defence but was a strong opponent of communism within its own borders and government.  India knew that after throwing off the collar of the British Empire the last thing they wanted was another oppressor.  India saw democracy and a strong economy as its saviour.
Meanwhile as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan languished into a decade long fight for survival the Americans and the Saudis put money into the Mujaheddin and the fundamentalism Taliban (type) forces fighting the Soviets.  The Pakistan secret service the ISI developed close ties with these forces and networks that crossed the region.  When the Soviets left the warlords within Afghanistan began to fight for the small scraps that remained and chaos and death reigned on all sides.  Even the great Northern Alliance General Massoud has been attributed to many war crimes.  America turned its back on the victors and in many cases left the corpse to the jackals.
The Taliban in response to this chaos was asked by the people to put a stop to these warlords and by 2000 they largely had.  Foreign influences and a fundamentalist belief in the Koran (as well as Pashtun culture) was soon forced on all the people Afghanistan.  Religious police walked the streets and mettle out their for of justice in the form of beatings or be headings.  Al Queda having lost its support in the Sudan returned to the old area in which it was most comfortable the North Western Frontier Provinces of Pakistan and the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan.  

All this was going on as Pakistan and India were flexing their nuclear muscles.  Fear soon spread globally that a limited strike war between the two nations was a possibility.  The ISI in response leaned on its network of warlords and power brokers within the Taliban and Al Queda communities to ensure that Afghanistan stay either under Taliban rule or be an unstable country.  This was so that if the horror of a nuclear war was to come the Pakistani elite, military, culture and government would have a place to flee and in a sense create a new Northern Pakistan.

The destruction of the Buddha statues in Baymen in 2001 brought the Taliban to the world stage.  Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel stated that the destruction was anything but a retaliation against the international community for economic sanctions: "we are destroying the statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely a religious issue."  After the cruise missile attacks under the Clinton administration the Al Queda leadership was reluctant for this kind of attention. Al Queda had other plans.

General Massoud was assassinated on September 9, 2001 as part of the September 11 attacks to destroy the Northern Alliance for once and all and to send a message to America from Al Queda.  Whether the ISI knew of the Al Queda plans for September 11 or what level of the Taliban leadership knew it is unclear but what is clear is the response afterwards.  

Mural for the Great Game
The Great Game mural created by Pamela Howard with Susan Harper and realised by Rocket Scenery Nottingham UK.
How does a country that has no historical involvement in the region and no historical basis as a colonist play in the "Great Game"? 
 How does a Canadian Forces used to peacekeeping suddenly move into a role of peacemaking and not just re-building a country but helping build one up from the ruins of war?
Canada moved into the Kandahar region in 2005 with limited Taliban activity and virtually no Al Queda activity.  Although a dangerous place the Southern provinces had yet to be the focus of violence that we see today.  Partly it was the Second Gulf War which was still being fought that led many of America's enemies to send troops to Iraq to fight the infidel.  PM Paul Martin feared that the move to Kandahar would cause death for our troops and an uncomfortable situation as Kabul had been peaceful..  They would also have to deal with a question of what to do with the captured fighters.  With Abu Ghraib in the news, a Canadian born child soldier (who was captured after killing an US Spec Forces Medic) fighting the system in Guantanamo, fears of secret CIA torture camps in undisclosed locations (know known to be Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Poland) the idea of handing over prisoners to the country you are supporting in defence, diplomacy and development seemed like a good idea at the time.  If its an Afghan crime then the Afghan judicial system should step up to the plate.  The other options did not "feel" good and would not play well with the Canadian or Afghan public.
Canada went into Kandahar with a senior diplomat in toe.  Glyn Berry a seasoned diplomat and well onto the way of potentially becoming the next Canadian UN ambassador was an excellent choice.  The idea was to get a feel for the systems in place the people and the tribes involved and then develop a plan that would utilize a new kind of counter insurgency technique called the 3 block war.  Designed by US Marine fighting experience all over the world in the last few decades, the intent is that on one block there is Defence on the other Diplomatic needs and finally on the last there is action on Development.  This 3 D concept could be happening simultaneously and geographically.  Canada also began to look at the interior conflicts of culture and gender and even within the Canadian Forces questioning of how to improve the lives of 50% of the population.

Canada was invested with foreign affairs officials, diplomats, RCMP, CIMIC (military personnel who help with development) and of course the heavy stick of the 1 Battalion PPCLI all coming in the spring of 2006.  Upon Glyn Berry's death in January 2006 the Foreign Affairs department was left in a state of shock and awe. Development projects stalled as the Canadian face was seen as a deterrent to the locals and a magnet to insurgents who would do harm.  

The Canadian mission stalled.

Mullah Dadullah and other senior Taliban saw that this was the time to retake Kandahar in a bold move that echoed their ascent to power.  In a very understated and very typical Canadian manner a group of soldiers and senior leadership looked into the intel and realized that what was occurring.  With two of the "D"'s in limbo 1 PPCLI saw a chance to do what they do best.  As 1000's of Taliban, foreign fighters, farmers, unemployed and dis effected youth gathered in the Panjawi district a battle was brewing. Op Medusa decimated the Taliban forces of 1200 fighters and leadership and ISAF lost some of its finest (12 Canadian, 1 Dutch, 1 US, 14 UK fallen).

