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Afghanistan: Why we should be there (or not), how to conduct the mission (or not) & when to leave

A post at The Torch:

Afstan: Scott Taylor blows it on the "exit strategy", training ANA

Lucky it's not 1942
In another era, Layton's conduct would've been called treason

These days when people such as the NDP's Jack Layton urge, in the normal course of their ideology, that Canada should quit Afghanistan, it is an acceptable political viewpoint.

But when they do so the moment Canadian troops suffer casualties, and insist their motivation is concern for the soldiers in harm's way, they are indulging in crass political opportunism.

In another era, we would have called it treason.

My guess is Layton, for one, doesn't give all that much thought to the welfare of our soldiers and that he neither instinctively likes them, nor understands them. Concern for their individual welfare is mere political rhetoric. He'd send our army to Darfur, for God's sake!

Disagreeing with Canada's mission in Afghanistan, or how it is being waged, is a legitimate point of view. ..............................

What really really really angers me is that our troops are being used as political pawns by the Liberals and the NDP, they've done everything they can short of giving away our battle stratagy to the media. It's my assertion that they are in fact placing our troops in danger with their relentless media hoeing.  How dispicable are these political parties, they argue in public visa vie Jack simpering "Bring them home Lassy" as in dog.  Then there is ferret face Dion basically saying the same thing when he snorts and bawls "Lets re-evualate the Mission" great just great the Taliban supporters are Emailing their barbaric buddies letting them know that our Troops are getting ready to pull out.  This is not only bad for moral it's dangerous to  have this type of dialog in front of the media.  Can't these pie  holes discuss this in chamber when the majority of elected MP's make up their minds what they want then discuss the mission in the media.  For gawds sake if this were World War 11 we never would of won.  IT's disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful. 
I read half a dozen to a dozen different newspapers a day from different countries and cultures. It is kind of nice to see what the others think or how we look to them. So here is an editorial from the China Post (Taiwan). The Usual Disclaimer:

Canada's Afghan commitment becoming a source of anguish
Friday, July 20, 2007 - By John J. Metzler, Special to The China Post

Canada is doing much of the "heavy lifting" for the multinational military mission in Afghanistan, right alongside the American and British forces. And despite little publicity, Canadian Forces are on the sharp end of a particularly bitter struggle with the resurgent Islamic radical Taliban forces. Now casualties in dusty Kandahar are taking their toll in Ottawa half a world away. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under increasing political sniping as to when the mission will be scaled back or phased out.
Harper, to his credit, has remained firm. Canada's commitment to help rout out Taliban extremists dates to 2002, when the then Liberal government dispatched the first units to join the international military mission. Today 2,500 Canadian forces are stationed in what would probably be the equivalent of Iraq's once-lawless Anbar province, the unruly southern Kandahar region bordering Pakistan. Yet, with 22 soldiers killed this year so far, and 66 during the deployment, public support in Canada continues to erode for the deployment, which some military experts say disproportionably exposes the Canadians. Before anyone may question the relatively low losses, recall Canada's population is approximately 10 percent of the USA's.

Though the multinational mission has 35,500 troops -- half of them American -- Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are also major troop donors. Still, a scathing British parliamentary report criticized some NATO countries for not doing enough on the frontlines of combat in southern Afghanistan.

"We remain deeply concerned that the reluctance of some NATO members to provide troops for the (International Security Assistance Force) mission is undermining NATO's credibility and also ISAF operations," stated a report of Britain's parliamentary defense committee, in a direct reference to the reluctance of some countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain to send troops where the Taliban insurgency is strongest.

Ottawa's Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay stated, "I'm glad the Brits have added their voice to this clarion call for other NATO countries to step up and to help with the burden-sharing that's going on in the south." Quoted in Toronto's National Post, MacKay said Canada would turn up the heat on fellow NATO members to do more in the "soft underbelly" of southern Afghanistan. He also dropped further hints Canada's combat role could be finished by February, 2009, when parliamentary approval runs out.

