Retired Canadian general, David Fraser, has written a mea culpa op-ed on Canada's war in Afghanistan that could have been - no, should have been - entitled "We Fucked Up."
The West made a mistake deposing the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11 and should have simply trained its guns on al-Qaeda, says the Canadian commander who led NATO into southern Afghanistan a decade ago.
Retired major-general Dave Fraser commanded both the Canadian task force and the military alliance’s expanded mission to extend the authority of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai beyond the capital of Kabul in 2006.
At the time, it was just over 4 1/2 years into the Afghan war and three years into the larger, bloodier struggle in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
“We thought, naively, that regime change was the solution to the problem,” Fraser told The Canadian Press in an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of the Canadian combat deployment into Kandahar.
No one, back then, seemed to appreciate how profound the power vacuum was and that the West had “created for ourselves a 30- or 40-year problem” in not only Afghanistan, he said, but throughout the Middle East.
The Globe, as usual, takes more than a few liberties with history and facts. To say that no one appreciated "how profound the power vacuum was" is an outright lie. You would have to be mentally defective not to grasp that a country that went through a bloody civil war, followed by the bloody Soviet occupation, followed by a post-Soviet bloody civil war that was still ongoing when we first showed up was one giant, power vacuum shit sandwich and going in meant we were there to take a big bite.
Anyone who paid the slightest attention to the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan and the 25-year history that led up to that mess had no illusions about how profound the power vacuum was. The often violent ethnic rivalries of Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen, Baloch and others had rent the country like a gang fight among feral cats. Add to that a thick layer of brutal warlordism and a criminal class just waiting to stage a comeback when we sent the Talibs packing and the warning signs were as obvious as flares dangling in the night sky.
I cannot forget the stupid smirk on the face of general Rick "the Big Cod" Hillier when he emerged from a meeting with then prime minister Paul Martin having convinced the government to approve the Kandahar combat gig. Hillier reared up on his hind legs to announce to the assembly of gullible reporters that Canada was going to Kandahar to "kill scumbags" who he numbered in "a few dozen." When I watched that video my heart sank.
Hillier's naivete was confirmed when he put together a minuscule garrison force of just 2,500 personnel to tame Kandahar province, the heartland of the Taliban. 2,500 personnel out of which he could muster on any given day about a thousand combat soldiers for a major push effort. Counterinsurgency doctrine called for a combat force of 15-20,000 for a territory with the size and population of Kandahar. Even then, as Hillier's "few dozen" Taliban morphed into a few thousand, we never reinforced our numbers. They stayed static which consigned us to being a garrison force that would sally out in daylight as bait for insurgent IEDs.
General Fraser commanded Canadian and coalition forces in Operation Medusa in 2006, which should be called the Second Battle of Panjwaii. We cleared the Taliban out of the area the first time but, insurgents being insurgents, when we headed back to the garrison they came back. So we got an even bigger bunch together and went out to put paid to the Talibs for all time. And so, we claimed, we did. Only not really.
I suppose we should be grateful for Dave Fraser's belated candour but there are too many questions that are going unasked and unanswered. Somebody needs to account for the staggering failures of leadership at the top military and political levels. Why did they not see what was facing them or, more accurately, the combat soldiers we were sending in harm's way? Why did they have it so wrong at the outset? Why did they stand mute when it did become obvious that this was a boneheaded fiasco?
Are today's generals one bit better than Hillier and Fraser? Have we become so addicted to outsourcing our foreign and defence policy to Washington that we've brought upon ourselves institutional mediocrity? Is this why we're reduced to endless "whack a mole" campaigns that achieve nothing?