The tanks were rollin' and the guns were firin' and we had the buggers this time for sure. Or at least that's what Canada's military leaders and embedded journalists were joyously proclaiming to all and sundry just about a week ago. We had the Taliban this time, the same insurgents that somehow slipped through our fingers during Operation Medusa when we had them surrounded last September. This time the crafty devils wouldn't be so lucky. This time we really had them. This time it really was surrender or die, either way they were done for.
Here's how Bruce Hutchison of CanWest, with a patriotic thump of his chest, brought us the story three days before Christmas:
"HOWZ-E MADAD, Afghanistan -- There is no place to hide, and nowhere to run for hundreds of Taliban insurgents now squeezed into a box near here by NATO forces.
"They only have two options: Surrender, or attempt to fight their way out."Such is the situation in and around Howz-e Madad, a farming village 40 kilometres west of Kandahar city.
"Once tight-lipped about their objectives, and their chances of success, Canadian officers leading their army's effort in the campaign are practically boastful of its swiftness and its efficacy.
"This is the first time we've projected (this) much combat power forward," said Canadian battle group commander Lt.-Col Omer Lavoie. "(NATO) and Afghan forces are surrounding them, 360 degrees."
"The Taliban are hemmed inside 10-square-kilometres of mud fortresses and walled farm compounds, terrain that is well-suited to their guerrilla tactics but which also makes it difficult -- if not impossible -- to escape."As Lavoie noted with satisfaction, British and American troops sit approximately 10 kilometers south of Howz-e Madad.
"More British soldiers line the west, sealing that corridor, and Canadian combat teams rolled on Wednesday through Howz-e Madad."About 30 vehicles and hundreds of soldiers now hold the northern flank.
"To the east, running in a straight line to the Arghandab River, is impenetrable Route Summit, the 4.5 kilometre roadway established in September, during Operation Medusa."
So, where are all the prisoners, where are all the bodies of the dead Taliban? What if I was to tell you that, when it comes to certain Canadian colonels and media correspondents "on the scene", your guess is every bit as good as theirs? For, you see, a week ago they gleefully claimed to have 900 of these fanatics surrounded, boxed in. Now they can't find them.
I began worrying that this whole thing had, once again, been ginned up when the day following the initial estimate of 900 insurgents, it was revised downward to 400. Remember a few months back when we were told our people had won a massive victory over the Taliban, killing 80 or more of them? You might even remember when, several weeks later, they corrected that figure to 8. Mathematical error is the excuse they used for that one.
But I digress. What is the latest on Operation Falcon's Feathers or whatever they're calling this one? Turns out we can't find them. Now, according to the same Bruce Hutchison, the "surrender or die" guy, the fact that we can't find anyone to shoot is proof that we've won:
"Central to the operation is the release of material and financial assistance to local Afghans, in an attempt to stop men of fighting age from serving as Taliban mercenaries and help instead with the reconstruction of this war-torn region.
"That’s the official “hearts and minds” strategy behind Operation Baaz Tsuka, as devised by the NATO and Afghan coalition.
"To date, it seems to be working. Now two-weeks-old, the campaign has seen few head-on battles waged against the Taliban, and none involving Canadian troops.
"Boxed into a swath of territory 10 kilometres west of Mas’um Ghar, in Panjwaii District, and surrounded by a massive gathering of coalition war machinery, 700 to 900 insurgents seem indisposed to do more than launch the odd — and, to date, harmless — rocket attack.
"Canadians have not fired a single shot at enemy positions in Panjwaii District during Operation Baaz Tsuka.
"But Canadian troops have advanced, taking more ground from the Taliban and suffering no casualties in the process."
I guess so long as we can redefine the objective to match the result, we can declare great victory even when we come up empty handed. A two-week campaign that, despite massive superiority in men and firepower, hasn't engaged a ragtag enemy and we call that victory?