He told the National Post, "The bottom line is: the clock is ticking, and it's not just ticking on Canada and our role. That bell tolls for all. We're looking at doing our part. And I believe we've more than done our share of staring into the eyes of the enemy. Not to be dramatic about it, but if we are not able to secure that ground in the south, this is the weak underbelly of the mission."

Sending foreign troops into Afghanistan in the first place was not an easy political sell. The German public has been decidedly nervous about the deployment in the relative safe areas where 21 troops have already been killed; the Italian government almost collapsed over the 2,000-man deployment; even France's new government is of mixed opinion about the 1,000 troops in the country. Significantly, Poland has added additional troops to the equally dangerous Paktia province, Hungary sent units to Kandahar, and tiny Estonia has dispatched 100 men to Helmand province.

"I don't see a kind of moral opposition to this mission. What I see is a growing concern of Canadians, and of the burden that we are carrying and the level of Canadian casualties," Prime Minister Stephen Harper conceded.

In recent decades, Canadian Forces have performed yeoman service in United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide. Still, the army has not been thrust into a direct combat role since the Korean war 1950-53, during which Canada suffered heavy losses.

The Harper government has signaled that the military mission will end in February 2009 unless Parliament decides to extend the mandate, which appears unlikely. At the same time Ottawa is expanding its economic aid for Afghanistan, already one of Canada's major foreign assistance clients.

Nonetheless, Afghanistan's vulnerable frontier with Pakistan remains a hotbed of Taliban terrorism. I recall seeing Afghan President Hamid Karzai last year, where he spoke quite candidly how Pakistan has allowed these Taliban and al-Qaida militants free reign in certain border regions. Islamic radicals have targeted foreign troops with roadside bombs and have increasingly attacked Afghan civilians as a form of intimidation.

Most of the multinational forces will hold firm, but in Iraq time is of the essence. To train local army units and police is to give citizens of this ethnic quilt called Afghanistan reason for unity and hope free of the Taliban's harsh fundamentalism.http://www.chinapost.com.tw/editorial/2007/07/21/115650/Canadas-Afghan.htm

Sassy said:
What really really really angers me is that our troops are being used as political pawns by the Liberals and the NDP,

Why stop there?
This is interesting; look at the date of the The Afghanistan Compact and then ask yourself why  the MSM or various political parties have not mentioned this at all.........


Afghanistan and the unbearable ignorance of our media

Bruce Rolston at Flit points out that the NATO-UN-Afghan Government five-year strategy ("The Afghanistan Compact") includes training the Afghan National Army as a major part of the exit strategy. The plan has been publicly available since January 31, 2006; our media in their idle indolence, seem unaware, as usual, of this reality--as they are of so many other things related to Afghanistan.

From "The Afghanistan Compact":

    Afghan National Army

    By end-2010: A nationally respected, professional, ethnically balanced Afghan National Army will be fully established that is democratically accountable, organized, trained and equipped to meet the security needs of the country and increasingly funded from Government revenue, commensurate with the nation’s economic capacity; the international community will continue to support Afghanistan in expanding the ANA towards the ceiling of 70,000 personnel articulated in the Bonn talks; and the pace of expansion is to be adjusted on the basis of periodic joint quality assessments by the Afghan Government and the international community against agreed criteria which take into account prevailing conditions.

Mr Rolston summarizes the thrust of this this piece by Robert Fife of CTV thus:

    ...Canada has only just now started focussing on training the Afghan army, just in order to obtain a Conservative political advantage in Quebec...

Deep-digging Robert seems to have missed this story by CTV itself over two months ago:

    Canadian military personnel have officially taken over the training of Afghan National Army soldiers -- a task that will eventually become a key component of any exit strategy.
If our media was on the ball they would have reported that Majoor, but if they were that on the ball they would also have reported that ANA soldiers often don't get paid regularly. Three months without pay can make soldiers start stealing what they need. If we want "professional" ANA maybe we should first try to get them paid.

