Thursday, March 15, 2012

If You Thought This War Was Futile Before

It's safe to assume we, the West, are in the final phase of our hapless war in Afghanistan.  We have made a real difference over the past decade.   Unfortunately the negative differences may outnumber, outweigh and, worst of all, outlast the positive.   And the ratio of positives to negatives for this final scene is not looking at all good but that's to be expected in this sort of conflict.

We don't trust them, they despise us.  And by "them" I mean the Afghans supposedly on our side.   But, then again, we lost them fair and square.   We had a perfectly good "how to" manual for this sort of warfare (FM3-24) and we wasted no time in tossing it out the window.  

We sure showed them.   There was never a time we didn't have the bad guys massively outnumbered with highly-trained Western troops.   And we came in with guns a-blazin' in a full "shock and awe" display of state of the art Western firepower from heavy bombers, to strike fighters, attack helicopters, artillery, tanks, armoured vehicles of all descriptions even swarms of drones. 

Against us they mustered pitiful numbers of peasants and farmers with Korean war vintage assault rifles and rocket propelled grendades (bazookas) and lots and lots of high explosives.  But that's all they ever needed to fight - and win - their war, sometimes known as the "war of the flea."   They were never interested in fighting our war, the high-tech, heavy firepower conventional war because our war was irrelevant to the issue, control of Afghanistan.  Besides they never had the numbers or the weapons to contest our war.  They would have been wiped out in an afternoon and we derided their cowardice for not offering themselves up for our sport.

The bad guys knew what history has shown repeatedly over the centuries.  In this dual war, you can't fight our war very long.  We get punched out, exhausted by our own futile exertions.  Then we leave.   They do very little because in their war victory goes to the last man standing, them.   They don't have to defeat us, they can't.  All they need do is outlast us which is made infinitely easier because they're on their home turf.

And we're now preparing to leave them in control of the field.  There will have to follow some ritual contest with the armies and security services of the Afghan state and that could even last two or three years.   But the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police have no fit master to serve.   Their central government is a corrupt farce incapable of standing on its own and both the Army and police are rent by the same tribal divisions as the country at large.  The warlords, who have tolerated Karzai until now in exchange for his indulgences and the immunity he has afforded them, will reclaim their tribal contingents from the army and police as the central authority crumbles.

The recent mass-murder spree by an apparently deranged US army sergeant that claimed the lives of 16-Afghan civilians may have sealed the fate of our Afghan war.   The Taliban have seized on the opportunity and have walked out on talks with the Americans.  Karzai is ordering NATO forces to immediately withdraw from the countryside and return to their bases, the military equivalent of house arrest.

Obama and Cameron have no moved up the date for transfer of combat operations to the Afghan forces by one year, to 2013.  Karzai is pressing for that to mean the beginning of 2013 rather than the end of the year.   That gives the Brits and Americans just a matter of months to devise something to give their withdrawal some appearance of success or at least something less than a rout.

We went in with a bang and, 12-years later, we'll be leaving with a fizzle and a pop.   The infuriating part is that we'll probably have no post mortem to explore how it all went so wrong.   The responsibility lies at the feet of top-tier political and military incompetents and they're hardly going to place themselves on trial for their negligence and recklessness. 

Yet that's probably want Canada truly needs.  We need to open the books and explore how and why we stayed out of Iraq.   We need to dissect how we got into Afghanistan, how we transitioned from a security mission in Kabul to the combat mission in Kandahar, how we conducted the Kandahar mission as our enemy steadily grew in numbers and influence, why we extended our initial fixed term commitment, and where we succeeded and where we failed.

Why is this so important?  It is vital because, for the foreseeable future, Canada may serve as one contingent in America's Foreign Legion, just as we did in Afghanistan.   Every nation that is lining up to buy the F-35 stealth fighter is tacitly signing on to this foreign legion.   The F-35 is an offensive weapon system, designed to be used against sophisticated and capable enemies and, to do that, it requires a great deal of supporting aircraft and systems that we don't have - but the Americans do.

We have marched to the American drum in Afghanistan.   Was it worthwhile?   How could we have better tackled the job we signed on to perform?  What do we need to think about before we get ourselves in this situation the next time?   Harper won't like it and neither will the brass at DND, but Canada needs a full commission of inquiry into this mess.   We owe that to the soldiers who lost life and limb in our service.

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