It took a while but I got through the Manley report on Afghanistan. At first I was somewhat impressed. With a few glaring exceptions the Panel seems to have managed a fair grasp of the facts. Much of the stuff was obvious but it was assuring to see them acknowledge it.
It's when the report got into the political questions that their views became hard to accept, at times hard even to believe. This is ultimately a political discussion and the report leaves a bottomless pit of wiggle room, more than enough to allow it to be exploited by all sides of the issue. The closer you get to the end of it the more it appears a colossal waste of time.
A Few Salient Points:
"Without systematic performance standards, accounts of security successes or failures are mainly anecdotal ...the Afghan and ISAF governments need first to craft a much more coherent and unified security strategy, and then impose practical, verifiable criteria for gauging and analyzing the course of that strategy."
"...the Panel observed harmful shortcomings in the NATO/ISAF counterinsurgency campaign. The most damaging shortfalls included an insufficiency of forces in the field, especially in high-risk zones in the South; a top-heavy command structure at ISAF headquarters in Kabul; an absence of a comprehensive strategy directing all ISAF forces in collaboration with the Afghan government; limitations placed by some NATO governments on their units, which effectively keep those units out of the conflict... ...These and other deficiencies reflect serious failures of strategic direction, and persistent fragmentation in the efforts of ISAF and NATO governments and between them and the Afghan government."
Okay, John, there are these several critical, potentially even fatal flaws in the way business is being handled in Afghanistan. Why then don't you tell us what they mean for the Canadian mission and what we're to do if they're not set right? You've pointed out the obvious but dodged any mention of what Canada should do in response. That's a huge failure.
The report envisions Canada aiding the Kabul government in formulating a basis for negotiations between the central authority and the "good" Taliban wishing to renounce violence. The Panel still wants Taliban leaders responsible for former atrocities prosecuted. Here they overlook the fact that some of the "Northern Alliance" warlords were hardly better and yet used their control of the parliament to pass an amnesty for themselves. I think one-sided justice is going to create a non-starter for negotiations with the Taliban.
The Manley Panel report also skips over the reaction that any power-sharing deal with the Taliban is likely to trigger in the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara warlords in the north who've been spending the last couple of years rearming and reconstituting their militias in anticipation of just such an eventuality.
The Panel seems to gloss over the fractures that underlie the Kabul government. It is a coalition of the willing - for now. The lack of trust and unity contribute, perhaps more than anything else, to Karzai's inability to purge his government of corruption and move on the opium bosses. Enormous pressures have been brought on Karzai by the Americans and ISAF but he's been unable or unwilling to crack down.
In the event of an ethnic or tribal breakdown in the central government what would befall the Afghan National Army? Would it remain loyal to the remnants of a Kabul government or break up into its constituent tribal elements and head for home? In that event do we sit on the sidelines of a renewed civil war or do we just take on a brand new bunch of enemiese to combat?
Leaving aside all the unasked questions, the manner in which the Manley Panel construed Canada's mission was, in my view, biased, distorted, perhaps even dishonest.
...the Panel could find no operational logic for choosing February, 2009 as the end date for Canada's military operation in Kandahar - and nothing to establish February, 2009 as the date by which the mission would be completed.
Here the Manley bunch is being wilfully disingenuous. February, 2009 was chosen not on the basis of operational logic or on any fanciful notions that the mission would be completed by then. To suggest that is pure sophistry and undermines any trust that should be placed in Manley's vision.
Parliament merely decided (following a farcical debate in which essential questions were never asked, much less answered) to carry ISAF's load in Kandahar until that date. ISAF and NATO were never released from the obligation to find replacements for us after that although Manley suggests that the extension was some form of de facto undertaking to stay for however long it takes to "win" in Afghanistan.
Manley is implying a much greater commitment than was ever undertaken. Staying to the end was never discussed in the debates leading up to the 2009 extension. It was certainly never explained to the Canadian people. He's pulling that straight out of his ass and he knows it. He also knows that, without this sort of chicanery, his arguments for remaining are seriously undermined. It is entirely reasonable in a conflict such as this to expect to be relieved after a period of service especially given that NATO is an alliance with a strength over over a million soldiers.
Manley's recommendation that Canada's military mission to Kandahar be "conditionally extended" beyond 2009 leaves the future of our effort to be determined, not by Canadians, but by Brussels. The Panel even presume to put a tidy price on it - another 1,000-strong battle group furnished by other NATO members. They've done all the math having no idea what may be coming from Pakistan or the Taliban or the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara warlords or the drug barons. It sounds positively sophomoric. 1,000 won't do the job that we're facing today. What assurances can Manley's Panel give that the price he demands for indefinite Canadian commitment will have any relevance in a year from now much less two or three? The answer is none whatsoever.
"If no undertakings on the battle group are received from ISAF partner countries by February, 2009, or if the necessary equipment is not procured, the Government should give appropriate notice to the Afghan and allied governments of its intention to transfer responsibility for security in Kandahar."
Gee, that's cute. What sort of notice does Manley have in mind and to whom does he suggest we "transfer responsibility for security in Kandahar?" What a load of nonsense.
In my initial assessment of this report based on news accounts I gave it a D+/C-. Having read it myself, I'd drop that to a very solid F.