A competent media is a double edged sword. Luckily we don't have one.
More nonsense from Jim Travesty in the Toronto Star (and he plays the Iraq card):

Change in mission brings risk

Here's a travel itinerary from hell. What if you bought a ticket to Afghanistan specifically to avoid Iraq only to land in a place a lot like Baghdad?

That's been a subliminal worry since Liberals joined one U.S.-led mission mostly to compensate for refusing conscription into another. Now it's surfacing with an accelerated Conservative plan to shift the Kandahar combat load to Afghans.

First reported in the Star two weeks ago, it puts new weight on Kabul's army to fight the Taliban, control poppy production as well as the porous Pakistan border and keep Hamid Karzai in power. It's a lot to ask of suspect security forces, but it's what Stephen Harper thinks voters want to hear...

Wrong, wrong, wrong--and the Star wasn't the first to report it.

MND O'Connor over three months ago:

Canadian troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2010, the Minister of National Defence suggested yesterday.

However, Gordon O'Connor said the withdrawal would be conditional on Afghan security forces meeting their targeted levels of expansion.

"We don't want to be there forever. Our exit strategy is to try to get Afghan governance, development and security to such a level that they can look after themselves," he said in an interview with the National Post. "We will probably have to provide aid there for many, many years but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to keep large security forces there. If the Afghan army and police can get to some reasonable level -- in their value system, not ours -- that will allow NATO to withdraw."

Under the Afghanistan Compact, signed between the Afghan government and the international community in London last year, targets were set at 70,000 for the Afghan army (roughly double current numbers) and 62,000 for the police force.

Asked whether the Afghan army is on course to reach its target size, and whether this would constitute a "reasonable level," Mr. O'Connor, said: "Yeah, I think so," pointing out that the United States has recently committed around US$8-billion to purchase equipment for the army...

And a CTV story over two months ago:

Canadians to train Afghan troops with exit in mind

Canadian military personnel have officially taken over the training of Afghan National Army soldiers -- a task that will eventually become a key component of any exit strategy.

"This is essential for our eventual exit out of here," Lt.-Col. Wayne Eyre, the commander of the Operational Mentoring and Liason Team, told CTV News.

"We have to get the Afghan National Army up to a point where it can conduct security operations by themselves."

For now, the Canadian military is committed to the Afghanistan mission until 2009.

The Afghan soldiers, operating in Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces, were previously being trained by the United States.

The official transfer to Canadian forces took place Tuesday morning in a ceremony at Kandahar airfield, where a formation of soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the Afghan National Army's 205 Corps saluted as they were flanked by Canadian and American counterparts.

About 100 Canadian senior military professionals will act as mentors, teaching Afghan soldiers discipline, how to engage in combat, and how to operate as a large-sized army...

Don't our journalists (and opposition politicians) pay any attention to what's going on unless it's inside Ottawa political baseball?

Even this National Post editorial seems unaware of exactly what's been going on (ironic in that the MND story was written by its own John Ivision):

Over the weekend, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said that Ottawa might soon shift Canada's mission in southern Afghanistan from frontline combat to a rear-guard role in which we train the Afghan National Army (ANA) to provide security on its own. We endorse such a change -- so long as this mission shift is militarily sound, and not just an effort to take heat off the Conservative government in the run up to an election. Thanks in large part to the security provided by Canadian troops in Kandahar province -- and to the sacrifices of 67 of our soldiers and diplomats -- much of the country is (by local standards) flourishing. We must be certain not to jeopardize those gains for the sake of electoral calculations here at home...

At least the Post gives well-deserved recognition to Bruce Rolston of Flit

Most provinces, too, have fewer combat deaths, or deaths from terrorist activity than even two years ago. The map below by blogger Bruce Rolston shows that the deaths of NATO troops are concentrated primarily in just two of the nation's provinces...

See all the maps here:


A letter of mine in the National Post:

No mission shift in Afghanistan

National Post

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Re: Our Troops' Role, Editorial, July 24.

