Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It's No Use Getting it Right Fifteen Years After You Got It Wrong.

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?


CV SoG said...

Aside from all the death and destruction these previous actions unleashed, people like this guy expose themselves to not only be incompetent AND stupid, but cowardly as well. That they only 'admit' their errors now highlights the latter.

What really truly angers me is how none of these people are ever really held accountable for their actions.

The Mound of Sound said...

I share your concerns, CVSoG. Out of respect for the enlisted personnel and junior officers we sent over there, again and again, we should have taken a thorough examination of what we did in Kandahar, why, and what went so wrong. From that we should have derived lessons, principles to inform Canadian decision-making in all future conflicts of this sort.

Our military leadership was deeply wanting but so too was America's, our head office. There's a reason why the guys with all the King's horses and all the King's men, with thousands of lives and trillions of dollars to squander, have made such a mess of everything they've touched for the past 15-years.

Now, with ISIS having succeeded al Qaeda and opening branch offices from the western reaches of North Africa, through the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the southern territories of both China and Russia and its tentacles starting to spread into Europe, we've played an instrumental role in launching a war we haven't a clue how to win.

General Fraser seems to imagine we've trapped ourselves into a 30-40 year war. I think he's being optimistic.

Kim said...

FUBAR Mound. And on to Syria, Libya and beyond, we double down on the stupidity.

Toby said...

Mound, I often think that language influences the way we think. Sometime in the middle of the last century we changed the name of the Ministry of War to Defence. The conflation of war and defence makes it easier to think of all these foreign wars as important to our national safety when nothing could be further from the truth. It also makes it easier for tin hats like Hillier and Fraser to justify their stupidity.

the salamander said...

.. we can see the naked ignorance and written proof any old day Mound. There's the wannabe's with their 'war rooms', campaign chests, vaugue ideologies & corporate fairy tales. Political pimps or perhaps better said.. whores in the employ of corporate, religious or ideological pimps. Who came up with the famous quote about.. no longer arguing about who you are & what you are.. but really just trying to agree on a suitable price..

The irony of the day for me was reading how Ex PM and wannabe superpower economist dictator, currently employed as an elected MP for Calgary Heritage & a public servant was last spotted with his cabin boy Ray Novak creeping in to see a matinee of Revenant in Ottawa. Powerwash these thugs and off comes the Old Snot pretention, the Rudyard Kipling wrapping.. of taking it to the infidels, into the valley of death strode Stephen Harper.. and lo, the great smartypants all growed up is revealed as a paunchy twit wearing a cheap Italian tablecloth and a cool ballcap, accompanied by a mysterious little fink with a degree in political science. Neither of these creeps truly has held a real job.. but instead came up a sewer pipe and into the warm sun of politics and its seemingly endless bounty.

Suddenly it seems, backed by louts like Peter MacKay, Jason Kenney, Arthur Hamilton et al, we find these military and cultural experts, financial wizards etc.. casting their spell on Legislation, The Law, declaring war, obstructing justice or re-inventing it.. Its simply astounding how without a shred of real validation, experience, humanity or truthiness.. these creeps can define the rules we may live or die by! Are they worse than the fops and snivelers who send thousands to their deaths at Gallipoli? These cowards buried the truth of their complicity and ignorance in Afghanistan, posed for pictures and fluffed the troops.. while scheming to torch some punk name Kadhr as a war criminal.. spending millions to ensure their legal beagle case held water, proroguing Parliament to block discovery of their sins & incompetance.. To expect an effective and courageous military hierarchy to survive such a toxic bath, is to believe the RCMP could avoid also avoid their taint.

There was never a single iota of 'honour' to be found in the most senior public servants of the country called Canada, over the last 10 years.. Surely we would have noticed if there was.. instead we know they gamed retired, disabled & wounded veterans.. so what could we expect in their decisions re active military ? Much less while sending them off into harm's way in faraway lands in foolish gestures of 'war'

The Mound of Sound said...

I can't agree with you entirely, Sal. There were a few senior public servants with honour - two Auditor Generals and our former Parliamentary Budget Officer come to mind. Add to that the entire bench of the Supreme Court of Canada and various courageous Federal Court justices willing to spurn Harper's strongarm initiatives. Christ, somebody held Canada together even if only by a shoestring. God knows the opposition didn't.

the salamander said...

.. without question, Mound.. there were Canadian exemplars .. many many.. who stood up to the rot and obstruction from our so called political leaders. Some were unable to execute their mandate due to severe obstruction, secrecy even malfeasance. Cabinet Confidence became a pet way to hide facts.. outright delay delay and legal appeal and closure, in camera committee moves were another.. Its a wonder some of our honest public servants didn't run shrieking from madness with what they faced from Tony Clement, John Baird, Fantini, Toews, Harper et al

Anonymous said...

Back in the dim distant past of 2001 or 2 when we first ventured into Afghanistan, not a soul in my social circle agreed with me that we had no hope in Afghanistan. Naw, the recent Soviet experience was dismissed, why everyone knew they were just Russians and therefore incompetents.

So I reminded them of the old British saw: "Remember the Kyhber Pass!". That's when the conquering Brits, complete with families and hanger ons departed the country to return to the Raj, and got completely decimated by their once smiling "hosts" in return for the attempted subjugation they had been subjected to. 16,000 souls lost for their imperial temerity.

Read this, the summary intro is short:

No, for the US and Canada in the 21st ceentury it was going to be a walk in the park. Who reads history?

My pal still won't pay the $100 he owes me from the bet, because he says we didn't lose. Hah.

As for Hillier, a man of limited intellectual ability and his subsequent replacements with no larger imagination, perhaps someone should open a blog entitled "Canadian Armed Forces and its Incompetents". With aplogies to Lorne for stealing the theme.


The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, BM, I'm quite familiar of what befell the 44th Regiment of Foot at the Hill of Bones. Your friends were swept up in the techno-triumphalism of Desert Storm. They could not conceive that we could be defeated by an outmanned contingent of illiterate Afghan farmboys equipped with Korean-war vintage assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades.

I was regularly disgusted to read our commanders denouncing the Talibs for refusing to come out and "fight like a man" - i.e. to stand up and allow our high-tech weaponry to mow them down. Their juvenile tirades were so reflective of military leaders who had no grasp of the battle they were really fighting. All they could see was the "military" war - the George Patton stuff. They didn't get that the issue would be decided by the "political" war and that always went to the last side still occupying the field when their adversary left.

We were never defeated militarily just as the US never lost a major battle in Vietnam. We were defeated in the political war, the war fought in the shadows, unseen by those running highway patrols in daylight and then hunkering down in their garrison by night. You simply cannot win the hearts and minds of the people if you cannot defend them when the other side comes calling at their villages in the middle of the night. Yet you can't protect those people and their villagers with a ridiculously understrength force of the sort we fielded in Kandahar.

Utterly stupid and a waste of a good many fine lives.