We've become accustomed to the Afghanistan rituals. There are the grim ramp ceremonies and the coverage of the flag-draped coffins of the dead being "repatriated" to Canada.
Then there's the ritual of the embedded reporter telling us of the bravery and commitment of our soldiers in the combat zone.
We also get the ritual briefings from mid-level and senior officers about the latest mission and how we're capturing this and driving the insurgents out of there and there and there. They always make sure to get out the message that it's a tough struggle but we're slowly winning. We just need a couple years more. Hmm.
It's these boastful and often groundless claims by the colonels and generals that sully the sacrifice of their soldiers. Remember how they gleefully pronounced Panjwai clear of the Taliban? They told us they were going to keep it that way. Yeah, sure. Didn't happen. The Taliban left, more or less intact, and returned when it suited them. They didn't have to wage a fierce battle to reclaim Panjwai, they just walked back in.
A report just released by the Senlis Council paints a grim picture completely at odds with our military leaders' glowing optimism. From The Guardian:
The Taliban has a permanent presence in 54% of Afghanistan and the country is in serious danger of falling into the group's hands, according to a report by an independent thinktank with long experience in the area.
Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Nato-led troops and billions of dollars in aid, the insurgents, driven out by the US invasion in 2001, now control "vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries," the Senlis Council says in a report released today.
On the basis of what it calls exclusive research, it warns that the insurgency is also exercising a "significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people, who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change".
The council goes as far as to state: "It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when this will happen and in what form. The oft-stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever and it is incumbent upon the international community to implement a new strategic paradigm for Afghanistan before time runs out".
The Senlis assessment is confirmed by Oxfam and, according to The Guardian, is also affirmed by "senior British and US military commanders."
We need to realize that our military's bag of tricks is just about empty. It's a matter of too little, too late. The question now is how many more ramp ceremonies we're going to permit before people like Rick Hillier come clean with us?
We're not fighting the Taliban's war and they're not fighting ours. The trouble is, it's the outcome of their war, the political war of insurgency, that will decide the future of Afghanistan. Centuries of fighting off foreigners has shown them how to defeat massively superior armed force. A couple of decades ago it was the Soviets. They had all the toys - special forces, armoured vehicles, tanks, artillery, strike fighters and attack helicopters - and they were willing to be awfully brutal in using them. But they didn't win.
Here's something else to ponder. Once the Taliban achieve a critical mass of legitimacy, how long will it be before the others - the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, throw in with them and drive out Karzai? If that happens, what are we going to do then? It's time to start watching the other players, the warlords such as Dostum, Hekmatyar, and Gul Agha.