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.

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