That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

If only we’d trained Karzai’s assassin into ‘loyalty’

That Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali “Mr. Kandahar” Karzai, has been killed by the head of his own security forces, is one more violent expression of the single greatest Afghan challenge: getting to grips with loyalty.

Bob Rae and Stephen Harper alike maintain the naive conceit that the Afghan army is largely ineffective because they need our training. The Canadian Forces have some nifty fighting techniques that Afghans simply haven’t thought of or been able to employ. Once we show them how to shoot straight, we can leave the job of national defence to Afghans themselves.

Really? Really now.

I’ve posted this way again and again, but to repeat, Afghanistan is a mercenary landscape. Consolidating loyalties and lasting allegiances in the country is, at once, the greatest challenge to Afghan peace, and also the area in which international forces have the least sway and the least understanding. The suggestion that Karzai’s assassin, Sardar Mohammed, could have been trained out of his true allegiance by the Dutch and Canadians etc. would be laughable, if lives were not at stake.

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Tanks for nothing

The NDP’s Defence Critic Jack Harris takes on Harperian logic in Afghanistan:

What is really needed in Afghanistan, of course, is aid and assistance to have a strong government that has the respect of the people. What do we have instead? We have in Afghanistan a government that the international transparency watch organization, in its corruption perception index, sees as tied for 176 out of 178 countries in the world for corruption. It is a government that is not respected by the people of Afghanistan and cannot have the respect without a significant amount of long-term work being done in that country.

In fact, that government is held in so much disrespect and disdain by the Canadian government that we had the Prime Minister in Lisbon saying that we will not dispense a dime to the Government of Afghanistan unless we are convinced the money will be spent in the way it is intended to be spent.

The irony of this is a bit shocking. We are saying that we do not trust that government with a dime of our money but we are prepared to give them an army. We are prepared to train and develop a force of up to 300,000 combined police and security officers and hand it over to that government that we do not trust with a dime of our money. That is what we are saying. The irony of that should not be lost on the Canadian public, because that is what the government is saying.

One if the things he seems to imply is: Would you train 300,000 bees in the art of stinging without first ensuring they knew you were a friendly beekeeper?

And there’s a point in that. But the greater point to me is of efficacy. Indeed, for all Bob Rae’s relaxed approach to have “soldiers doing humanitarian work” (which is how the Liberals and Conservatives want this new mission to appear), Rae can’t explain exactly what training is going to accomplish that it hasn’t accomplished over the past 10 years of ISAF working with their national forces.

As I’ve said before, unless “training” is going to mean magically convincing Afghan national troops that the Karzai disaster is worth fighting for, or that Karzai’s is a government they can even “respect,” or that turning down opportunities for lucrative mercenary income will result in actual counter-reward from the state, then what is the use?

Afghanistan’s fractiousness is not down to a chronic inability for Afghanistan to organise itself militarily. That should be greeted with a “duh.” But is it right to withdraw militarily when there are actual security challenges to those seeking to do real humanitarian work? That’s a fair question. All the same, a) we’ve been doing that military job for a decade, and it’s torch-passing time, and b) the best route to Kabul taking its own sovereignty seriously and creating an effective national army of its own is by us handing it to them.

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How do you fire this thing?

It was British Field Marshal Earl Frederick Roberts, after fighting in the Second Anglo-Afghan war of the 1880s, who said:

“I am sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us.”

This coming from a man who himself is credited with being “instrumental in promoting the mass training of civilians in rifle shooting skills through membership of shooting clubs.”

Accidental Deliberations has posed the essential question on numbers required for a training extension, and identifies the Conservatives (and Bob Rae’s) long-standing desire to maintain a military presence post-2011. Recent U.S. pressure on Ottawa to stay put has been the twisting of a rubber arm. Ottawa’s ambiguity on the numbers belies an ambiguous, and probably more expansive, military purpose than what we’re being sold.

“Training” sounds benign. We hear assertions from Ottawa of a non-combat role post-2011: a “behind-the-wire” (sigh) type of service, nothing dramatically different from carrying out any other type of humanitarian or developmental activity.

This is pure pig-lipstick. Are Rae and Harper actually convinced that the greatest problem in Afghanistan is a lack of adequate military training? Afghan soldiers, after ten years of working with ISAF (and generations more of repelling every band of conquering heroes who nobly stumbled upon the Hindu Kush), still remain insufficiently knowledgeable in the ways of war?

In any case, military training has been going on for decades. The CIA were very effective in training mujahadeen warriors in the ’80s, of course. That didn’t lead to a very palatable outcome.

Afghanistan’s inability to defend itself is not down to poor military training, but to divided allegiances. Afghan soldiers aren’t yet sufficiently convinced that fighting for the Karzai government is where they want to be. Too many remain poachable in a mercenary landscape of immediate interests. What Canadian training in troop formations and rifle practice is going to do to change that is beyond me, when Karzai’s advanced dependence on NATO has already contributed to his failure to mobilise a self-sufficient and stable central government.

But, hey ho. Call it a training mission, and people might even make the correct mistake of thinking we’ve finally taken a bow on a war that’s got to be ended.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , ,


June 2020

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