Tuesday, April 08, 2008

No More Blank Cheques for Kandahar

Would you buy a car without first knowing the price? Of course not. In life we don't give blank cheques. We don't, that is, except when we're authorizing military action.

Generals don't like to get pinned down and, even when they must, they're not likely to meet their commitments.

We have generals because our civilian leaders can't possibly have the expertise in defence and warfare that's sometimes needed. So we construct this enormous apparatus starting with lowly recruits and rising steadily through the enlisted ranks to the commissioned ranks to the top brass where you'll find people who've been at their trade for thirty years or more.

When a military issue comes up, the civilian leadership calls the guy who's been taking the Queen's shilling for three decades to explain the situation to them and give them informed, reliable advice.

Now our top general, Rick Hillier, the Big Cod hisself, went to then Liberal PM Paul Martin in 2003 to pitch the idea of Canada taking over responsibility for Kandahar province. I wonder what advice the Field Marshal gave Martin. Did he say Canada might wind up stuck there for eight years or more barely able to tread water? Did he warn the PM that some of the equipment he had for the troops was utterly unsuitable for that job and would have to be urgently replaced - again and again - as the enemy grew more powerful? Did he caution the PM that the minuscule size of the force he planned to assemble would require him to resort to tactics that had failed in every insurgency where they had been tried in the past? Was there any mention that creating the degree of security in Kandahar necessary to allow reconstruction and civilian aid would require a minimum of 15,000 combat troops, not the 1,000 rifles he was going to deploy? Did he explain how Afghan government corruption and that country's powerful criminal element would compound the difficulty of "the mission?"

I guess the question I'm asking is did Rick Hillier tell Paul Martin that his proposed Kandahar force was almost certainly not going to meet any of its objectives and would leave Canada and her military stuck in a place from which it was going to be very tricky to emerge intact? My guess is, No.

The next question would be, if Rick Hillier didn't give these warnings and cautions and caveats to Paul Martin, why not? Did he not know any better? In that case he wasn't competent to lead the armed forces into Kandahar and ought to resign. If he did know but kept this from Paul Martin, he ought to be thrown out onto the street.

You see, Rick Hillier should have known better. The history of guerrilla warfare is well documented going back to the days of Caesar in Gaul. South Africa, the Middle East in WWI, the Bolshevik revolution, the Philippines, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in WWII, Algeria, Angola, Eritrea, Rhodesia, Nepal, China, Indonesia, Cuba and Vietnam and there are plenty more. If that's not enough you can add two failed efforts by the British and one by the Soviets in Afghanistan itself over the past two centuries. It's called "The War of the Flea" and there's even a book by that name that sets it all out.

But Hillier committed the classic mistake of all weak generals - he grossly underestimated his enemy. Once he managed to get the nod from Paul Martin he gleefully popped up before the assembled reporters to pronounce that his force was going to Kandahar to kill "a few dozen ...scumbags." A few dozen scumbags? If that was our objective we met it years ago and our soldiers ought to have been back in Canada by 2004, not left to troll for IEDs until 2011.

And there's the rub. When you give a general like Rick Hillier a blank cheque in situations like these, they don't have to give you a clear and workable exit strategy. That leads to "mission creep," a steady expansion of the scope and duration of the mission. These generals don't have to succeed, marking time is enough. Hillier is expected to retire this summer and he won't be leaving behind any exit strategy to get our forces out of Afghanistan. That's some general indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Doesn't let Paul Martin off the hook for one of his impossibly stupid decisions. Mark this one down right after launching war on his own party and leader.