Friday, February 28, 2014
Brits Throw In the Towel in Helmand
Like Canada, Britain maintained a military contingent in Afghanistan for more than a decade. Like Canada, the Brits set lofty goals of their Afghan War. Like Canada, the Brits are leaving Afghanistan with precious little to show for their sacrifice in lives and treasure.
Like Canada in Kandahr, the Brits used a carrot and stick approach in their mission to Helmand province. This consisted of taking the fight to the Taliban, the warfighting, and construction of schools, roads and other infrastructure to win over the hearts and minds of the local Afghans. According to The Guardian, even the civil assistance mission failed.
The UK has said a quiet goodbye to its political ambitions in Helmand, the corner of Afghanistan it once dreamt of remaking, handing over its former headquarters in the provincial capital.
The dusty offices of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which once channelled hundreds of millions of dollars into trying to build everything from roads to rule of law, now belong to an Afghan government public health team.
The departure this week was agreed years ago by Nato and President Hamid Karzai, who railed against the reconstruction teams as militarised outsiders undermining the government by providing services that should be the work of his ministers.
Still, they are leaving behind a province that last year harvested a record opium crop and where violence in northern Sangin got so bad that government forces reportedly struck a deal with the Taliban.
Unemployment is rampant, electricity is scarce and malnutrition is common. "People are worried," said Ghulam Sarwar Ghafari, 65, a school teacher in Lashkar Gah who said security was getting worse. "People had jobs working for the British. They were building roads, clinics and bridges, but a lot of things are unfinished."
The British government has retreated into the vast Camp Bastion military base, and in less than a month will shut what remains of the PRT. The mission in Kabul will still include the province in its aid plans, but the days of intense focus on an area that is home to fewer than a million people are over.
These nebulous, little wars rarely, it seems, turn out well. We take a half-assed approach going in and the same approach when we pry ourselves out. Canada's mission, for all the pompous boasts of our political and military leadership, was farcical. To think that Canada could dominate the Taliban in a province of the size and population of Kandahar with a fighting force that rarely reached 1,000-troops was laughable or might have been but for the dead and wounded we sustained.
Harper was in on the gag too. Remember he proclaimed that Canadian troops would crush the insurgents, render Kandahar free of the Taliban, make it safe for democracy. Stephen Harper set the bar by which the outcome of our Afghan War would be judged victory or defeat. Given that, like the Brits, we failed to achieve our leader's stated objectives, we were defeated. At least in Korea we fought to a tie.