Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let's Get Something Straight

A particularly malevolent creature has attacked me claiming that I don't "support the troops" in Afghanistan. This vermin equates my criticisms of the "War on Terror" with my regard for Canada's forces, at home and abroad.

I do support Canada's forces whether in the Middle East, at sea on the Atlantic or in the skies over Cold Lake. I come from a military family and am a former serviceman myself. That said, I know there is nothing contradictory in the warrior-pacifist. Real soldiers of the kind this country and our allies have counted on in their darkest moments utterly abhor war and only begrudgingly accept that it is sometimes, but only sometimes necessary.

There are those who pound their chests and bang their drums when our soldiers take the field. These types inevitably make loud noises but they're always at a safe distance when they do it. Their bravery is hollow and vicarious and phony. It is they who find nobility in the squalor and morbidity of high-tech slaughter. I don't. I see nothing lofty or noble in a 120 mm. tank round smashing into a mud hut or a thousand-pound high explosive aerial bomb detonating in a residential compound. Those things are merely gunnery and nothing more. That's not fighting, just range shooting when there is no tank firing back, no fighter defending the target.

I support our troops but I loathe what we've done to them and what we've asked of them. In truth, we have betrayed them which is, of itself, a very time-honoured tradition.

I am not naive about the nature of warfare. Clausewitz described war as an extension of politics, a means to achieve political goals when diplomatic measures have failed. Almost all wars incorporate political dimensions. That said, there is a vital distinction between wars fought to achieve political objectives of the state and wars exploited to benefit the political fortunes of individuals. The War on Terror, in all its manifestations, falls squarely in the second category which undermines its legitimacy.

Let's be honest. Canada went into Afghanistan in order not to go into Iraq. We went into Afghanistan to appease Washington and to stand with some of our NATO allies, most of whom also went to Afghanistan to mollify the Bush regime. That was the political dimension of Ottawa's war plan.

The Commander in Chief of the Global War Without End on Terror, George w. BushCheney conducted America's war to advance his political fortunes, not the political objectives of the United States. The war, after all, was an armed response to the attacks on America by extremists on 9/11. That framed America's political objectives of the war: get bin Laden, crush al-Qaeda. BushCheney manipulated the tragic opportunity in order to serve their personal political interests at the expense of their nation's. BushCheney all but abandoned America's "just war" in order to pursue their own interests in a decidedly unjust war, an illegal war, a war of aggression against the oil rich nation of Iraq. It was because it was unjust and illegal that the regime had to doctor intelligence and contrive patently false justifications for their criminal acts.

The element of contrivance extends throughout the War on Terror. It is a powerful element in the "mission" in Afghanistan today. What is contrived about Afghanistan? Just about everything when you examine it closely.

Our effort at counterinsurgency warfare is pure contrivance. We stand in a country several times larger than Iraq facing a terrorist movement, a nationalist insurgency, a broad criminal subculture shackled firmly to a central government by a fundamentalist warlord-driven power structure and we dump the problem on a grotesquely understrength force. In that lies the nub of the betrayal of our armed forces. Sending a minuscule force of Canadian soldiers to Kandahar into the jaws of these circumstances is beyond anything we have any right to ask of them. Supporting this mission is not supporting the troops but the very opposite.

The best military minds on counterinsurgency warfare have a prescribed ratio of counterinsurgents to populace of about 1:25. That is one properly trained, properly equipped and properly led infantryman for every 25 civilians. In Kandahar province that would mean a minimum force of 25,000 and up to 50,000 combat troops contrasted with the 1,000-strong combat group we actually have deployed. That is a betrayal of our fine soldiers.

Canada ought not to have committed our forces to Kandahar at all without ensuring they would be adequate in numbers to meet the tasks given them. That would have necessitated an effort similar to the force we mustered during the Korean War.

Why the need for so many troops? They're needed in order to wrest control of the countryside from the insurgents. The civilians must be protected from the terrorists and the insurgents (and the corrupt Afghan security services to boot) if we're to have any hope of winning the "hearts and minds" of the people. If we're not in their villages at night when the Taliban come calling, how do we expect them to resist the insurgents? Instead we play directly into their hands.

It's a now all-too-common scenario. A friendly patrol is brought under fire from a village or compound. The insurgents have infiltrated the villagers' homes because there was no force present to stop them. We identify the source of the hostile fire and then call in airstrikes or artillery or tank fire to destroy the enemy. If we're lucky we kill some or most of the enemy but often cause civilian casualties at the same time. If we're not so lucky we may just kill a lot of civilians and miss the bad guys all together.

The civilians see themselves as beset by both sides but they lay the blame for the dead on the side that actually killed them and that's often us. They're not interested in our justifications for the death of their family members. They're not interested in how we rationalize that it's all the insurgents' fault. We did the killing and their tribal codes demand the deaths be avenged.

Our comedians masquerading as generals puff themselves up and berate the insurgents as cowards for exploiting the civilians but there's plenty of cowardice lying at the feet of these generals themselves. These careerists are too cowardly to stand up and defend their troops by lambasting their equally cowardly political bosses for putting these soldiers in such an awful, understrength position in the first place.

These young men and women honour us and our country by their commitment and sacrifice and perseverence. We repay them by saddling them with a mission they cannot hope to achieve. So far our casualty rates have been low enough that morale hasn't collapsed and yet I recently heard the early grumbling from one veteran, a tanker. Just because we're not American, don't get lulled into thinking our soldiers will take anything thrown at them.

Let's get something straight. You don't support the troops with magnetic plastic decals stuck to your trunk lid. You don't support the troops by blindly backing the "mission." You support the troops by doing what almost no one is doing today - by standing up for them and demanding that our political leaders and our military leaders either give them what they need to meet the challenges we've imposed on them or else get them out of there.

This is not a partisan issue. Conservative or Liberal, it makes no matter. We all owe it to these young people to support them and we owe that above and regardless of our political affiliations.


RuralSandi said...

I would strongly suggest that you screen and/or delete Jonathon. He goes all over the blogosphere with nasty nonsense.

Big City Lib deletes him now and I believe Red Tory screens him.

Read Mount of Sounds blog today about the loss of his dad - Jonathon was absolutely vile.

The Mound of Sound said...

You're quite right, Sandi. It's time I learned to be a little more prompt in putting out the trash.

Simon said...

Hi Mound !! Good post. I agree with you a hundred percent. If we really support our troops we need to ask hard questions about this war. Since they can't. Too much of the talk about war in this country is mindless cheerleading... like it was some kind of hockey game or something. Anyone who dares to ask questions about the war is set upon by the right-wing chickenhawks and branded a traitor.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post! I'm glad you said your peace, but you don't need to defend your support of the troops. People are slowly wising up to the fact that there is vast difference between supporting the men and women who serve the nation and blindly and blithely supporting any political decision to use (or abuse) their service.

Johnathon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Mound: How can you take seriously anyone who says you dont support the troops because you question the mission? Thats nuts, and, lacks basic common sense. Question immigration and your called a racist, against gay marriage and your a homophope, anti-Kyoto..your a denier..and on and on and on it goes. You dont take Johnathon seriously because he makes it impossible to take him seriously, why waste time and energy over anyone who puts labels on people they disagree with you. With the exception of music you and I probably disagree on everything else, I've never once thought that you didnt support our troops, and, I'd never once give anyone a second thought who would call me a warmonger or a hawk. We all need thicker skins and smaller ears and a broader perspective. billg

Anonymous said...

"Support the troops" is a marketing slogan not a government policy. Like the car decals on which it appears it is an American import, developed and field tested on focus groups by the Republican party. As a marketing tool it is certainly superior to "Support the war" or "Support the government's war policy". It is utterly dishonest, but no more so than marketing colonial warfare as a "war on terror"

As for Mound's troop numbers, it is doubtful that even these would be adequate. In the only other war of this type in which Canada has participated, the Boer War, the British succeeded only after flooding the country with more soldiers than there were Boers and inventing the concentration camp.

Raphael Alexander said...

Great article. I think you're absolutely right, although I believe the war is too important to abandon now. Instead of firing blindly into the dark, as you suggest, we should be addressing your deficits by insisting a proper fighting force be installed in Afghanistan by all NATO members.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Raphe and thanks for your input. I understand your suggestion but, please tell me, what are the chances of that happening, of the NATO states along with the Americans, flooding Afghanistan with 800,000 soldiers?

From our past exchanges I know you're a rational moderate. We just see each other from the opposite side of the fence. That leads me to pose the question, "what are the chances of reviving 'the mission' now?"

As the great Petraeus himself wrote, there is a short time before the counter-insurgency force shifts from being seen as liberators rather than occupiers.

This is the tribal homeland of people whose folklore enshrines the David versus Goliath defeat of all the Euros from Alexander the Great to Brits to the Soviets.

You might want to read the International Herald Tribune (Sunday Times) piece by a senior, US anti-drug official (big enough to sit down with Karzi, big enough to brief Cheney) who shows that not just the Taliban but the Kabul government and, ultimately, our own military presence has a huge and immediate vested interest in the continuation of the opium trade.

It's like throwing anti-personnel mines atop a field of punji sticks and then adding cluster bomblets for good measure.

Raphe, if you can truly find anything, ANYTHING sane about this mission, I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Raphael Alexander said...

That leads me to pose the question, "what are the chances of reviving 'the mission' now?"

That depends on what the "big dogs" consider Afghanistan to mean to them in terms of security. Canada is a small player in this game, and though our efforts are important in the arena of combat, you are correct that we are undermanned.

I think the cat is out of the bag vis-a-vis Iraq and the BushCheney foreign policy war they undertook to oust that regime. There is nothing honourable about that war, and it took over a hundred thousand men just to achieve a state of mild emergency over five years.

Afghanistan, which has been the relevant target all along, if one is to believe the "war on terror" rhetoric, has been neglected to the point where regional interests have made it very difficult for the Americans to use the impetus of 9/11 to challenge their authority. They can't exactly come charging in with 100,000 men now, even though that is precisely what is needed to subdue the Taliban in Afghanistan and western Pakistan.

This is the tribal homeland of people whose folklore enshrines the David versus Goliath defeat of all the Euros from Alexander the Great to Brits to the Soviets.

Afghanistan can work if we stop viewing this as a war to win, and view it more as an objective to complete under occupation. The war was effectively won in 2001 when the U.S. ousted the Taliban regime and replaced it with a western-friendly government. After that began the "occupation", albeit under consentual circumstances.

A permanent occupation, like the Russians or British, will not succeed. But one that targets objectives, such as ruthlessly rooting out the Taliban and al-Qaeda network, would work. If the Americans don't commit to the troop level required to finish the job they started, or if they incur a war with Iran during the interim, I think we'll see that the foreign policy objectives of the BushCheney administration had nothing to do with winning the war on terror.

Which makes Afghanistan more or less a moot point.

Mark, Ottawa said...

As for bombing, you might look at:

"Greater restrictions on air strikes in Afstan"

As for a certain myth:

'"Unconquerable Afghans": What the Globe and Mail publishes and does not'

By the way, the Greek/Macedonian kingdoms that followed Alexander ruled much of Afstan for some 200 years. "Kandahar" itself derives from "Alexander". You could look those things up. No Euros then intervened in the area until the Brits in the 19th century. But meanwhile lots of other people successfully invaded the place, as the second link shows.


The Mound of Sound said...

Interesting articles, Mark, but not very helpful. As the second one noted, something approaching a recognizable Afghan state didn't emerge until late in the 18th century.

What is relevant out of the early conquests is the one aspect the article conveniently omits, the most relevant issue. What measures did the conquerors employ to suppress the local tribes and what would become of us were we to try that sort of brutality today?

Ours is not supposed to be a war of conquest, Mark, but a counter-insurgency war of at least notional liberation.

Then there's the business about air strikes. Read today's news about the three recent US air strikes now under investigation.

If you can get past "The Torch" you might want to read the US military counter-insurgency field manual co-authored by Petraeus himself and discover its treatment of the counterproductivity of artillery and air strikes in counter insurgency warfare. The manual, FM 3-24, is available free in PDF format - you could look it up. Once you've gone through it, take the lessons and contrast them with what we're doing in Afghanistan - the whole gamut from our reliance on heavy weaponry to our woefully understaffed forces.

Maybe the guys at "The Torch" could have a look at it too.

LeDaro said...

Very interesting discussion. It is a mission impossible. If mighty Soviet Union could not prevail and invasion partially resulted in its own downfall then good luck to Canada and US.

I believe we have put our soldiers in the jaws of death.

As far as western-friendly government in Afghanistan - Karzai is one of the many tribes in Afghanistan and some are powerful than his. He controls parts of Kabul only.