Friday, September 08, 2006

What are we doing in Afghanistan?

I support our mission in Afghanistan, at least for now. I question if it is being planned and executed effectively.

Canada has proudly led the NATO mission in Afghanistan from its inception. The conditions that existed three years ago which compelled our government to commit Canadian troops and aid to this struggling nation by all accounts have not improved measurably. While I am too lazy to look up the official objectives of the UN stabilization force in Afghanistan and the specific objectives of the Canadian contingent, they probably include stabilizing the fedgling democracy, suppressing the insurgent forces of the Taliban, training the Afghan army and providing reconstruction aid to the nation.

Unfortunately, most of these objectives are only articulated at the beginning of each new deployment of our armed forces to the region. As each new wave of soldiers embarcs for Afghanistan, the military and civilian leadership and television talking heads provide the obligatory speeches about winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, rebuilding schools and generally improving the every day living conditions of the "ordinary" Afghans. However within days, all we hear about are the military operations - each with its "code name", the predictions of impending victory against the "enemy" and the inevitible casualty reports. When was the last time you heard a news story on reconstruction?

There are two possible explanations for this. Either the reconstruction efforts are proceeding all the while, they just are not exciting enough to attract the attention of the "liberal" press, or within weeks, the sole focus of each new contingent of soldiers becomes the counter-insurgency effort. While there are those who will argue each of these viewpoints, several things are becomming apparent. If military convoys in armoured vehicals can not safely traverse many of the nation's rural roads except with air support, it appears the counter-insurgency mission is at best making extremely slow progress against an embedded, organic insurgency. The Afghan government is little more than a mirage in many vast regions of the country, and the Afghan army is invisible in the field. The poppy economy is still the primary source of income for many rural Afghans. Where efforts to eradicate poppy fields have succeeded, a sustainable replacement has not been found or taken hold. It appears that outside of a few isolated urban centres, the lives of most Arghanis have not been measureably improved after 3 years.

This leaves me asking several questions. These are not rhetorical, but I have no easy answers.

Have we made the right committment to Afghanistan? Clearly you can't provide aid or reconstruction without security, but it appears that our presence in Afghanistan is primariliy military focused (or maybe that is all we hear about). Is the perfect modern soldier anything more or less than a highly professional, disciplined, efficient, human killing machine? I don't say this to denigrate our soldiers, they are among the best all volunteer professional forces in the world, but a rifle is a weapon not a tool.

Should the mission continue if there is little or no hope of acheiving our objectives? I find it difficult to even describe let alone predict what an acceptible outcome would look like. But if, recognizing that our efforts may be futile, we pull out, are we willing to accept the inevitibility of a failed state from which terrorist attacks will once again be planned and executed? Another grizzly alternative is that the "civilized world", what ever that is, may have to indefinitely administer Afghanistan and continually repress the extreme elements that nurture terrorism.

At any rate, our mission in Afghanistan must be continually examined and debated without the proponents of debate being labelled as terrorist lovers or lunatics. The human costs of our mission, on both sides, are too high to continue doggedly down the same track without debate.


foottothefire said...

here's some reading/opinion that gives more than food for thought:

Adrian MacNair said...

Harper isn't talking. And I guess he doesn't have to when the BQ props up his party. I've blogged about this plenty of late as well. Hey, we're both from VanCity!