Your editorial hints that the emphasis on training Afghan National Army (ANA) troops to take on more of the combat role from Canadians in Kandahar province is a "mission shift" motivated by political considerations.

That is not the case. In January, 2006, NATO, the UN and the Afghan government agreed on the Afghanistan Compact, a broad plan to restore security and bring development and good governance to the country. An important part of the plan is to create and train an Afghan army of 70,000 by 2010. So building the ANA has been a cornerstone of NATO's overall strategy for 18 months, and is not some sudden political move by the Conservatives.

Moreover, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor made it clear months ago that training the ANA was the key to NATO's "exit strategy," the exact term the minister used.

Focusing on training of the ANA is nothing new. It is just opposition politicians (and most of our media) who have managed to remain unaware of the strategy until very recently.

Mark Collins, Ottawa.

They edited out a mention of the facts in this CTV story, May 15:

Canadians to train Afghan troops with exit in mind

A Dutch precedent?

Canada isn't the only country agonizing over whether to extend its troop deployment in Afghanistan or bring the soldiers home. The Netherlands is getting set to make a similar decision and it must make it sooner than Canada.

The Dutch must decide whether the 1,000 or more troops, the helicopters and the jet fighters it has in southern Afghanistan will remain beyond August 2008, when the current commitment expires.

"After two years, another NATO nation has to take over the load," said Frank van Kappen, a retired major-general with the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. "That was our exit strategy.

"Now the moment of truth is nearing. If NATO cannot find a credible nation to take over our job, what do you do?" said van Kappen, now a senior adviser with the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

The arguments now being aired in the Netherlands promise a preview of what Canadians can expect to hear, perhaps as early as this fall, as Parliament gets set to decide the future of Canada's 2,500 troops serving in Kandahar province.

Indeed, some say a decision by the Dutch to withdraw from the dangerous southern regions could set the stage for Canada's pullout in February 2009.

"Their commitment to stay the course will have a huge impact on Canada and NATO," said Senator Colin Kenny, chair of the Senate committee on national security and defence.

The Netherlands dispatched its task force in 2006 after an extensive debate in Parliament, knowing the dangers but recognizing that it couldn't "sit on the sidelines."..

GAP said:
I just think they are thinking that nothing will happen to them if they don't stir the hornets' nest....essentially our NDP position.

They might think they are in some kind of 'sweet spot' but I think its probably just that their populations arent interested in supporting a 'Middle East' country. 

(Yes I know its not the Middle East, but that is how it is envisaged by most of them)

"So this is what Canada’s new international role will be: back-seat driver."

An e-mail by the Executive Director of the Conference of Defence Associations (no actual link):

Please circulate/Prière de circuler

The Conference of Defence Associations

would like to draw your attention to an editorial by André Pratte, published in the July 24th edition of La Presse.  The original French text may be found at this link:

In view of the importance we attach to Pratte’s powerful message, we have had this article translated into English (see below).

M Pratte raises some very key points about the perceptions of Canada’s mission to Afghanistan, including the need for clear communication regarding the future of the mission itself.  In the same vein, the arguments now being made in the Netherlands about the future of the Dutch mission post-2008 will surely have an impact on the Canadian debate later on this year (see link below to an article by Bruce Campion-Smith that discusses the Dutch matter specifically)

There is also a need for the government to express its intentions regarding the Canadian Forces itself.  For example, it is important to remember that even if Canada’s troops in Kandahar province are eventually to be held “in reserve” (as mentioned by Minister O’Connor earlier this week), they will still very much be a vital component  of the battle.  A strategic reserve that is mobile and carries a big punch can make a major difference between defeat and victory, particularly when an inexperienced army such as the ANA takes on the Taliban.

M Pratte’s piece is a true “cri de coeur” for Canada’s future role in the world, particularly where he states “Si nous rejetons toute mission militaire où la victoire n'est pas à la fois instantanée et sans victimes, quel rôle voyons-nous pour nos soldats? Et pour le Canada dans le monde?"

