Monday, December 31, 2007

Taliban Getting Outside Help. Ya Think?

General Rick Hillier has let the cat out of the bag, the Taliban is getting outside help.

Hillier said the Afghan insurgents are getting help from other radical groups, including those fighting in Iraq. Roadside booby traps in Afghanistan, also known as improvised explosive devices or IEDs, are becoming more sophisticated and deadly, in part because of outside help.

"We do see some of the tactics, perhaps, that do come out of Iraq," he said. "It's hard to say exactly . . . but we are pretty confident that some of the tactics in use of IEDs . . . has come out of Iraq, without question."

Support goes beyond expertise in explosives.

"Do we see foreign fighters in Afghanistan? We do.

"We see Chechens . . . and we see Arabs and Egyptians, Arabs from a variety of nations. We see Algerians and Moroccans, not in big numbers, but we do see those folks there."

Hillier seems to have made no mention of the (rabidly radical Sunni) Taliban being fed improvised explosive devices by (fiercely fundamentalist Shiite) Iran. This allegation was made by Hillier's boss, DefMin Pmackay, in Kandahar on Christmas day. Curious omission, that.

The general said that our glorious success in Afghanistan could have a stabilizing effect across the entire region - even in placid Pakistan next door. Yeah, right.

It's not that I don't expect Hillier to be top cheerleader for the Afghan mission. He hatched the idea and then sold it to the pols after all. What I find troubling is that he utterly shies away from discussing the metrics of just how well we're doing.

How well are we doing in Afghanistan? Who knows? How does one tell? Just what does winning look like? What does losing look like? How many areas in Kandahar province are free from the prospect of Taliban infiltration or attack? Maybe that's not a good measure. How many towns and villages can resist Taliban intimidation? That's probably not a good one either. How much territory do we control this year compared to last year and the year before? Move along, nothing to see here.

I guess we could use body counts, or at least we could if we had any reliable means to differentiate the civilians we kill from the insurgents we kill. Then again, body counts aren't much use if the enemy is able to readily replace his losses and keep recruiting and training new fighters as needed.

Hillier hasn't just lowered the bar, he's gotten rid of it entirely. The goal he initially set - way back when he talked our leaders into approving "the mission" - was to drive the Taliban out of Kandahar province. It was to kill a few dozen "scumbags." So just how has the general met his own stated objectives? Well, he's certainly killed a few dozen "scumbags" and a few dozen civilians to boot. But he's not driven the Taliban out of Kandahar. To the contrary, a few dozen have grown into many hundreds at least, possibly more, and they're not "out" of Kandahar but they are "throughout" Kandahar. The Taliban force has grown by leaps and bounds since we first arrived and yet we're still fielding the same minuscule battle group to fight them.

We've got some very important decisions to make this year including whether to extend "the mission" past its scheduled end in 2009. It's going to be a tough decision. Nobody in NATO wants in and yet no one wants to be the first to bail out either. The Dutch just extended their commitment to mid-2010 and I'm very suspicious that their incremental extension was taken in the hope that we would get out first so they didn't look quite so bad.

We've got important decisions to take and not much time to mull them over. Now, more than ever, we need some plain talk and clear direction from Rick Hillier. He either has to show us how to make this thing work, with clear and precise objectives, or he has to admit he hasn't got a clue about winning in Kandahar. I think he'll do everything he can to duck the tough questions that only he can address in hope that the whole thing can be blamed on feckless politicians.

No comments: