Sunday, December 07, 2008

Falling Back to Saigon - Defending the Afghan Capital

The Americans are preparing to send additional forces to Afghanistan, not to bolster the defences along the Pakistan border, but to try to secure the approaches to the capital, Kabul. Where have we seen this before?

From The New York Times:

Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.

It will be the first time that American or coalition forces have been deployed in large numbers on the southern flank of the city, a decision that reflects the rising concerns among military officers, diplomats and government officials about the increasing vulnerability of the capital and the surrounding area.

Detailed reports coming out of Afghanistan lately indicate that the insurgency has grown not only in Taliban numbers but with the entry of new players. Worse, the insurgents now effectively control the ring highway, the key to Afghanistan's transportation and communications systems.

To understand just how badly conditions in Afghanistan have actually deteriorated (instead of simply swallowing the crap we're fed by the Harper government and our own military leaders), a good place to begin is with the Christian Science Monitor's reporter based in Afghanistan, Anan Gopal, and his excerpted piece "Who are the Taliban" recently published by -

Who exactly are the Afghan insurgents? Every suicide attack and kidnapping is usually attributed to "the Taliban." In reality, however, the insurgency is far from monolithic. There are the shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor, illiterate farmers, and veteran anti-Soviet commanders. The movement is a mélange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners.

Read this piece and then ask yourselves why our leaders still prattle on about defeating the Taliban? It's because they're so far in over their heads and beyond the capabilities of our grossly understrength forces that they have nothing else to say.

Right now they just repeat the mantra that we're only going to stay until 2011. Okay, but tell us - no BS this time - just what we're going to accomplish in the next three years. It's time to redefine the mission and a good start is to be honest with the Canadian public.

Of course the one person who sees to it that we don't get an honest picture of what's going on in Afghanistan is that lousy excuse for a Canadian, our prime minister Stephen Harper. It's Harper who has cut off direct access between Canadians and their armed forces. No, in a remarkably Stalinist move, both our questions and the military's answers have to pass through Uncle Joe's commissars in the Prime Minister's Office, the dreaded PMO. These apparatchiks decide what questions will be allowed. They decide what answers are acceptable and how those answers will be shaped and spun to work to our Furious Leader's political advantage. And our media - complacent, cowed or outright collaborative - accept that. Quislings.

The point is that conditions on the ground are getting worse and, absent an infusion of hundreds of thousands of fresh troops, the fate of Kabul is pretty much sealed. It may take a few more years, maybe a decade even, but the issue is probably decided.

The insurgency has grown and has attracted new supporters. It has crossed out of the Pashtun/Taliban spectre of 2001-2006. Other tribes are now joining in, some to repel the Infidel (that would be us) and others because they've seen this movie before and know how it ends.

The Taliban have succeeded in morphing this war from a battle against the Karzai government and its foreign supporters to a war against the Infidel and their puppet regime. They no longer have to discredit Karzai. The legitimacy of the Kabul government has already been gutted, from within.

It's a subtle shift but an extremely important step for the insurgency. Our presence in Afghahistan is a function of the legitimacy and acceptance of the central government. If the population accepts the Kabul government, we can at least claim to be liberators, defenders of their nation and its democracy. Once the central government is rejected, despised - we're transformed into occupiers and Infidel occupiers at that. (maybe it's time to prorogue the Afghan war)

The shift from liberator to occupier is gradual just as the transformation from a guerrilla war to a civil war is gradual. We drove out the Taliban and then set up a central government threatened only by an insurgency. Perhaps we didn't realize it at the time, but a great deal hinged on keeping that insurgency from metastasizing.

The distinction between insurgency and civil war is subtle but important. Civil wars, for example, fall within the scope of the Geneva Conventions. While they don't define civil war, they identify it by four criteria:

- The party in revolt must be in possession of a part of the national territory.

- The insurgent civil authority must exercise de facto authority over the population within the determinate portion of the national territory.

- The insurgents must have some amount of recognition as a belligerent.

- The legal Government is "obliged to have recourse to the regular military forces against insurgents organized as military."

The Afghan insurgency of the Taliban and its allies has now reached these dimensions. They do hold and control considerable territories within the nation and they do exercise de facto authority over the populations in those territories, even maintaining their own judicial systems.

It's no accident that we don't dwell on these distinctions. The moment we have to recognize this as a civil war rather than an insurgency, a great many things change, none of them to our advantage.

The Afghan war is now more deadly to Western forces than the conflict in Iraq. While the number of suicide bombings (al Qaeda's forte) remain static, insurgent attacks have increased both in number and sophistication. The object is still to topple the Karzai government which through its weakness, corruption and predation of the public has played perfectly into the insurgent's hand. But it is we, the Infidel, who offer them what they need to unite their supporters and draw new groups to the anti-government side. They're nearing a position where they can convincingly depict us as the 21st century Soviets propping up an unpopular and illegitimate puppet government in Kabul.

The coming two years may be much more dangerous for NATO forces in Afghanistan. I think we can expect our casualty rates to increase. They won't try to defeat us militarily but that's never been their goal. So long as we don't deploy the three or four hundred thousand troops that would be needed to deny them their de facto control of Afghan territory, we're something of a sideshow, a shooting gallery around which to rally new forces to their side.

The hard questions need to be asked, now. Just what do we intend to achieve by staying in Kandahar until 2011 and how are we going to do that? What are we going to do to respond (finally) to the growing strength and numbers of the anti-government forces? What happens to our people when the Dutch leave in 2010? If we don't have some meaningful objective and a genuine ability to achieve it (no more BS on this either), what are we going to do to absolutely minimize Canadian casualties?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As I said on Day 1 -