(If we reject any military mission in which victory is not both instantaneous and achieved without casualties, what role do we see for our soldiers? And for Canada in the world?)

His answer is particularly noteworthy:

“Si les Canadiens s'en tiennent à leur vision fleur bleue de la sécurité mondiale, ils choisiront de rester les bras croisés devant les génocides, les guerres civiles et les complots terroristes, tout en multipliant les voeux pieux, une tradition bien canadienne. Telle sera donc la nouvelle mission internationale du Canada: gérant d'estrade."

(If Canadians cling to their romantic vision of world security, they choose to put their hands in their pockets in the face of genocide, civil war and terrorist conspiracies, while spouting pious promises – a very Canadian tradition. So this is what Canada’s new international role will be: back-seat driver)

Although we strongly agree with M Pratte’s conclusion that a withdrawal from Afghanistan post-February 2009 will result in Canada becoming a backseat driver in international affairs, the CDA does not necessarily agree with M Pratte’s view that the mission to Afghanistan is finished.  We are of the view that given the amount of time, talent, reputation and money that Canada has invested in the mission to Afghanistan, we should be focusing on recalibrating the mission in order to achieve our goals in Afghanistan.  Effectively communicating the whys and wherefores of the Canadian mission to Afghanistan to the Canadian public must be the highest priority of the Harper government in the months ahead.

Alain Pellerin
Colonel (ret’d)
Executive Director

Bruce Campion-Smith.  “Dutch pullout from Afghanistan would sway Canadian debate”.  The Toronto Star, July 25, 2007.  Available online at:  http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/239537.


La Presse


André Pratte

Mission finished!

Canada’s soldiers have yet to reach the end of their ordeal. It’s almost certain that more of them will lose their lives, but we can already say that the Canadian Forces mission in southern Afghanistan is finished. Not accomplished; finished. That is to say, the die is cast.

The Harper government has abandoned any idea of extending it beyond February 2009. Its sole concern now is to limit the losses — political and human alike — between now and that deadline. This became obvious on Sunday during an interview the Defence Minister gave on CTV (Question Period). Gordon O’Connor predicted that in six months, the Afghan army will be responsible for most military operations in the Kandahar region with Canadian soldiers “in reserve”.

A year and a half ago, on the same program, Mr. O’Connor was asked about survey results indicating that a majority of Canadians opposed the Afghan mission. The newly appointed minister said, “This survey shows me that I have a great deal of work to do. I must begin explaining to Canadians why we are in Afghanistan and make them aware of the good work that we are doing.” Evidently Mr O’Connor’s explanations haven’t done the job, and he himself admitted his failure on Sunday: “I think in many cases, people do not understand what’s going on in Afghanistan, the needs there. And the successes that we’re having both in operations and in development.”

Misunderstanding, you think? More like incredulity. Canadians quite simply do not believe what the government says about this topic. They have the impression that the Canadian Armed Forces are fighting for nothing, that Ottawa is dancing to George Bush’s tune, that not enough resources are going to reconstruction. The facts do not support this perception, but the Harper government has not figured out how to convince people of this.

In the collapse of public support for the Afghan mission there is material to ponder. If Canadians refuse to allow their soldiers to fight alongside the Americans, under what circumstances will they ever be allowed to deploy on operations again? It’s a rare international mission in which the Americans do not play a leading role.

If UN caution is not good enough for us, from what authority will we seek a blessing to assure ourselves that an armed intervention is the right thing to do?

If we reject any military mission in which victory is not both instantaneous and achieved without casualties, what role do we see for our soldiers? And for Canada in the world?

As well as being pacifist, an attitude many consider noble, Canadian citizens seem to have become extraordinarily naïve. According to a recent survey, six of 10 Canadians want NATO to open negotiations with the Taliban to bring an end to confrontation. Negotiate with the Taliban? Mr Harper could also invite Omar bin Laden to tea at 24 Sussex Drive.

