One of the problems besetting the NATO mission, or ISAF, in Afghanistan is that there are just too many armies and not enough soldiers.
The forces committed to that wretched place are a piecemeal bunch, each subject to "caveats" or conditions under which they may and may not be used. For example, one country may specify that its soldiers can only fire their guns on the first and third Tuesday of the month and only when fired upon first from really, really close range. These caveats hobble the force commander who must employ his forces subject to each nation's terms and conditions. Too many armies.
Not enough soldiers. NATO's overall force levels are a fraction of those deployed on other, far less challenging missions such as Bosnia but, instead of finding effective ways to greatly increase the force size, NATO is struggling to keep it from shrinking too much in the coming two years.
In a remarkably uncritical piece in today's TorStar the paper's Ottawa bureau chief Bruce Campion-Smith did a bang-up bit of boosterism for "the mission":
"Afghans know the battle is not won yet and so are reticent about offering their wholehearted support to a foreign force that might not be here in two years." Afghans actually know the battle isn't won yet? Really? What else do they know? Maybe they know just how well foreign armies do in their country. Maybe they know how this will end, even if we don't want to admit it - yet.
"The presence of Canada is needed till Afghanistan is able to defend itself. That day is not going to be in 2009," Karzai told Canadian journalists at a recent news conference clearly staged to deliver a message back home. "Look around and see that the enemy is not yet finished, not yet defeated." Look at that, Karzai knows it too. He also knows he has about a snowball's chance on a mid-summer day in Kabul that the enemy (you choose which one) will be defeated. If he actually believed the Taliban would likely be defeated, do you think he would be pleading with them to cut him a deal every other week?
"This is a country that won't be rushed." Rushed into what? With its half-dozen normally suspicious and hostile ethnic groups, it's hardly a country at all. When its people do get together, it's usually to drive out the latest bunch of infidels who show up thinking they'll remake the place. To the extent Afghanistan is a country, it's been described as a collection of bits that its neighbouring countries didn't want.
Whether you support the Conservatives, Liberals or the NDP on Afghanistan, we'd all do much better if we based our arguments on the realities of that country, of NATO and ISAF, instead of the silly scenarios our leaders adopt to further their own political fortunes.