Thursday, October 05, 2006

Afghanistan - la Lutte Continue

Since the last post - the C.O. of forces involved in Operation Medusa declared the operation a resounding success. Taliban casualties were reckoned at 200, out of an estimated force of 2500. That left 2300 taliban who purportedly 'slipped out' of a closing noose of allied forces and 'fled' north into the mountains.

That seemed a little odd at first. South would have been the proper direction in which to flee if you're a foreign fighter - not closer to the government controlled areas. Things became clearer in the ensuing week with the worst casualty rate Canada has experienced so far, in a series of bomb attacks, mining and ambushes. It would appear the Taliban didn't flee, they just went home.

We hope , and would dearly like to think, that we're battling foreign invaders of Afghanistan who are holding the peace-, and democracy-loving people there to ransom. It makes our cause a just and proper one. But the sad news seems to be that most of those Taliban fighters are Afghanis, and the ones who aren't are supported, housed, fed, clothed and protected by them. The Afghanis are, apparently, fighting us. If that is true, then what are we there for?

We're there to support the government of Hamid Karzai. His government was set up after the ruling Taliban were overthrown by the US, supported by 'warlord' forces operating in northern Afghanistan. This was no spur-of-the-moment punishment for 9/11. This operation had been prepared for years by the development of American bases in Khirghizstan and other formerly-Russian republics, and on-going support for anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan itself. Mr. Karzai, who had been employed in the American oil industry, had tenuous links to a previous Afghani regime and was chosen as the new leader. He was spirited into the country with a group of US special forces so as to be on hand to assume leadership in Kabul when the Taliban were forced to flee to Khandahar, and out of the country. His appointment was vetted by those same northern warlords and a group of returned emigres - he was 'elected' as the president with no opposition.

Canada was asked to participate in reconstruction efforts and dedicated both money and military manpower to the project. The US forces in Afghanistan undertook to pacify, in cooperatiion with a new Afghan army and police force, the country south of the Panshir Valley. An interesting aside - the only warlord who maintained any sort of independence either from the Taliban, or the Americans,or Mr. Karzai and around whom any resistance would have formed,Achmed Shah Massoud - a hero of the anti-soviet resistance, was assassinated shortly after Karzai took over - I'll bet there's an secret in this. Some Canadian forces were seconded to American units during the hunt for Bin Laden, and saw part of the fighting.

For the past 4 years, Canada has rotated troops in and out of their base outside Kabul. Canadians mounted security patrols in the suburban littoral and took some casualties from mines and IEDs. There was, however, very little fighting involved.
Things changed, apparently, last year when then PM Jean Chretien agreed to extend Canada's restoration work to Khandahar province, a nut the Americans had little success in cracking. Security concerns soon took precedence over rebuilding and the need for a more 'robust' Canadian combat presence was discerned and applied. Last spring the Taliban announced an 'offensive' and things proceeded from there, to now.

This week the first person from my little town was announced as a casualty. His death is more than tragic for his folks, his wife and his kids. It's a nail that's going to pin other young Canadians to Afghanistan, killing and being killed to 'stop them from coming over here'. That seems to be the latest explanation for everything - the Jihadis want to rule the world and we, or rather, our soldiers are putting their lives on the line to stop them. I certainly hope that holding that sentiment, and committing Canada's 12 tanks and its F-18's, are the right thing to do. Thinking critically about this, in the light of our dead and wounded, seems almost traitorous. But I don't think we can win this, or should even be trying. We can thump the Taliban, maybe even chase them out of the country. But are we prepared to back up the Afghan government? Already the've reverted to some tricks of the old Afghanistan - the narcotics business and brutal policing. If we leave, the Taliban, like the terminator, will be back.

It was a sad day we listened to GWB and his plans "to bring evil-doers to justice".

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