Canadian soldiers are, in a way, victims of a myth that they themselves helped build: the belief that Canada’s role in the world is that of peacekeeper. For years, we have promoted our soldiers’ participation in UN peacekeeping missions to the exclusion of all other operations. But the world changed and, with it, the missions we called peacekeeping; however, most Canadians remain content with a simplistic version of the Pearson philosophy.

It took decades to get the international community to accept that national sovereignty must not be used to cover up widespread massacres, that there is such a thing as a “responsibility to protect”. This advance was achieved in large part through the efforts of the Government of Canada (under Jean Chrétien and Lloyd Axworthy). If Canadians cling to their romantic vision of world security, they choose to put their hands in the pockets in the face of genocide, civil war and terrorist conspiracies, while spouting pious promises — a very Canadian tradition.

So this is what Canada’s new international role will be: back-seat driver.

Although I dont agree with a withdrawal in 2009 (unless some miraculous form of peace and stability is establiashed), I doubt if we would be relegated to a 'back-seat' position quite so quickly.  It would take a few years of continued lack of support to other combined operations before that perception took hold.

GreyMatter said:
Although I dont agree with a withdrawal in 2009 (unless some miraculous form of peace and stability is establiashed), I doubt if we would be relegated to a 'back-seat' position quite so quickly.  It would take a few years of continued lack of support to other combined operations before that perception took hold.

I disagree.  It is not like we are firmly ensconced in the front seat.  We are just barely climbing out of our international backseat right now and it would only take a slight push to send us right back there.
PPCLI Guy said:
I disagree.  It is not like we are firmly ensconced in the front seat.  We are just barely climbing out of our international backseat right now and it would only take a slight push to send us right back there.
Agreeing with PPCLI Guy and an example is the "diplomatic coup" that Harper may win if the UAE troop deal works out. That may not get us in the driver seat again but it just may extend our time in the up front passenger seat.
PPCLI Guy said:
I disagree.  It is not like we are firmly ensconced in the front seat.  We are just barely climbing out of our international backseat right now and it would only take a slight push to send us right back there.

When do you see us as having climbed out of the back seat? (i.e. what year or specific event)
In a general sense, the spilling of blood in Astan.  More specifically, the placing of a US BG under CA comd in Aug 06.
Afstan: Sen. Hugh Segal loses his marbles

Why we should stay, from an RCMP perspective:
Canada, busy training Afghan police, can't make hasty exit, RCMP official says
Published: Friday, July 27, 2007 | 3:20 PM ET
Canadian Press: MARTIN OUELLET

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Afghanistan is in the "middle of an insurgency" and countries like Canada that are rebuilding it shouldn't make a hasty exit, says the RCMP officer helping train Afghan police recruits.

The war-torn country risks going backward if international forces leave before it's self-sufficient, said RCMP Supt. David Fudge.

Fudge is a police officer with 30 years of experience and his job is to help train Afghan police recruits who are often illiterate and arrive in tattered clothes and flip-flops.

He has been on the job in Afghanistan for a year as part of Canada's provincial reconstruction team, a multi-level unit that includes soldiers, police officers and officials from Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency.

"Afghanistan is in the middle of an insurgency," Fudge said in an interview at the unit's headquarters, about 18 kilometres from the multinational base in Kandahar.

"The job is not done yet. And if we leave too early, we very much stand the risk of going back to ground zero or even worse, as we've seen in Haiti, where we had to go back and start rebuilding from zero again."

Fudge said the foundations of a civil society have been progressively established in Afghanistan since the international community began working on reconstruction in 2002.

The Canadian mission in Afghanistan is slated to end in February 2009. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he won't extend the mission beyond that date if he doesn't have a consensus from the four main political parties in Ottawa, a difficult goal in the face of stiff resistance from the opposition.

However, the newly appointed police chief of Kandahar province has stated that Canada would be making a serious mistake by pulling its troops out by 2009 due to the terrorist threat.

Fudge refused to comment on the political decision involving Canada's participation in Afghanistan, but he did say the giant task of stabilization won't be completed before the deadline set by Ottawa.

