Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Miserable Truth of Afghanistan

Another report stating the truth about Afghanistan - we're losing the hearts and minds of the Afghan people to the Taliban.

A Senlis Council survey found that fully half the men in the hotspot provinces of Helmand and Kandahar believe the international community will be defeated by the Taliban. In a counter-insurgency situation, half is not a 50/50 proposition, it's not even a C-minus, it's an F.

According to Senlis founder, Norine MacDonald of British Columbia:

- woefully inadequate aid and development, and misguided counter-narcotics policies, are turning people against NATO forces and making their work much more dangerous

- the survey shows alarming gains in Taliban support in the south, with 27 per cent of respondents backing the militants, compared with only 3 per cent in December 2005

- Eighty per cent of people surveyed said they worry about feeding their families, and 70 per cent know how to fire a weapon. People are hungry and angry, and when bombing campaigns level villages, it's not difficult to see how those facts come together

- In Kandahar and Helmand provinces, 80 per cent of respondents said the international troops were not helping them personally, and 71 per cent believed the Afghan government was also unhelpful.

"Meanwhile, a survey by the independent monitoring group Integrity Watch Afghanistan said that in the past five years – after the Taliban lost power –'corruption has soared to levels not seen in previous administrations,' and about 60 per cent of responders believed it was the most corrupt government in two decades.

"The poll of 1,258 Afghans said that under President Hamid Karzai, money 'can buy government appointments, bypass justice or evade police' with impunity. Weak law enforcement was mainly to blame, said the group's executive director, Lorenzo Delesgues.

"'Corruption has undermined the legitimacy of the state,' he said yesterday in Kabul.

Canada sent forces to Afghanistan treating it as a predominantly military issue. Our top general swaggered and boasted that his combat brigade was going to Kandahar to kill a "few dozen ...scumbags." It's becoming apparent that Hillier didn't bother learning the history of the place which would have shown him that these "scumbags" have, for centuries, proven themselves to be determined, skilled, resilient and courageous fighters who have repeatedly defeated larger, better organized and more powerful foreign armies. He didn't bother to learn the rudimentary lessons of counter-insurgency warfare, particularly the two fundamentals: you have to flood the place with large numbers of troops and you try to avoid using heavy firepower. Instead Hillier fashioned a force that was paltry in numbers and, in the result, unavoidably dependent on airstrikes and artillery to offset their weakness in numbers.

We committed our soldiers to Kandahar without regard to the shakey political dimension of this struggle. It was as though we assumed that Karzai's government was legitimate or perhaps we considered that to be America's problem. Either way, we're defending an illegitimate regime that most of the Afghan people in our area of operations utterly fear and loathe.

Deciding that the Karzai government deserved our support only because it wasn't the Taliban was naive, even stupid. Sending our soldiers over there equipped, staffed and trained to fight our notion of warfare, not the locals' was just as stupid, even irresponsible. Let's remember that support for the Taliban in Kandahar province has increased NINEFOLD since we assumed control of the place. If we keep going like this, where is that number going to stand by 2009?

We owe it to the men and women we send over there to fight and sometimes die to do what we neglected to do during Harpo's sham debate; to ask the tough questions and demand some straight answers from the government and General Rick Hillier, answers that are long overdue.

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