The Herald Sun & Thomas Walkom / Toronto Star – 2008-01-23 21:46:35
Afghanistan War Is Just Beginning: Report
Correspondents in Kabul / The Herald Sun
KABUL (January 19, 2008) — The Taliban has seriously rejoined the fight in Afghanistan, an NGO security group said in a report that concluded the country was at the beginning of a war, not the end of one.
The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) said the Taliban’s “easy departure” in 2001, when a US-led invasion drove them from power, was more of a strategic retreat than an actual military defeat.
“A few years from now, 2007 will likely be looked back upon as the year in which the Taliban seriously rejoined the fight and the hopes of a rapid end to conflict were finally set aside by all but the most optimistic,” ANSO said.
About 1980 civilians were killed in 2007 — half by insurgents and the rest almost equally by soldiers or criminal groups, the group said.
Abductions and killings were likely to escalate this year, with growing links between insurgents and criminal gangs increasing the threat, ANSO said.
It said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is helping the government fight insurgents, is “in fact just now entering a period of broad and deep conflict, the outcomes of which are far from certain.”
ISAF may number about 41,000 soldiers but “realistically” could not have more than 7000 for combat, with the rest mostly support staff or prevented from fighting because of national restrictions, the group said.
The size of the Taliban force was unknown, but estimates ranged from 2000 to 20,000.
“There would not appear to be any capacity within ISAF to stop or turn back anticipated AOG (armed opposition groups) expansion,” the report said.
“In simple terms, the consensus amongst informed individuals at the end of 2007 seems to be that Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one.”
Afghanistan Was Never Canada’s War
Thomas Walkom / Toronto Star
TORONTO (January 18, 2008) — American Defence Secretary Robert Gates may well be right when he says that Canadian and European troops in Afghanistan are not well equipped to fight a counter-insurgency campaign. But what has been lost in the controversy over his impolitic remarks is that we did not sign on to fight insurgents — there or anywhere else.
The International Stabilization and Assistance Force, which NATO now commands and which includes some 2,500 Canadian soldiers, was set up in late 2001 by the United Nations to do just what its name suggests — stabilize a country emerging from years of civil war and assist the fledgling Kabul government in its redevelopment efforts.
Fighting the Taliban (or, as they were called then, the Taliban “remnants”) was a job that Washington insisted on reserving to itself through what it called Operation Enduring Freedom.
Canada helped out in that one too, sending troops to serve under U.S. command in 2002. But in those days, America wanted to keep its sometimes squeamish allies well away from a dark war that was aimed primarily at capturing terror suspects and transferring them to interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.
It was only after 2003, when the U.S. found itself troop-short and bogged down in Iraq, that Washington changed the rules of engagement for its allies. Gradually, Afghanistan became NATO’s war. Washington’s plan then was to gradually reduce its 20,000 troop commitment to Afghanistan and switch them over to Iraq.
Which is why, since 2006, Canadian troops have found themselves under fire in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
It’s worth remembering that we keep sending soldiers to Afghanistan not because Canada has been attacked by the Taliban, but because our friends, the Americans, feel they are at war with them.
The Dutch are in southern Afghanistan for the same reason. So are the British — who have paid a severe price at home for their decision to support Washington’s various anti-Islamist wars.
That’s why Gates’ comments rub so raw in this and other NATO countries. Since 2001, one Canadian diplomat and 77 soldiers have died in Afghanistan. More than 250 more have been wounded in action. Yet this was never our war. It was always America’s.
The U.S. chose to declare Afghanistan the enemy after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Had Washington elected to avenge 9/11 by invading the country from which most of those terrorists came, Canadian troops would now be fighting in Saudi Arabia.
Their call, their war, their show.
Now, Washington has shifted its focus again. On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it will send an additional 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan — bringing the total number of U.S. troops there to more than 30,000.
It is in this context that Gates made his remarks. In effect, the American public is being told that its soldiers have to fix Afghanistan because the pusillanimous Europeans and invisible Canadians aren’t up to the job. Or, as the Washington Post noted editorially: “It’s becoming clear that the war must be won by U.S. troops, and not by NATO.”
Which, in the broader scheme of things, is just fine. Let America, freshly confident after its counterinsurgency successes in Iraq and Vietnam, finish its own war itself. Then Canadian troops can come back to Canada. And the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can refocus on the North Atlantic.
Thomas Walkom’s column normally appears Thursday and Sunday.
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