"You don't crack that problem overnight," he said. "You don't rebuild overnight, you have 70 per cent of the people here who are illiterate.

"We have to plant the seed for long-term success, to teach Afghans to manage themselves . . . give them a decent place to come to work."

In the last year, the police contingent headed by the RCMP has trained 600 recruits for the Afghan national police. It will take another 3,200 trained recruits to ensure adequate policing and surveillance in Kandahar, Fudge said.

Afghan police face chaos, bribes from drug traffickers and even the possibility of being shot at by the international forces that are supposed to be their allies. They also can face hostility from the local population.

"We're trying to improve the image of the Afghan national police in the public eye," Fudge said. "It's going to take long time, yes. I would say at least one generation, if we do it right."

Fudge said there were no police stations when he arrived but "I'm proud to say we have five stations under construction right now. Actually, two are finished."

The long-term plan is for Canada is to build a state-of-the-art police-training facility.

Sixty-six Canadian military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of the mission in 2002. Of those, 24 have died as a result of improvised explosive devices. One-third of the fatalities have taken place this year alone.

In 2001, U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who has yet to be found.
And there is this, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today's Globe and Mail:

Top general vows to tell it like it is


From Saturday's Globe and Mail
July 28, 2007 at 12:54 AM EDT

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Brigadier-General Tim Grant says he's ready to tell Canadians tough truths about what it's going to take to win in Afghanistan.

“I'm not interested in just being a cheerleader or parroting government policy,” said Gen. Grant, the Canadian contingent commander, who heads home next week after nine months in Afghanistan.

The general has some pretty well-formed ideas of what's been achieved, what hasn't and, most important, what lies ahead in the tough counterinsurgency war being fought by Canadians in the Taliban's heartland of Kandahar.

While Canadian firepower has smashed the Taliban's capacity to seize and hold territory, the toll from their fallback tactic – suicide bombs and IEDs – threatens to erode international support for the mission, the general said. And while he's heartened by the still-evolving transformation of the Afghan army into a vital fighting force, the woefully corrupt police force in Kandaharposes the biggest impediment to bringing stability, he said.

Insurgencies don't march to the incessant drumming of impatient foreign populations but, in Canada, February, 2009, has become an onrushing deadline. It's the date by which troops will return home to be replaced by other combat units or, perhaps, Canada will extend its military commitment.

Here, amid the dust and the heat and the uncertainty – where waging a counterinsurgency is a never-ending grind and every drive down every road is a version of Russian roulette played with roadside bombs and suicide attackers – the notion of a specific withdrawal date seems absurd.

Lean, soft-spoken and thoughtful, the general knows that only half the battle involves the hearts-and-minds campaign to woo Afghans to modernity, where opportunity, security, education and democracy are a viable alternative to warlord-ism, violence and a narco-state. There's also a war for the hearts and minds of citizens in faraway places. In Holland and Germany, in Spain and Canada, doubts are mounting and a rising chorus of voices want their soldiers brought home.

Mounting casualties, as roadside bombs and suicide attacks reap a grim toll, underscore the political utility of the Taliban's shift in tactics.

“They are hoping to break the will of the international community,” Brig.-Gen. Grant said. If the stubborn Afghan fighters seeking to drive foreign occupiers from their land succeed, just as they ousted the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th, then Canadian blood and bullion will have been wasted.

Given the enormity of the task of establishing a civil society in a war-ravaged and impoverished land, progress in Kandahar has been swift and impressive since the long convoys of Canadian troops rolled south 11/2 years ago. Then, there was a grave threat that the Taliban would seize the city of Kandahar, creating a Islamic statelet that would undermine Afghanistan and re-emerge as a new haven for al-Qaeda.

That threat has gone. The Taliban, as a stand-and-fight force, stood and was defeated last fall in the Panjwai district west of Kandahar.

Canadian troops, on aggressive search-and-destroy missions, regularly rout and kill small groups of Taliban fighters. Equally important, the fledgling Afghan National Army, mentored by embedded Canadian teams and with Canadian artillery and tank support, is increasingly capable of conducting small-scale combat operations.

