Friday, August 31, 2012

The Elusive Reality of Afghanistan

Now, after more than a decade of accomplishing astonishingly little, Western military leaders are working hard on polishing the narrative for their war in Afghanistan.  It's unclear who they plan to finger as the fall guy but it will undoubtedly begin with, "we won all the battles."

Yes, we won all the battles - the battles that didn't really matter.   How could we not have won?  We had our enemy outnumbered.   We alone had the artillery, tanks, armoured vehicles, attack helicopters, jet fighters and drones.   They were outnumbered farmers armed with Korean War vintage assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades plus masses of high explosive left over from the Soviet days.

Now we're supposedly packing up, getting ready to hand the war back to the Afghans.   We're supposedly training a new, effective Afghan army to continue the battle against the Taliban.  All's well that ends well, right?   Apparently not.

EVERY night, as the evening call to prayer ends its slow passage across the dusty Afghan army training centre on the outskirts of Kabul, hundreds of Afghan army recruits tread a weary path from the drill fields to the prefabricated barrack houses where they sleep. Once inside, a senior Afghan National Army officer goes from dormitory to dormitory locking the doors. From the outside.

The soldiers, who spend 10 weeks undergoing basic training before being posted into service, are sealed inside their barracks to try to stop them slipping off during the night. It is all part of the frantic effort by NATO-led forces to bolster the ranks of the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the lead-up to the withdrawal of most of the Western military troops by 2014.

Yet, the nightly lockdown lays bare the many uncertainties and contradictions that underlie the confident rhetoric of Western political leaders that they are building up the Afghan army to be the primary bulwark against ''re-Talibanisation'' of Afghanistan.

...Several senior ISAF officers in Kabul have recently confirmed to The Saturday Age that the issue of ''insider threat'' is the top priority for international forces during this fighting season.

All combat deaths are harrowing, but those caused by firefights and the now infamous improvised explosive devices do not sap morale in quite the same way as attacks from the people who are meant to be on your side.

What is worrying seasoned observers is that insider attacks are becoming, it seems, the latest tactic of choice for the Taliban, which cannot prevail against the vastly better-equipped Western forces in conventional combat. Last year green-on-blue attacks claimed the lives of 35 foreign soldiers under ISAF command.

This year, there have been 48 such deaths, including those on Wednesday - and there are still four months of the year to run.

 ...the evidence is mounting that the spike in green-on-blue casualties is all part of a deliberate strategy by the Taliban, backed by its allies in Pakistan and Iran's intelligence services.

Leading defence and strategic analyst Professor Alan Dupont, a former army intelligence officer now at the University of New South Wales, says the use of Afghan soldiers to attack the West is a ''thought-through strategy and program'' by the Taliban.

''It is supported by the intelligence services of, I believe, Iran and Pakistan as a way of inflicting the most psychological and political impact on the Western forces there,'' Dupont told The Saturday Age.

''And it's a clever strategy. There is no question that the Pakistani [intelligence service] is covertly supporting the Taliban and to some extent strategising and directing a lot of it.''

A former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, believes there is much more to come.

''It's a horrible thing to say, but it's just another insurgency tactic,'' he told ABC Radio yesterday. ''I think they [green-on-blue attacks] will increase. They [the Taliban] are determined to make sure that we appear to leave with a bloody nose.'' is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that the Afghan army is progressing with anything like the speed ISAF desires.

Recent data published by the Pentagon suggests the attrition rate in the ANA in the 12 months to November last year was a staggering 32 per cent, of which the overwhelming majority were soldiers deserting their posts.

And while the Afghan army has a listed strength of about 175,000 and must reach 300,000 soldiers by 2014, senior officers in Kabul suggest the reality is that there is probably something like 100,000 Afghan soldiers actually on duty.

If we can't even leave behind a functioning, reliable Afghan Army capable of defending the country into the foreseeable future, what have we achieved?  

We owe it to the men and women who served Canada so well in Afghanistan to get to the bottom of where this all went so wrong.   We need to explore and understand the utter failure of our civilian and military leadership and that is going to mean accepting the unvarnished truth and rejecting the spin that's already being readied to spoon-feed the folks at home.   We went there to achieve something, or did we?


Anonymous said...

The war with Afghanistan was a brain dead decision, right from day one.

How do you win a war when, Afghans are your friends by day, and kill you by night? You have to change their, customs, beliefs and religion, to stop them killing their women and each other. There is tribe against tribes, there is Muslim against Muslim. Or, you would have to bomb Afghanistan, right into nothing left but dust.

Canadian democracy is vanishing, more and more every day. It's quite the joke, to try and force it on Afghanistan.

Canada is becoming, a country with no morals or ethics, what-so-ever. Canada has become, a cesspool of corruption.

e.a.f. said...

we should all get out of afghanistan. If any of the women living in the country want to leave, they can come with the departing armies. Remember to take all the weapons when you leave because if you don't they will be used against us at some future date. Just remember the Russians in Afghanistan.