Saturday, August 05, 2006

"Hell Hole"

I don't know if anyone caught the National last night, but there was a compelling piece on Afghanistan. CBC had obtained some footage of Canadian soldiers in actual combat and I must say the images were riveting. The video really gives a sense of what exactly our troops face in Afghanistan and explains why one soldier described the mission as a "hell hole". Afghanistan is a complicated question, but it's fluid nature demands constant re-examination of our goals.

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh makes a valid point:
"Many Afghans today don't think of us as liberators. Something has gone wrong and that's why we need to reassess the focus of that mission. If we were winning the hearts and minds of more of the Afghani people, certainly there would be less casualties. There's no question in my mind," he said...

"This has become almost totally a combat mission. And that was not the intention," Mr. Dosanjh said. "We need to sit down with our NATO allies and refocus the mission."

That is the fundamental question, are we viewed as liberators or occupiers? The more "militarized" the mission, the greater the danger that we alienate the Afghan population. Does our current mission have the correct balance of re-construction goals and military aims? If the last few weeks are any indication, Canadian soldiers are primarily involved in conducting operations, rather than building diplomatic bridges. You don't win "hearts and minds" with gun turrets, a lesson on full display in Iraq.

Many people argue that the mission hasn't changed, this is exactly what the Liberal government signed on too. However, this assertion discounts how rapidly events have changed in the intermediatory. Military reports from all coalition countries have re-accessed the Taliban's strength- there is no question that the Taliban we face today has little resemblence to the resistance faced when the government agreed to participate. This deterioration demands a re-accessment, because the mission now tilts towards a simple military exercise, rather than a robust re-construction effort. What is the end-game in Afghanistan, or are we now in some quagmire that has no end? If we aren't making any progress, and this fact is now debatable, then an open-ended commitment seems like simple stubborness, that lacks the necessary pragmatism.

The Defence Department argues that we have the Taliban on the run, Hillier even uses words analogous to "last throes". The reality suggests otherwise, as we are now five years on and, if anything, conditions worsen. Again, the situation in Iraq provides further evidence that you can't defeat an insurgency, no matter how many offensives and operations. The only outcome seems to be further alienation of the people you are supposedly there to help, which is the nightmare scenario. I wonder if all the money spent on military operations isn't better allocated to true re-construction efforts? Unfortunately, all we are doing now is treading water.


Anonymous said...

My cousin is there for his second mission. He says it won't stop until the powers that be have established a base there to go after the surrounding countries, and will stop only when all the oil is gone.
Still, he fights on.
While I support our troops there, I think Canada should be looking closely at our role: Are we helping the Afghani people? Are we there as part of a force intent on making further inroads merely to take over land for the oil industry?

Anonymous said...

but it's fluid nature demands constant re-examination of our goals.

And I think it's our willingness to adapt and change our goals on a relative basis that could actually make this mission a success.

I heard the Afghan leader on the radio the other day praising Canada like there was no tomorrow, so I'm pretty sure it will be worth it in the long run, and will perhaps even help our Middle East realationships in the long run.

Great post.