“That's why I am so optimistic after 10 months,” Brig.-Gen. Grant said.

Kandahar city is bustling. The fertile Panjwai has been mostly repopulated. It's no small measure of progress that small children shyly wave to passing Canadian armoured vehicles. “There are plenty of places where people still don't wave,” one soldier said.

Almost by definition, waging a successful counterinsurgency, especially for a foreign army, consists of barely perceptible progress that rarely warrants headlines back home interrupted with headline-making failures, defeats and mistakes.

“The Taliban is losing credibility in the eyes of the population,” Brig.-Gen. Grant said in a wide-ranging interview days before his departure.

Efforts to enhance governance (does the mayor have a filing system or does the village know how to reach the police) and aid reconstruction (new irrigation ditches and a stunningly successful polio-eradication program) are the two other legs that, along with security, complete the Canadian effort in Afghanistan.

“They are not well told and not well understood,” Brig.-Gen. Grant admits of the governance and aid components of the mission.

But slapping a Maple Leaf flag on every irrigation ditch dug with Canadian money may have little impact in Canada and could be counterproductive in Kandahar. There's a fine line between effective aid and making a local population look like lackeys to a foreign army.

“Hurry up and wait” is the unofficial motto of all armies. So the general, on an impossibly tight timetable in the last week of his tour, sits and patiently waits in Masum Ghar, a Canadian forward operating base, because the medals he is supposed to bestow are in a vehicle that has broken down somewhere. It's a rare moment to reflect.

“This can't be done in two or three years,” he says. “Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely.”

But Brig.-Gen. Grant's political antennae aren't just tuned to shifting sentiments among Afghans. “The mission focus can change,” he said, well aware that the high-profile of the military effort, and its heavy cost in casualties, may need reshaping.

If beating the Taliban in a conventional campaign to control territory was the first big objective and transforming the Afghan National Army into a force that will eventually be able to replace Canadians in the front line of counterinsurgency operations was the second, the third is fixing the police.

Manifestly corrupt, widely distrusted by ordinary Afghans, often left to man remote checkpoints where they are little more than cannon fodder for roaming Taliban, the Afghan National Police are the weakest link in the still-evolving chain that is supposed to anchor civil society in Afghanistan.

“It took me about four months too long to figure out where the ANP system was broke,” Brig.-Gen. Grant admitted. NATO has no mandate to reform and rebuild the police, and creating an honest force is a huge project.

“The next big thing is the police in Kandahar province,” he said.

Like most soldiers in Canada's small army, Brig.-Gen. Grant can expect to be back in Afghanistan if the mission continues. He will be back sooner than most because his next job will be deputy commander of all Canadian expeditionary forces abroad.

“The first thing I will look at is the police,” he said, when asked how he will measure future progress.

I wish those who incessantly beat the defeatist drum would take note.  Afghanistan is not a 'good news' story.  There is a whole lot which is wrong, progress is slow to sporadic in too many regions, it is, all too often, 'two steps forward and one back' but that is the nature of this campaign.  But, there is some progress, everywhere – not as much as many, including, I suspect, most soldiers would like but as much as we can expect given the huge challenges facing Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is as poor and unfortunate as, in Canada, are rich and favoured.  Yet many, maybe even most Canadian want to abandon those poor people to the tender mercies of medieval theocrats just because we haven't made a huge, highly visible difference in a very short time.  Our celebrity obsessed, instant gratification, me, Me, ME! culture has, apparently broken our will to ”do the right things” and to ”do things right.”  Other countries, notably, the valiant and stout hearted Dutch are also wavering.  They need a leader to follow – a country that will do the right thing.  They need to understand that if they stay it will be as part of a well managed campaign – one which does things right.  Canada can and should play both roles: we should lead the way by renewing our commitment to helping the Afghans to help themselves and we should take on a greater role in managing the campaign to ensure that things are done right.  BGen Grant and RCMP Supt. David Fudge understand what some of those things are.