"Our main enemy is the United States. As for Canada and the other countries - we have no historical enmity with them. But if they want to come here as fighting forces, we will view them just as we view the Americans, and will conduct resistance against them. But if they return to where they came from, and withdraw their forces from here, we will not view them like the Americans, but as countries which we have nothing to do with." He also been quoted as saying, " Canadian politicians are weak, but their fighters are brave."    
Mullah Dadullah (killed by ISAF Special Forces in May 2007)
The Taliban was very strong in Quetta, Pakistan and with defacto support from the Pakistan military and direct support from the ISI, the Taliban saw a chance to bring a new type of fight to the enemy. The ambushes and the plans of attack they were used to, had failed but they saw the techniques used in Iraq to be their way forward.  The deaths in Op Medusa allowed the Taliban to change tactics and procedures that seemed to produce the most effect with the lowest cost in casualties and leadership.
Ever since the summer of 2006 Canada has been trying various methods of controlling and bringing back the idea of the 3 D concept.  All this as the Taliban regrouped within Pakistan and Canada's failure in some respects has been that of an unified set of goals for the incoming battalions.  Where the Royal Canadian Regiment might patrol one road or district so offensively that the number of attacks became almost nil.  The incoming Vandoos may have a different priority or even worse look at the success of the RCR involvement in that area as a failure of resources.  Why implement men and material to an area that is peaceful when other areas are obviously in distress.  This is of course the military Catch 22 that we so oft quote.  

The several thousand troops were unable to hold the ground and even the Afghan Army that has proven itself in combat side by side with the Canadians were unable to.  There were not enough soldiers and the Taliban ruled the area by fear.  Where national, provincial and local governments failed is in their ability to protect its citizens 24/7. Various villages and towns changed hands in the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Even NATO troops had various levels of commitment.  There is a case of a Canadian forward operating base occupied by Afghan Police, Afghan Army, US troops, Dutch troops and Canadian Forces.  When the camp was attacked and about to be overrun the Dutch called in a Chinook helicopter to help them leave the battle as Afghan forces and Canadian Forces lay dying. On other occasions Dutch forces were the first into the fight and the last to leave.  History has proven a bitter pill to swallow. 

The problems with Afghanistan are many.
The commitments of all countries has been spectacular and in some cases forward thinking....in other ways very backward and colonist in thought.
Canada returned to the development table by making signature projects that were easy to defend (IE a dam and irrigation system as opposed to girls schools that were in areas of insurgency). The current Afghanistan government is looking at becoming allys with not just one country in the region but many. The Karzai government, pimples and all needed support from all players in the region.
Foreign Affairs is back on its feet providing help to the Afghan government through a personal pet project of General Hillier (ret).  The Canadian Strategic Advisory Team is an example of what Canada does best.  As a country that is not a colonist and a G8 economic superpower the Afghan government sees our advice much clearer than with other powers.  The new idea is the same as the old but they added a "C" and its not combat.

3D + C approach (Diplomacy + Development + Defence and Commerce)
What is Canada's role in Central Asia?
It almost falls to the thoughts on what is Canada as a nation?  As a great middle power we have the opportunity to showcase Canadian ideals in peace order and good government across the world. 
Can the Karzai government be led out of the corrupt hole that many seem to think its lays?  We can advise but often remember that the Canadian government is not without a black eye in this regard.
Just two examples:
"Tunagate" was a 1985 Canadian political scandal involving large quantities of possibly tainted tuna that were sold to the public under order of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, John Fraser then with the Conservative Government.   The sponsorship scandal, (AdScam) is a scandal that came as a result of a Canadian federal government "sponsorship program" in the province of Quebec and involving the Liberal Party of Canada, which was in power from 1993 to 2006 and gave between $100 million to $250 million to companies with Liberal connections for little or no work.
So back to Afghanistan.
Canada can and should continue the military mission in Afghanistan.  How do we move forward when people have said we have given so much already?  The answer lies with each fallen soldier and with each lost limb.  The troops want to return to Afghanistan because they see change and they see hope in the eyes of a people that have never seen hope.
The history of Afghanistan is the history of the modern and old world.  The battle grounds where entire British units, Soviet units and elements of Alexander the Great's army disappeared in the dust now have Canadian blood mixed in.  Fighting a war in Afghanistan can be the death of a nation but there are times when friendships are made.  These cross religious, cultural and historical perspectives are what make countries great.

How the future can look.......
Here we are once again in 1953.
A backward nation fought for its survival (among a conflict between superpowers and an enemy that was ruthless) and in the end security held reign, then over the years democracy flourished and the economy grew.  Finally South Korea a victim through out its history stands among the greatest of nations in outlook and its economic recovery and dominance.  It took 50 years, it took foreign forces to protect its borders and it took and international commitment to make it all happen.

48 million live in South Korea
$929 billion GDP South Korea
29 million live in Afghanistan
$30 billion GDP in Afghanistan
31 million live in Canada
$1.5 Trillion GDP in Canada

Terrorism and war can be solved with two simple words, Education and Employment.

The Canadian Forces want to continue the job we are good at.  We want to continue to work with the Afghans to help themselves.  We don't want to give up on our Afghan friends. The public has the right to question and debate and to probe for answers and to demand accountability.
I have friends and comrades that have died for this cause and I have bled and lost limbs on the dirty streets of Kandahar.  As we transition out of a combat role we are leaving the American forces and the Afghan Army to take the lead in that regard.  Our diplomats, the NGO's and the development programs need security but they don't need it from us.   Hopefully as the Americans draw down their forces, Afghanistan will have a chance to stand on its on feet politically, economically and militarily.  

The Afghans want the foreign forces out of their country and the training and equipping of the National Police and the Army is the quickest and most secure path to Canada's disentanglement from Central Asia.  

Many of us want to stay and help the Afghans help themselves, 
to us its that simple.

Paul Franklin
MCpl (ret)

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