Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On - Going Going On

Summer is on its way to slamming to a close and with it the 'activity' season for the Taliban facing Canada's military peacekeepers in Afghanistan. It has been a more active season than in years past, on both sides. Added to a renascent insurgency - or just a revitalized one - possibly attributed to an exodus of AQ fighters from the newly-pacified Iraq, is an increased or more 'robust' NATO presence in the form of what are shaping up to be significant American reinforcements and more actively involved forces from such as France.

Starting last spring when the USMC deployed a battalion into Helmand to show the Brits how to fight insurgents, America has rediscovered the original 'pure' reason they invaded Asia. However, they seem to be under some sort of delusion that the Taliban were virtually 'finished' back in '02, and that they can be easily finished in '09. The nice thing about bad memories for us homebodies is that we can generally make them go away. And so it is with the neocon remnant still working the levers of US foreign policy and the failed 'new' American century. They have forgotten that a treatment resistant and spreading Taliban infection got Canada, and other NATO allies more actively involved in the combat they're so fond of, 4 years ago. We've been fighting that 'good fight' since.

Canada maintains a presence of about 3500 personnel at Khandahar base. The fighting rotations are provided by deployed battalions from homeland regiments - some units are going into their third rotation. Support services are increasingly coming from other arms of service - i.e. communications, medical, etc from the Air and Naval arms. So far this summer, casualties have been fairly light, but then operations, other than the great 'Boo!' in Arghandab haven't been overly dramatic, either. Patrolling and suiciders with another small poke at the Panjwai. 'Getting 'er done' remains an exercise in patrolling, PR and applied airpower.

Lately the Taliban took a PR poke of their own at the Achilles heel of the Coalition - regional development. The conventional wisdom, at least in Canadian circles, is a combined military and redevelopment thrust. Increasingly the latter was being devolved on Government-sponsored (CIDA) NGOs and their personnel to move in under the military umbrella and provide the services that, until recently, had been within the purview of the military. Last week, in the absence of that umbrella, the Taliban caught, and killed, a carful of aid workers.

The results of this little horror have been understandable. First the Taliban are associating aid workers and the military, they do, after all work hand-in-glove to develop the anti-Taliban, pro-Afghan (go figure) mission. Without the protection provided by the military the NGO's are largely ineffective. Any 'unapproved' NGOs tend to want to blend into the Afghan population and, reportedly, or at least so far, have been treated with a modicum of forbearance by the locals. But the work of 'approved' NGOs, whose prime focus is helping 'friendly' Afghans as a representative of Karzai and his western supporters, may well be starting to jeopardize everything.

The basic problem is that reconstruction can't be done without security. Apparently security can't be done without killing Afghans. Killing Afghans can't be done without upsetting the locals and affecting security which means not much reconstruction is getting done. So it all boils down to a purely military solution. And that's where the problem lies.

We, westerners, have little knowledge of Afghans and since we're possibly their killers, they're not being very helpful to us. Yes we can find Afghan assistants and interpreters, but it's an act of faith to take them at their word when they're not dealing with their own tribe, or even their own family. NATO is often used to get somebody 'onside', to settle old scores or to provide an example. The year in, rotate out - patrol from base tactic gives westerners little chance to learn about the Afghan environment outside a war view. And our war view isn't healthy for Afghans, or ourselves.

As we get ready for another year of this crap. We have the Prime Minister's Office touts led by Guy the Mastermind Giorno and spokesperson Korey Machismo letting us know that they know the Taliban are 'full of it' with their threats. They claim the Taliban 'can't win' - I'd bet that was a notion the Russians had. We'll be staying the course, whatever that is, because Mr. Harper and his back room pals claim they know bullshit when they smell it.

Afghanistan is looking less and less like Canada's mission, and more and more like a festering sore. But it's, thanks to the warfighter's in the Martin and Harper administrations, the only mission we've got. And we wouldn't want to lose. So re-pave up the 'Highway of Heroes' we will continue to need it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

They'll Cut Your throat if You Let 'Em

I was in Manitoba last week when Slaughterhouse 5 happened on the bus at Portage La Prairie. It was a bizarre thing to be driving by the place they day after it happened. Manitoba isn't one of those places you'd think would have such occurrences, but apparently things they are a changin' out there, too.

That same week two young Indian men were tasered, and one of them shot and killed, by the police - that would be the RCMP who have provincial duties in Manitoba. Winnipeg has had it's share of ghastly murders - little kids, etc and the problems of reservation life, and off-reservation life have been made the stuff of Jackson Highway's plays.

I would imagine that one would have to be pretty hardy, and good natured, to live in Manitoba, particularly in a Manitoba winter. For that province seems to be a kick-back to the original sparsely-populated state of the pre-Columbian continent. North of Lake Winnipeg, or it's little sister, the province is largely formless and void. There isn't even much road kill. You can rocket along empty roads with none but the ravens for company - maybe they explain the dearth of road-kill. One can only imagine the perceptions of neophyte Europeans HBC, or Nor'west traders, Eastern European immigrants or a Toronto Orangeman laying eyes on a valley bottom. Manitoba is lovely in a well-watered summer, but I know that won't last. Couldn't imagine what it might do to somebody from China.

Two day's later another story from around the other side of the world, about another decapitation. This time on a little Aegean gem - Santorini. Somebody killed and removed the head of his girlfriend and took it round her village showing it off. Like the bus-master, he managed to cow the witnessrs, I guess with the sheer horror of what they were seeing. On the bus, the passengers managed to close the door and trap the killer there until police arrived. On Santorini, the police arrived, one was stabbed and the headsman stole a police car. In the ensuing pursuit the killer was shot five times and was arrested. He was in serious condition in the hospital. On the bus the killer decided to break a window and escape. He might have thought about that sooner had he been compus mentis, but the police took him without tasering, anyway, although his face looked a bit lumpy the next day.

Closer to home an altercation that started when somebody apparently mis-identified a man whom she thought had sexually assaulted her, wound up with the man thumped, coshed with a two-by-four, and stabbed all on a main street, by four of the young woman's friends. Some interesting considerations. First, Molly Pitcher - who thinks she recognizes a sexual attacker - even though he's old enough to be her father and in the company of his wife and another woman. Instead of calling authorities, this spitfire rounds on him in a Tim Horton's. Must have been quite the sexual assault.

Then there's the victim. He reacts by going to the local police station to ask assistance in explaining that he's not a sexual attacker. The police accommodate his wishes but Jezebel had retired to other quarters. The victim, to celebrate his new-found security decided to take a walk down main street. It just so happened the vixen lived on Main street, not only that she got another chance to interact. Not having been present when the police declared the chap a 'good guy', she approached some hi-testosterone male acquaintances to assist a damsel in distress. Four of them did. In short order they put the boots to the dastard, punched the piss out of him, nailed him with some lumber and for good measure punctured him a time or two. All were able to make good their withdrawal before the local constabulary arrived on scene. But identification didn't take long and all 5 - sweetheart and swains - were booked like Dano on the 5-Oh.

I don't even want to think about the 5 mental midgets who deputized themselves defenders of whatever virtue this young miss has left. But it concerns me to think that there are such young louts, with too much time on their hands and edged weapons in their pockets. There are, and they are legion. Unemployed and umemployable - walking bad attitudes with head fogged with whatever substance they can get into themselves. Nothing to do but adjust their privates in public and use the F-word in some hitherto undiscovered ways of communicating. They're going to make an interesting demographic.