Should we be in Afghanistan? II

By Bryan • canada, military • 4 Mar 2006

Alright, as promised.

It is hardly a secret that I’m a staunch supporter of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan. I’ve commented on this topic a number of times, most recently here. At the time I was fairly convinced those opposed of the mission were largely composed of ultra-left wing university-for-life activist elite‚Äôs fringe types. Their presence, while bothersome, was not much more of an annoyance for me…and they provided some nice topic fodder. Besides, I was fairly confident that the majority of Canadians felt the same way I did. Why wouldn’t they, given all of the evidence supporting reconstruction activities?

However, as mentioned previously today, my confidence in the rationality and common sense of my fellow Canadians has taken another beating. The current public opinion on Canadian efforts is split 50/50. One in two Canadians believes we should let the Afghans fend for themselves. Keep in mind that this is from an informal internet poll through a national newspaper, yet I am very shaken by the results.

I want to take a closer look at what exactly the Kandahar mission is, how it is different than previous activities in Afghanistan and try to figure out why a pile of my fellow countrymen (God, I’m glad I’m living in China) think we should pack up and leave.

For the past several years, Canadian deployments to Afghanistan have centered on the capital city of Kabul. There, they were part of (and at times commanded) the NATO stabilization force, commonly known as ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force. Multinational in composition, ISAF was charged with securing and stabilizing Kabul and its nearby Bagram air base from Taliban and al Qaeda forces and other warlords, allowing for the establishment and security the Afghan government. As a mission, it was extremely successful, and I would argue, far more successful than any ‘peacekeeping’ mission ever led by the obviously incompetent United Nations (although the NATO planned, organized and led ISAF mission was authorized by the UN Security Council).

CASR sums up the NATO mission far better than I can:

It is tempting to simplistically look at the OEF-ISAF dichotomy (as many do) and label one as ‘warfighting’ (US, bad) and the other as ‘peacekeeping’ (European, good). This sort of labeling distorts the reality of the situation and generates significant confusion. ISAF has never been a peacekeeping force, is not mandated or structured to peacekeep, and does not wear blue berets. OEF, on the other hand, is not a pure hunter-killer force, and its mandate ranges far beyond the mere elimination of Al Qaeda high-value targets in the region.

The important note to take away is that ISAF is not a peacekeeping force. I’ve noticed a tendency for people (especially Canadians) to place that word on a pedestal and bow down to the apparent moral superiority that is somehow attached to it. The word is somewhat of a misnomer. Peacekeeping has never been an effective method with which to create peace, there have been few, if any, truly successful UN led peacekeeping missions. I continue to be bewildered by WHY so many people view peacekeeping as a solution to shattered and conflict ridden states. I would put forth that the reason why ISAF was so successful in Kabul, was the fact that it wasn’t a peacekeeping force. Honestly, I don’t see very many differences between a UN peacekeeper and a mall security guard. That was not said in disrespect to those who have served on UN mission, but rather as an observation of the stringent and unrealistic UN guidelines with which they were expected to operate in. These peacekeeping rules, prevented capable, well meaning and motivated soldiers from stopping evil and essentially turned them into rent-a-cops. This isn’t the 90’s, this is the 21st century. Get your damn heads out of the holier-than-thou sandbag.

Based on their success in Kabul, it was suggested (by the American NATO Ambassador) that NATO should extend their mission outside of Kabul, mainly to assist in US led Provincial Reconstruction Teams which were attempting to restore and enforce security outside of Kabul. In 2003, the Security Council voted that the ISAF role should be extended outside of Kabul, initially; the Canadian government stated that Canadian forces would not be deployed outside of Kabul in support of this new mission. German forces were the first to deploy on a PRT mission in 2003, in the area of Kunduz.

While initially an American concept, upon NATO involvement, the command of the PRT’s is being transferred to other NATO members.

Asadabad (US), Baghlan (Netherlands), Bamiyan (NZ), Chagcharan (Lithuania), Farah (US), Feyzabad (GE), Gardez (US), Ghazni (US), Herat (IT), Jalalabad (US), Kaleh Now (SP), Kandahar (CA), Khowst (US), Kunduz (GE), Lashkar Gah (US), Mazar-i-Sharif (UK), Meymaneh (UK), Mehtarlam (US), Parwan (US/ROK), Qalat (US), Sharana (US), Tarin-Kowt (US).

While Canada withdrew from ISAF in 2003 to undergo a period of inactivity following a near breakage of the army, it is now once again ready to commit forces to Afghanistan. The available mission was the gradual replacement of the US PRT in Kandahar. Kandahar, of course, is the most dangerous place in Afghanistan. It is this point that I believe have number of the more radical lefty types whining about. During this transition, Canadian forces will act outside of ISAF; instead being part of US led Operation Enduring Freedom, coordinating with US forces until ISAF takes control of the PRT mission.

The general argument from this end is that Canadian forces are acting as imperial ‘proxies’ for the Americans. That by entering into Operation Enduring Freedom, we are freeing up American forces for other imperial conquests. You can find much of this lecture room banter over at rabble.ca if you are interested. If one digs far enough, yes, you can possibly interpret this latest deployment in that fashion, so I won’t say you are an idiot, I’ll just say that maybe you’ve been reading too much Noam Chomsky and you are beginning to interpret buying a hamburger at McDonalds as some sort of imperialism. Am I the only person who thinks this word is thrown around too much? Canada has consistently been active in Operation Enduring Freedom in a naval capacity since day one. This find this viewpoint to be very fringy, almost borderline paranoid, and I believe that it is often thrown out just as an avenue from which to attack the United States. The double standards in such thinking would fill several MB’s of my server space, and such individuals prescribing to this view have little if any concern for the well being of the Afghan people nor our own soldiers. If there was a castle in the sky, these guys would be a mile above it. I don’t believe this is the main reason for polarization on this matter (I’m hoping anyways, I haven’t been home in awhile).

There is concern over the combat element of the current deployment. As I’ve previously mentioned, many Canadians tend to hold themselves to notion of peacekeeping as if it was a sacred scripture. Canadian soldiers killing people? Please no! Again, pardon the words, but grow the fuck up. This isn’t your nice four bedroom suburbia. This is Afghanistan, and the world, if you haven’t noticed, is at war. Maybe I’ve converted to the dark side, but yes, recently I’ve moved towards the notion that Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is the enemy and should be fought viciously, the best weapon being reconstruction and integration into the world economy. Hence our reasons for rebuilding Afghanistan. We have Canadian civilians in Kandahar as part of the reconstruction. They must be protected. In the words of Rick Hiller, if that requires heading into the hills and hunting down “scumbags”, then by all means, pile on. These guys have no respect for the lives of our soldiers and reconstruction workers, and do you think they are going to give a shit if we have respect for theirs? Take them out.

Part III tomorrow.

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